Archive for the ‘Literature’ Category

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

December 5, 2008

A Brief Discussion of the Tennessee Williams play in light of M. Bergmann’s paper, The Anatomy of Loving

            Bergmann in his wonderful work of 1987 culled insights into the nature of falling in love from the ideas of Freud and subsequent psychoanalytic thinkers.  He highlighted Freud’s famous statement in his 1905 paper, Three Essays on Sexuality, echoing Plato, that the “finding of a [love] object is in fact a refinding of it.” This compelling idea suggests that a person seeks throughout life to “refind” parental love.  Other psychoanalytic ideas raised in the Bergmann paper relevant to a discussion of love include narcissism, splitting, merger fantasies, and reality testing. 

            Tennessee Williams’ play, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, explores a web of love relationships in the Pollitt family in mid-20th century Mississippi.  Although the centerpiece is the love between Brick Pollitt and his wife Maggie, the relationship Brick has with his authoritarian father and his psychically-weak best friend are critical to understanding his capacity to love.

            Early in the play, Brick and Maggie bicker, illustrating that Maggie’s love for her husband is not reciprocated.  Brick, a former football star, drinks bourbon all day in order to ease his nerves.  Brick’s parents, called Big Daddy and Big Mamma, return from a trip to a cancer clinic in the belief that Big Daddy has been given a clean bill of health.  A celebration at the sprawling Pollitt estate ensues. 

            Brick is contemptuous of Maggie, who attempts to coax her husband’s love back with her feminine charms.  The play climaxes as Big Daddy learns from Brick that he is in fact dying, and as Big Daddy’s curiosity about Brick and Maggie’s nonexistent sex life uncovers the story of the suicide of Brick’s best friend Skipper.  While Tennessee Williams, who was homosexual, arguably left it open as to whether Brick and Skipper had a homosexual relationship, homosexual feelings, and especially Brick’s unresolved oedipal feelings, clearly energized this relationship.

             Big Daddy was the son of a penniless hobo, a cause of great shame to this self-made millionaire.  Yet by the end of the play, Brick causes Big Daddy to admit that his father loved him and that he loved his father.  Big Daddy’s drive to hammer his way to success and to annul the shame of his father caused him to repress his love for his father and also for his wife and children.  Likewise Big Daddy never believed in his wife’s love.  He saw Big Mamma as nothing but a money-grubbing, controlling liar.  Tennessee Williams’s characters rail about the “mendacity” of the people around them, when the mendacity actually lies within themselves, i.e. the mendacity of the repression of their emotions, including love.

            Brick was never able to experience a non-traumatic separation from his mother, which the positive involvement of his father at an early age would have encouraged.  Merger fantasies likely persisted, underpinning his yearning for an exceptionally close relationship with Skipper.  Nor later in his childhood could Brick experience a healthy resolution of the Oedipus Conflict that would have involved his giving up his wishes for his mother and identifying in a positive way with his father.  Instead he identified with his father’s shame, his father’s anger, and his father’s rejection of love.  He witnessed his father’s rejection of his older brother Gooper and concluded that only by being better than Gooper, by being a football star, could he win his father’s love.  He became an overachiever.  He developed a strong, but rigid ego – arguably the definition of masculinity in the culture of the South of these times, conquering reality instead of enjoying it and possessing love objects, instead of experiencing love.

            In attempting to “refind” the pathological triad with his parents, he found Maggie.  Maggie adored her handsome, upper-crust football star, much like Big Mama adored Big Daddy.  Brick also found Skipper, a man with a fragile ego, who idolized Brick.  They played football together; however, one day when Brick wasn’t on the field, it became clear that Skipper had little skill to play professional football.   Brick idealized this weak man, who he believed was the only one in the world he could count on.  He deluded himself into believing he could experience the bliss of a passive male relationship with Skipper, the kind of non-traumatic yielding to one’s father that occurs in a healthy resolution of the Oedipus Conflict.  In fact, he chose Skipper in order to avoid closeness with a stronger male, whom he feared would be like his authoritarian, unloving father. And, Skipper chose Brick because Brick represented the archetype of manhood — strong, capable, hard.  Skipper killed himself after his failure on the football field, after Brick hung up the phone on Skipper because he had let him down.  The sudden realization that Skipper was not the strong male he could count on may have set Brick into a rage.  Maggie went up to Skipper’s hotel room before the suicide, circumstances that led Brick to believe she was unfaithful to him with Skipper.  We learn later that this was not true.  Brick Pollitt’s “compulsion to repeat” makes for dramatic theater in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. 

Freud posited that homosexuals often set themselves up as their mothers and their objects as themselves.  They identify with their mothers instead of their fathers, according to Freud.  In this case, however, it appears that Brick played the role of his father, projecting the unloved part of himself onto Skipper.  The climax of his rejection of himself came when he hung the phone up on Skipper.  Subsequently, he could not bear the thought of having been so cruel to Skipper, having acted out his father’s rage against this fragile man; so, he projected his unwanted aggressive self onto Maggie, turning her into the lying, money-grubbing cat his father believed his mother was, and Brick believed he himself was.  She was the one responsible for Skipper’s demise, not him.  This fantasy sustained Brick’s exhausted ego.  Only then was it safe for him to identify with his father; only then could he be the strong, upright man he believed his father was.  Brick’s loss of Skipper hewed more to “melancholia,” or the loss of an intrapsychic object, than to simple “mourning,” the pain of the loss of a real object.

Very compelling was the agreement that Brick and Maggie made after Skipper’s suicide.  They would remain together, but with no love, no physical intimacy, only psychic torture.  This way she could be with her ego ideal (her handsome husband) and he could hold his debased self at a safe, but close distance.  Brick had “refound” the triad of his youth. 

            A therapeutic episode ensues when Brick tells Big Daddy he is going to die.  Faced with the truth at last, Big Daddy realizes he loved his father, which brings into relief his love for Brick, Big Mamma, and the rest of his family.  This episode also causes Brick to accept that he had let down Skipper, but that Skipper was a weak man and that Brick therefore was not responsible for his suicide.  This enables him to see Maggie for what she really is.  A desirable woman who loves him.  She is not a liar; she is not money-grubbing; though she still is a little catty, a little seductive, and a little interested in moving up the socioeconomic ladder.

             Freud’s theory on narcissism also helps explain the love relationships in this play.  Freud suggested that the narcissist loves what he himself is or was or would like to be, or even a part of himself.  Maggie’s narcissism is a love of what she would like to be, her ego ideal as embodied in Brick.  Brick’s narcissism is the love (and often the hate) of a part of himself, the rejected part, the heartless, money-grubbing man his father was, his father believed his mother was, and he believed Maggie was.  He likewise loved in Skipper that despised, weak part of himself, rejected by his father.  At the same time, in his conscious thoughts, Brick turned Skipper into his ego ideal — a supportive, kind-hearted and strong man, albeit a distorted view of Skipper.  In the event, when Skipper failed him, he swung from idealization to devaluation in the nanosecond it took to hang up the phone.

            Freud also talks about how a strong, object-oriented love can impoverish the ego.  Clearly, this speaks to Skipper’s love of Brick.  Skipper leaned on Brick.  Brick was his ego ideal, the mirroring mother he probably never had.  All Skipper’s libidinal energy was directed at Brick, leaving little for his ego.  Once Brick withdrew his love, the selfobject representation that sustained Skipper’s self-esteem went from “good” to “bad,” making suicide the only option.

            The abrupt swings in this play from loving to hating and vice versa bring to mind the concept of splitting and Freud’s discussion of emotions as distinct from instincts.  The ego synthesizes all sexual instincts and libidinal energy into love and all aggressive energy into hate. A weak ego cannot integrate these opposing emotions, cannot see people for the gray characters they often are, resulting in splitting and in sharp mood swings.  Thus, the rage, and in the case of Skipper, suicide.

            The extreme emotional reactions experienced by Williams’s male characters, in comparison with his female characters, are consistent with Altman’s notion that it is easier for women to find an appropriate non-incestuous love object from the onset of adolescence than it is for men.  This is because girls have already renounced their first love object, their mother, during the oedipal stage, when they choose their father.  Boys have a greater tendency to remain fixated on their mothers, making it perhaps more challenging to find appropriate non-incestuous object choices later on.

            In ego psychological terms, it appears that Maggie the Cat may have been the character with the strongest ego.  Although in her compulsion to repeat, she may have clung to “the hot tin roof” as long as she could, she was always sure about Brick and loved him amid the storm.  She was the most capable of Tennessee Williams’s characters at enduring frustration, showing compassion, and performing reality testing by airing the truth and integrating contradictory material.

            Clearly, the love refound by Tennessee Williams’s characters one stormy night under a hot tin roof was a refinding of the lost love, or rather the incomplete love, of childhood.  But, it was a therapeutic refinding, flexible enough to allow the kindling of mature adult relationships, and the jettisoning of unwelcome patterns.

The Departed: What is wrong with America today…

February 1, 2008

Martin Scorcese’s The Departed won best picture, best director in the Academy Awards in 2007.   I saw the film.  It had me on the edge of my seat (actually the edge of my couch; I was in my living room).  My stomach was in knots.  It was suspenseful, riveting.  The beginning was well done, with Jack Nicholson expounding on his gangster philosophy.  The filming was at times artful.  Nevertheless, I believe that The Departed is what is wrong with America today.  I don’t want to pull punches, so let me say it plainly:  Martin Scorsese is what is wrong with America today.  The fact that we are celebrating this piece of crap as art suggests to me that a sickness is sucking away at our national spirit.  It is the sickness of American excess.  Polemical statement, yes.  Allow me to explain.

America’s Achille’s heel is its excess.  We produce too much crap.  And we consume even more crap than we produce.  Hence, the Chinese. We have created a way of life in which everyone wants more, no one is satisfied with what they have.  We all get caught up in this.  The American Dream.  We fought wars to force other nations to adopt this way of life; happily, yes, because other ways of life – fascism, communism – were worse than ours, no argument there.  Now that we’ve convinced the world to adopt liberal capitalism as its model, forced it down everyone’s throat, we watch as we ruin the planet.  You cannot blame 1.3 billion Chinese and 1.1 billion Indians for wanting what everybody in southern California has.  A big car, a big house, and lots of stuff.  Factories manufacturing this stuff spew carbon gases from their smokestacks.  In America, we’ve made it.  The rest of the world wants to make it too.

I was in Los Angeles in February 2007.  It seems everybody there has a Porsche SUV in the garage and a flat screen TV in every room of the house.  I drove through northwestern Connecticut this weekend.  People there are driving Nissans and Subarus, burning wood and wood pellets so they don’t have to pay high oil prices to heat their homes.  Hugo Chavez, the neo-fascist president of Venezuela, is offering home heating subsidies to poor people in this region (with Joe Kennedy, Jr. promoting this on TV).  What a difference from southern California.  In northwestern Connecticut, they’re waiting tables, plowing roads, fixing boilers, cleaning homes.  Meanwhile, people making crappy movies make millions, no, hundreds of millions; people running companies make billions; and, most of America’s leaders are filthy rich.  Talk show hosts like Leno and Letterman joke about how rich they are.  Okay, I know it’s not that simple, but the excess in this country is striking. 

Politicians too.  Bill Clinton bemoans the regressive tax system on the one hand, but points out on the other that somehow he, a lifelong politician, is in the top tier of holders of wealth.  Even our leaders who head or fund movements designed to save the planet, such as Al Gore, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, are very, very rich. (These three heroes are responsible for, respectively, An Inconvenient Truth, the Gates Foundation which funds anti-poverty programs, and the Nuclear Threat Initiative, which seeks to prevent the spread of weapons grade nuclear material.)  How did Al Gore, also a lifelong politician, whose father was a lifelong politician, get rich? Serving on corporate boards such as Occidental Petroleum.  Having a cattle ranch that somehow sits atop a zinc mine in Tennessee.  Joining a hedge fund after losing the presidency.  Whenever it is convenient for him, maybe Al Gore could tell us the inconvenient truth about his millions.

Former Senator Sam Nunn who heads Buffett’s Nuclear Threat Initiative sits on the board of Coca Cola.  I guess that’s not so bad – keeping nukes out the hands of terrorists with one hand, selling sugar water to third world kids with the other.   And, to be Secretary of the Treasury in America, such as Hank Paulson and before him, Bob Rubin, you have to have made hundreds of millions – not millions, hundreds of millions – in the financial markets.

So, what does this have to do with the Scorsese film?  Lots.  Read on.

The Departed suffers from excess.  An excess of violence, blood and creepy people, an oversupply of top movie actors, especially of the hunk variety, an abundance of hype, but, unfortunately, a dearth of character, plot, and good dialogue.  And, to top it all off, a lack of a redeeming message.

What happened to tasteful films, nuanced art, and the critical ingredient to all human creativity, irony?  What happened to stories involving a single violent act that challenges human beings to be heroic or less-than-heroic?  Have they been replaced by the free-for-all, scumbags-shoot-scumbags-for-two-and-a-half-hours piece of celluloid?  Why do we have so many movies about scumbags in America?  What is the fascination?  Why do our best actors make it big playing depraved misogynist killers?  Nicholson, De Niro, Pitt, Damon, DiCaprio, Pacino, Gandalfini.  You mean you have to play a reptilian killer in order to make it in the American cinema? 

Why do we honor Scorsese when he makes such movies?  Why do Americans celebrate violence?  And then wonder why Columbine happens.  Export our violent culture, and then wonder why 9/11 happens.  We censor sex to protect our kids, but allow free reign when it comes to violence.  Films such as The Road to Perdition, Fight Club, Gangs of New York, Goodfellas are all hits?  Why does the Terminator – I’ll be back! – become the Governator of California?   American excess.

Freud explained violence as a result of mankind’s instinct for self-preservation and aggression.  The implication was that we shouldn’t repress this impulse, but rather should channel it into creative or productive endeavors.  Fargo, the Coen Brothers film, is a creative and productive endeavor.  The Departed is not.

George Kennan, the American diplomat who first warned the world about the rise of Soviet Communism in the nineteen forties, said in his second book of memoirs, sitting up there on his perch of East Coast elitism, that nothing good in our culture ever comes out of California.  Only the worst, newest trends do.  I believe he was a bit narrow-minded and reactionary in saying this, but when I see such films as The Departed win Best Picture at the Academy Awards, and such Governors as the Governator running that state, I think back to that anti-California chapter that Kennan penned.

Good films depict a violent act or several violent acts and show how good people and not-so-good people are challenged, how they handle the stress.  Again, Fargo comes to mind.  Scorsese should be locked in a room with the Coen Brothers until either they are so disgusted with him that they leave or he learns something.  In Fargo, we see the Frances McDormand-character — simple, capable, good — juxtaposed against a broad array of weaker humans – the Scorsese-esque bleach-blond killer, the spineless evil of William H. Macy.  Fargo is deep, ironic, interesting, a real study in what it means to be human.  Likewise In the Heat of the Night, from 1967, with Rod Steiger and Sidney Poitier, explores hatred and racism in America.  The Poitier and Steiger characters change over the course of the film, they grow. That is the golden rule of fiction, characters must change.  Scorsese’s characters start out as depraved scumbags and die in a pool of blood as depraved scumbags.  Who changed, who developed, who grew in The Departed?  Tell me.  I’d like to learn.  Crash, which won Best Picture in 2006, was another great film.  Thank God the Academy had sense that year.

The characters in The Departed were flat, two-dimensional.  The relationships were contrived.  The plot predictable, deteriorating into about an hour of cell phone calls and text messages.  Is that what movies will be about in the latter part of this decade —  people on cell phones?  Furthermore, juxtapose the female characters in a Scorsese film with those in the ones I mentioned above.  In The Departed you’ve got this psychologist who likes bad boys, tortured violent men.  Can’t keep her pants on around them.  All the dialogue between her and Matt Damon and her and Leonardo was stilted and weird.  Dialogue simply to advance the plot.  I couldn’t write worse dialogue myself and I write pretty poor dialogue.  I think Scorsese must be a little misogynist to create such self-destructive, abuse-seeking female characters.  Compare Scorsese’s psychologist, who says she “believes in public service,” with the Frances McDormand-character in Fargo, who never has to say that because we have rarely seen a character more devoted to public service.  The theme of the female who loves the bad boy was treated better in that Seinfeld episode in which George Costanza tries to play the bad boy to win over a woman who works in Elaine’s office.  That was ironic and funny.

What’s more?  Everybody is in on this film!  It’s a goddamn Hollywood elite lovefest.  Scorsese, Nicholson, Damon, Leonardo, even Brad Pitt is one of the producers.  Martin, please, give me a piece of the action!  You need a little Brad Pitt in on a film like this one to take the violence up a few notches and make another hundred million.  Fight Club redux.

Now, I am not against suspense.  This film was suspenseful, no doubt about that.  But, my primary emotion was disgust.  Whatever happened to Alfred Hitchcock-style suspense?  The suspense of Rear Window.  Of North By Northwest.  Did Raymond Burr kill and cut up his wife?  Who is trying to frame Cary Grant and is Grace Kelly in love with him or is she an evil spy?  In The Departed, the murder that goes on seems more like a documentary about Darfur than art.

Not to minimize Darfur.  In fact, this is what a film such as The Departed does in the end.  It minimizes such reprehensible real-world violence.  I just read The Diary of Anne Frank.  This is the real world of violence and murder.  Here was a precious human being – a smart, precocious, talented, mischievous, loving, headstrong, sweet teenage girl, surviving and plying her art under the difficult conditions of being in hiding.  After you read her wonderful words, a work that reaches the pinnacle of literature if you ask me, you can find out on various web sites what happened to her from August 4, 1944, when she was arrested, until March 1945.  First, overnight in a Gestapo jail in Amsterdam.  Then, a month in a Dutch transit camp, head shaved, starving.  Then, aboard the last train from Holland to Auschwitz.  Three days in a cattle car, no food, nowhere to defecate.  Then, a couple of months in Auschwitz, as a slave laborer, barked at and whipped by female SS troopers of the Third Reich.  Then off to Bergen Belsen with tens of thousands of other women, crowded together in the most unsanitary conditions, only to contract typhus, as did her sister Margot, and die at the age of fifteen.  This precious, brilliant, sensitive, optimistic young girl, loving life and believing in the goodness of people, was killed by animals.  That, Mr. Scorsese, is violence.  That is true human cruelty.  The crap that Scorsese hawks demeans such stories.  Did I need to see that crazy finale of shooting in The Departed?  Absolutely not.

You can claim that Shakespearean tragedy features mass stabbings at the end.  Is this the way Scorsese is aspiring to be a modern-day Shakespeare?  To our modern eyes, Shakespearean killings seem almost comical.  And, each major character goes down with a soliloquy.  In a Scorsese film, they go down with a “fucking cocksucker!” and blood spurting out of their heads. 

America’s excess is at the heart of the success of The Departed. A film such as Volver or Little Miss Sunshine, which explore the nuance and irony of being human, should have won Best Picture this year.  Shame on you, Academy!  America’s excess is its Achille’s heel and is not a good sign for the future.  The irony of America is the fact that it is the promise of riches that drives the lower and middle classes to work hard.  These are the classes that are the engine of America’s renewal, in every age, not the upper classes.  Greater balance is needed in our society. Excess must be reined in.  Perhaps the excess of violence in our culture, in our art, emanates from our freedom, or perhaps it is a result of the frustration of competition – there are always losers – or of the lack of community, or of the veneration of celebrities who make it big playing violent criminals in the movies.

The Departed, to me, is a particularly revolting example of American excess.  It is a movie made by elites, for elites, and judged by elites.  Let us at least start controlling American excess in the cultural sphere, by choosing good art as our winners, such as Volver or Little Miss Sunshine, instead of Scorsese’s colossal crime of excess, The Departed. 

Thank you for indulging me this rant.  I obviously feel strongly about bad art, especially bad art that wins awards.  If you agree with what I’ve said here, please feel free to send this around.  Let’s start a campaign to reverse the Academy’s decision for the first time in history (joke).  But, then again, maybe you liked the movie.

By the rivers of Babylon…

January 26, 2008

 RIVERS OF BABYLON by The Melodians
B. Dowe – F. McHaughton, adapted from Psalm 137:1)

By the rivers of Babylon
Where we sat down
And there we wept
When we remembered Zion

But the wicked carried us away in captivity
Required from us a song
How can we sing King Alfa song
In a strange land
Cause the wicked carried us away in captivity
Required from us a song
How can we sing King Alfa song
In a strange land

Sing it out loud
Sing a song of freedom sister
Sing a song of freedom brother
We gotta sing and shout it
We gotta talk and shout it
Shout the song of freedom now

So let the words of our mouth
And the meditation of our heart
Be acceptable in Thy sight
Over I
So let the words of our mouth
And the meditation of our heart
Be acceptable in Thy sight
Over I

Sing it again
We’ve got to sing it together
Everyone of us together

By the rivers of Babylon…

(Original lyrics from the 1972 album sleeve of “The Harder They Come” o.s.t. )
by Don Julian

Rivers of Babylon

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

“Rivers of Babylon” is a spiritual song penned by the late Brent Dowe and Trevor McNaughton of the Melodians. It is based on the Biblical hymn Psalm 137 (from the King James Version). Psalm 137 is a hymn expressing the yearnings of the Jewish people in exile following the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem in 586 BC. The rivers of Babylon are the Euphrates river, its tributaries, and the Chebar river. The song also has words from Psalm 19:14.

NFTY, the youth group of the Union for Reform Judaism, uses the song in its songbook and sometimes even in youth group services.

The Unitarian Universalist Association has included the song in their supplemental hymnal Singing the Journey (Hymn #1042) [1].

The most popular version of the song is by Boney M in 1978, which was released as a single and stayed at the #1 position in the UK for 5 weeks. In the UK, that version sold over 1,985,000 copies, making the single officially 3x platinum. Other popular versions have been performed by the Melodians, Dennis Brown, Sublime, Snuff, Steve Earle, Daniel O’Donnell, Yabby You and Sweet Honey in the Rock.

On 19 November 1978, a cover version with lyrics in Swedish, Kommer du ihåg Babylon? (Do you remember Babylon?), performed by Swedish dansband Schytts entered the 1st place on Svensktoppen.

In 1992 the Croatian group Vatrogasci (Firefighters) made a parody of this song, translating it in croatian language (naming “Joj što volim”) and making it in turbofolk arrangement.

The Neville Brothers has a version of the song on their “Walkin’ in the Shadow of Life” CD released on October 19, 2004 on the Chordant label.

Sinéad O’Connor also recorded it for her 2007 album, Theology.

Don McLean and Linda Ronstadt also both recorded versions of this song.

A Polish Christian rock group 2Tm2,3 performed the acoustic version of “Rivers of Babylon” based on the Boney M.

  • King Alpha is referred to in the line “How can we sing King Alpha’s song in a strange land?”. King Alpha refers to Haile Selassie. Selassie’s wife Menen Asfaw is known as Queen Omega aka The Queen. [2] When Jewish groups sing the song, “King Alpha” is changed to “the Lord’s” or “Adonai’s”.

Psalm 137 (Greek numbering: Psalm 136) is one of the best known of the Biblical psalms. Its opening lines (“By the rivers of Babylon…”) have been set to music on several occasions.

The psalm is a hymn expressing the yearnings of the Jewish people in exile following the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem in 586 BC. The rivers of Babylon are the Euphrates river, its tributaries, and the Chebar river. In its whole form, the psalm reflects the yearning for Jerusalem as well as hatred for the Holy City’s enemies with sometimes violent imagery. Rabbinical sources attributed the poem to the prophet Jeremiah.[1]

The early lines of the poem are very well known, as they describe the sadness of the Israelites, asked to “sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land”. This they refuse to do, leaving their harps hanging on trees. The poem then turns into self-exhortation to remember Jerusalem. It ends with violent fantasies of revenge, delighting in the thought of “smashing the children of Babylon against rocks.”

Many musical settings censor the last verse. John Bell, a hymnwriter who writes many challenging texts himself, comments alongside his own setting of this Psalm: The final verse is omitted in this metricization, because its seemingly outrageous curse is better dealt with in preaching or group conversation. It should not be forgotten, especially by those who have never known exile, dispossession or the rape of people and land[2].

The hymn is included in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, where the opening words are translated as “by the waters of Babylon”. In William Walton‘s oratorio Belshazzar’s Feast this version of the opening section is set to music, as if sung by the Israelite captives in Babylon. Likewise, the psalm was the inspiration for the famous slave chorus “Va, pensiero” from Giuseppe Verdi‘s opera Nabucco.

Brent Dowe and Trevor McNaughton of The Melodians wrote a version of the psalm set to the music of Jamaica entitled “Rivers of Babylon.” The most famous musical rendition of this song was by Boney M in the 1970s. Another version of the psalm was used in “On the Willows” from the Broadway musical Godspell.

Psalm 137:5-6 is the basis for the chorus of Matisyahu‘s single Jerusalem.

Psalm 137 is the source of the title of Stephen Vincent Benet‘s short story By the Waters of Babylon.

Major Philip P. Graves, British journalist, hero, exposed Protocols as a forgery in 1921…

January 24, 2008

From Wikipedia.  Go to the source and read the very cool London Times article on his exposing of the anti-Semitic Protocols of the Elders of Zion as a forgery…

Major Philip Perceval Graves (February 25, 1876June 3, 1953) was a British journalist and writer.  While working as a foreign correspondent of The Times in Constantinople, he exposed The Protocols of the Elders of Zion as anti-Semitic fraud. Born in Ballylickey Manor, Cork County, Ireland, into a prominent Anglo-Irish family, Graves studied in Haileybury and Oxford University and became a prominent journalist and author. As a correspondent of The Times in Constantinople from 1908 to 1914, he reported on the events preceding World War I.  In 1914, as a British citizen, he had to leave the Ottoman Empire due to the war.  In 1915-1919, he served in the British Army in the Middle East war theatre. Graves exposed the Protocols as a forgery in The Times, August 16-18, 1921.  After the war he exposed The Protocols of the Elders of Zion as anti-Semitic forgery in a series of articles in The Times. After 1919, Graves reported from his own homeland on the Anglo-Irish War.  He worked as a foreign correspondent in India, the Levant and on the Balkans and finally returned to London to work as an editor of The Times. His most monumental work was a 21-volume history of World War II.  Graves received numerous international awards and titles, among which are French Légion d’honneur and Italian Crown order. In his journeys, Philip Graves developed an interest in entomology and published articles in scientific journals.  He was member of the Royal Irish Academy. He retired in 1946 and dedicated himself mainly to zoological hobbies.

Jerusalem (Matisyahu lyrics), Jeremiah and Lamentations…

January 24, 2008

Like By the Rivers of Babylon, this Matisyahu song emanates from Psalm 137 of the Bible, likely penned by Jeremiah, lamenting the destruction of the Temple in 586 B.C.  It is believed that Jeremiah, the prophet who warned the Jews of their destruction, authored Lamentations, or Eichah (‘How?’ in Hebrew), sung on Tisha B’Av, mourning the destruction of the Temple.  It is heart-rending, especially when sung with emotion by a woman.  I recommend going to JTS on 122nd Street to listen to the singers from Hadar, an UWS minyan.  It is a poignant, haunting and ultimately uplifting experience. 

Matisyahu – Jerusalem Lyrics

Jerusalem, if I forget you,
fire not gonna come from me tongue.
Jerusalem, if I forget you,
let my right hand forget what it’s supposed to do.
In the ancient days, we will return with no delay
Picking up the bounty and the spoils on our way
We’ve been traveling from state to state
And them don’t understand what they say
3,000 years with no place to be
And they want me to give up my milk and honey
Don’t you see, it’s not about the land or the sea
Not the country but the dwelling of his majesty


Rebuild the temple and the crown of glory
Years gone by, about sixty
Burn in the oven in this century
And the gas tried to choke, but it couldn’t choke me
I will not lie down, I will not fall asleep
They come overseas, yes they’re trying to be free
Erase the demons out of our memory
Change your name and your identity
Afraid of the truth and our dark history
Why is everybody always chasing we
Cut off the roots of your family tree
Don’t you know that’s not the way to be


Caught up in these ways, and the worlds gone craze
Don’t you know it’s just a phase
Case of the Simon says
If I forget the truth then my words won’t penetrate
Babylon burning in the place, can’t see through the haze
Chop down all of them dirty ways,
That’s the price that you pay for selling lies to the youth
No way, not ok, oh no way, not ok, hey
Aint no one gonna break my stride
Aint no one gonna pull me down
Oh no, I got to keep on moving
Stay alive


From Wikipedia:

The Book of Lamentations (Hebrew איכה, Eikha) is a book of the Bible Old Testament and Jewish Tanakh. It is traditionally read by the Jewish people on Tisha B’Av, the fast day that commemorates the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.

It is called in the Hebrew canon ‘Eikhah, meaning “How,” being the formula for the commencement of a song of wailing. It is the first word of the book (see 2 Sam. 1:19-27). The Septuagint adopted the name rendered “Lamentations” (Greek threnoi = Hebrew qinoth) now in common use, to denote the character of the book, in which the prophet mourns over the desolations brought on Jerusalem and the Holy Land by the Chaldeans. In the Hebrew Bible it is placed among the Ketuvim, the Writings.

According to tradition, authorship is assigned to the Prophet Jeremiah, who was a court official during the conquest of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, during which the First Temple was destroyed and King Jehoiachin was taken prisoner (cf. Is 38 ff and Is 52). In the Septuagint and the Vulgate the Lamentations are placed directly after the Prophet.

It is said that Jeremiah retired to a cavern outside the Damascus gate, where he wrote this book. That cavern is still pointed out by tour guides. “In the face of a rocky hill, on the western side of the city, the local belief has placed ‘the grotto of Jeremiah.’ There, in that fixed attitude of grief which Michelangelo has immortalized, the prophet may well be supposed to have mourned the fall of his country” (Arthur Penrhyn Stanley, History of the Jewish Church).

However, the strict acrostic style of four of the five poems is not found at all in the Book of Jeremiah itself, and authorship of Jeremiah is disputed. It is however known for certain that Jeremiah did write a lament on the death of King Josiah, that was well known in his time.[1] It was common practice in ancient times for an anonymous writer seeking recognition for his work to write eponymously in the name of someone more famous (although neither Jeremiah’s name nor that of any other author appears in the text itself). The work is probably based on the older Mesopotamian genre of the “city lament”, of which the Lament for Ur is among the oldest and best-known.

According to F. W. Dobbs-Allsopp, “the widely observed unity of form and point of view… and general resemblance in linguistic detail throughout the sequence are broadly suggestive of the work of a single author,” though other scholars see Lamentations as the work of multiple authors.[2]

Most commentators see Lamentations as reflecting the period immediately following the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC,[3] though Provan argues for an ahistorical interpretation.[4] Many elements of the lament are borne out in the historical narrative in 2 Kings concerning the fall of Jerusalem: Jerusalem lying in ruins (Lamentations 2:2 and 2 Kings 25:9), enemies entering the city (Lamentations 4:12 and 2 Kings 24:11), people going into exile (Lamentations 1:3 and 2 Kings 24:14) and the sanctuary being plundered (Lamentations 1:10 and 2 Kings 24:13). On the other hand, Babylon is never mentioned in Lamentations, though this could simply be to make the point that the judgment comes from God, and is a consequence of Judah disobeying him.

Lamentations was probably composed soon after 586 BC. Kraus argues that “the whole song stands so near the events that one feels everywhere as if the terrible pictures of the destruction stand still immediately before the eyes of the one lamentings .”[5]

The book consists of five separate poems. In chapter 1 the prophet dwells on the manifold miseries oppressed by which the city sits as a solitary widow weeping sorely. In chapter 2 these miseries are described in connection with the national sins that had caused them. Chapter 3 speaks of hope for the people of God. The chastisement would only be for their good; a better day would dawn for them. Chapter 4 laments the ruin and desolation that had come upon the city and temple, but traces it only to the people’s sins. Chapter 5 is a prayer that Zion’s reproach may be taken away in the repentance and recovery of the people.

The first four poems (chapters) are acrostics, like some of the Psalms (25, 34, 37, 119, 145), i.e., each verse begins with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet taken in order. The first, second, and fourth have each twenty-two verses, the number of the letters in the Hebrew alphabet. The third has sixty-six verses, in which each three successive verses begin with the same letter. The fifth is not acrostic, but also has twenty-two verses.

Speaking of the “Wailing-place (q.v.) of the Jews” at Jerusalem, a portion of the old wall of the Herod’s Temple, Schaff says: “There the Jews assemble every Friday afternoon to bewail the downfall of the holy city, kissing the stone wall and watering it with their tears. They repeat from their well-worn Hebrew Bibles and prayer-books the Lamentations of Jeremiah and suitable Psalms.”

Readings, chantings, and choral settings, of the book of Lamentations, are used in the Christian religious service known as the tenebrae (Latin for darkness).

Jeremiah was a Kohen (member of the priestly family) called to the prophetical office when still young; in the thirteenth year of Josiah (628 BC). He left his native place, Anathoth, to reside in Jerusalem, where he assisted Josiah in his work of reformation. Jeremiah wrote a lamentation upon the death of this pious king (2 Chr. 35:25).

There is no reference to Jeremiah during the three month reign of Jehoahaz. But in the beginning of the reign of Jehoiakim, the enmity of the people against the prophet was expressed with persecution. In his most famous confrontation with Jehoiakim, Jeremiah warned the king that “God would roll him up into a little ball, and would throw him out of Judah”, a prophecy which includes a possible pun on the use of Jeremiah’s name, which means “God throws”.

In his various exhortations, Jeremiah made extensive use of performance art, using props or demonstrations to illustrate points and engage the public. He walked around wearing a wooden yoke about his neck. He served wine to a family with a vow of temperance. He bought his family estate in Anathoth while in prison and while the Babylonians were occupying it.

He remained in Jerusalem, uttering from time to time his words of warning, but without much effect. He was there when Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon besieged the city (Jer. 37:4, 5), 588 BC, as Jeremiah had prophesied before-hand. The rumour of the approach of the Egyptians to aid the Jews in this crisis induced the Babylonians to withdraw, and to return to their own land. However, this siege was raised for only a short time. The prophet, in answer to his prayer, received a message from God, stating that “the Babylonians would come again, and take the city, and burn it with fire” (37:7, 8). The princes, in their anger at such a message by Jeremiah, cast him into prison (37:15-38:13). He was still in confinement when the city was taken (586 BC). The Babylonians released him, and showed him great kindness, allowing Jeremiah to choose the place of his residence, according to a Babylonian edict. Jeremiah accordingly went to Mizpah in Benjamin with Gedaliah, who had been made governor of Judea.

Johanan succeeded Gedaliah, who had been assassinated by an Israelite prince in the pay of Ammon “for working with the Babylonians“. Refusing to listen to Jeremiah’s counsels, Johanan fled to Egypt, taking Jeremiah and Baruch ben Neriah, Jeremiah’s faithful scribe and servant with him (Jer. 43:6). There, the prophet probably spent the remainder of his life, still seeking in vain to turn the people to the Lord, from whom they had so long revolted (44). Some believe he was murdered in Egypt by those angered by his prophecies. It is known that he lived into the reign of Evil-merodach, son of Nebuchadnezzar, and may have been about ninety years of age at his death. We have no authentic record of his death. He may have died at Tahpanes, or, according to a tradition, may have gone to Babylon with the army of Nebuchadnezzar.

Irshad Manji, a Muslim, taking on narrow thinking in her religion…

January 22, 2008

…the author of The Trouble with Islam…

Impure Islam

By Irshad Manji
At the World Economic Forum in January, I observed something revealing. In a session about the U.S. religious right, a cartoonist satirized one of America’s most influential Christian ministers, Pat Robertson. In the audience, chuckling with the rest of us, was a prominent British Muslim. But his smile disappeared the moment we were shown a cartoon that made fun of Muslim clerics. Since then, a fierce fight has erupted between the European Union and the Muslim world over caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad. Months ago, the Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, published cartoons that showed Islam’s messenger wearing, among other things, a turban-turned-time bomb. Although the paper has apologized, the controversy has metastasized: A Norwegian magazine and French paper recently re-printed the drawings, as have other broadcasters and publications while covering this story. In response, Muslim rioters torched Scandinavian missions in Syria, Lebanon and Iran. An Italian priest was murdered in Turkey. Bomb threats have hit the offices of more than one European newspaper. Various Arab countries have recalled their ambassadors from Copenhagen. Boycotts of Danish products are sweeping across supermarkets in the Arab world, and Muslims as far away as India and Indonesia are pouring into the streets to burn Danish flags – which feature the cross, among the holiest of Christian symbols.

Last week, thousands of Palestinians shouted “Death to Denmark!” Copenhagen has evacuated Danish citizens from the Gaza Strip and has sternly warned nationals in the West Bank to get out as well. Muslims themselves are getting pummeled in the riots: four died in Afghanistan on Monday alone. Arab elites love such controversies, for they provide convenient opportunities to channel anger away from local injustices. No wonder President Lahoud of Lebanon insisted that his country “cannot accept any insult to any religion.” That’s rich. Since the late 1970s, the Lebanese government has licensed Hezbollah-run satellite television station al-Manar, among the most viciously anti-Semitic broadcasters on earth. Similarly, the Justice Minister of the United Arab Emirates has said that the Danish cartoons represent “cultural terrorism, not freedom of expression.” This from a country that promotes its capital as the “Las Vegas of the Gulf,” yet blocks my Web site – – for being “inconsistent with the moral values” of the UAE. Presumably, my site should be an online casino.

Muslims have little integrity demanding respect for our faith if they don’t show it for others. When have we demonstrated against Saudi Arabia’s policy to prevent Christians and Jews from stepping on the soil of Mecca? They may come for rare business trips, but nothing more. As long as Rome welcomes non-Christians and Jerusalem embraces non-Jews, we Muslims have more to protest than cartoons.

None of this is to dismiss the need to take my religion seriously. Hell, Muslims even take seriously the need to be serious: Islam has a teaching against “excessive laughter.” I’m not joking. But does this mean that we should cry “blasphemy” over less-than-flattering depictions of the Prophet Muhammad? God no.

For one thing, the Koran itself points out that there will always be non-believers, and that it’s for Allah, not Muslims, to deal with them. More than that, the Koran says there is “no compulsion in religion.” Which suggests that nobody should be forced to treat Islamic norms as sacred.

Fine, many Muslims will retort, but we’re talking about the Prophet Muhammad – Allah’s final and therefore perfect messenger. However, Islamic tradition holds that the Prophet was a human being who made mistakes. It’s precisely because he wasn’t perfect that we know of the so-called Satanic Verses: a collection of passages that the Prophet reportedly included in the Koran. Only later did he realize that those verses glorified heathen idols rather than God. According to Islamic legend, he retracted the idolatrous passages, blaming them on a trick played by Satan.

When Muslims put the Prophet on a pedestal, we’re engaging in idolatry of our own. The point of monotheism is to worship one God, not one of God’s emissaries. Which is why humility requires people of faith to mock themselves – and each other – every once in a while.

Here’s my attempt: A priest, a rabbi, and a mullah meet at a conference about religion, and afterward are sitting around discussing their different faiths. The conversation turns to the topic of taboos.

The priest says to the rabbi and the mullah, “You guys can’t tell me that you’ve never eaten pork.”

“Never!” intones the rabbi. “Absolutely not!” insists the mullah.

But the priest is skeptical. “Come on, not even once? Maybe in a fit of rebellion when you were younger?”

“Okay,” confesses the rabbi. “When I was young, I once nibbled on bacon.”

“I admit it,” the mullah laughs (not excessively). “In a fit of youthful arrogance, I sampled a pork chop.”

Then the conversation turns to the priest’s religious observances.

“You can’t tell me you’ve never had sex,” says the mullah.

“Of course not!” the priest protests. “I took a vow of chastity.”

The mullah and the rabbi roll their eyes.

“Maybe after a few drinks?” the rabbi teases.

“Perhaps, in a moment of temptation, your faith waned?” the mullah wonders.

“Okay,” the priest confesses. “Once, when I was drunk in seminary school, I had sexual relations with a woman.”

“Beats pork, huh?” say the rabbi and the mullah.

Clearly, I’m as impure a feminist as I am a Muslim. The difference is, offended feminists won’t threaten to kill me. The same can’t be said for many of my fellow Muslims.

What part of “no compulsion” don’t they understand?

The writer is a Visiting Fellow at Yale University and the author of The Trouble with Islam. Reprinted with permission of The Wall Street Journal.

Holocaust diary of Polish teenager…

January 21, 2008

From a June 2007 story:

Holocaust diary of Polish teenager unveiled 60 years later
By The Associated Press

The diary of a 14-year-old Jewish girl, dubbed the Polish Anne Frank, unveiled Monday by Israel’s Holocaust museum more than 60 years after the teenager wrote it, vividly describes the world crumbling around her as she came of age in a Jewish ghetto.

“The rope around us is getting tighter and tighter,” Rutka Laskier wrote in 1943 shortly before she was deported to Auschwitz. “I’m turning into an animal waiting to die.”

Within a few months Rutka did die and, it seemed, so did her diary. But last year, a Polish friend who had safeguarded the notebook finally came forth, exposing a riveting historical document.


Rutka’s Notebook is both a daily account of the horrors of the Holocaust in Bedzin, Poland, and a scrapbook detailing the life of a typical teenager in extraordinary circumstances. The 60-page memoir includes innocent adolescent banter, concerns and first loves – combined with a cold analysis of the fate of European Jewry.

Six million Jews were killed by the Nazis during World War II, after European Jews were herded into ghettos, banned from most jobs and forced to wear yellow stars to identify them.

“I simply can’t believe that one day I will be allowed to leave this house without the yellow star. Or even that this war will end one day. If this happens I will probably lose my mind from joy,” she wrote on Feb. 5, 1943. “The little faith I used to have has been completely shattered. If God existed, He would have certainly not permitted that human beings be thrown alive into furnaces, and the heads of little toddlers be smashed with butt of guns or be shoved into sacks and gassed to death.”

“Reports of the gassing of Jews, which were not common knowledge in the West by then, apparently filtered into the Bedzin ghetto, which was near Auschwitz,” Yad Vashem experts said.

The following day she opened her entry with a heated description of her hatred toward her Nazi tormentors, but then, in an effortless transition, she speaks about her crush on a boy named Janek and the anticipation of a first kiss.

“I think my womanhood has awoken in me. That means, yesterday when I was taking a bath and the water stroked my body, I longed for someone’s hands to stroke me, she wrote. I didn’t know what it was, I have never had such sensations until now.”

Later that day, she shifted back to her harsh reality, casually describing watching a Nazi soldier tearing a Jewish baby away from its mother and killing it with his bare hands.

In addition to chronicling her life in the diary, between January-April 1943, Rutka also shared it with her friend Stanislawa Sapinska. The two met after Rutka’s family moved into a home owned by Sapinska’s family, which had been confiscated by the Nazis to be included in the Bedzin ghetto. Sapinska randomly came to inspect the home and the young girls – one Jewish, one Christian – formed a deep bond.

When Rutka feared that she would not survive, she told her friend about the diary. Sapinska offered to hide it in the basement under the floorboards. After the war, she returned to reclaim it.

She wanted me to save the diary, Sapinska, now in her late 80s, recalled
Monday. She said ‘I don’t know if I will survive, but I want the diary to live on, so that everyone will know what happened to the Jews.’

Yet, Sapinska stashed the diary away in her home library for more than 60 years. She said it was a precious memento and thought it to be too private to share with others. Only at the behest of her young nephew did she agree to hand it over last year.

“He convinced me that it was an important historical artifact,” she said in Polish.

In 1943, Rutka was exactly the same age as Anne Frank, the German-born Dutch teenager whose Holocaust diary has become one of the most widely read books in the world. Yad Vashem said Rutka’s newly discovered diary was authenticated by experts and Holocaust survivors.

Rutka’s father, Yaakov, was the family’s only survivor. He died in 1986. But unlike the Anne Frank’s father, he kept his painful past inside. After the war, he moved to Israel, where he started a new family. His Israeli daughter, Zahava Sherz, said her father never spoke of his other children, and the diary introduced her to the long-lost family she never knew.

“I was struck by this deep connection to Rutka,” said Sherz, 57. “I was an only child, and now I suddenly have an older sister. This black hole was suddenly filled, and I immediately fell in love with her.”

I have a feeling that I am writing for the last time, Rutka wrote on Feb. 20, 1943, as Nazi soldiers began gathering Jews outside her home for deportation.

“I wish it would end already! This torment; this is hell. I try to escape from these thoughts of the next day, but they keep haunting me like nagging flies.”

“If only I could say, it’s over, you only die once … but I can’t, because despite all these atrocities I want to live, and wait for the following day.”

However, Rutka would write again. Her last entry is dated April 24, 1943, and her last written words are: “I’m very bored. The entire day I’m walking around the room. I have nothing to do.”

In August, she and her family were shipped to Auschwitz, the largest Nazi concentration camp. She is believed to have been murdered upon arrival.

Freud and Judaism…

January 20, 2008

The interpretation of Freud

By Robert S. Wistrich
The story told by historian Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi is a good way to sum up Sigmund Freud’s attitude toward Judaism and Christianity. And here is the story: West End Avenue, Manhattan. An upper-middle class Jewish couple; the father, a dyed-in-the-wool liberal, is a militant and vocal atheist. Since the parents are interested in the best education for their son, they send him to Trinity School, which by this point is a secular school, open to everyone. One day, after about a month, the child returns home and says offhandedly, “By the way, Dad, do you know the meaning of the word ‘trinity’? It means the trio of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.” The father, barely restraining himself, grabs the boy by the shoulders and declares: “Son, there is only one God – and we don’t believe in him!” Freud, who on more than one occasion defined himself as ‘a completely atheistic Jew,’ would certainly have been able to appreciate the historical truth of this story. The joke also sheds light on Freud’s intentions in writing “Moses and Monotheism” (1939), the only work by him that is specifically devoted to a Jewish subject. Yerushalmi’s book, “Freud’s Moses: Judaism Terminable and Interminable,” presents Freud’s essay both as the psychoanalytic history of the Jews and as a “psychological biography” of the man himself. Already in 1934, when the first version of “Moses and Monotheism” was completed, the central question that faced Freud was how the Jews had become what they were. This is Freud’s last attempt to discover, in the shadow of Nazism, the source of the ancient hatred of the Jews, and to understand what distinguishes them from other nations. Yerushalmi believes that in searching for the answer, Freud was fulfilling the wishes of his father, Jakob, who in 1891 had given him a ‘mandate’ to return to the values shared by father and son – in the form of a dedication, written in Hebrew by Jakob, in the family Bible on the occasion of his son’s 35th birthday. Yerushalmi calls Freud’s writing of the book an act of “deferred obedience” to the wishes of his father, which may enable us to reach a more profound psychological understanding of Freud’s preoccupation with Moses. In the end, Freud treated the subject systematically after a delay of about 40 years, as a secular Jew committed to a strict scientific approach, making sure to speak of the Jews as ‘they’ rather than ‘we.’


Little self-hateToday, on the 150th anniversary of Freud’s birth, the question of his Jewish identity still arouses curiosity and preoccupies many scholars. In my new book about Germans and Jews in Central Europe, “Masters and Victims: Jewish Fate in Central Europe” (University of Nebraska Press and the Sassoon Center), I try to give an answer to the riddle of his identity in the actual historical context. In my opinion, Freud is the outstanding embodiment of that same unique type of ‘marginal Jew’ of a ‘Judaism without God,’ who is alienated from his religion and nation, but proud of his origins. In 1918 Freud asked his friend, the Swiss pastor Oskar Pfister: “How did it happen that none of the God-fearing people invented psychoanalysis, and it had to wait for a godless Jew?” On his 70th birthday (in 1926), Freud discussed his connection to Judaism at length: “Not faith, not even national pride … Every time I tended toward feelings of nationalist enthusiasm, I tried to suppress them as harmful and unfair, since the example of the nations among whom we Jews live served as a warning and frightened me. But a great deal still remains in me, enough to turn the attraction to Judaism and the Jews to something that cannot be resisted, dark emotional powers that become stronger as it becomes more difficult to express them in words, as well as the clear awareness of an internal and familiar identity of that same psychological structure.”

There is no question that Freud was aware of the power of nationalist sentiments. He tended to react sharply to the stubborn prejudices he experienced in his native Austria – a very anti-Semitic environment in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. After 1895, the year when psychoanalysis was born, Freud himself was a target of anti-Semites. Was he not blatantly subversive when it came to religion, morality and family, shattering human illusions?

“You can rest assured,” he wrote in the summer of 1908 to his student, Karl Abraham, “that had my name been Uberhuber, my innovations would have met much less opposition, in spite of everything.” Despite his frustration, Freud related to the sense of isolation with a certain pride. After all, a trailblazer needed “a willingness to be in an isolated position, a situation with which nobody is more familiar than a Jew.” Freud believed that that same profound feeling of incompatibility with the non-Jewish majority had caused him and other secular Jews to be much less conformist. In effect, they were less bothered by dogmas and superstitions, or by the heavy burden of theological “illusions” bequeathed to them by Christian culture.

Freud’s reaction was relatively free of that same Jewish self-hate, by means of which the Jews of Germany and Austria in modern times tried to escape from the burden of their Jewishness by vilifying their origins. Freud always believed that his Jewish heritage was a main source of “vibrant energy,” creativity and independent thought. And that is the reason for his disdain for his colleagues who converted to Christianity for the sake of their careers.

But Freud’s sense of ethnic solidarity did not lead him to adopt Zionism. He did believe, however, in the racial and intellectual differences between Jews and non-Jews, and in fact emphasized the special Jewish ethos, whose positive significance was a sublimation of the sensual and touched on the spiritual, the ability to engage in abstract thinking, and cultural and intellectual progress.

But there was also a darker side to Freud’s world view, both in relation to Judaism and with respect to human beings in general. In his view, the “spirituality” of the Jews stemmed, in the final analysis, from the murder of the leader in the desert, Moses, and the guilt feelings that were suppressed in the wake of that murder and the rejection of the values represented by Moses. That same lofty Jewish ethos admired by Freud was formulated, according to “Moses and Monotheism,” as a result of irrational memories and impulses that had been repressed for hundreds of years.

“Pathetic” humanity

Freud had no illusions about the destructive and aggressive urges that are part of human nature. In 1927 he wrote to Arnold Zweig: “As far as anti-Semitism is concerned, I don’t really want to go searching for explanations for it; I have a very strong tendency to surrender to my emotions on this matter, and I find that I have received confirmation for my totally unscientific belief that humanity is for the most part quite a pathetic and miserable rabble.”

His short essay, “Why War,” (1932) also presented a pessimistic view of the human condition. History was presented as a never-ending series of conflicts between communities, races, nations and empires, which “were always solved by force.” Freud was unable to find a convincing political solution for the human impulses that led to belligerency, war and injustice. He did not hold out great hope for the liberation of the masses from their submission to the powers of darkness that were carefully nurtured by the institutions of the state and the Church. The only chance for a gradual improvement, he believed, lay in the ability of psychoanalysis to liberate reason, over the long term, from its submission to unconscious urges and neurotic fixations.

Freud’s disgust for the passions of the masses and his negative opinion of humanity in general were a logical outcome of the years he spent observing public life in Vienna, and the rise of Nazism. He himself was barely rescued from Hitler’s clutches in 1938, and four of his sisters were murdered afterward in Nazi extermination camps.

Freud’s attitude toward Zionism and the ancient Jewish homeland was very complex. In a letter to Arnold Zweig (who lived in Palestine at the time) on May 8, 1932, Freud wrote with rigid rationalism about “the Holy Land”: That place, he noted, “has never given rise to anything except sanctified religious insanity, courageous attempts to overcome the outside, visible world, by means of the inner world of hopes that are only wishful thinking.” He wondered aloud “what kind of heritage has penetrated our blood and our nerves” from the heritage of the early patriarchs, and in typical fashion, he recognized the part that “belated infantile desires” which remain “unfulfilled” played in his emotions.

Freud’s skepticism prevented him from following Herzl, who suggested becoming the “new Moses” in Vienna of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and taking the Jews out of their “land of bondage” to the Promised Land. Moses filled an important role in Freud’s imagination, more as an educator and a moral legislator than as a visionary prophet or a charismatic political leader. Freud apparently never met Herzl, although he sent him a copy of his book “The Interpretation of Dreams” in 1902, as “a sign of the great admiration that I, like so many others, have for the writer and fighter for our people’s human rights.” Their short meetings took place only in dream scenarios, which hinted at the fact that Herzl may have represented a nagging prophetic presence in Freud’s unconscious. The father of psychoanalysis demonstrated an ambiguous and often hesitant attitude toward Zionism, a mixture of fondness, skepticism, anxiety, enthusiastic interest and a flickering of pride.

Profound concerns

The riots in Palestine in 1929 exposed some of Freud’s most profound concerns about the Zionist enterprise, and aroused his deep revulsion toward any form of religious fanaticism. In 1930 he wrote to the Keren Hayesod (the fund-raising arm of the World Zionist Organization, established in 1920 at the World Zionist Conference in London): “Anyone who wants to influence the masses must give them something arousing and exciting, and my level-headed opinion of Zionism does not allow this. I definitely feel sympathy for its goals, I am proud of our university in Jerusalem and happy about the flourishing of our moshavot (agricultural communities). But on the other hand, I do not think that Palestine can ever become a Jewish country, or that the Christian world and the Muslim world will ever agree to let their holy places be under Jewish control. I think that it would be wiser to establish the Jewish homeland in a place that is less sensitive historically. But I know that this rational viewpoint would never arouse the enthusiasm of the masses…”

Freud’s interest in Zionism waned during the 1930s, of all times. He was painfully aware of the Nazi threat to the future of the Jewish people, and wrote with great concern about “the decline into almost prehistoric barbarism” that was taking place among the Germans. That was why he discussed anti-Semitism so seriously in his last work. Among his varied and interesting theories, he tried to link German Nazism to the eternal grudge borne by the pagan barbarians “against the new religion (Christianity) that was forced on them.” They transferred their anger to the Jewish roots of the Christian religion – a means of diverting responsibility that succeeded because what is told in the New Testament “took place among the Jews.” This was the source of Freud’s conclusion that hatred of Jews is “fundamentally hatred of Christians.” It is no wonder, he added, that “in the National-Socialist German revolution, the close connection between the two monotheistic religions assumes such a clear expression of hostility toward both of them.”

Freud was correct in noting that Nazism, which relies on the Christian tradition of hatred of Jews, openly and angrily lashed out against all the ethical demands shared by Judaism and Christianity. His last work revealed a thorough understanding of the return of “repressed elements in the unconscious of humanity.” Freud died in September 1939, on the threshold of the darkest chapter in the history of mankind and the Jewish people. The murderous anti-Semitism of Nazi Germany could only have confirmed his greatest fears about the bestiality concealed beneath the thin veneer of modern European civilization.

Prof. Robert S. Wistrich holds the Neuberger chair for modern European history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and is head of its International Center for the Study of Anti-Semitism.

Iran: banning Garcia Marquez book

January 20, 2008

From CNN, November 2007: 

Ban on Nobel laureate’s book spurs interest in Iran

An Iranian government decision to forbid the second printing of a Persian translation of Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s novel has spurred interest in the book, booksellers said Saturday.

The novel by the famed Latin American writer was translated into Persian and had an initial press run of 5,000 copies.

It was only banned after the Ministry of Culture received complaints from conservatives who believed the novel was promoting prostitution.

The ban has only provoked greater interest in the novel and on Saturday, copies of the book were being sold for more than twice their list price.

Ahmad Abbasi, 28, had to pay $3.70 to buy the novel on the black market — more than twice the price tag.

“I don’t know what the book is about. But when the government bans a book, there is something interesting in it. So, I’m buying the book out of curiosity,” he said while counting out his money for book dealer in central Tehran.

The novel, known as “Memories of My Melancholy Whores” in the West, was translated into Persian as “Memories of My Melancholy Sweethearts.”

It tells the story of an elderly man who had long used prostitutes and decides to mark his 90th birthday by sleeping with a 14-year-old virgin. He ends up falling in love with the girl.

The Culture Ministry, whose censors are responsible to check the contents of books before print, said a “bureaucratic error” led to the government giving permission for the novel to be published, the daily Etemad reported Saturday.

Culture Minister Mohammad Hossein Saffar Harandi blamed the “negligence” of his subordinates and said the official who authorized the book’s publication has been dismissed, the semiofficial Fars news agency reported.

“Necessary measures have been taken to avoid reoccurrence of such a printing,” Fars quoted Harandi as saying earlier this week.

Officials at Niloofar Publications, which published the first edition, confirmed Saturday they have been forbidden to put out the second edition.

“The first edition has sold out but we were ordered not to publish the second edition,” an employee with Niloofar Publications said Saturday, declining to give his name due to the sensitivity of the issue.

Garcia Marquez, who was awarded the Nobel prize for literature in 1982, is popular in Iran, which has translated and published many of his books, including “One Hundred Years of Solitude” and “Love in the Time of Cholera.”

Iran has tightened censorship of books, films and music since President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came to power in 2005.

Martin Gilbert, Churchill biographer, Jewish historian…

January 14, 2008

One on One with Sir Martin Gilbert: Hindsight and aforethought
‘This isn’t the time of the Israelite prophets, when disaster struck in spite of their warnings, because the people didn’t wake up. I think Europe has woken up’

‘A seed won’t germinate on infertile soil,” says acclaimed British-Jewish historian Sir Martin Gilbert about the ease with which anti-Semitic sentiment seems to be spreading. He then quotes a passage from a letter written to Winston Churchill by a concerned colleague who refers to the “hereditary antipathy against the Jewish race.”

This passage appears in his upcoming book, Churchill and the Jews – the latest of several dozen major works, among them: The Holocaust: A History of the Jews of Europe During the Second World War; Churchill: A Life; The First World War; The Second World War; A Comprehensive History of Israel; and A History of the Twentieth Century. A regular visitor to Israel (“I try to come two or three times a year”), Churchill’s official biographer – who just turned 70 – is here this time to attend Jerusalem’s annual International Book Fair, where he delivered a talk Wednesday on “What Jews can learn from history.”

What, indeed, can anyone learn from history, when it appears to repeat itself in such full force – or at least in new forms, like that of the threat to Western civilization being posed by the current “barbarism” of radical Islam and its apologists?

The answer, it turns out, is at once utterly simple and completely complex. On the one hand, asserts Sir Martin over breakfast at the King David Hotel, “Each nation has to know what it stands for… The weakness in many [Western] countries is the lack of clarity about the bedrock of their existence. And it is that bedrock which has to be defended.” On the other hand, he insists, nothing is at it appears while it is going on. “What you see when you [examine archives opened only 30 years after an event] is that the people you imagined had been strong were weak; the people you thought weak were strong; and things you thought couldn’t possibly be taking place were taking place.” Hmmm. If so, one can only wait with anticipation to see whether Sir Martin will take up the offer – which he says he’s “mulling” – to write a biography of former prime minister Ariel Sharon.

Would you assess the current discourse on Israel as anti-Semitic?
Anti-Semitism certainly plays a major part. People don’t like Jews. It’s legitimate to dislike people. But anti-Semitism is liking Jews even less than is permissible in sane discourse.

Do you think that criticism of Israel is a way of using permissible discourse to express dislike of Jews?
When one goes to debates, such as [London Mayor Ken] Livingstone’s [event last month, titled “A World Civilization or a Clash of Civilizations?” – at which he debated Middle East Forum director Daniel Pipes], the difference between legitimate criticism, based on rational arguments, and anti-Semitic criticism, not based on answerable facts, but rather on nonsense, becomes clear quite quickly.

What do you mean by “nonsense”?
The theme of the Livingstone event was multiculturalism. Its subtext was that the only intolerance one ever finds in
London is that against Muslims. Livingstone spoke very mellifluously. The only time he began to rant was when he was talking about Israel. The point he made was that Israel had no legitimacy – he even called its existence a “travesty.” When, in response, somebody asked him about the November 1947 UN vote for a Jewish state, he said: “Ah, the United Nations then was dominated and controlled by the United States, which didn’t want the 100,000 Jewish survivors of the Holocaust to go to America, so it voted to establish the State of Israel to keep the Jews out.”

Is there a connection between anti-Americanism and anti-Zionism?
At the moment, anti-Americanism is very strong in
Western Europe and in Britain. America‘s perceived unconditional support for Israel – which is one of these things upon which an incredible amount of myth is built – is a black mark. Then there is the belief of Jewish dominance over America, an example of which can be seen in the recent report about AIPAC and in former US president Jimmy Carter’s book.

How much of this is mere “nonsense,” accepted by ignorant people who don’t know the facts, and how much an intellectual tool anti-Semites are happy to use as justification?
I think it is more the latter. A seed won’t germinate on infertile soil. I just finished a book, which is being published in June, on Churchill’s relationship with the Jews and the Zionists. On one occasion when Churchill was arguing the case for a Jewish state, one of his conservative colleagues wrote him: “You don’t understand that you are going to stir up the hereditary antipathy against the Jewish race.”

What would Churchill have said about the Israeli government’s response to attack over the last few years?
He always quoted the French saying, “Cet animal est mechant.” This animal is dangerous; when you attack him, he defends himself.
A nation has to defend itself. In the 1930s, when the whole fabric of Western civilization was under attack by Nazism – even before a single shot had been fired, or a single German soldier had crossed a border – Churchill said, “We’re under attack and we have to defend ourselves; we have to know what it is we stand for.”

Do you see a parallel between Churchill’s attitude and that of George Bush after 9/11?
The war against the Taliban and al-Qaida was an example of defending yourself, even when your borders weren’t being breached by armies.

Is there not a greater problem today than during World War II identifying the enemy?
The real problem is that each nation has to know what it stands for – what ideology it adheres to. The weakness in many [Western] countries is the lack of clarity about the bedrock of their existence. And it is that bedrock which has to be defended. More than borders, because borders are less and less under attack.
Prime Minister Tony Blair has touted British values that are central to our society: democracy, rule of law, free speech. Not based on hatred. When you have, within that society, people for whom hatred seems to be a dominant force, you have to say to them, as cruel as it may sound: “If you come here to be part of our society, and don’t like our basic norms, please go find a society more amenable to your own way of life.”

Why is the concept of freedom so elusive, particularly among the people who most enjoy it?
The hardest thing to enjoy is freedom. One takes it for granted when it’s not something he’s had to struggle for. In
Israel, there is a whole generation who had to struggle for the very existence of the state. Britain has been in existence for hundreds of years; Israel is merely 59. So, Israelis may be more attuned to what it is they are struggling for and seeking to maintain. In England, Western Europe and the United States, that’s much less true. In Eastern Europe, on the other hand, it’s only been 15 years since they’ve thrown off communism – so there, it is a bit different. Still, I was recently talking to a Pole in her mid-20s, who has no memory of the communist period. So, there’s already a new generation in Eastern Europe for whom the struggle against communism and to establish independent national identities is not part of their memory. They, too, have to be reminded – whether by their parents or by reading – that “this is what we stand for, and that is what we struggled for; and now we have it.”

How is it, then, that the younger generation in the West, which doesn’t know what it’s like to fight for freedom, nevertheless talks a lot about freedom for women, gays and minorities?
I wouldn’t say this is universal, and depends on the youth themselves: their upbringing, environment, organizations with which they are affiliated. Education plays a major part.

But in the West today, liberal education educates to liberalism.
That may be the case, but there are also trends in education.
At his debate, Livingstone posited multiculturalism as a universal good and the status quo indicating that the only conflict in the world was between multiculturalism and its enemies. Daniel Pipes said something very different: that the conflict in the world is between culture and barbarism – that there is civilized behavior, and there is also a barbaric instinct. This barbaric instinct has to be recognized and understood. It may be much harder to see, because it’s not a very comforting thought.

Why isn’t it comforting?
Because it involves struggle. Danger. Having to respond to danger.
The other day, the British police raided one of the major mosques in London, much to the indignation of the Muslim community, which said it was a violation of its freedom. The police raided that mosque, in fact, in order to enter its adjacent bookshop and remove inflammatory material – the sort that’s on the barbarism side of Daniel Pipes’s equation. The debate among liberal people about whether it’s right to break into a mosque’s premises or a bookshop is clear: Wait a minute – a bookshop! That’s freedom of speech. After all, Hitler burned books outside the Opera House in 1933. That’s what makes this all very difficult to conceptualize. Are there really circumstances under which we have to seize or make certain books unavailable? The answer, in my view, is yes. Because this barbarism is a reality; it’s not just some enemy facing you with a gun. It is an ideological and surreptitious enemy that works through the educational system of the adversary.  

Speaking of books, let’s talk about the Koran. There’s is an ongoing debate about whether the holy book of Islam is inherently violent or has been hijacked by extremists. What is your view?
That it’s in the interpretation. All religions have had their zealots interpret their holy texts in a way that has led to bloodshed and war. For many hundreds of years, the New Testament led to the most terrifying violence. But then, new interpretations came forward, and continued to come forward, so now we have a situation in which the Christian theologians and the Catholic Church have turned their back on anything in the scriptures that implies the Jews were responsible for the murder of Jesus.
Islam has always had extremist movements. In the Middle Ages, for example. Now we have Wahhabism and its various derivatives. This is a phase we’re in. In the current crisis over the Mughrabi Gate ramp – something with which I’ve been familiar over the last 35 years in my work on Jerusalem – the head of the Arab League called [the renovations] an attempt to create a synagogue in the area and an insult to Muslims that has to be fought. It was equally open to him to say that it is an absurd storm in a teacup – that this thing is 60 meters from the wall; not slated for a synagogue, but actually just a dangerous structure. In other words, in the end, it’s up to each individual – in this case Muslim leader – to decide how he wants to interpret and present his scriptures.

But doesn’t this bring us to the connection between religion and politics? If you use the goings-on in the Palestinian Authority right now as an example, you can see the way religion is used as a tool to rally the people around a common enemy. If so, it would not serve any leader’s interest to interpret the texts differently. Nor would it have served the purposes of the head of the Arab League you mentioned to have called the Mughrabi ramp crisis an “absurd storm in a teacup.”
Religious leaders have a tremendous responsibility not to distort their religious texts. My wife and I happened to be walking in the
Old City on Friday just after lunch, and we heard the imam of the mosque blasting out hatred. Well, this is certainly political, in the sense that it has a political agenda. But it is based on religion. There is a phenomenon in the current Muslim world, which has arisen before, but which has rearisen in a bizarre form – thanks, mainly to Osama bin Laden: the restoration of the caliphate. This is a combined political-religious force which Islam created in the past, but which most modern societies long ago turned their back on. The idea that anyone – least of all young Muslims in Britain – should dream of restoring a powerful medieval tool of Islamic conquest and rule is incredible.

Historian Bernard Lewis refers to Western Europe‘s capitulation; Eurabia author Bat Yeor warns of its demographic Islamization. Is barbarism indeed winning?
I’m a great believer in people’s waking up. Sometimes, they wake up rather late.
Britain in 1938 was capitulating; in 1939 it woke up – much, incidentally, to Hitler’s surprise. When he was told the British were now going to actually stand up against him, he said, “Oh, no. I saw these worms at Munich, and they’re not going to do anything now that I’m about to attack Poland.” But he was wrong. I think that’s true now of Britain, as well. Britain has woken up.

But what about the demography problem?
I’ve read Bat Yeor’s book. I know her and have a great respect for her sense of anguish. She has studied the way in which the European Parliament and European institutions have become infiltrated by thoughts and legislation which are essentially seeking to appease fundamentalist Islamic activity – the ultimate dominance of the caliphate and Sharia law in
Europe. But we’re a long, long way from that.

Are you saying that the presentation of her findings is too alarmist?
No. I’m saying that her book – which is 100 percent accurate – is an alarm call that will ultimately prevent what she’s warning about from taking place. The same applies to Bernard Lewis. Because he is the greatest mind of our time in this whole area, people will take his warnings seriously. This isn’t the time of the Israelite prophets, when disaster struck in spite of their warnings, because the people didn’t wake up. I think
Europe has woken up.

If so, will Europeans view the United States more positively – as an ally in the struggle against barbarism?
The relationship between
Europe and the United States has always been complicated. Every sane British person knows that we only won the two world wars of the 20th century because of American intervention and commitment. But there are levels of grievance, the first being that this intervention and commitment came rather late, which caused a lot of unnecessary suffering. The greater level of grievance comes precisely from the sense that we were dependent on the US during those wars.Anti-Americanism has its surges and probably always will. As a school boy after World War II – when the Marshall Plan was enabling us finally to have fresh eggs instead of powdered ones – I remember people reducing American culture to Coca-Cola and Hollywood. It’s the jealousy of smaller nations and lesser minds. Still, there are many Britons – myself included – who regard America‘s contribution to both world wars, and massively to the Marshall Plan after World War II, as the defining contribution in the survival of Western values and democracy. Today, the British government, at some considerable loss of popularity, stood by the US in Afghanistan and Iraq. More importantly, it doesn’t belittle American civilization. As for Europe, if, on a deeper level, it feels itself in danger from the Islamist threat, there will be a greater understanding of the American position. Ironically, the United States is not at the moment threatened in the way that Europe is. There isn’t a great extremist Islamist movement within the US.

According to American Center for Democracy director Rachel Ehrenfeld, there is a wider network in the US than is immediately apparent.
It may become so five or 10 years from now. But right now, Americans do not perceive a threat from Islamic fundamentalism from within.

Americans not perceiving such a threat could land Hillary Clinton in the White House.
Perhaps that’ll be a good thing. If she becomes president and the threat materializes, she will feel all the more cheated and betrayed, and will become a tough, feisty opponent.

Name another leader who felt betrayed and as a result became a tough opponent.
Neville Chamberlain. He had wanted to make concessions to Hitler because he believed there was no ultimate quarrel between
Britain and Germany. When the war came, he became the toughest supporter of drastic action against Germany.

How much of a role does Iran play in this discussion?
Iran, by its own actions, has alerted Europe, and the European Union is taking an increasingly strong stand. People no longer dismiss extremist statements as mere verbiage. This is one lesson which has been learned from history. When Hitler said in 1939, “The war will not end with the Bolshevization of Europe, but with the destruction of the Jews,” people said, “Well, that’s just a way of speaking.” When Ahmadinejad said he wanted to wipe Israel off the map, people sat up and took notice.

If what you say about alarm bells and learning from history is true, how do you explain that in Israel there is still a view that appeasing the Palestinians is a better course than defeating them, or that siding with Fatah is a way of weakening Hamas?
As a historian, I’m very cautious about anyone’s claiming to know what any government is doing at the present time.
Israel elected this government. It’s an amalgam – one might say a sludgy amalgam – of political forces. Though some of its leaders appear to have minor blemishes, they were chosen by the electoral process. And we do not really know what they’re actually doing in their conclaves. As we’re sitting here in the lobby of the King David Hotel, we don’t know whether, in another room in the hotel, some Israeli official is sitting with someone from Hamas. Just as in the old days, when you couldn’t sit with the PLO, meetings were held with them. If the leaders have decided that Abu Mazen [PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas] is the one they want to support, let’s say they have a reason for it, though it may be a reason we don’t know. We don’t know what the actual relationship between the Israeli leaders and the Fatah leaders is. Certainly, if you read the newspapers, the situation looks bizarre. Commenting on the Mughrabi Gate ramp, Abu Mazen made an extremely hostile and uncompromising statement from Mecca. It certainly didn’t smack either of statesmanship or of trying to find a peaceful way forward.I study archives as soon as they are open – normally 30 years after an event; sometimes a bit less. What you see when you do this is that the people you imagined had been strong were weak; the people you thought weak were strong; and things you thought couldn’t possibly be taking place were taking place.

If 30 years later, you discover that nothing is the way you’d perceived it at the time, isn’t it ridiculous to form any opinions while you’re living through something?
[He laughs] Well, you have to form opinions. One of the bases of democratic government is that each elected leader promises open government, no secret deals, etc.
And it may be that before coming to power, candidates think that’s actually how they’re going to behave. But they can’t. The very nature of international relations – even domestic politics, to some extent – is that there are so many factors a prime minister is confronted with in the first dossier he opens that are unknown to him and the public. So, right at the outset he finds himself having to withhold information. But you can’t say to the public, “Look, things don’t seem right. You heard a bit of shooting here, and there’s bit of trouble over there, but it’s not going to be for another 30 years before you’ll know what we’re doing.” You have to hope your governments will be more open rather than less, but you shouldn’t be under any illusions that what you’re told is 100% of the truth. It’s an approximation to the truth, and you hope it’s not lies.

What was your most surprising archival revelation – one that completely contradicted your previous assumptions?
I wouldn’t have gone on writing history if it hadn’t been for the fact that nothing is what it seems when you go into the archives. But the most interesting thing, from an Israeli perspective, is about Lawrence of Arabia. The great Arabist, right? The man who supported the Arabs, and who pushed for Arab nationhood in the 1920s. He’s always pictured wearing Arab robes.
What is so astonishing – which you’ll see in my next book, Churchill and the Jews – is that he was a serious Zionist. He believed that the only hope for the Arabs of Palestine and the rest of the region was Jewish statehood – that if the Jews had a state here, they would provide the modernity, the “leaven,” as he put it, with which to enable the Arabs to move into the 20th century. He had a sort of contempt for the Arabs, actually. He felt that only with a Jewish presence and state would the Arabs ever make anything of themselves. And, by a Jewish state, he meant a Jewish state from the Mediterranean shore to the River Jordan – something [he says, smiling] which will never come to pass.