Why We Can and Should Arm Kurdistan

Posted by dianamuir on August 12, 2014
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The reason why we can and should help the Kurds, while we have not figured out an effective way to help end the horrific bloodletting in Syria, is that the Kurds are fighting for nationhood, while Syria is a morass of Alawis, Shia, Sunnis, and Islamists fighting as tribes or as jihadis while, as in every civil war, the moderate are helpless and voiceless.  Our great and not ill-placed fear is that munitions and training offered to moderates, or to any group fighting in Syria, will wind up being used against one of the region’s few decent governments, or strengthening violent bad actors including Hezbollah and ISIS.

By contrast with Syria, Kurds in the northern provinces of the former Iraq have governed themselves since 2003, in an autonomous region under one of the few relatively decent governments in the Near East.  Kurdistan is a nascent nation state.  Since 2012/3 Kurds in the northeastern corner of the former Syria have governed themselves in an autonomous region that is doing what looks to be a decent job of putting together a government.  The status Kurds in eastern Turkey is, of course,  still contested by the government of Turkey and Kurdish separatists.  Kurds can be trusted with arms in a way that militias cannot, because they have a functioning national  government already in place.

The world’s attention has been riveted on the Yazidi, a Kurdish religio-ethnic minority some 40,000 of whom were stranded in the mountains dying from lack of food or water after being driven form their homes and farms by ISIS, the self-described Islamic Caliphate.  A Caliphate is not a nation state because it has no notional border.   Even in the imagination of the most ambitious irredentist, a Kurdish nation state can extend only as far as the furthest Kurdish community.  Jihadis and Islamists committed to the Caliphate would like it to expand to the furthest horizon.

Kurdistan is  a nation, and because it is, America did have to not send in the Marines to rescue the stranded Yazidis.  They were saved by the combined efforts of the pesh merga (the army of Autonomous (former Iraqi) Kurdistan), Kurdish fighters from Syria (People’s Protection Units), and Kurdish fighters from eastern Turkey (Kurdistan Workers’ Party – the PKK,  a group better known for its resort to violent terrorism).

In 1776, Americans needed help to win independence from a great Empire, not an evil empire, just an Empire that did not recognize our right to self-determination.  The Declaration of Independence was a splendid document, but it was only an idea.  To make it effective we needed a lot of French money, a little Dutch money, big shipments of French munitions, and the French Navy.

The Kurds don’t need large numbers of American boots on the ground.  They have the right to defend themselves and the right to retake Kurdish territory recently overrun by Caliphate jihadis.  They need what we needed: money, munitions, and (not naval, but) air support.  We should give it to them.



Enemy teeth as a trophy of war and Steven Salaita’s hate-tweets

Posted by dianamuir on August 07, 2014
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Time was, the most riveting object you could show a 10-year-old at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts was a bowl from Hawaii studded with human teeth, the teeth of slain enemies.  10-year-olds are bloodthirsty little ghouls.

You can’t do that anymore because Peabody Essex protected our delicate sensitivities by hiding their human tooth bowls in storage when they renovated in 2003.  They don’t even seem to have photos of the bowls on their web site.  You can still see such bowls on display at the Bishop Museum in Hawaii, or, if you’re not in Honolulu, in this photo from the British Museum.  As conceptual art, it’s pretty compelling.

Like rinking from a cup made of a dead enemy’s skull, serving punch from bowls  studded with human teeth has gone out of style.   We still fight wars – sometimes for just cause, and sometimes not – but we no longer post the heads of dead enemies on city gates or wear necklaces made of their teeth.  For the  curious here’s  a photo of such a necklace from the website of the Museum Victoria and the Fiji Museum.

All of this came to mind today when I read a tweet by anti-Israel activist Steven Salaita written on the second day of the recent Israel-Hamas war:

At this point, if Netanyahu appeared on TV with a necklace made from the teeth of Palestinian children, would anybody be surprised? #Gaza

Such a thing is inconceivable, as Salaita certainly knew when he sent his vicious tweet.   To its credit, the University of Illinois today withdrew an employment offer after following his hate-filled tweets.





Best Review I’ve read yet of Nicholas Wade’s A TROUBLESOME INHERITANCE: Genes, Race, and Human History

Posted by dianamuir on June 20, 2014
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A TROUBLESOME INHERITANCE: Genes, Race, and Human History

Gezellig, Gezelligheid and other Stuff Dutch People Like

Posted by dianamuir on May 08, 2014
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Words and customs that don’t translate.

Æthelstan, King of the All Britain

Posted by dianamuir on May 08, 2014
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An interesting argument for 10th century English nationalism.

“to ensure the safety of individual representatives”

Posted by dianamuir on March 26, 2014
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Yesterday evening, at the end of a week-long sit-in at the student union,  the University of Michigan student government, acting under special rules designed “to ensure the safety of individual representatives“, voted against urging the university to divest from corporations doing business with the government of Israel.

“To ensure the safety of individual representatives.”  Not to insure decorum, or open debate, or to protect against rancor, or invective.  “To ensure the safety of individual representatives.”   On an American campus.  In 2014.

I am not a journalist, nor am I writing from Ann Arbor.  One of the journalists covering this story, Adam Kredo of the Washington Free Beacon drew attention to a Facebook post  by a student activist at Michigan that sheds light on why student government leaders and Jewish students at the University of Michigan may have reason to worry about their personal safety.  Two months before the vote on divestment, an Ann Arbor student named Yazan Kherallah posted a selfie on his Facebook page.  Kherallah is a vocal, public supporter of the movement to divest form Israel at the university.  The photo showed Kherallah wrapped in a keffiyeh that concealed his face so that only his eyes are showing,  holding a pineapple in one hand and a knife in the other as though he was about to stab the knife into the pineapple (ananas in French.)   Kherallah’s message reads: “It’s on. Kareem Hakim Hassan Hamid Mazen Abbas Youssef Ahmad Bazzi Omar Attalla Hussein Fardous @the rest of team ananas”

Team ananas?

The reference is to the French Holocaust denier and Jew-baiting French political activist and anti-Semite, Dieudonné M’bala M’bala.  The reference is to  Dieudonné’s Holocaust mockery song, Shoah-nanas.   The title blends Shoah, the Hebrew word for the Holocaust, with the French word for pineapple, and is wildly popular with anti-Semites across the French-speaking world and beyond.  The video has circulated in several languages.   Here, at and following 4:13, you can see the jovial Jew-hater  Dieudonné  laughing, dancing and singing while an actor  dressed in the grey pajamas of  Nazi death-camp inmates (complete with yellow star) dances with pineapples.   Sample lyric, “You take me by the Shoah, I’ll take you by the pineapple.”

Purile?  Certainly.  But also part of the rising drumbeat of anti-Semitism that has led to a wave of violent attacks and murders targeting Jews in France.

I doubt that many University of Michigan students have ever heard of Dieudonné.  Certainly few Americans equate pineapples with Holocaust denial or with Jew hatred, in fact I doubt that many people in Michigan can identify an ananas. For most American students, a picture of a guy in a keffiyeh stabbing a pineapple is merely weird.

But 42 of Kerallah’s Facebook friends recognized the Jew-hating imagery, they “liked” Kerallah’s  knife-stabbing  Shoah-nanas photo, they thought it was funny, “you crack me up man,”  and mildly daring, “you on the list now ain’t ya.”  None of his friends wrote anything along the lines of: Man, are you out of your mind?  You think murdering 6 million innocent people was a comedy routine?

As it is, and even though many of Kerallah’s “friends” are not in Ann Arbor, the members of the student government and University of Michigan security have reason to be concerned about the atmosphere of Jew-hatred found among at least some students in Michigan.


Addendum: Kerallah has now posted a denial of anti-Semitic intentions in his ananas-stabbing selfie on his Facebook page.  He claims that the post was part of his participation in an intramural sports league in which his team played against a team called the ananas, which means pineapple in many languages, including, Kerallah points out, Arabic.

I remain skeptical because Kerallah is active on social media, and the Shoah-ananas photos have been making the rounds on social media for a long time.  I find it difficult to believe that, for example, the Facebook friends who cannot possibly be members of an intramural Ann Arbor basketball team because they are studying in Ireland and other parts of Europe, but who recognized the symbolism of Dieudonne’s ananas stabbing and wrote “ha, ha” had failed to send the video around when it was ricocheting through anti-Israel social media circles  in January 2014.

But even if Kerallah failed to see it then, he could hardly have missed it after footballer Nocholas Anelka sparked a a frenzy of media coverage about  Dieudonneand his anti-Semitic, Holocaust-mocking song on December 28, 2013 by celebrating a goal with an anti-Semitic gesture popularized by Dieudonne.   Kerallah posted his selfie on January 28, at a time when student activists following the politics of the Middle East as they play out on Western campuses could hardly be unaware of the Shoah-nanas symbolism.

2nd Addendum: Kerallah appears to have taken the offensive post down, closing the barn door after the horse has escaped.


3rd Addendum  on “Holocaust pineapples”:   A tweep who has stepped forward to defend Kerallah’s use of ananas as innocent fun points out that the intramural team was named ananas way back in 2010.    This makes a great deal of sense since the video of the song went viral in 2009,  including versions with English subtitles.

The tune is upbeat and catchy, like a jovial children’s song.  It has been subtitled in many languages, used as the background music in scores, possibly hundreds, of anti-Semitic videos, and a cottage industry has developed in which individuals, commonly young men, pose holding a pineapple while giving Dieudonne’s signature salute, the quenelle.

And a some UMich undergrads apparently thought it a was good joke to name their team ananas.



Shoah pineapple, sho sho sho pineapple, you take me by the shoah, I take you by the pineapple, Shoah pineapple.

We mustn’t forget. There’s a way to make money. Sho sho sho pineapple.

Shoah pineapple, shoah apricot. Shoah anise, shoah maggot, shoah artichoke. Shoah strawberry, shoah ice cream. Shoah chocolate. Shoah.

Shoah pineapple, sho sho sho pineapple. You take me by the shoah, I’ll take you by the pineapple, sho sho sho pineapple.

Darling pineapple I’ll never forget you. You’ve suffered so much. And for everything that you’ve suffered we want to give you reparations. We want you to be given a country in the sun, and millions of dollars for the millions of pineapples that were deported: for the millions of pineapples who lost their families let’s sing forever. Sho sho sho pineapple.

Addendum # 4.  I have been having second – and third and fourth thoughts about this post.  On one hand, I do not know and cannot prove what Kerallah was thinking.  On the other hand, would a group of college boys really name their basketball team the pineapples?  Really?

But perhaps I have been jumping to conclusions.  A lot of people have.   On twitter and Facebook, many people who perceive Israel as being under assault readily accepted the knife and keffiyeh selfie as a violent threat.   People who perceive Palestinian Arabs as being under assault form Israel were equally ready to deny that this was so and to label supporters of Israel as racist bullies.

For my part, I have been having trouble seeing past the symbolism of Ananas among young people with a hatred for Israel.

Then there are the unreliable stories coming from Kerallah’s defenders.

A student government representative at UMich named Jacob Abudaram posted on Facebook  that he “can attest that the accusations made in this article are untrue,” and went on to assert that, “The actual picture is a joke from his high school– he was about to play a basketball game against a team called ‘Team Pineapple’.” 

Two misstatements there.  This is not a high school photo.  Kerallah played in an intermural league at UMich for a team called “The Kefiyyehs.”  The team they are said to have been scheduled to play against was not called the pineapples, it was called the Ananas.   Abudaram cannot know Kerallah very well if he didn’t know that this was not a story from his high school years.   And if he doesn’t see the difference between a team called pineapple and one called ananas, then he does not understand why this photo seems problematic.

I have a problem with a team named pineapples.  I am trying – and failing – to imagine a bunch of college boys calling themselves the pineapples.  The other teams in the league weren’t the naranjas and the manzanas.  They were named Fiji (I have no idea why), Five Guys, One Ball, and Mary Court (a street on the UMich) campus. Those sound like intramural league names, pineapples does not.

Kerallah’s team, on the other hand, is said to have been called the Keffiyehs.  Now there’s a plausible, in-your-face adolescent name choice.  So is Ananas.

The symbolism of keffiyehs is a matter of perspective.  The kefiyyeh has gone past it’s moment as a hipster fashion statement, but it continues to symbolize both a radical stand against authority and support for Palestinians.  Certainly the students wearing keffiyehs as they occupied the student union at Michigan last week saw it this way.  To many others, however, the keffiyeh, especially the keffiyeh worn to cover everything except the eyes, is associated associated with violent terrorist attacks not only on Israelis, but on passengers traveling on cruise ships and airplanes.  They upset and even frighten people.  If this were not so, hipsters and radicals would not take so much pleasure in wearing them.  At the very least, Kerallah knew that his selfie would get a rise out of people.

After thinking about this deeply about this post while I washed my hair, I continue to think that both the pineapple-stabbing selfie and the choice of Ananas (with which Kerallah was apparently not involved, other UMich students appear to have made that choice,) as a team name can best be understood as an inside joke in terrible taste, the kind of  “joke” that Dieudonne deliberately and calculatingly creates for his worldwide following.   Until recently, you could you could make a selfie of yourself standing inside a synagogue, at the gates of Auschwitz, or with your arm around the shoulders of a Jew in front of the Western Wall while making the quenelle, the anti-Semitic gesture Dieudonne invented.  The museum guards, police officers, and orthodox Jews standing next to you allowing you to take a snapshot with them simply didn’t know what you were doing.   Here is a video of quenelle selfies at Jewish sites, obviously compiled by an editor outraged by anti-Semitism.  The three pineapple-heads at 1:04 appear to be standing at a Nazi concentration camp.  The two at 1:19 are in front of a Holocaust Memorial.  Shoahnanas.

Dieudonne is making antisemitism cool again.   The BBC says that “Dieudosphere” skyrocketed to the top of the social media charts in January, in the wake of Nicholas Anelka’s Dec. 28 quenelle.   This pineapple selfie was posted at a moment when anyone following hatred of Israel and Jews on social media could hardly have avoided thinking about Dieudonne.   You may not be be friends with people who send around the myriad video versions of Shoahnanas, or selfies of themselves doing the quenelle in front of Holocaust Memorials, but  with millions of (correction: selfies and hits on the) versions of this song circulating, I find it impossible to believe that the members of Michigan’s Divest from Israel community had not seen any.

This is why I think that Dieudonne’s  song is the most plausible explanation of why a young man active in the anti-Israel movement on his campus posted, in Janyary 2014,  a selfie of himself wearing a keffiyeh and stabbing a pineapple.    It was an inside joke.   Team Keffiyeh was going to murder team Ananas in a basketball game.  And  the insiders among Kerallah’s Facebook friends would get a chuckle out of the Shoahnanas.






“Nation-states are an almost necessary basis for democracy.”

Posted by dianamuir on March 23, 2014
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“Nation-states are an almost necessary basis for democracy. A common language and culture, a common allegiance to national institutions, a common sense of destiny, all within a defined territory, with equal rights for all citizens—these seem to be the conditions that enable people with different opinions and interests to accept political defeat and the passage of laws to which they strongly object.”

The Case for Nationalism, John O’Sullivan, March 21, 2014, Wall Street Journal

The Muslim Right of Return to Spain

Posted by dianamuir on February 20, 2014
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Spain is about  to pass a new law enhancing a policy, in effect since 1924, giving Sephardi Jews the right to become citizens of Spain.   Although the details of the new policy are still unclear, according to Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón, it will benefit Sephardim, “who were unjustly deprived of their nationality and have recreated it through a love for Spain which they never lost, from this moment forward Spain is yours just as it is ours, as far as the law is concerned. “


Relatively few Sephardim have taken advantage of this policy to move to Spain, although Spanish diplomats in Budapest used it to save the lives of a number of Jews during World War II.   But the symbolic significance as a repudiation of Spain’s old-time anti-Semitism should not be underestimated.   Neither should the usefulness of the bill for propaganda purposes. 


Muslim political activists have seized on the proposed law to argue that the descendants of Muslims expelled by Spain centuries ago should also be given a right of return.


At first glance, the similarities between the Sephardim and the descendants of Iberia’s medieval Muslim community appear striking.


The Muslim conquest of the Iberian Peninsula began with a raid in 711 and by  720 almost the entire peninsula was under Muslim rule.   Christian armies pushed back, but much of southern Spain was under Muslim rule until the 1500s, with the last Muslim stronghold falling to the armies of Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492.   The fall of Muslim Spain generated an outflow of Muslims and to this day, thousands of Muslim families in North Africa proudly identify themselves as descendants of the Moors ofAl-Andalus.   


North African “Andalusians” have long been regarded by themselves and by their neighbors as superior to their neighbors, more cultivated, more intellectual, and racially “whiter.”   Sephardic Jews took a similarly lofty view of themselves and, like Muslim Andalusians, married and socialized with one another, snubbing the Arabic and Berber-speaking Jews of the Maghreb.   For what it is worth (and a lone study is rarely worth much), one study that looked at the Y-chromosomes of self-identified Andalusians in Tunesia found no significant paternal European ancestry, which would fit with Muslim Andalusians’ traditional narrative of descent from Iberia’s Muslim conquerors. 


War between the Muslim and Christian kingdom went on for five centuries, during which borders shifted frequently.    A distinctive set of rules of war developed.   By the eleventh century, Catholic armies in Spain had adopted laws of conquest based on sharia: upon conquering a city they required that Muslims and Jews acknowledge the superiority of Christianity, and pay a head tax. Neither Christian nor Muslim armies in Spain forced defeated populations to convert, they did not massacre them, or sell them on the slave market, as both Christian and Muslim armies elsewhere in that period frequently did.


The reason for this civility was that for several centuries the two sides were more or less equally matched.  Every knight and every king knew that today’s victor might be next year’s loser, therefore, they did unto the defeated as they hoped that their enemies would do unto them, if things should come to that.   Moreover, a newly conquered minority population whether Christian, Muslim or Jewish was less likely to rebel, less likely to flee, and more likely to go on peacefully paying taxes if it was not threatened with forced conversion.  This was a convivencia of pragmatism.  It ended with Christian victory.


When the last Moorish kingdom – the Emirate of Granada – fell in 1492, tolerance for Jews ended, but tolerance for Muslims lingered in some jurisdictions until 1525.   At that date Muslims were required to choose between baptism and exile.   As with Jews, this “choice” often amounted to forced conversion.   Jewish conversos were called Marranos, Muslim conversos were called Moriscos.


As late as 1568 the majority of the population in the region of Granada were Moriscos, and even in Aragon, in the far north, Moriscos made up a fifth of the population.  In the south, especially near Valencia, many Moriscos lived in Muslim villages and neighborhoods where, despite conversion,they remained faithful to Islam, spoke Arabic, circumcised their sons, and publicly celebrated Ottoman victories over Spain.


The Ottoman Empire was rapidly expanding westward.   Phillip II’s fear that  Moriscos would provide a fifth column for a new Islamic conquest made him decid to force the Moriscos to assimilate by banning both Arabic and Muslim religious practices, such as fasting on Ramadan and the ritual slaughter of meat.   The result was the great Revolt of 1568.  


The Revolt was commanded by a claimant to the Umayyad  throne, Muhammad ibn Umayyah, a Morisco who served as a city councilor in Granada before the Revolt.  The Ottomans sent military advisers from Algiers and Muslim soldiers of fortune poured in from North Africa.   The Revolt continued for two years, and it was fought very differently from earlier Iberian wars.  Spain now offered no tolerance to conquered Muslim populations, Philip ordered his army to give no quarter to Morisco villages and neighborhoods; they were raped, pillaged and slaughtered.  As the revolt failed, Muslims who could manage to do so escaped to North Africa.


Spain dispersed the surviving Morisco populations  across the kingdom to speed their assimilation, then persecuted them in ways that parallel the persecution of Marranos, driving more into exile.  Finally, in 1609, the remnant Morisco population of 300,000 was expelled.    


For the next four hundred years Spain was an exclusively Catholic country, but recent decades have seen large scale Muslim immigration to Spain, a revival of Muslim claims to Al-Andalus, and facile demands that, like Sephardim,  “the Moors… (get) a new citizenship deal, too.”


One pretender to the throne of Al Andalus (in his day job, he’s a professor) has sent an open letter to his fellow monarch, Juan Carlos of Spain demanding an apology for the Spanish victory of 1492, restoration of “stolen” Muslim lands, citizenship for the descendents of the expelled Moriscos, and citizenship for all Muslim illegal immigrants in Spain.


This kind of grandstanding, engaged in by sundry left-wing and Islamist groups, is a mere sideshow to the real issue.   Although Muslims constitute only 2% of the Spanish population, Spain is a country with a notably low birthrate and, since the financial crisis of 2008, there has been a dramatic out migration of young Spaniards.   But Spain’s Muslim population is growing rapidly.   And it includes thousands of “New Muslims”, Spanish converts to Islam. 


Al Andalus has a special place in the Muslim imagination.   Perhaps precisely because Spain was lost to Islam so many centuries ago, it is idealized as a paradise, a great pinnacle of Muslim civilization.  Across the Arab world the idea of reconquering Al Andalusfor Islam resonates in a way that the idea of reconquering such one-time Muslim lands as Hungary and Sicily does not.  Legal and political activists push hard forthe right to pray in the Great Mosque of Cordoba (which was a church before 784 and has been one since 1236),  for citizenship for illegal immigrants in Spain, and for more open immigration policies for immigrants from Muslim countries.  And for a right of return for the descendents of Al Andalus.

It is in this context that Portuguese statesman Jose Ribeiro e Castro dismisses Muslim claims to a right of return to Portugal and Spain on the grounds that, “Persecution of Jews was just that, while what happened with the Arabs was part of a conflict.”




The Hebrew Bible remixed

Posted by dianamuir on January 19, 2014
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“The conditions under which the Hebrew Bible was produced are a subject of ongoing debate not only among Jews, but among Muslims and Christians since not only the Gospels, but also the Quran can be understood as the Hebrew Bible remixed.”

Just putting this phrase here because I coined it. Book to follow.

A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, Kind Hearts and Coronets, Israel Rank & Roy Horniman

Posted by dianamuir on January 06, 2014
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In addition to being the funniest show on Broadway, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder is a defense of Balzac’s proposition that behind every great fortune lies a great crime, a crime that a rich man got away with.

  is based on the Ealing classic Kind Hearts and Coronets, which was based on  Israel Rank, a suavely biting 1907 satirical novel by Roy Horniman.   As everyone who follows film or theater already knows, our murderous hero (Israel Rank in the novel;  Louis Mazzini in the movie; Monty Navarro in the musical) is a young man reared by a widowed mother reduced to renting rooms in her small row house on an inferior street in an inferior neighborhood even though though she is descended from a noble family.   Because she married a foreigner who worked for a living, none of her noble relations acknowledge them, there is no possibility of sending her son to Oxbridge, and no one to set the boy’s feet on the first rung of a career ladder.  She dies, leaving a young man with a genteel education and accent, enough money to live in a very modest way, and the fatal knowledge that he is eighth in line to become the Earl Gascoyne.

The novel is a viciously funny defense of the hero’s jaw-droppingly self-serving philosophy of life: “I am convinced that many a delightful member of society has found it necessary at some time or other to remove a human obstacle, and has done so undetected and undisturbed by those pangs of conscience which Society, afraid of itself, would have us believe wait upon the sinner.”

In addition to demonstrating the limitless human capacity for self-justificaiton,  (“I could not help reflecting how much Henry Gascoyne had been the gainer by dying when he did,”),      Horniman asks whether a boy whose birth, manners and diction are English and genteel, can be regarded as an English gentleman even though one parent was Jewish (in the novel), Italian (in the movie), Castilian (in the musical) or, in Horniman’s own case, Greek and neither parent was wealthy.   Israel Rank is, after all, about a boy very much like Horniman.    He was the son of a Paymaster in Chief in the Royal Navy – a rank comparable to Captain – but his parents mush have lacked a private income since he and his brothers attended Portsmouth Grammar School, not an aristocratic public school.  Like his most famous character, his mother is said to have been an aristocrat, a Greek aristocrat.

The character was changed from Jewish to Italian for the movie because, with the Holocaust so recent, a Jewish serial-killer seemed a bit – tactless.  But Horniman knew what he was doing in making his ambitious protagonist a Jew.

Israel Rank displays zero knowledge of Jewish life or thought; no more than four or five sentences would have to be altered if Horniman had given his murderer a Greek, Italian or Castilian father.   Here I am not counting passages where the Rank is described as looking like a foreigner, but only those with uniquely Jewish content, as when a friend accuses Rank of “exhibiting the worst faults of the Old Testament, in that I showed unsportsmanlike exultation over a fallen foe.”

The antisemitism in Honiman’s book, exhibited by characters who lacked “the breeding to disguise” it, is the British assumption that a Jew can never really be English.  His endowment of his fictional earl with French name Gascoyne is at once a send-up of the aristocratic conceit of descent from an ancestor who came over with William the Conqueror, and a challenge to the notion that the children modern Greek, Italian or Jewish immigrants cannot become as British as the Gascoynes, D’Ysquiths or Wettins.

A French, German or Italian surname does not, however, have the same valence as a Jewish one.  Jews have been the West’s inescapable other even longer than there has been an England.   Making a Jew heir to an English earl was the sharpest affront Horniman could offer the British caste system.  And the funniest.

Roy Horniman knew something about being an outsider.  The son of an immigrant mother, he spent his life in a London literary world primarily populated by the children of certified English gentlemen.  He  joined the Artists’ Rifles in WWI, despite not being a public school or university man, and spent his entire life at the fringe of an upper crust world he was never admitted to complete membership in.  His brother B. G. Horniman led a somewhat similar life, with a long stretch as a writer and editor in the Raj.  Neither brother married.  Perhaps this was because as a personable single man he could be part of of the upper class world on a narrow income.   Although it has been suggested that Roy Horniman may have been gay.  There has been no biography.   27 cartons of his papers sit in the archives of the University of Reading awaiting a graduate student in search of a thesis.

In 2014 a gay heir ot an earldom offers no shock value and the musical doesn’t offer one, though “Better with a Man” is a very funny song.   A serial-murdering Jew  or  Italian would, however, apparently be too shocking for the New York stage.  Instead, plays  Monte Navarro written as an a engagingly amiable ingenue who lacks the capacity to tell the difference between right and wrong.

Israel Rank, if staged as Roy Horniman wrote him, would have been the most original moralist to appear on stage since Stanley Holloway embodied Alfred P. Doolittle.  But that is not the play we have.

What Freedman and Lutvak have given us is a laughter-filled evening with eight corpses and not a single dark thought.