“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.

Dieudonné
Dieudonné

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.

Lyrics:

 

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

Peter Burke’s Languages and Communities in Early Modern Europe goes beyond the evidence

Posted by dianamuir on March 23, 2014
language policy, Pre-modern nationalism, Sixteenth century nationhood, When is a nation? / Comments Off

 

Midway through Peter Burke’s  Languages and Communities in Early Modern Europe  it is troubling to see him assert that “deliberate acts by governments” to promote, mandate, or downgrade particular languages or dialects in favor of others “were as rare before 1789 as they were common after that date.” (p. 72) Then, citing Henri Peyre, he argues that official actions of this kind were not only rare, they were “rarely consistent,” more in the nature of unplanned “reactions” to particular circumstances and, therefore, that it would be “wise to avoid the term (language policy) in the case of Europe before 1789″.(p. 73)

This is startling both because  Burke’s own book is filled with what read like examples of official language policy in the centuries before 1789.  But it is disquieting to have a scholar give a clear summary of his findings that does not appear to be supported by the evidence he himself is presenting at book-length.  And the unease that this generates is doubled in a case like Languages and Communities where the author overlooks or omits what is probably the largest body of evidence negating his conclusion.

Burke’s assertion that national language policies happen only post-1789, particularly the Epilogue, “Languages and Nations,” in which he asserts that, “rare instances of conscious language policy before 1789 – were not examples of nationalism in the modern sense,” is a carefully crafted intervention in the scholarly debate over the antiquity of nations, a broadside fired at the idea that nations or nationalism may predate Herder.

The evidence Burke himself presents in this book supports a far milder conclusion, that at particular times and places in pre-modern Europe (under Alphonso X of Castile or Alfred the Great of Wessex, or in the French administration of seventeenth century Alsace) there were official language policies, which become more common in the 18th century, and far more common in the 19th.

Of equal concern in a book with this sweep a scope is the absence of the phrase “prayer book”, a term that I began to look for with some care after Burke’s first, startling assertion that there was no such thing as a pre-1789 language policy.   What are we to make of a boon on language and community in Europe that appears unaware that beginning on a particular Sunday morning in 1549 in every church in England, every pastor – all of them answerable to a new, national church  – was to take up the new Book of Common Prayer and henceforth conduct all public services in English.  It is hard to interpret the replacement of the Latin Mass by the Book of Common Prayer, mandated by Parliament as the Act of Uniformity of 1549 as anything other than part of an official language policy.  More especially as it was paralleled by similar policies in newly Protestant Sweden and Denmark.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tomorrow Belongs to Me

Posted by dianamuir on January 02, 2014
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I was at the Hasty Pudding in Harvard Square on an evening in the early nineties, there was a party going on when, suddenly, a young woman began to sing  a hauntingly beautiful, lyrical ballads.   One after another, the guests stood and began to sing with her as the party turned into the most compelling explanations of fascism that I have ever seen.

The song was Tomorrow Belongs to Me, and I was, of course, watching a touring company perform Kander and Ebb’s 1966 musical,  Cabaret.   In those years the Hasty Pudding rented out its theater when the college boys weren’t using it to play dress-up.  Perhaps they still do.   The heart-stopping fascist anthem came at a moment in the play when the young characters  gather in the parlor of a cheap rooming house in Berlin.  On stage Cabaret is less stylized  than the movie, less stagy.   The characters are familiar in their youthful uncertainty and promise.   Which is what makes the moment when they become swept up in Nazism so peculiarly, horrifyingly memorable.

Something like that experience is coming to the Roundabout Theatre Company this spring with yet another revival of Kander and Ebb’s  Cabaret, this one  a revival of Sam Mendes and Rob Marshall’s Tony-winning 1998 revival.  And since I have never seen this version, I can’t say whether the scene will be presented as it was that night at the hasty Pudding.   I assume that the song will be as Kander and Ebb wrote it.

They understood, as George Orwell did, that people do not long merely for comfort and ease, they want challenge and meaning.  German youth responded when Hitler offered them “struggle, danger and death.”   He also told them that they were racially superior and therefore entitled to conquer and rule.

Tomorrow Belongs to Me  has enjoyed a strange afterlife within the neo-fascist movements; online versions have been posted in Italian, many in German, and one taped at meeting of the British racial supremacists,  Blood & Honor.   You can even find posters on neo-fascist websites who believe that the song actually was a Nazi anthem.    The most popular version was recorded by Screwdriver, a skinhead band whose leader, Ian Stuart Donaldson,  segued into Neo-Nazism.  But even if you follow punk rock, you’ve probably never heard of Screwdriver, or of Blood & Honor.   Neo-fascism is so insignificant that it can seem almost quaint.

Hitler’s idea of rallying young people by telling them that that they are members of a wronged but inherently superior group, that they are entitled to conquer and rule, that he will demand struggle, danger and death but lead them to glory is compelling.   Orwell knew that.

What is surprising is that two American Jewish writers, Fred Ebb and John Kander were able to put together a song that captures something Orwell did not know, although Hitler did and the Muslim Brotherhood does, which is that people want more than struggle, danger and glory.  Living as we all do in a confusing, changing and risky world, it is compelling to imagine a past that was stable, safe and golden.   When a leader promises to everyone who follows him to a future that will be as golden as the imagined past, a future that he and those who follow can create in danger and struggle by stepping on the dead bodies of those who stand in their way, young people step forward to volunteer.

Listen:

The sun on the meadow is summery warm
The stag in the forest runs free
But gather together to greet the storm
Tomorrow belongs to me

The branch of the linden is leafy and green
The Rhine gives its gold to the sea.
But somewhere a glory awaits unseen
Tomorrow belongs to me

The babe in his cradle is closing his eyes
The blossom embraces the bee
But soon says a whisper:
“Arise, arise”
Tomorrow belongs to me

Oh Fatherland, Fatherland
Show us the sign
Your children have waited to see
The morning will come
When the world is mine

Tomorrow belongs
Tomorrow belongs
Tomorrow belongs
To me

 

 

 

Dieudonné is a meatball: burying @quenelles in tolerance – and wine sauce

Posted by dianamuir on December 31, 2013
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Kinship, the state and violence

Posted by dianamuir on November 26, 2013
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hbd* chick has a very interesting post persuasively arguing that clans were losing significance in England by the late 800 or early 900s, visible as a decline in blood money payments to kin, which are replaced by broader, non kinshop-based mechanisms of social control accompanied by declining murder rates. (i.e., in England, the Hatfields and McCoys disappeared early)

england, the netherlands, germans earliest in *some*thing … scandinavians later … italians last.”

A pattern develops, traced in a series of very interesting posts linking back.

Note: this really is a note, I use this blog to note interesting material I’ll want to return to.

The Bay Psalm Book: America’s founding text

Posted by dianamuir on November 24, 2013
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This week a copy of the Bay Psalm Book will go to auction and it will sell for tens of millions $$$.   Fortunately for scholars in need of a cheap reading copy, it’s available online.

The more accurate news stories describe the Bay Psalm Book as the first book printed in English in the new world.  Until quite recently American scholars unaware that a printing press was operating in Mexico City well before the Bay Colony was founded called it  the first book printed in the new world.      But “first printed book”  misses the point.

The Bay Psalm Book was America’s founding text.  No new nation was ever created as deliberately or as fast as the nation established between 1630 and 1640 by a wave of settlers who self-consciously established a new England with a distinctive and highly developed intellectual purpose, carried out by a public school system, a national university (Harvard), church, representative government, army and printing press.   The printing press, and the first book it produced, matter because they were emblematic of the break the settlers were making with English culture, even with English Puritan culture.   Books produced in England would not suffice for the “folk” or “people”, (“synonyms we use indifferently“,)  of this people of this new England.  They needed books that reflected the new and distinctive culture they were creating.

England prayed from the pages of the Book of Common Prayer, as almost all of the settlers had done before sailing to New England.   England sang from the Sternhold and Hopkins Psalter, dating to the 1550s.   Like the Bay Psalm Book, the Sternhold and Hopkins was a metrical psalter, a rendition of the psalms into contemporary, vernacular poetry.  A good metrical psalm rhymes and had regular meter, making it easy to memorize and to sing.   There were many translations of the psalms into English, and several metrical psalters,  but the Sternhold and Hopkins was dominant, retaining its popularity in English homes and churches for two centuries.

New England, however, required a metrical psalter of its own, not least because part of the goal of founding a new England was to reject the liturgy of the Church of England and replace it with a more godly form of church service.    New England rejected the set liturgy of the Book of Common Prayer, instead making the sermon and the  psalms central to the New England church services.   But the psalms were not confined to church; in America as in Protestant Europe, psalms were sung while doing the wash and while making hay, they were sung in New Amsterdam and in Old Virginia.  Among Puritans in old and new England for a time they largely displaced hymns, ballads, work songs and drinking songs, and instead of other types of fold song, becoming the work, play and party songs of an era; gathering to sing psalms was a Purtian version of a singles mixer.   Within this Puritan world,  New England was unique because of a felt need to separate from English Puritanism and emphasize its own, distinctive ideology by producing a new translation of the psalms into metrical, singable, but theologically sound form.   The theologians charged with the translation explained thei motivation in the preface, (rendered here in modern spelling):

“Although we have cause to bless God in many respects for the religious endeavours of the translators of the psalms into metre usually annexed to our Bibles, yet it is not unknown to the godly learned that they have rather presented a paraphrase than the words of David translated according to the rule 2 Chron. 29:30. and that their addition to the words, detractions from the words are not seldom and rare, but very frequent and many times needless, (which we suppose would not be approved of if the Psalms were so translated into prose) and that their variations of the sense, and alterations to the sacred text too frequently, may justly minister matter of offense to them that are able to compare the translation with the text; of which failings, some judicious have often complained, others have been grieved, whereupon it has been generally desired, that as we do enjoy other, so (if it were the Lord’s will) we might enjoy this ordinance also in its native purity: we have therefore done our endeavour to make a plain and familiar translation of the psalms and words of David into English metre, and have not so much as presumed to paraphrase to give the sense of his meaning in other words; we have therefore attended herein as our chief guide the original, shunning all additions, except such as even the best translators of them in prose supply, avoiding all material detractions from words or sense.”

In modern terms, they needed a new psalter because old England’s Sternhold and Hopkins Psalter was not  theologically correct.

We must accept that the Bay Psalm Book was theologically correct because it was published and accepted by the New England church, but we can judge it on other points.   Did the new lyrics rhyme?  Were they easily memorized?  Did they convey the psalms as King David intended them?  You be the judge.

Here are the first two verses of Psalm 95, a familiar and enduringly  popular song of thanksgiving, in the King James version:

O come, let us sing unto the Lord:
let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation.
Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving,
and make a joyful noise unto him with psalms.

Here they are in the highly regarded, modern Jewish Publication Society translation:

1 Come, let us sing joyously unto the Lord:
raise a shout for our rock and our deliverer.
2 let us come into his presence with praise;
let us raise a shout for Him in song!

 

The Sternhold and Hopkins:

1  O Come let us lift up our voice,
       and sing unto the Lord;
    In him our rock of health rejoice
       let us with one accord:

 2  Yea, let us come before his face
       to give him thanks and praise ·
    In singing psalms unto his grace
       let us be glad always.

 

And the Bay Psalm Book:

1  O come, let us unto the Lord
        shout loud with singing voice,
     to the rock of our saving health
        let us make joyful noise.

  2  Before his presence let us then
        approach with thanksgiving:
     also let us triumphantly 
        with Psalms unto him sing.

 

The best that can be said of the translators of the Bay Psalm Book as poets, is that they understood their own inadequacies; they said it of themselves, “If therefore the verses are not always so smooth and elegant as some may desire or expect; let them consider that God’s Altar needs not our polishings.”     But as the intellectual forefathers of a nation, theirs was a powerful contribution because they laid the foundations of a new national identity and provided it with the original American songbook.