Wednesday, July 21, 2010
Sunday, July 18, 2010
Terry Gilliam, the former member of Monty Python and celebrated filmmaker, now nearing seventy, has spent much of the last few decades fighting a long and, one must admit, bruising battle against the real world. And while he has not always enjoyed success—indeed, he has tasted outright disaster several times—Gilliam has nonetheless earned his place as one of the great cinematic avatars of the imagination. If his return to form with the fascinating, frustrating, utterly original The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is anything to go by, the cult of realism has never had a more avowed and passionate enemy.
The imagination is not much in style nowadays, as the fetish of realism appears to have overwhelmed all other styles of filmmaking, bleeding into even such fantastical genres as fantasy and science fiction. The enormous success of Christopher Nolan’s rebooted, hyper-realist Batman series is a case in point. While the gritty Batman has enjoyed renewed box office domination, Bryan Singer’s attempt at restarting the far more inherently fantastical—that is, imaginative—Superman character was considered an embarrassing failure. Singer’s Superman Returns, it must be admitted, does suffer from serious flaws, but it is a far better film than it is given credit for, and the real reason behind its relative lack of success would seem to be its utter failure to capture the zeitgeist—the same zeitgeist which propelled Nolan’s The Dark Knight into the financial stratosphere.
One of the strangest terms in common use today is “the international community.” It is used endlessly, invoked as a moral arbiter, and proclaimed a transcendent ideal. But no one seems to have the slightest idea what it actually means, and it is regularly employed in so many different ways that arriving at a meaning would probably be impossible. It is probably long since time for the term to be retired, since it is essentially undefinable, and thus inherently misleading, but it is useful in that it points us toward the existence of a phenomenon which has been remarked upon before but never fully defined. Put simply, without anyone really intending to, and in some cases against the better judgment of all involved, we now find ourselves living in a world that is profoundly guided and influenced by an “international community” of a certain kind, one that would perhaps be better described as a Transnational Establishment.
“The Establishment,” like “the international community,” is a supremely popular and much abused term, but it is based on a fairly insightful analysis of power and the way power manifests itself. It was coined by a pugnacious British journalist Henry Fairlie, who wrote in 1955,
By the “Establishment,” I do not only mean the centres of official power—though they are certainly part of it—but rather the whole matrix of official and social relations within which power is exercised. The exercise of power in Britain (more specifically, in England) cannot be understood unless it is recognized that it is exercised socially.
Fairlie realized something that goes beyond the British context he was describing. Namely, that power and the exercise of it is not merely a political and economic phenomenon, but also—perhaps primarily—a social phenomenon. Quite often, he realized, power is achieved, maintained and exercised socially, and not politically and economically. One need not be rich, titled, smart, or elected in order to be part of the Establishment and thus to take part in its power. One simply had to be socially accepted within its ranks.
The fallout from the Gaza flotilla incident has occasioned some of the most reprehensible writing that the anti-Israel establishment – which specializes in such things – has ever produced. Beyond question, however, one of the most egregious examples of this is the work of Salon.com columnist Glenn Greenwald, whose comically overwrought pseudo-jeremiads on the subject constitute a case study in the kind of intellectual corruption that now appears to be the inevitable result of the bigoted hatred of Israel typical of today’s American progressivism.
Greenwald himself is one of those bizarre figures who occasionally bobs to the surface of American intellectual life, someone who so encapsulates the dementia of a specific subculture that he seems to be more a satirical literary creation than a human being. Indeed, Greenwald is such a quintessentially anti-American, pseudo-pacifist, pro-terrorist, self-hating Jewish liberal that he essentially constitutes a living cliche. Nonetheless, his qualifications for the part are unquestionably excellent.
“Leave no man behind” is a motto adopted by many armies around the world, but in Israel it has an emotional and political influence that often reaches unique extremes. Over the past month or so, while the establishment that refers to itself as the international community has gone on yet another of its regular episodes of anti-Israel psychosis, most of the world has forgotten that Gilad Shalit exists. Israel, however, most certainly has not. And the country remains painfully aware that the young soldier, who was kidnapped in 2006 and has been held illegally by Hamas ever since, remains somewhere in the Gaza strip, no closer, apparently, to release.
Over the four years that Shalit has been held, rumors of his impending release have swept Israel with unfortunate regularity. The anniversary of his kidnapping on June 25 occasioned new rumors, new complaints, and new demands; most especially on the part of Gilad’s parents, who are quite understandably determined not to allow their son’s plight to slip below the radar. Over the past few days, Shalit’s father, Noam, has led a march across Israel to the border with Gaza, the purpose of which is both to keep Gilad’s name on all our minds and to put pressure on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to agree to a prisoner exchange deal with Hamas.
The problem, of course, is that Netanyahu has no particular wish to pay the price Hamas is demanding. It will require the release of approximately a thousand prisoners being held in Israeli jails, many of them for very serious crimes, including terrorism.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has achieved one of those rare political feats at which he is surprisingly and sadly adept – taking a difficult situation and turning it into an unmitigated disaster. Barely more than a week after the mob attack on a squad of Israeli commandos by the passengers of a flotilla bound for Gaza to break the siege, Netanyahu announced that the blockade would be partially lifted, and promptly declared to the Knesset that “Today, after we lifted the civilian blockade of Gaza there is no reason or justification for further flotillas,” as if there had been a justification for them in the first place. Or, for that matter, as if reason or justice made any difference to those who organize and participate in them. Moving from obtuse to embarrassing, the PM elaborated, “These flotillas are organized by those who oppose peace, not those who support it. These people just want to break the security blockade,” as though we were not already well aware of this.
Needless to say, Netanyahu’s words, as they usually do, failed completely to mitigate the obvious consequences of his actions. These became clear almost immediately, as those with Israel’s worst interests at heart rushed to announce their victory.
It is now all but certain that the American administration has more or less resigned itself to a nuclear Iran. At the very least, it appears to have decided to take no military action against the Iranian nuclear program, nor even to support or encourage – publicly or discreetly – the Iranian popular opposition to the Ahmadinejad regime. The Obama administration will likely continue to pursue its policy of promoting engagement, either out of cynicism or naiveté, while simultaneously busying itself with the diplomatic give and take of arranging international support for sanctions which are unlikely to be effective. It is entirely possible, moreover, that American exhaustion from a decade of war and its public’s concentration on pressing domestic problems will effectively vitiate any political damage that might result from the emergence of a nuclear Iran. This, at any rate, is likely what Obama and the doves in his administration are counting on.
At first glance, this appears to be a disastrous state of affairs. But it need not be so. A nuclear armed Iran may be considered the lesser of possible evils by the United States, but it cannot be seen this way by others. To many Americans, the Iranian threat appears to be comfortably distant. This is something of a willful illusion, of course, but it is a politically influential and perhaps decisive one. For Iran’s neighbors, however, as well as many nations on their periphery, the threat is far more immediate.
Israeli concerns are naturally the most intense, given the Iranian president’s openly racist and genocidal attitude toward the Jewish state. But Israel is hardly alone in its concerns. If, as many suspect, the ultimate goal of the Iranian theocrats is the establishment of Iranian hegemony in the Middle East and thus the de facto seizure of the leadership of the Muslim world, then almost everyone in the region and many beyond have an interest in preventing such an outcome.
Over a hundred years ago, the Zionist writer Ehad Ha’am wrote that the one silver lining to the blood libel was that it provided conclusive and irrefutable evidence that it was entirely possible for the Jews to be right and the world to be wrong. He was right then, of course. And he is right now. I think it is safe to say, however, that the blood libel is no longer necessary. Hateful, demented, conspiratorial, psychotic, and outright murderous lies are being told about the Jews on a fairly regular basis nowadays, and if there is any comfort to be taken in this fact, it is not so much the certainty as the irrefutable surety that the world not only can be, but usually is wrong when the Jews are concerned.
Unfortunately, last week’s incident on the high seas – in which the Israeli navy intercepted a flotilla of vessels attempting to run the blockade of Gaza, resulting in a vicious and unprovoked attack on the commandos involved by a gang of racist thugs – was not merely a case of the world being wrong. The reaction to the incident in media and political circles around the world exposed Israel’s critics, once and for all, as a sadistic, pathologically lying, morally bankrupt, and intellectually corrupted establishment whose attitude toward the Jewish state is not only unjust, but cowardly, hypocritical, racist, defamatory, delusional, inhuman, and at times simply sickeningly evil.