The Iraqi poet Sargon Boulus was a rare bird: a formal innovator immersed in tradition, a politically engaged artist who resisted political classification. Sinan Antoon looks back on his life and work.
“What words can do / these days / Is almost nothing” wrote the Iraqi poet Sargon Boulus in The Secret of Words, published just weeks after he died in a Berlin hospital on October 21, 2007.
Boulus always modestly undersold the power his work had in Iraqi and Arab cultural circles. One wishes he could have seen the elegies and testimonials that quickly flowed in from Iraq, from Morocco, from across the Arab diaspora. In As Safir, the Iraqi poet Saadi Youssef bemoaned the loss of “the only Iraqi poet”.
February 18, 2008
Women in Iraq; Critique of Israeli Government by Holocaust Survivors
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Daniel McGowan — Professor Emeritus, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, and founder of Deir Yassin Remembered — has written an unusual and interesting essay in which he suggests that many of Madoff’s victims were, themselves, victimizers. He is pleased that their ability to continue to harm people may be diminished:
As the news of Bernard Madoff’s colossal fraud focused on America’s most “important” Jewish tycoons and moguls, it was only a matter of hours before the story was spun around their victimhood with the usual cudgels of “anti-Semitism” and the Holocaust. In Israel columnist Bradley Burston spun the story best by declaring, “The anti-Semite’s new Santa is Bernard Madoff. … The Aryan Nation at its most delusional couldn’t have come up with anything to rival this.”
As the list of Madoff’s “victims” grows, their common characteristic is not philanthropy, but rather political Zionism. Virtually all have worked to build a Jewish state with little regard, and often downright hatred, for the non-Jewish population living there.
The money from this type of mogul or “ganzer macher” has been used to dehumanize and depopulate non-Jews in Palestine for over 120 years. But in spite of creating a strong Israeli economy based on guns, diamonds, and security services and in spite of walling Arabs in Bantustans in the West Bank and in the KZ lager known as Gaza, they have failed. Non-Jews outnumber Jews within the borders controlled by Israel, which makes a mockery out of calling it a Jewish state.
Schadenfreude is defined to be largely unanticipated delight in the suffering of another which is recognized as well deserved. Political Zionism deserves scorn and derision; it is racist and antithetical to what Americans profess to hold self-evident: that all men and women are created equal and that we should share equal rights of citizenship. When rich Zionists lose a piece of their portfolios, especially to the guile of one of their own, it is a delight.
The press was first to report Madoff’s pilfering of the Robert Lappin “Charitable” Foundation, an organization whose “mission is helping to keep our children Jewish, thus reversing the trend of assimilation and intermarriage.” If the reader has trouble seeing the blatant racism here, substitute “White” for “Jewish” and imagine it was the stated goal of the David Duke Charitable Foundation..
While Mr. Burston found Madoff’s bilking of “fellow Jews, even Holocaust survivors” particularly outrageous, there are those who find divine justice in seeing one fraud defraud another. Elie Wiesel and his Foundation for Humanity would certainly qualify. Here is a man who has made millions peddling his narrative on the deaths of Jews in World War II; his novel, “Night,” is mandatory reading for most high school students; questioning it in any way invites charges of “anti-Semitism” and “Holocaust Denial.” He has been feted by Presidents and holds dozens of honorary degrees. If there were a CEO of the Holocaust Industry (a term coined by Norman Finkelstein), surely it would be The Great Weasel.
Wiesel’s Foundation claims to combat indifference, intolerance and injustice through programs to promote acceptance, understanding, and equality. Yet he remains persistently indifferent to over 60 years of suffering of the Palestinian people and treats them with silence or as the “untermenschen” his people once were under the Nazis. Wiesel boasts of having worked for the terrorists of the Jewish Irgun, not as a fighter but as a journalist, and he steadfastly refuses to apologize for the massacre by his employer at Deir Yassin. As a devout Zionist there is no way he can endorse one state in Israel/Palestine with equal rights of citizenship for all.
Other victims of Madoff’s deception, like the Shapiro Family Foundation and the Chais Family Foundation, are undoubtedly genuinely philanthropic and well-meaning. But insofar as their gifts support Jews-only education, medicine, and social programs in Israel, they deserve the derision that would be accorded to Aryan philanthropists or others who support a racist state, one whose very laws favor one chosen group over all the rest.
Madoff’s clients were not just generous Jews; they were Jews who directly or indirectly support the racism inherent in political Zionism. They support the assimilation of Ethiopian Jews (a noble enterprise), but reject the assimilation of Israeli Arabs and the Palestinians caged in West Bank and Gaza. They support “birthright” trips for young American Jews in hopes they will settle in Israel, but not the “Birthright Unplugged” educational trips of Hannah Mermelstein or the work of Jeff Halper’s Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions.
Madoff’s wealthy victims build ever more Holocaust memorials with the message “Never Forget” but ignore the current siege and starvation of Gaza to which they contribute financially and by their silence. Like The Great Weasel, they simply dismiss the analogy as “unworthy.” Where is the Spielberg movie of the Gaza ghetto that isolates three times as many people as the Warsaw Ghetto and in worse conditions? Where is the support for Righteous Jews like former Princeton University law professor Richard Falk, who calls what Israel is doing to the 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza “a crime against humanity?” Falk has condemned the collective punishment of the Palestinians in Gaza as “a flagrant and massive violation of international humanitarian law as laid down in Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.”
Cast in terms of their impact on the struggle for Palestinian human rights, it is difficult not to plead guilty to schadenfreude caused by the greed of Bernard Madoff. In fact, my only regret is that Edgar Bronfman and Alan Dershowitz were not among his preferred clients.
February 4, 2009
In this program, History Professor Beshara Doumani will be in conversation with Columbia University Professor Rashid Khalidi about his new book entitled Sowing Crisis: The Cold War and American Hegemony in the Middle East. In his new work, Professor Khalidi dissects the crucial dynamics of power in the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union as it played out in the Middle East, compellingly arguing that the intense rivalry between the U.S. and the USSR in the region set the stage for the tragic conflicts that have followed in its long wake. Rashid Khalidi is Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies at Columbia University.
During the program, we will also hear selections from All Is Calm is the name of a music CD by young and talented Iranian artist Hamed Nikpay.
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January 28, 2009
In this program, Malihe Rzazan speaks with Saree Makdisi, a Professor of English and Comparative Literature at UCLA, about his new book entitled “Palestine Inside Out: An Everyday Occupation.”
During the program, we also hear selections from The Wameed a music CD by very talented Palestinian musician Kamylia Jobran.
Aired January 21, 2009
In this program we listen to the second part of a series on reparations for African victims of colonization and slavery. The week prior, we discussed the movement for reparations for slavery in the United States, and in tonight’s segment we look towards the other side of the Atlantic Ocean at the continuing quest for reparations on the African continent. We talk with Karim Kebir, editorial writer for the Algerian daily newspaper, Liberte, about the recent breakthrough accord between Libya and Italy in which Italy agreed to formally apologize and pay reparations to Libya for 31 years of colonization.
Later in the program, we bring you a special commentary on the massacres in Gaza by Osha Neumann, Berkeley artist, attorney and author of the recent memoir, “Up Against the Wall Mother F-ers.” We follow that with an interview with Nadia Hijab, about the tragic destruction of a children’s music center in Gaza. Nadia Hijab is Senior Fellow at the DC-based Institute for Palestine Studies.
And finally, we close with an eye-witness commentary of the Israeli war on Gaza written by legendary Egyptian novelist Ahdaf Soueif.