October 22, 2001 | The Nation

In the Magazine

October 22, 2001


Browse Selections From Recent Years















Your magazine remains a
beacon of hope for all of us, even those who revile you for your
progressive values--because we all lose when mindless, precipitate
actions are taken that end up costing more lives and wasting more
resources. You are a refreshing alternative voice to the jingoism
overtaking this nation. Thank you for remaining true to the cause of


issue_refer="20011008" slug_refer="editors2">


Littleton, Colo.

Thank you for the interview with Representative
Lee ["Barbara Lee's Stand," Oct. 8]. I was reminded of Senator
William Fulbright's comment (in an interview not long before his
death in 1995) responding to the question of how he would vote on the
Tonkin Gulf Resolution given the benefit of hindsight. Fulbright was
chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1965. The
resolution, passed with about the same degree of consideration given
the House Use of Force resolution, gave President Johnson a similar
blank check to escalate the Vietnam War. Fulbright said if he had
another chance he would do his best to stop the 1965 resolution.
Barbara Lee is in good company.




Patricia Williams--finally a voice of reason rather than mere reaction ["Diary
of a Mad Law Professor," Oct. 1]. No sane person would condone the
terrible acts in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. But what's
missing from our reaction is self-reflection and self-criticism.
America has drawn increasingly inward with George W. Bush and his
isolationist policies. The walking out of US delegates at the Durban
Conference on Racism is the most recent sad proof that America does
not want to hear or deal with what it does not like. This nation's
skewed foreign policy puts us all in peril. The American people and
our leaders must become more knowledgeable about the rest of the
world and how US actions and polices are perceived. Professor
Williams is absolutely correct. This is no time for ignoring the
causes of the deep hatred for the United States among many people and
cultures around the world.



Catonsville, Md.

It is rare for me to
disagree with Katha Pollitt, but in "Put Out No Flags" she spoke too
quickly ["Subject to Debate," Oct. 8]. She should listen to her
daughter. The flag cannot be allowed to stand for "jingoism and
vengeance and war." We must take it back. It must again stand for the
best we can dream.



As a child during
World War II, I knew that our flag represented freedom. Most homes,
including ours, proudly flew the flag. Our nation fought a war, paid
a high price and helped win a fight that saved future generations
from a terrible fate. Now, to protect our grandchildren from a life
of terror, we must again take up a just cause and fight for
freedom--freedom that even allows for the expression of unrealistic
and offensive thoughts.


Porterville, Calif.

Pollitt says that what is needed is solidarity. Right now, that is
what the Stars and Stripes does for this country. It shows that we
citizens of this Republic are united against the perpetrators of
these barbarous acts. The fact that right-wingers used the flag to
support that monstrosity known as the Vietnam War doesn't mean those
on the left must cede this psychic territory of the Stars and Stripes
to the Ann Coulters and Jerry Falwells of the world. To use the flag
when engaged in activities that it stands for--freedom of speech,
freedom to peaceably assemble, freedom to petition the government for
the redress of grievances--what a radical idea! What a nonviolent
rebuff to those who have injured us!


White Salmon, Wash.

I agree
with Katha Pollitt's opinion of what our flag stands for. I also
agree with her daughter, who wants to fly it in a show of solidarity
with the victims and survivors and rescue workers, families and loved
ones who have been touched by this horrendous act against humanity.
The country needs to become united with the rest of the world,
Muslims, Arabs, Jews, Christians, Buddhists, everyone.

have agonized over how to show my solidarity without appearing to be
pro-war. So I have hung Buddhist prayer flags against my house and my
boyfriend's house next to his US flag. We feel that this represents
what we feel--support for our country's losses and a wish for
worldwide peace, US restraint and acceptance of everyone, regardless
of race or religion. The prayer flags carry our prayers (for peace)
with the wind, around the globe.


Virginia Beach, Va.

you, Katha Pollitt. Now I know I'm not alone. I refuse to fly our
flag as long as we kill people and don't negotiate. I received an
e-mail saying that we should all wear a purple ribbon for those who
have died in this terrible tragedy, as we did the yellow ribbon
during Desert Storm. I feel that this is much more


Oakland, Calif.

I'm against
flag-waving for the same reason as Katha Pollitt, but I've been
jonesin' for a flag I could believe in. I'd like to see a flag with a
globe on it, as she mentions, so I could wave it proudly to say, I
belong to the Earth and I take a stand for protecting it.


Rochester, Vt.

It's a painful time for those of
us who have lived through the bad choices our government made in the
twentieth century. As one who has survived all those choices (I was
born in 1909), I fly the Earth flag--a blue banner with the beautiful
photo of our planet taken from outer space, used for the first Earth
Day. Our small organization has distributed these flags to schools
and municipalities for many years to help people realize that, in the
words of the Earth Charter (which all governments must
subscribe to if our planet is to survive), we must "bring forth a
sustainable global society founded on respect for nature, universal
human rights, economic justice and a culture of

Save Our World

Los Angeles

I went to the AAA
flag store here last week and passed the forty or so people standing
in line to buy American flags and asked loudly, "Where are the flags
with the picture of planet Earth on them?" I took one home, and it
now flies proudly next to my American flag--which I fly with some
ambivalence but also with a determination to redefine this symbol of
jingoism for myself.



I have not joined the
patriotic fervor by displaying a US flag even though I deeply mourn
the loss of innocent lives, not just American lives but lives from at
least eighty other countries ruthlessly sacrificed in a perverted
interpretation of Islam. The first impulse I had was to fly the flag
with a picture of the Earth to show solidarity with our brothers and
sisters throughout the world. But since I don't own such a flag, I
have tied a black ribbon to my car antenna in memory of those who
died and as a symbol of the period of darkness that must now be
overcome if we as a global people wish to survive. Patriotism serves
only to further separate us from the sufferings of our brothers and
sisters throughout the world in a time when we need more than ever a
sense of unity and global community.


Urbana, Ill.

Katha Pollitt
addresses the flag conundrum quite well. There is an alternative
symbol--the peace symbol--which could show empathy with the victims
and their families as well as expressing the desire for alternative


Atlanta, Ga.

There is
a global flag. See www.oneworldflag.org.


Asheville, N.C.

Thanks to Katha Pollitt for her
ideas for alternatives to the American battle flag. Here in
Asheville, we've made posters of the peace dove. They're hanging in
the windows of homes and businesses, a symbolic alternative to the
Stars and Stripes and the march to war.


Santa Monica, Calif.

We need American peace flags and not blank checks! Check us out to see what we're about: www.peaceflags.org
(click on info).


Santa Cruz, Calif.

It is
important to know our enemies. Listening to newscasters and
politicians would lead one to believe that our enemies are Osama bin
Laden, Saddam Hussein, the Taliban, Afghanistan or some fuzzily
defined worldwide network of brown-skinned lunatics with names like
Mohammed and Ahmed who take flying lessons in

Listening to the Rev. Jerry Falwell would lead one
to believe that our enemies are gays, Jews, abortion providers,
feminists, the ACLU and (though he neglected to mention them this
time) Teletubbies. Watching the actions of large numbers of Americans
would lead one to believe that our enemies are the 6 million Muslims
living in the United States, the mosques they pray at, the businesses
they run and the schools their children attend.

All are mistaken.

I hope Americans will look beyond these easy
targets and scapegoats and recognize their true enemies as ignorance,
intolerance and fanaticism. I fear we have already fallen prey to all
three. We have seen a man in Seattle drive his truck through a mosque
and begin shooting in the name of patriotism. And we may soon see our
military kill innocent people in the pursuit of one man and his
followers, also in the name of patriotism. As we indulge these acts,
I can only hope that we will not be surprised when their eventual and
inevitable responses follow, once again in the name of

We need to make the choice between a patriotism
we can buy at Wal-Mart for $3 and a greater cause than
patriotism--humanity. We must identify and make war on our own
tendencies toward fanaticism and intolerance. Otherwise, we ourselves
become the enemy, and the terrorists win.



Alexandria, Va.

Given all the pro-war and American Empire rhetoric, I guess people like William
Kristol, David Brooks, Jonah Goldberg, Bill O'Reilly, Zell Miller,
Ann Coulter and the entire staff of National Review, among
others, will be stepping down from their jobs to go sign up at the
nearest armed services recruiting office. It will be a shame not to
hear their articulate opinions on everything from Monica Lewinsky to
the Taliban, but I believe it is a sacrifice America will have to
make. Such patriotic pundits, banging their war drums, surely will
lead America to victory.



Missoula, Mont.

Why don't we trade Henry Kissinger for Osama bin
Laden? Then we each can hold war crimes tribunals and let justice
prevail. It's a curious contrast: The Taliban won't surrender bin
Laden without presentation of evidence, whereas the United States
won't surrender Kissinger even with mountains of



Dallas, Tex.

On September 11 America experienced a true faith-based initiative. Then, hearing the
remarks of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, who purport to be
Christians, made it clear that we have fundamentalists in our own
society no better than those we say we must fight. Our forefathers
tried to protect us from intolerance by making our government
secular, with the imperative to protect all beliefs. We have just
experienced the result of deep intolerance and become the victims of
religious fanatics. It is heartbreaking to begin this new century
with "holy wars," and we must not let our leaders put us on those
terms. We must stop those right here in our own country who preach
intolerance. As much as we condemn Muslim extremists, it is difficult
to cast stones when you live in a glass house.



New York City

Can I be at
war with myself? Watching the World Trade Center collapse, then
living through the aftermath, I ask that absurd question. I'm
American with a Muslim name but nondescript appearance. No one takes
me for Middle Eastern--I was born in West Virginia, and I'm only a
quarter Arab. But thanks to the peculiarities of history, and naming,
I have an Arab-American identity.

The attack on the World
Trade Center puts me in an awful place. Like everyone else, I am
horrified and angered. I could have been there, munching a bagel on
the observation deck. I can't imagine how someone could have planned
such an attack, and my shock is turning into anger and mourning. At
the same time, I feel excluded from the national unity. Why? As an
Arab-American, I'm subject to reprisals. I'm nervous, wondering if I
will somehow share the blame. Slurs, threats and even violence have
been leveled against anyone associated with Islam, and I wonder what
will happen to me. I'm looking for work--will I be denied a job? What
if a wider war breaks out? Will I lose my liberty?

friends have said I should go to Egypt. They meant well, but their
comments betrayed a misunderstanding that verges on racism. Hard as
it is for the safely white to comprehend, there is only one place for
me and other hyphenated Americans: the United States. America
produced me. My grandparents hail from four different countries.
Where else could they have created a family? If I'm out of place here
thanks to my name, I'm certainly out of place in the Middle East,
where I stick out as an American. What is left for me? Do we have to
pick sides in the end? And what can I do if neither side will have
me, if both treat me as the enemy?

Some of my fellow
citizens are striking out at American Muslims. Some are even calling
for a firestorm to be rained upon Islamic nations. Don't they see
that the terrorists had the same inspiration? The Afghans were caught
between the Soviet Union and the United States for decades. Their
country has been reduced to rubble. They have no hope. Violence
occurs in cycles, and, if we respond senselessly, striking innocent
people in our search for criminals, we'll create more radicals, more
suicide bombers who embody the despair of poverty and war. The
monopoly on violence is broken, and I shudder to think what comes

My situation brings a special clarity, one that
opposes choosing sides. What do I see from my hyphenated perspective?
The absurdity of labels, indeed, of the whole idea that race,
religion or flags divide humanity. I have a Muslim name, but my
grandfather was Serbian. How would that fly in the Balkans? Is the
world becoming a vast Balkan state?

I've wondered if I will
have to choose a side. If I do, here is my choice: pacifism and
dialogue. I choose love, I choose humanity. I may symbolize Islam to
some and America to others, but I transcend these distinctions. I am
proof that love conquers hate. My grandparents conquered tradition to
found my family, and I stand tall as an American born from a unique
and tolerant soil. What race produced me? The human race. I plead for
understanding and compassion. Chase the criminals, but let us then
begin to fight. Let us fight not for oil, money or revenge but for a
world where hatred and weapons belong to a distant, barbaric



New York

I am an Arab-American. I am also a New Yorker born
in America of a Moroccan Muslim father. On September 11 I stood
terrified at my office window above Madison Square Garden, as I
watched in horror and disbelief the devastating destruction of the
World Trade Center--one of the quintessential landmarks of this city
I love. In the distance, down the soundless stretch of Seventh Avenue
hung the ghostly cloud of what moments before had been the mirror for
the Statue of Liberty, the thriving workplace of thousands of people
hailing from all over the planet, each living their portion of the
American dream. Read the names on the Wall of Prayers outside St.
Vincent's Hospital; they will tell you how the blow dealt to New York
truly hit the world, for the names are not only Mark, Jennifer and
Kevin, but Imran, Mohammed and Kumar. The terrorists who committed
this heinous act, if they were Muslim, are no more "my people" than
Timothy McVeigh was "the people" of Christians.

As a
liberal Muslim, I must speak out with the clearest and loudest of
voices and not let fanatics and extremists define me and my
community. For we are in the vast majority--Muslims and Arabs who
condemn the killing of another human being, who believe that Allah is
compassionate and good and forgiving. Who know that the Koran forbids
suicide, who see life as a gift that must not be squandered. My
father taught me his favorite sura from the Koran, where God
is described as a "Light within Light, emanating from a source found
neither in the East nor in the West." The terrorists who carried with
them death and destruction shared neither my vision of Allah, nor my
vision of the world. They were men devoured by hate and stood only
for themselves.

I don't know if we will ever have a real
sense of how much was lost on September 11. I don't think I can ever
stop hearing the bells from the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine
that tolled for the dead all day that Tuesday. I heard them as I
walked out of Central Park coughing from the soot and ash, my feet
blistered from the long trek to Harlem, away from the horror. I
feared so much was dying, I feared not just for my college friends,
graduate school buddies and neighbors who worked in those towers but
for my visions of peace and of a better world. I feared for my dream
of an end to the conflict in the Middle East--most likely that vision
had gone up in a cloud of smoke. What of my hopes of cultural
understanding, of erasing of stereotypes, of validating identity and
difference? That, too, had come tumbling down. The terrorists had
sounded the death knell for my vision of a better day to come.

But I will not let them do that. In memory of all those
who died, I will speak up loudly and not let terrorists write the
epitaph of our future. I will not let a handful of hatemongers, who
twisted the minds of desperate souls, convince more people that there
is no way out of despair but through destruction. The differences
that divide the Arab-Muslim world and the West are not a chasm that
nobody can bridge, and I will not let extremists on either side tell
me otherwise. I refuse to let hate draw the blueprints for our



As we survey the cultural landscape after the atrocities of September 11, we ought to note the special danger posed to free expression by media concentration.

While the Bush Administration continues
to build an international coalition it hopes will allow it to strike
back effectively at those responsible for the September 11 attacks,
three issues that helped set the stage for those atrocious crimes
must be dealt with.

The first is the troublesome question of Israel and Palestine. Last year the two came within a hair's breadth of a land-for-peace deal. It failed, and Ariel Sharon's first instinct after the September 11 attacks was to cancel further
meetings with the Palestinians--exactly the wrong instinct, and one
now haltingly reversed by pressure from Shimon Peres and the White
House. But until that deal is signed--and the two peoples accept the
resulting settlement, however imperfect--there can be no peace or
security for any of us. Such a deal may finally require a long-term
multinational peacekeeping force placed between the two, but its
cost, however great, is less than we will all bear if we do not find
resolution to this central issue.

Second is the matter of governance. One hardly needs intimate familiarity with the human rights records of governments from Morocco in the West to Pakistan in
the East to realize that many of America's allies and enemies alike fail the most minimal tests of democracy and human decency--and that they must change. This is not to advocate invasion, CIA subversion or Iraq-style embargoes but rather to support concerted multilateral action that expands pressures for political and social reform and that works with forces within those countries toward that end. Nothing will come quickly or without risk, but to leave intact the power arrangements of the Middle East--as we did in the wake of the
Gulf War--invites the worst possible outcome. Terrorists are bred most easily among terrorized and humiliated peoples.

Finally there is the issue of economic development
and aid. There are a billion Muslims, most of them desperately poor,
and most living in a swath of the globe stretching from the Strait of
Gibraltar east to the Indonesian archipelago. In the days following
September 11, Congress authorized $40 billion in emergency funds
without debate, then $15 billion for US airlines, and George W. Bush
has now proposed spending up to $75 billion more. Given such numbers,
and with the economies of America, Europe and Japan producing more
than $20 trillion a year, why pretend that we can do no more than
promote failed "structural adjustment" programs?

As it
readies for war, America would do well to remember that 3 billion
human beings live on less than $2 a day, and at least 10 million die
of easily preventable disease and malnutrition each year. Then there
is the global impact of the terrorist attacks and US-led preparations
for retaliation. James Wolfensohn, president of the World Bank,
predicts a "largely unseen" human toll, estimating that "between
20,000 and 40,000 more children will die worldwide and some 10
million people will be condemned to live below the poverty line of $1
a day." Wolfensohn attributes these effects to severe drops in
commodity prices and a burgeoning global recession; a World Bank
study predicts 2001 growth of less than 1 percent in the
industrialized countries.

Even if Osama bin Laden is dead
next year, given such realities, no new airport security measures or
Special Forces deployments or missile defense shields will protect us
from those who arise to take his place. Instead, we must re-engage
with the world, attacking not the enemies we cannot see but the
enemies we can. We need what has been called a "new era of global
Keynesianism"--a commitment to relieving the globe's most fundamental
problems of food and health and joblessness. That, plus a stiff dose
of political fairness and human rights, offers the best antidote to

Arundhati Roy, author of The God of Small Things, whose essay deploring India's decision to test atomic weapons appeared in The Nation ("The
End of Imagination," September 28, 1998), is, as she told a reporter,
"deeper in the soup." Active in an anti-dam campaign in India, this
past spring she led a demo protesting the Indian Supreme Court's
decision to allow construction of a dam on the Narmada River that
will displace 200,000 people and harm the region's fragile ecosystem.
Some lawyers at the scene trumped up complaints about Roy threatening
them, and the Supreme Court charged her and two other leaders of the
protest movement with criminal contempt. That charge was dismissed,
but at the hearing Roy submitted a blistering affidavit calling the
court's action an attempt "to silence criticism and muzzle dissent."
The judges ordered her to withdraw the affidavit. She refused and
will go on trial for contempt at the end of October, acting as her
own lawyer and facing imprisonment. In our view, her affidavit has it
exactly right, and the Supreme Court is even deeper in the, um, soup.
Let the Indian Embassy in Washington know your view.

In our
August 20 issue we endorsed Mark Green, a lifelong liberal who has
been running as a liberal centrist, for mayor of New York City. Two
weeks before a runoff election against Fernando Ferrer, a lifelong
centrist who has been running on behalf of what he calls "the other
New York," Green accepted Mayor Giuliani's proposition that he be
allowed to stay in office an additional three months. If Green's
ill-advised cave-in were all we knew about him, we'd drop him like a
cold potato, the mayor's idea being unwieldy, unwise and
possibly--even if the state legislature went along--illegal. But
given Green's long and valuable service as a public interest
activist, his anti-Giuliani credentials, his anti-police brutality,
pro-public safety stances, we regard this as one bad decision in a
career replete with the right ones, and our endorsement stands. --The

As political insiders in New York City got back
to talking politics after September 11, people asked one another: How
did the World Trade Center attack change the mayoral election? No one
had any idea, but everyone agreed that, somehow or another, things
just had to be different.

It turned out that they were and
they weren't. On the no-change front, it appears that the greatest
calamity in the city's history proved no match for old-fashioned
ethnic politics. Bronx borough president Fernando Ferrer finished
first in the Democratic primary, riding the wave of an unprecedented
Latino turnout (Latinos represented 23 percent of the Democratic
electorate and voted for him against four white opponents by a
three-to-one margin). The vast majority of white observers, I among
them, assumed that after the attack Ferrer's campaign mantra about
"two New Yorks" would wind up buried under the lower Manhattan
rubble. The problem was, as we were dismissing Ferrer, we forgot to
ask his voters. That those voters sent the message they did,
especially at a time when rhetoric about unity and coming together as
one had become the only permissible lingua franca of municipal
political life, should remind us--and, one hopes, the next mayor,
whoever he may be--that as urgent as the need to rebuild may be, the
legions of homeless families and children without adequate healthcare
are still out there.

One thing that did change, and
disturbingly so, was the ground occupied by Mark Green, the city's
Public Advocate. Green finished second, with 31 percent to Ferrer's
35, largely because Ferrer's leftish campaign--ironic for someone
who, in a previous mayoral run four years ago, ran as a veritable
Democratic Leadership Councillor--struck a chord with the solid third
of the city that has consistently opposed incumbent Rudy Giuliani,
while Green's more moderated race--ironic for someone who has been a
lifelong liberal crusader and Giuliani's most consistent high-profile
critic--tried so hard to please so many different constituencies that
it ignited none.

Now, as the two head for an October 11
runoff, the distinction between them is even more stark. When
Giuliani proposed an extortionate "deal" to Green, Ferrer and
Republican primary winner Mike Bloomberg under which the mayor would
be permitted to stay on for three extra months (extortionate because
his implicit threat was that if they didn't accept, he'd seek ways to
run for a third term), Green capitulated, and Ferrer had the gumption
to say no. In truth, both decisions were political calculations.
Green needs the backing in the runoff of white voters who are looking
very sympathetically at Giuliani these days, and he needs to keep
Giuliani, who detests him and who could depress white turnout with a
few well-chosen words, off his back; Ferrer needs to stoke his Latino
and black (and anti-Giuliani) base. But the fundamental fact is that
one candidate defended an uninterrupted democratic process and one
did not. Green is still, by history and inclination, the more progressive
of the two, but many of his voters are sure to note that when he had
a chance to show some courage against the bullying incumbent, he took
a pass.

Green's runoff dilemma, and his middling
performance in the primary, reflect a larger historical trend that
has percolated in New York City politics for nearly a decade
now--namely, that many white New York City liberals have become, in
the past two mayoral elections, Giuliani voters. While Ferrer's
natural base of politicized, anti-Giuliani blacks and Latinos has
grown in the past eight years, Green's natural base of progressive
whites has shrunk. White voters who would never think of voting for a
Republican at the national or state level voted for Giuliani by the
thousands in 1993 and 1997 (Giuliani beat Ruth Messinger on her own
Upper West Side in 1997). Ferrer was able to ignore these Giuliani
liberals, more as a matter of strategy than principle, although he
was clever enough that, to the naïve, it often came out sounding
like the latter. Green could not and cannot, and so he regularly
tempered his rhetoric with assurances to this bloc that he "got it"
on crime. Thus the major distinction between these two basically
liberal candidates reduces to skin color, and the fact that one feels
free to embody the grievances of the underclass while the
other--whose record on police abuse issues is, if anything, more
substantive than Ferrer's--must bear in mind the anxieties of the

The challenge to both is to harvest the votes of
their respective blocs without resorting to the sort of winks, nudges
and euphemisms that can inflame the racial tensions here that always
lie about an inch and a half below the surface. And the challenge to
the winner will be to bring the blocs together to fight Bloomberg,
who has unlimited millions and will, in all likelihood, have
Giuliani's endorsement. Bloomberg is a bad candidate and still a long
shot, but given what New York has been through these past few weeks,
this election is now taking place inside a funhouse mirror room, or a
Magritte painting (images are indeed treason)--Mark Green, the
white-backlash candidate?! Ed Koch endorsing Ferrer, whom he
pilloried as racially devisive two week before?!--and anything can

Battling the war
profiteers of World War I, Robert La Follette reminded America that
"wealth has never yet sacrificed itself on the altar of patriotism."
The progressive senator from Wisconsin was complaining about arms
merchants reaping excessive profits from the sale of weaponry in
1917. But La Follette's words echo with particular clarity in the
aftermath of terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the
Pentagon because of the rise of another form of war profiteering. In
an attempt to gain the upper hand in a fight they had been losing,
Bush Administration and Congressional supporters of fast track--or,
as supporters have renamed it, "Trade Promotion Authority"--were
telling Congress Daily within hours of the September 11
attacks that terrorist threats increased the need to grant Bush
authority to negotiate a NAFTA-style free-trade area from Tierra del
Fuego to the Tundra.

With each passing day, these policy
profiteers have pumped up the volume. Iowa Senator Charles Grassley,
the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, announced,
"Passing trade promotion authority for the President would send a
strong signal to the rest of the world that the United States is
ready, willing and able to lead." The Wall Street Journal
editorial page chirped about how "not everything has changed for the
worse since September 11. One garden at the skunk party has been the
emergence of new bipartisan momentum to expand free trade,
specifically something called 'Trade Promotion Authority.'" US Trade
Representative Robert Zoellick was everywhere preaching his
"Countering Terror With Trade" mantra, a campaign so aggressive it
left even Republicans scratching their heads. "I am not sure a trade
bill has anything to do with terrorism," said Ohio Republican
Congressman Bob Ney.

But Zoellick wasn't listening to
Republicans who warned that an aggressive push for fast track could
be the straw that breaks the back of the post-September 11
bipartisanship. Less than two weeks after the attacks, Zoellick
delivered a speech at the Institute for International Economics that
seemed to question the patriotism of fast-track foes. Members of
Congress "who know trade is the right thing to do are refusing to act
for rather narrow-interest reasons," the Bush aide declared, adding,
"Trade is about more than economic efficiency. It promotes the values
at the heart of this protracted struggle."

That was too
much for New York Congressman Charles Rangel, the ranking Democrat on
the House Ways and Means Committee. Rangel issued a scathing rebuke
to Zoellick's policy profiteering. "As a combat war veteran and as a
person whose city has been attacked and suffered devastating losses
as a result, I am offended by the strategy of the current United
States Trade Representative to use the tragedy in New York and at the
Pentagon to fuel political momentum behind a partisan fast-track
proposal," Rangel said, adding, "To have the USTR attack the
patriotism of Americans for their failure to support an unwritten,
undisclosed bill demands a public apology."

Zoellick's point man in the House, Bill Thomas, the California
Republican who chairs the Ways and Means Committee, claimed he had
consulted key Democrats about a move to push a bipartisan fast-track
compromise through the House, Rangel shot back that the Democrats in
question "have expressed to me in no uncertain terms that they do not
subscribe to this attempt to wrap the flag around any fast-track bill
in the wake of the September 11 attacks." Undaunted, Thomas said he'd
try to bring a bill to a floor vote by the second week of

Long before September 11, the debate over fast
track was destined to be intense. Bush, aided by major corporations,
had promised to pull out all the stops. But labor, environment and
human rights groups thwarted them by reminding Congress that since
the enactment of NAFTA in 1994, more than 355,000 US jobs (even by
the government's conservative estimate) have been lost. Small farms
have failed at a significantly increased rate, and environmental and
worker safety protections have been undermined at home and abroad.
"If the Administration had the votes for fast track, before September
11 or after, we would have had a vote. They still don't have the
votes, but they're trying everything to come up with them," says
Patrick Woodall, research director for Public Citizen's Global Trade

Zoellick and Thomas are hardly the only policy
profiteers. The threat of war and recession has inspired plenty of
moves to wrap unappealing agendas in the bunting of patriotism.
School-prayer and flag-protection amendments are being elbowed onto
the antiterrorist agenda, while Attorney General John Ashcroft pushed
hard to win approval of dusted-off proposals to curtail immigrants'
rights, expand electronic surveillance and allow use of intelligence
gathered by foreign governments in US courts [see Bruce Shapiro, "All
in the Name of Security," page 20]. Playing the patriotism card in
support of Ashcroft, GOP Senate leader Trent Lott warned the
Democrats that in the event of another attack, "people are going to
wonder where have you been in giving the additional tools that are
needed to, you know, find these terrorists and avoid plots that may
be in place."

Bush aides have proposed cutting corporate
income taxes, while House Republicans are flying the capital-gains
tax-cut flag. Although the attacks proved that there are far more
pressing security needs than developing a National Missile Defense
system, Star Wars backers are still attempting to get funding for
their boondoggle. And backers of the Administration's energy proposal
now want an "expedited energy bill" designed to clear the way for
drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Washington is witnessing shameless policy profiteering, state
legislatures have seen surreal grabs for political advantage. A
Republican state representative in Wisconsin announced that after so
many deaths, it was time to renew America's commitment to life--by
passing his antiabortion bill. In states that bar capital punishment,
proposals were made to allow executions as antiterrorist
measures--failing to recognize the absurdity of threatening suicide
attackers with death.

Every war has its profiteers. But it
looks like this one is going to require an army of La Follettes to
prevent this war's policy profiteers from warping the discourse--not
to mention plundering the Treasury--in the name of a "patriotism"
defined solely by self-interest.

all the programs I've seen on Afghanistan, not one was more chilling
than Beneath the Veil, an hourlong documentary that has
appeared frequently on CNN. Its narrator, Saira Shah, a British woman
of Afghan descent, spent five days in the country to see what life
there was really like. Shah managed to penetrate places few
Westerners get to see, including a secret classroom for girls and a
village that suffered Taliban atrocities. She also visited a Kabul
soccer stadium that, she said, had served as a public execution
ground. To back up her point, the documentary featured a clip of a
man putting a rifle to the head of a woman clad in a burqa and
blowing her brains out. In an interview with the Taliban foreign
minister, Shah asked what he thought the international donors who
gave money for the stadium would say if they knew it was being used
for executions rather than for sports. Well, the minister said, if
they didn't like it, they should give money to build a separate arena
for executions.

Shah's report captures just how horrendous
life in Afghanistan has become. The Taliban's police-state tactics,
together with its harboring of terrorists, has fed a groundswell of
support for its ouster. That, in turn, has focused new attention on
the Taliban's main opponents, the United Front, or, as it's more
familiarly known, the Northern Alliance. Eager to report on it, US
journalists have swarmed into the sliver of territory the alliance
controls in northeastern Afghanistan, where they're cordially taken
on tours by rebel commanders.

"We're with the troops of the
Northern Alliance," MSNBC's TomAspell reported on September 27. The
alliance, he said, was eager to act as a guide for American forces
entering Afghanistan. CNN's Chris Burns, gesturing toward a mountain
ridge, said, "Thirty miles beyond that, is where Kabul is. And they
say if they had help from the Americans, they could take that city."
Meanwhile, a procession of alliance spokesmen have appeared on TV to
plead for US assistance.

The print media have been no less
accommodating. "Front-line Taliban Foes Eager to Help U.S.," the
New York Times declared on its front page. Reporter David
Rohde described how a Northern Alliance general "swaggered across the
top floor" of a demolished airfield control tower and pointed
southward. "'On the other side of those mountains,' he said, his
voice filled with yearning, 'is Kabul.'" While the alliance did not
pose an immediate military threat to the city, Rohde noted, it did
have "encyclopedic knowledge of the Taliban and its bombing targets,
units and tactics." The Washington Post has run a series of
glowing reports about the alliance and its grit, savvy and
"discipline." That discipline, correspondent Peter Baker noted in one
dispatch, has survived the September 9 assassination of Ahmed Shah
Massoud, the guerrilla leader who "by sheer force of personality had
managed to hold together this eclectic group of

In death, Massoud has been lionized by the US
press--literally. "The legendary 'Lion of the Panjshir,'" the Los
Angeles Times
called him. "A Lion's Death," the New Yorker
declared in a headline atop a one-page eulogy by Jon Lee Anderson. In
1992, Anderson reported, Massoud's "moderately conservative group"
defeated the brutish regime backed by the Soviets, and he served as
defense minister and vice president until 1996, when the Taliban
gained control of most of the country.

What neither
Anderson nor the rest of the press has reported is that during their
time in power, Massoud and his fellow warlords ruthlessly fought one
another, reducing much of Kabul to rubble and killing tens of
thousands of people, most of them civilians. According to a
meticulously documented report by Human Rights Watch (Afghanistan:
Crisis of Impunity
, available at www.hrw.org), the front "amassed
a deplorable record of attacks on civilians" between 1992 and 1996.
It was the lawlessness and brutality that prevailed under these
warlords that paved the way for the Taliban. Since then, Human Rights
Watch reports, both the Taliban and the United Front "have repeatedly
committed serious violations of international humanitarian law,
including killings of detainees, aerial bombardment and shelling,
direct attacks on civilians, rape, torture, persecution on the basis
of religion, and the use of antipersonnel landmines."

one of the few departures from the pack, Patricia Gossman noted in a
Washington Post Op-Ed that Afghans have been fleeing Kabul
"not only out of fear of US airstrikes but out of panic that the
[Northern Alliance] might take power there again." Gossman, a writer
whose research has been funded by the US Institute of Peace, wrote
that when she was in Kabul last year, "I was told time and again that
the only thing people there feared more than the Taliban was that the
warlords of the Northern Alliance might return to

Michael Sullivan, in a fine piece for NPR, pointed
out that the Northern Alliance is made up of Afghanistan's ethnic
Tajik and Uzbek minorities, "with only token representation from the
country's ethnic Pashtun majority, who've dominated Afghanistan's
political landscape for most of the country's history." Without
involving the Pashtuns, a Pakistani security analyst told him, having
a stable government in Afghanistan "would be simply impossible." (The
Taliban is made up mostly of Pashtuns.)

What accounts for
the media blackout on the United Front's true colors? As Ken
Silverstein observed in an astute piece for Salon, the front's
many abuses "can't be a surprise" to reporters. Since September 11,
he notes, several thousand people, "presumably many of them
journalists," have requested the Human Rights Watch report on
Afghanistan, but "most reporters and pundits seem to be patriotically
turning a blind eye to our new partner's shortcomings."

The press may at last be opening its eyes. Time, in
its October 8 edition, offered a balanced piece on the United Front,
referring to its "fractious makeup" and "disappointingly thin"
intelligence. And David Rohde, in another front-page piece in the
Times on the Northern Alliance, used the w-word--warlords--and
described their recruitment of fighters as young as

According to the Times, the Bush Administration
has decided to provide covert aid to several groups opposed to the
Taliban, the United Front included. In light of the urgent need to
root out war criminals like Osama bin Laden, it can be argued that
Washington needs every bit of help it can get. But at the very least,
the American public needs to know whom we are embracing. After all,
it was just a few years ago that the CIA--eager to confront the
Soviets--backed the mujahedeen, including many of the same Taliban
fighters we are now seeking to overthrow.


Robert Scheer

The bombing part is easy. Not of course on the civilians, the "collateral damage" likely to be killed in unseemly large numbers, as they were during the Gulf War.

Minority Report

Just once more, and
then we'll really have to get on with more pressing business. I could
subscribe myself at any time to any of the following statements:

§ An Arab child born in Nablus should have no fewer
rights in his or her homeland than a Jewish child born in

§ The United States of America has been the
patron of predatory regimes on five continents.

§ The
United States of America exports violence by means of arms sales and
evil clients.

You can probably fill in a few extras for
yourself. However, none of the above statements means the same thing
if prefaced with the words: "As Osama bin Laden and his devout
followers have recently reminded us..." They wouldn't mean the same
thing politically, that is to say, and they wouldn't mean the same
thing morally. It's disgraceful that so many people on the periphery
of this magazine should need what Noam Chomsky would otherwise term
instruction in the elementary.

Here are two brief thought
experiments that I hope and trust will put this degrading argument to
rest. Both of them, as it happens, involve the date September

I have long kept September 11 as a day of mourning,
because it was on that date in 1973 that Salvador Allende was
murdered and Chilean democracy assassinated along with him. We know
all the details now, from the way the giant corporations subsidized
subversion to the way that US politicians commissioned "hit jobs" and
sabotage. It took the Chilean opposition many years of patient
struggle to regain their country and their democracy, and the small
help I was able to offer them is one of the few things in my life of
which I can be proud. There was one spirited attempt to kill Augusto
Pinochet himself during this period, with which I had some sneaking
sympathy, but on the whole the weaponry of terror (death squads, car
bombs, the training of special killers) was in the department of
horror employed by Chilean and US officials working for, or with, the
dictatorship. And now Chilean dignity has been restored, and Pinochet
himself is a discredited and indicted figure, spared the rigor of law
only for humanitarian reasons. We may even live to see justice done
to some of his backers in Washington, though the holding of breath
would be inadvisable.

I don't know any Chilean participant
in this great historic struggle who would not rather have
died--you'll have to excuse the expression--than commit an outrage
against humanity that was even remotely comparable to the atrocities
in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. And I think I'll leave it
at that, since those who don't see my point by now are never going to
do so.

There are others who mourn September 11 because it
was on that day in 1683 that the hitherto unstoppable armies of Islam
were defeated by a Polish general outside the gates of Vienna. The
date marks the closest that proselytizing Islam ever came to making
itself a superpower by military conquest. From then on, the Muslim
civilization, which once had so much to teach the Christian West,
went into a protracted eclipse. I cannot of course be certain, but I
think it is highly probable that this is the date that certain
antimodernist forces want us to remember as painfully as they do. And
if I am right, then it's not even facile or superficial to connect
the recent aggression against American civil society with any current
"human rights issue."

Why not pay attention to what the
cassettes and incantations of Al Qaeda actually demand: a holy war in
which there are no civilians on the other side, only infidels, and a
society of total aridity in which any concept of culture or the
future has been eradicated?

One ought to be clear about
this: The Ottomans who besieged Vienna were not of that primeval
mentality. But the Wahabbi fanatics of the present century are.
Glance again at the trite statements I made at the beginning of this
column. Could Osama bin Laden actually utter any of them? Certainly
not. He doesn't only oppose the entire Jewish presence in Palestine;
he opposes the Jewish presence in America. He is the
spoiled-brat son of one of our preferred despotisms and the proud
beneficiary of the export of violence. Why, then, do so many fools
consider him as the interpreter of their "concerns," let alone seek
to appoint their ignorant selves as the medium for his?

Thanks to all those who demand that I tell them what is to
be done. As the situation develops, they may even ask themselves this
question as if it really demanded a serious answer. We certainly owe
a duty to Afghanistan's people, whose lives were rendered impossible
by the Taliban long before we felt any pain. We might even remember
that the only part of Iraq where people are neither starving nor
repressed is in the Kurdish area, now under international protection
as a result of public pressure on Bush Senior's vaunted "coalition."
(See especially David Hirst's two engrossing reports from northern
Iraq in the London Guardian of August 1 and 2: Hirst himself
is probably the most consistently anti-imperialist journalist in the
region.) But wait! That might mean that one could actually
do something. Surely we are too guilt-stained for

Thanks also to all those who thought it was original
to attack me for writing from an "armchair." (Why is it always an
armchair?) As it happens, I work in a swivel chair, in an apartment
on the top floor of one of Washington's tallest buildings. In the
fall of 1993 the State Department's Office of Counterterrorism
urgently advised me to change this address because of "credible"
threats received after my wife and daughter and I had sheltered
Salman Rushdie as a guest, and had arranged for him to be received at
the cowering Clinton White House. I thought, then as now, that the
government was doing no more than covering its own behind by giving
half-alarmist and half-reassuring advice. In other words, I have a
quarrel with theocratic fascism even when the Administration does
not, and I hope at least some of my friendly correspondents are
prepared to say the same.

(An old Nat "King" Cole song, as sung by Rudy "King"

Indispensable, that's what I am.
I'm an
icon now, like Uncle Sam.
I'm the rock this town is built
Après moi, no one could carry on.
No one
but me
Could possibly be
(bah, bah, bah)
the mayor for life.
No one worries now about my wife.
So, you
see, I've simply got to stay.
I'll be mayor forever and a
And I'll still be indispensable then.


Are there any people
on earth more wretched than the women of Afghanistan? As if poverty,
hunger, disease, drought, ruined cities and a huge refugee crisis
weren't bad enough, under Taliban rule they can't work, they can't go
to school, they have virtually no healthcare, they can't leave their
houses without a male escort, they are beaten in the streets if they
lift the mandatory burqa even to relieve a coughing fit. The
Taliban's crazier requirements have some of the obsessive
particularity of the Nazis' statutes against the Jews: no high heels
(that lust-inducing click-click!), no white socks (white is the color
of the flag), windows must be painted over so that no male passerby
can see the dreaded female form lurking in the house. (This
particular stricture, combined with the burqa, has led to an outbreak
of osteomalacia, a bone disease caused by malnutrition and lack of

Until September 11, this situation received only
modest attention in the West--much less than the destruction of the
giant Buddha statues of Bamiyan. The "left" is often accused of
"moral relativism" and a "postmodern" unwillingness to judge, but the
notion that the plight of Afghan women is a matter of culture and
tradition, and not for Westerners to judge, was widespread across the
political spectrum.

Now, finally, the world is paying
attention to the Taliban, whose days may indeed be numbered now that
their foreign supporters--Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates,
Pakistan--are backing off. The connections between religious
fanaticism and the suppression of women are plain to see (and not
just applicable to Islam--show me a major religion in which the
inferiority of women, and God's wish to place them and their
dangerous polluting sexuality under male control, is not a central
original theme). So is the connection of both with terrorism, war and
atrocity. It's no accident that so many of the young men who are foot
soldiers of Islamic fundamentalism are reared in womanless religious
schools, or that Osama bin Laden's recruiting video features bikinied
Western women as symbols of the enemy.

But if
fundamentalism requires the suppression of women, offering desperate,
futureless men the psychological and practical satisfaction of
instant superiority to half the human race, the emancipation of women
could be the key to overcoming it. Where women have education,
healthcare and personal rights, where they have social and political
and economic power--where they can choose what to wear, whom to
marry, how to live--there's a powerful constituency for secularism,
democracy and human rights: What educated mother engaged in public
life would want her daughter to be an illiterate baby machine
confined to the four walls of her husband's house with no one to talk
to but his other wives?

Women's rights are crucial for
everything the West supposedly cares about: infant mortality (one in
four Afghan children dies before age 5), political democracy,
personal freedom, equality under the law--not to mention its own
security. But where are the women in the discussion of Afghanistan,
the Middle East, the rest of the Muslim world? We don't hear much
about how policy decisions will affect women, or what they want. Men
have the guns and the governments. Who asks the women of Saudi
Arabia, our ally, how they feel about the Taliban-like restrictions
on their freedom? In the case of Afghanistan, the Northern
Alliance presents itself now to the West as women's friend. A story
in the New York Times marveled at the very limited permission
given to women in NA-held territory to study and work and wear a less
restrictive covering than the burqa. Brushed aside was the fact that
many warlords of the Northern Alliance are themselves religious
fighters who not only restricted women considerably when they held
power from 1992 to '96 but plunged the country into civil war,
compiling a record of ethnically motivated mass murder, rape and
other atrocities and leaving the population so exhausted that the
Taliban's promise of law and order came as a relief. It's all
documented on the Human Rights Watch website

Now more than ever, the Revolutionary
Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA), which opposes both
the Taliban and the Northern Alliance as violent, lawless,
misogynistic and antidemocratic, deserves attention and support.
"What Afghanistan needs is not more war," Tahmeena Faryel, a RAWA
representative currently visiting the United States, told me, but
massive amounts of humanitarian aid and the disarming of both the
Taliban and the Northern Alliance, followed by democratic elections.
"We don't need another religious government," she said. "We've had
that!" The women of RAWA are a different model of heroism than a
warlord with a Kalashnikov: In Afghanistan, they risk their lives by
running secret schools for girls, delivering medical aid, documenting
and filming Taliban atrocities. In Pakistan, they demonstrate against
fundamentalism in the "Talibanized" cities of Peshawar and Quetta.
Much as the victims of the WTC attack need our support, so too do
Afghans who are trying to bring reason and peace to their miserable
country. To make a donation to RAWA, see www.rawa.org.

* * *

I got more negative comment on my
last column, in which I described a discussion with my daughter about
whether to fly an American flag in the wake of the WTC attack, than
on anything I've ever written. Many people pitied my commonsensical,
public-spirited child for being raised by an antisocial naysayer like
me. And if The Weekly Standard has its way--it's urging
readers to send young "Miss Pollitt" flags c/o The Nation--she
will soon have enough flags to redecorate her entire bedroom in red,
white and blue, without having to forgo a single Green Day CD to buy
one for herself. (See this issue's Letters column for some of the
mail on the flag question.)

Fortunately, for those who want
to hang something a bit more global out their window, there are
alternatives. The peace flag (www.peaceflags.org) reshapes Old
Glory's stars into the peace sign; the Earth flag (www.earthflag.net)
displays the Apollo photo of the Earth on a blue background.


"We need to make it very clear," said one veteran activist at a recent meeting of a nascent New York City antiwar coalition, "that we want to punish the criminals." She meant, of course, any living accomplices in the September 11 World Trade Center massacre. That night, activists were unable to come to any kind of agreement on the need to bring the murderers to justice, and their confusion and division mirrored that of antiwar demonstrators around the nation. During the last weekend in September, antiwar protests in the nation's capital underscored the movement's difficulty in articulating a message that might make sense to a broader public. That difficulty was amplified by the happy fact that, as one demonstrator put it, "it's hard to protest a war that's not happening." While things may yet get brutal, George Bush is not presently proposing to take any military action against innocent Afghan civilians, and the Administration is now seriously considering schemes that, when suggested by peace activists a week ago, sounded absurdly whimsical--like "bombing" Afghanistan with food.

Originally, more than 10,000 foot soldiers of the global economic justice movement, from the controversial hooded Anti-Capitalist Convergence (or "Black Bloc") to the AFL-CIO, had planned to show up to protest September 30's IMF/World Bank meeting. That meeting was canceled. Most protest groups canceled their actions too, and not only because there were no meetings to oppose. At a moment of sorrow and panic, demonstrators risked being ignored--or worse, reviled as unpatriotic or insensitive to the memories of the dead. In a statement explaining their withdrawal from the protests, United Students Against Sweatshops declared September in the capital "neither the time nor the place to gather in opposition."

Not everyone felt that way. The Anti-Capitalist Convergence decided to hold an antiwar demonstration Saturday morning, using, according to David Graeber of New York City's Direct Action Network, who works closely with the ACC, "less controversial tactics. None of these," he laughed, pointing to a brick in the middle of the sidewalk. The Black Bloc anarchists, known for illegal actions, refrained from any destruction of property, and the weekend ended with only eleven arrests. The ACC march drew about 1,000 (organizers claimed 2,000-3,000). Some--being anarchists--rejected any action that the state might take, even against terrorism, and rejected any international tribunal as a tool of the state.

The second, and best-publicized, march was organized by an antiwar front group assembled by the International Action Center (IAC), in turn a front for (if you're still following) the Workers World Party, which is justly reviled for supporting Slobodan Milosevic, among other gruesome dictators. Still, a few thousand people, from high school students to graying peaceniks, eventually joined by the ACC, showed up. IAC organizers subjected these demonstrators to three hours of speeches, none of which mentioned bringing the killers to justice, before the all-too-brief march from Freedom Plaza to the Capitol began. Bland sloganeering and predictable references to eclectic causes (Free Mumia!) had the effect of reducing the peril of World War III to the trivial status of another pet left crusade. There was no doubt about the sincerity of the demonstrators, who carried signs like Another Alaskan for Peace, but the IAC's involvement gave the event--which drew maybe 7,000 at its peak, though organizers claimed 20,000--the flavor of a kind of generic McProtest.

The third march, held on Sunday and organized by the Washington Peace Center and other groups, was smaller than the IAC event but achieved an appropriately serious tone. Some of Saturday's demonstrators (from the well-behaved Black Bloc to the Bread and Puppet Theater) turned up, along with many locals--a crowd of some 3,000. Speakers, many of them clergy, quoted venerable sources: the Bible, the Koran, the Talmud, Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi. Signs often bore scriptural messages, and one playfully queried George Bush, WWJD? Speakers read letters from family members of September 11 victims who did not want war in the name of their loved ones. Others stressed the need for reflection and the challenges of turning our grief into a cry for global peace. The event also suggested some practical alternatives to war, emphasizing justice and law over military force. Alan Mattlage, an organizer of the Washington Peace Center event and a member of the Maryland Green Party, echoed many of his fellow protesters in saying that the World Trade Center attacks should be treated not "as an act of war but as a criminal matter. [Those accused] should be tried before an international tribunal."

All three antiwar marches attracted activists who had planned to protest the IMF. Students showed up in large numbers (a nationwide network of more than 150 student antiwar groups, some calling themselves Students for a Peaceful Justice, has been holding campus vigils, protests and teach-ins). Labor organizations, by contrast, from the AFL-CIO to Jobs with Justice, were conspicuously absent. That makes some sense, given that many of their constituents may support military responses to the September 11 attacks. One of countless reasons to hope for peace is that a prolonged war--and antiwar activism--could test the warm solidarity developed in recent years between labor and other progressives, especially students. On the other hand, it's encouraging to see how quickly the global economic justice movement has embraced peace and security issues--and that peace organizations seem ready to tackle the economic roots of violence and to connect US militarism to global economic inequality.

Activists were united on a few points: There will be no peace without economic justice, and US civilians will not be safe until our government stops waging--and funding--war on other innocents. Some offered hope that our nation's suffering could open our eyes to the rest of the world's pain. At an interfaith service on peace and justice at St. Aloysius Church Saturday night, Njoki Njoroge Njehu of the 50 Years Is Enough Network advised Americans to "hold that vulnerability, to understand how people around the world live with US violence. And let us finally understand the obscenity of the phrase 'collateral damage.' Will it ever have the same casual reference again?"

The Administration is using September 11
to curtail our civil liberties.

Protests against symbols of capitalism find themselves in a transformed landscape.

Labels like "Islam" and "the West" serve only to confuse us about a disorderly reality.

Books & the Arts


Telluride, Toronto and After

For folks involved in film, seasonal clocks can be set by the annual confluence of international film festivals (Telluride, Toronto, New York, Edinburgh, Venice) that shape reputations and kick-start the movies that show up on screens throughout the fall and winter. Usually, festivals are measured by which premieres and stars they snag, which prizes are awarded. This year, however, only one factor comes into play: whether festivals and films ran before or after September 11.

Telluride took place in the bucolic setting of the Colorado mountains in the prelapsarian weeks prior to September 11. In addition to hot-off-the-press premieres, the Telluride festival is known for its tributes and archival revivals. Each year features a guest director who brings some special expertise to spice up the mix. (Full disclosure: I was the 1996 guest director.) This time it was Salman Rushdie, who unspooled Indian classics and chatted about science fiction films to the thrill of the crowd. (A few days later in Toronto, opening my copy of the Globe and Mail, I was surprised to find Rushdie's name on the front page. An item on September 11 reported that the FAA had alerted Air Canada that it could not board him as a passenger, bound for Toronto that week, due to "extreme security measures" that required air traffic to operate under a "heightened state of alert.")

Yes, Telluride was before all that. Still, it's a festival that often has a political spin buried in its offerings. (Its very first festival, after all, honored Leni Riefenstahl.) The roster of films this year included everything from Jean-Pierre Jeunet's French blockbuster Amelie to a documentary on Walt Disney. No Man's Land, by first-time Bosnian director Danis Tonovic, was a popular hit, offering an antiwar message that combined M*A*S*H-style humor with the despair of Waiting for Godot.

Telluride's succès de scandale was Dear Fidel, a quirky German documentary on the life and love of Marita Lorenz, a German-American woman whose love affair with Fidel Castro during the first year of the Cuban Revolution led to a subsequent assignment from the CIA to murder him. Conspiracy alert: She was also a member of a convoy that drove from DC to Dallas on--guess which day. And, yup, Lee Harvey Oswald (she calls him "Ozzie") was one of the gang. The documentary, by investigative journalist Wilfried Huismann and producers Detlef Ziegert and Yvonne Ruocco, is packed with these astonishing stories and more, plus all-important witness corroborations. The confused editing might boggle the mind, but Dear Fidel's central subject never fails to fascinate. Showing up in person for the premiere, Lorenz basked in the crowd's attention and told even more stories: For example, her daughter (by Venezuelan ex-dictator Gen. Marcos Pérez Jiménez) is now married to the son of Orlando Letelier! Check out the website (www.dear-fidel.com) and prepare to be astonished.

The pure cinema part of the Telluride schedule featured an award and retrospective tribute to Catherine Breillat, the French director whose brilliant examinations of female sexuality freed from societal constraints have made her one of the most original filmmakers of our time. That her cinema is itself freed from societal constraints, and thus free to explore sex explicitly on screen and ignore taboos regarding both age and agency, is not incidental. Romance, the 1998 film in which she used actors alongside porn stars, pierced the facade of feminine wiles and instead constructed a character who was willing to go to any lengths for satisfaction.

Breillat's new film, Fat Girl (À Ma Soeur!), went on to both the Toronto and New York festivals after Telluride, and opens in New York City on October 10, with a national release thereafter. A deliberately troubling film about adolescent female sexuality, Fat Girl can easily be interpreted as a long-overdue riposte to the French coming-of-age movies centered on summertime first loves, such as Eric Rohmer's beloved Pauline at the Beach. Breillat explores the hypocrisy of a society that weighs down the sexual act with sentimental and moralistic baggage through one summer affair between a beautiful teenager, Elena (Roxane Mesquida), and Fernando, the Italian law student (Libero de Rienzo) who woos her after a chance meeting in a beachside cafe.

For a clear-eyed view, Breillat has written into the narrative a plump and grumpy younger sister, whose role is to accompany the Lolita-ish teenager throughout the flirtatious escapade. Protected by age and weight, Anaïs (Anaïs Reboux) dissects the terrible contract by which a teenage girl is allowed to possess beauty and "lose" virginity. In a hilarious cameo, Laura Betti, Pasolini's star and muse, appears as Fernando's social-climbing, bejeweled mother.

Naturally, since this is a Breillat film, sex and death are never far apart. There's unpredictable violence lurking at the movie's end, just when the audience relaxes, thinking it knows what's up. From its tranquil beginning to its shocking finish, Fat Girl shows Breillat to be a world-class artist working at the top of her form--even when the lessons of gender, sexuality and social custom may be hard to swallow. Without her, they wouldn't be available to us at all.

Telluride is not known for favoring women directors, but this year was different. Alongside Breillat was a new talent from Argentina, Lucrecia Martel. Her first feature film, La Ciénaga, churned up attention at virtually every festival and, like Fat Girl, was programmed at Toronto and New York. (It will also have a wider theatrical release, at New York's Film Forum in October and elsewhere throughout the fall.) La Ciénaga is an astonishing debut that mixes a Gabriel García Márquez sort of setting with a thoroughly cinematic imagination. Summer is a time of disintegration in Martel's universe, constructed from her memories of growing up in Salta, a province in the northwest of Argentina near the Bolivian border that's haunted by its own fears and illusions. In La Ciénaga, a middle-class family comes unglued over the course of several days in which petty disasters add up to major calamities. What distinguishes the film is Martel's wholesale reinvention of Latin American film language, so long bound by the rules of realism and/or melodrama. With La Ciénaga, cinema gets a shakeup, and the result is intoxicating.

La Ciénaga does what cinema at its best can do: It reveals a universe we've never even imagined and then gets us to look differently at both the society and medium we'd underestimated. Here, that means seeing water balloons thrown by young men at young women in the glorious frenzy of a fiesta. Or the modern-day stigmata self-inflicted by a boozy mother who, drunk, drops her glass on the patio and falls right into its jagged remains. Or the aura surrounding a maid, adored by the children she cares for and depended upon by their parents, who is nevertheless accused of stealing whenever anything cannot be found. Martel lays open a system of contradictions--individual, familial, racial, class--that show up like fissures in the bedrock of Argentine society. It's the audacious vision of a true artist who has paid close attention to the society around her.

When I arrived in Toronto, I was half-afraid I'd already seen the two best films in the festival. I needn't have worried. The lineup was terrific. Fat Girl and La Ciénaga were still standouts, but they had good company in the 300-plus films from Albania to Zanzibar and most places in between, including Hollywood. David Lynch's Mulholland Drive proved to be a terrific return to form for him, all dark intrigues and homicidal corruption. Alfredo Cuarón's Y Tu Mamá También? spiced a road movie with riffs on adolescent masculinity and the Mexican elite. From Hong Kong, Stanley Kwan sent Lan Yu, a gay melodrama looking at the tumultuous relationship between a businessman and a student hustler. Chilean Patricio Guzmán brought El Caso Pinochet, an examination of the legal and political work of trying the ex-dictator. Toronto is known as an exceedingly democratic festival, with something for everyone--its programmers even sign their catalogue entries so you know whom to blame--and the scope pays off for moviegoers who choose wisely.

Midway into the festival, it began to look possible to divine a new trend in American independent cinema. A series of accomplished films deployed a new narrative structure, tracing a large cast of characters across a series of ever-interlocking dramas. Jill Sprecher's Thirteen Conversations About One Thing and Rose Troche's The Safety of Objects (based on a collection of stories by A.M. Homes) both carry their audiences through multilayered journeys of loss, anxiety and redemption with commanding complexity. In Thirteen Conversations, tricks of fate direct a series of characters whose interconnections are slowly exposed through a complex structure that moves across time and locations. In The Safety of Objects, Troche's script stitches disparate stories together into a treatise on lives touched by tragedy and redeemed by connections that bind them through a similarly complex structure of events. A film by another American woman director, Nicole Holofcener's Lovely and Amazing, offered a brighter and leaner version, with a family story of interconnecting events that culminate in cinema's funniest McDonald's scene. Unlike earlier films that played with narrative--Happiness, American Beauty--these women do not rely on irony. Instead, they're perfecting a new approach to storytelling for complicated times.

Not surprisingly, films at Toronto played differently before and after September 11, a date that fell directly mid-festival. It was astonishing how quickly the hippest buzz dissolved once the events of the world intruded and, conversely, how much excess meaning accrued to those films with the "luck" to consider life-and-death issues, now utterly amplified. Indeed, after the 11th, Toronto was not the same event. The first half wound down as the press corps, in high spirits, emerged from a screening of Mira Nair's deliriously joyous film, Monsoon Wedding (which had been named the Venice festival's grand prize winner the day before), to enter a lobby filled with weeping colleagues staring at a giant monitor above the concession stand carrying the now-familiar scenes of unimaginable destruction. In the aftermath, all parties were canceled, industry presence was diminished and lines of Torontonians wound around the block, eager for the diversion and transport that movies deliver so well.

Suddenly it seemed that the festival was spilling over with films about loss, sudden death, fatal accident and families rent by grief. There were so many I tired of counting (The Safety of Objects, by the way, is one). Three are such exceptional films that they would have been singled out at any time; now they resonate, trembling like a tuning fork with the nervous hum of recent weeks. From Italy, there's The Son's Room; from Taiwan, What Time Is It There?; from France, L'Emploi du Temps (Time Out).

Laurent Cantet's Time Out is an unemployment thriller, detailing the desperate denial and increasingly psychotic behavior of a middle-management family man who loses his job, and with it his identity, sense of safety and all bearings. He never tells anyone what has happened. He cuts off all contact with his old colleagues and concocts one strategy after another--from pyramid investment schemes to outright smuggling--in order to maintain his face-saving fiction. As the screws of his deception tighten, a Hitchcockian shadow of slowly and excruciatingly built tension begins to shadow the film's events. Surely this will end violently? But Cantet is a latter-day Marxist whose last film, Human Resources, looked at a father-son struggle based on a factory floor. Here, he seems to tell us, nothing can compare with the violence experienced by any human caught up in mindless white-collar management, whether working or laid off. In that sense, the lie told by Cantet's protagonist--claiming that he's got a new job with a Swiss NGO doing business in Africa--is merely one more irony in his doomed flight from capitalism.

Tsai Ming-liang appeared in these pages earlier this year when his film The River had a delayed US release. Now he's back, with a wonderfully mature film, What Time Is It There? A comedy of sorts, it considers, among other things, how a son and mother cope with Dad's sudden death. The mother weeps and tries valiantly to communicate with her husband on the other side, utilizing variously a cockroach, a carp and a Buddhist priest. The irreligious son, played as always by Lee Kang-sheng--star of all of Tsai's films since his 1992 hit Rebels of the Neon God-- is shaken, too. He works as a street vendor. When an attractive customer insists on buying the watch on his wrist instead of the one he's selling--arguing that the dual-time dial is essential for her trip to Paris the next day--she sets the film's structure in motion. As her geographic absence begins to stand in for his father's passing, the son performs his mourning by changing every clock in Taipei to Paris time, seven hours ahead.

It's a hilarious conceit, which Tsai carries through with smart cinematic wit. One scene explicitly evokes Harold Lloyd's silent-film antics. In another, our hero purchases a video--Truffaut's 400 Blows--and watches the scene of Jean-Pierre Léaud stealing a bottle of milk and gulping it down. Constant cross-cutting to the watch-bearer, now a lonely Parisian, reveals her chance encounter with the now-aged Léaud himself in a Paris graveyard. The themes of love and loss, nurturance and abandonment, couldn't be clearer; for added resonance, consider that actor Lee is often compared to James Dean, who so famously drank milk from the bottle in Rebel Without a Cause.

Nanni Moretti has made a career's worth of film grounded in humor, but here he has turned serious. The Son's Room, which won the Palme d'Or at Cannes this spring, is a portrait of a family, first in happiness and then in grief, its moods bifurcated by the accidental death of an adored son. Conveniently, Moretti's script supplies the father (played by the director's favorite star, himself) with a profession uniquely suited to its needs and ours: He's a psychoanalyst. Prior to his personal tragedy, the doctor is able to handle his patients with ease, even though each one seems to have a problem that echoes his own issue in some way. But after the terrible twist of fate--how cruel film scripts, and life, can be-- he is less and less able. The marriage, too, enters difficult territory. All seems to be lost. And then a letter arrives out of the blue from an unknown girl, and everyone gets a second chance.

The experience of watching The Son's Room two days after the WTC tragedy has forever marked my sense of it. In return, it makes me confident of this film's ability to crack open the heart and heal its wounds again. Totally different from one another, each of these three films takes up loss (of child, parent, job) and looks for a remedy. All three appeared in the New York Film Festival as well and will, one hopes, open across the country quickly. We need them. The movie theater needn't be the place, as the late Pauline Kael once wrote, to "send our minds away." It can be the place where we find them again. And with our minds, our hearts.


As early as the 1960s,
influential critics argued that American Jewish writing no longer
counted as a distinct or viable literary project, for younger Jews
had grown so assimilated, so remote from traditional Jewish life,
that only nostalgia kept it going. Ted Solotaroff wrote some
exasperated pieces about young writers whose work already
seemed to him derivative--thin, tiresome, voguish, strained or
sentimental. Irving Howe and Robert Alter launched similar
complaints. I once heard the Israeli writer Aharon Appelfeld tell a
New York audience that Jewish writing was grounded in the Yiddish
culture and way of life that had flourished in Eastern Europe,
something that died with I.B. Singer in New York and S.Y. Agnon in
Israel. Gazing down benignly at an audience that included his good
friend Philip Roth and the novelist E.L. Doctorow, he said that while
there were certainly writers who happened to be Jews, there really
were no more Jewish writers.

Other observers have been
equally firm in anchoring American Jewish writing to the immigrant
experience, a point brought home by Irving Howe in a famous attack on
Philip Roth in Commentary in 1972. Howe saw Roth, whose first
book he had warmly acclaimed, as a writer with "a thin personal
culture," the kind of writer who "comes at the end of a tradition
which can no longer nourish his imagination" or one who simply has
"chosen to tear himself away from that tradition." Certainly there
was very little sense of history, Jewish or otherwise, in Roth's
finely crafted early fiction. Yet in the light of his humor, his
characters, his subjects and above all his later development, Roth
hardly stood outside the Jewish tradition; instead, he had a family
quarrel with the Jewish world that profoundly affected everything he
wrote. Yet Howe's charge struck home. A good deal of Roth's
subsequent writing can be seen as a rejoinder to Howe's wrongheaded
attack, which so rankled him that a decade later he wrote a furious
novel, The Anatomy Lesson, lampooning Howe as a hypocrite, a
pompous moralist and even, in a remarkable twist, a fast-talking

What was the core of the Jewish literary
tradition that Howe and Roth, two of its most gifted figures, could
come to such angry blows over it? I'll try to show how Jewish writing has changed--even
grown--and survived even the best-informed predictions of its demise.
The conflict between Roth and Howe was partly temperamental, but some
of it was generational. Howe was the product of the Yiddish-speaking
ghetto, of socialism and the Depression; Roth came of age in postwar
America, a world he would alternately satirize and recall with
nostalgia. There is a streak of the moralist, the puritan, in Howe's
criticism, while Roth took pride, especially when he wrote
Portnoy's Complaint, in playing the immoralist, or at least in
treating Jewish moral inhibitions as an ordeal, a source of conflict.
For Howe, as for writers of his generation like Bernard Malamud, this
moral burden was the essence of our humanity; for Roth it led to
neurosis, anger and dark, painful comedy.

It comes as a
surprise to realize that the major current of Jewish writing in
America dates only from the Second World War. Howe once compared the
Jewish and the Southern literary schools with a provocative comment:
"In both instances," he said, "a subculture finds its voice and its
passion at exactly the moment it approaches disintegration." But in
what sense was Jewish life in America approaching disintegration in
the first two decades after the war, when the best Jewish writers
emerged? What was dying, quite simply, was the vibrant immigrant
culture evoked by Howe in World of Our Fathers. After the war
Jews became freer, richer, more influential. As they moved up the
economic ladder, professions like academic life opened up to them
that had always been off-limits. Thanks largely to the sense of shame
induced by the Holocaust, social anti-Semitism in America became
virtually a thing of the past. Surely the great literary flowering
owed much to the way Jews in America had finally arrived, although
the writers were often critical of what their middle-class brethren
did with their freedom.

In any ethnic subculture, it's
almost never the immigrant generation that writes the books. The
immigrants don't have the language; their lives are focused on
survival, on gaining a foothold in the new world and insuring an
education for their children. That education not only makes
literature possible; it ignites a conflict of values that makes it
urgent and inevitable. The scattering of excellent novels by
individual writers before the war belongs less to a major literary
movement than to the process by which the children of immigrants
claimed their own identity. In powerful works of the 1920s and '30s
like Anzia Yezierska's Bread Givers, Mike Gold's Jews
Without Money
and Henry Roth's Call It Sleep, the writers
pay tribute to the struggles of their parents yet declare their
independence from what they see as their narrow and constricting
world. These works could be classed with Sherwood Anderson's
Winesburg, Ohio and Sinclair Lewis's Main Street as
part of what Carl Van Doren called the "revolt from the village," the
rebellion against local mores and patriarchal authority in the name
of a freer, more universal humanity.

Ironically, the
parochial world these writers rejected was the only authentic
material they had. Their painful memories of small-mindedness and
poverty, parental intolerance and religious coercion fueled their
imagination as nothing else could. In these works the driving impulse
of the sensitive, autobiographical protagonist--Sara Smolinsky in
Bread Givers, little Mike Gold in Jews Without Money,
the impetuous Ralph Berger, hungry for life, in Clifford Odets's play
Awake and Sing!, even young David Schearl in Call It
--is to get away from the ghetto, with its physical
deprivation, its materialism and lack of privacy, its desperately
limited horizons, but also to get away from the suffocating embrace
of the Jewish family--the loving but overly emotional mother, the
domineering but ineffectual father and the inescapable crowd of
siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins and neighbors, all completely
entwined in one another's lives. These works were a blow for freedom,
a highly ambivalent chronicle of emancipation and often, sadly, the
only books these writers could write. Their autonomy was hard-won but
incomplete; this new identity liberated them personally but did
little to fire their imagination.

Henry Roth once told me
that only when he began to depart from the facts of his life did his
novel begin to take on a life of its own; it went on almost to write
itself. In Beyond Despair, Aharon Appelfeld made the same
point to explain his preference for fiction over autobiography. It
gave him the freedom he needed to reshape his own recollections,
especially the wartime experiences that bordered on the incredible.
"To write things as they happened means to enslave oneself to memory,
which is only a minor element in the creative process." The early
Jewish-American novelists were not so lucky. They were stuck not only
with what they remembered but with a naturalistic technique that
could not do full justice to their experience. Their escape from
their origins, never fully achieved, became a mixed blessing; they
found themselves caught between memory and imagination, ghetto
sociology and personal need. Mere rebellion and recollection, it
seemed, could not nurture a full career. Their literary development
was stymied. Only the postwar writers managed to break through this
sterile pattern.

Saul Bellow, Bernard Malamud, Delmore
Schwartz, Paul Goodman and their Yiddish cousin I.B. Singer were the
first Jewish writers in America to sustain major careers, not as
immigrant writers but in the mainstream of American letters. When
modernism replaced naturalism as the dominant literary mode, as fresh
influences like psychoanalysis and existentialism exploded the
sociological approach of many prewar writers, a new generation found
powerful new vehicles for dealing with its experience.
Straightforward realism was never an option for Jewish writers in
America; it belonged to those who knew their society from within, who
had a bird's-eye view, an easy grasp of its manners and values. As
newcomers dealing with complex questions of identity, Jews instead
became specialists in alienation who gravitated toward outrageous or
poetic forms of humor, metaphor and parable--styles they helped
establish in American writing after the war.

The key to the
new writers was not only their exposure to the great
modernists--Kafka, Mann, Henry James--but their purchase on Jews not
simply as autobiographical figures in a social drama of rebellion and
acculturation but as parables of the human condition. Though Saul
Bellow admired the power of an authentic naturalist like Theodore
Dreiser, though Flaubert helped forge his aesthetic conscience, his
first two novels, Dangling Man and The Victim, were
more influenced by Dostoyevsky and Kafka than by any writers in the
realist tradition. Bellow and his friends were the children of the
Holocaust rather than the ghetto. They did not write about the recent
events in Europe--they hadn't directly experienced them--but those
horrors cast their shadow on every page of their work, including the
many pages of desperate comedy.

The atrocities of the
Holocaust, the psychology of Freud and the dark vision of certain
modern masters encouraged Jewish writers to find some universal
significance in their own experience. Kafka was the prophet, not of
totalitarianism--that was too facile--but of a world cut loose from
will and meaning, the world as they experienced it in the 1940s. Saul
Bellow's engagement with the themes of modernist culture can be
traced from novel to novel, but even a writer as private as Malamud
was able to combine the stylized speech rhythms of the ghetto with a
form adapted from Hawthorne and Kafka to turn parochial Jewish tales
into chilling fables of modern life. This was the brief period when
the Jew became the modern Everyman, everyone's favorite victim,
shlemiel and secular saint. Yet there was also an innovation in
language, a nervous mixture of the literary and the colloquial, of
art talk and street talk, that was almost poetic in its effects.
Bellow himself brought the buoyant, syncopated rhythms of the
vernacular into his prose. As he put it in his eulogy of Malamud
after his death in 1986:

Well, we were here,
first-generation Americans, our language was English and a language
is a spiritual mansion from which no one can evict us. Malamud in his
novels and stories discovered a sort of communicative genius in the
impoverished, harsh jargon of immigrant New York. He was a myth
maker, a fabulist, a writer of exquisite parables.

We can
find these effects almost anywhere we turn in Malamud's stories, from
animal fables like "The Jewbird" and "Talking Horse" to wrenching
tales like "Take Pity," which he put at the head of his last
collection of stories. It includes the following bit of dialogue,
supposedly between a census taker, Davidov, and a recalcitrant
citizen named Rosen:

"How did he die?"

"On this I am not an expert," Rosen replied. "You know better than
"How did he die?" Davidov spoke impatiently. "Say
in one word."
"From what he died?--he died, that's
"Answer, please, this question."

"Broke in him something. That's how."
"Broke what?"

"Broke what breaks."

Eventually we discover that
the man answering the questions in this Kafkaesque exchange is
himself dead, and his reckoning with the "census taker" takes place
in some bare, shabby room of heaven or hell, though it feels like a
forlorn pocket of the ghetto. (Malamud himself later described it as
"an institutional place in limbo.") Rosen, an ex-coffee
salesman, has killed himself in a last-ditch effort to impose his
charity, pity or love on the fiercely independent widow of the man
who died. Rosen takes pity on her, but she will not take his pity.
Even after he turns on the gas and leaves her everything, she appears
at the window, adrift in space, alive or dead, imploring or berating
him in a final gesture of defiance.

Like all of Malamud's
best work, this is a story of few words but resonant meanings.
Anticipating Samuel Beckett, Malamud strips down the sociology of the
ghetto into a spare, postapocalyptic landscape of essential, even
primitive emotions, finding eerie comedy on the far side of horror.
After her husband's death, as the business disintegrated, the woman
and her children came close to starving, but the story is less about
poverty than about the perverseness of the human will. Again and
again Rosen tries to help the widow, but she adamantly refuses to be
helped. Both are stubborn unto death, and the story explores the fine
line between goodness and aggression, generosity and control,
independence and self-sacrifice. Rosen will get the proud woman to
take his help, whether she wants to or not, but neither can truly
pity the other; their unshakable self-will isolates and destroys
them. And the interrogator, standing in for both author and reader,
makes no effort to judge between them. The story leaves us with a
sense of the sheer human mystery.

The raw power of
Malamud's stories is based on a simple principle--that every moral
impulse has its Nietzschean dark side, its streak of lust or the will
to power, just as every self has its anti-self, a double or shadow
that exposes its vulnerabilities and limitations. This dialectic of
self and other is at the heart of Malamud's stories and novels. The
"self" in his stories is often a stand-in for the writer, a worldly,
cultivated man--someone fairly young but never youthful, well
educated but not especially successful, Jewish but nervously
assimilated, full of choked-up feeling. Repeatedly, this figure is
brought up short by his encounter with some ghetto trickster, a
wonder-working rabbi, an ethnic con man who represents the
suppressed, tribal part of his own tightly controlled

Malamud's work is full of such symbolic
figures, half real, half legendary, including the ghetto rat,
Susskind, a stateless refugee in Rome in "The Last Mohican," who
steals the hero's manuscript on Giotto; and Salzman, the marriage
broker in "The Magic Barrel," whose ultimate gift to a young
rabbinical student is his own fallen daughter. These Old World
characters point to the ambiguous, even disreputable qualities that
the young hero has bleached out of his own identity. They are
slightly magical figures who come and go with almost supernatural
ease. At different times they stand for ethnic Jewishness, carnality,
wild emotion, even a sense of magic and the irrational. Or else they
are figures from another culture--the Italian helper in The
, the black writer in The Tenants--who test the
limits of the protagonist's humanity and sometimes put him on a
tentative path toward redemption and

Malamud's piety toward the past, the Jewish
elders, is not much in evidence in the next generation. Coming of age
in the late 1950s and early 1960s, writers like Philip Roth belonged
to a new group of discontented sons and daughters. This was the black
humor generation, rebelling not against the constraints of the
ghetto--they were too young to have known any real ghetto--but
against the mental ghetto of Jewish morality and the Jewish family.
If Anzia Yezierska or Clifford Odets inveighed against the actual
power of the Jewish father or mother, Roth and his contemporaries,
who grew up with every apparent freedom, were doing battle with the
internal censor, the mother or father in the head. (Much later Roth
would build The Human Stain around a character who jettisons
his whole family, including his doting mother, to shape a new
identity for himself.)

The work of these writers proved
deliberately provocative, hugely entertaining, always flirting with
bad taste and often very funny, but with an edge of pain and
giddiness that borders on hysteria. As Portnoy gradually discovers
that he's living inside a Jewish joke, the novel's comic spirits turn
self-lacerating. Like Roth, writers such as Stanley Elkin, Bruce Jay
Friedman, Joseph Heller, Jerome Charyn and Mark Mirsky have practiced
an art of incongruity, deploying a wild mockery in place of the old
moral gravity. Howe's charge against Roth--that he writes out of a
"thin personal culture"--could be leveled against them as well, but
it would be more accurate to say that they looked to a different
culture: satirical, performative, intensely oral. They identified
less with modernists like Kafka and Dostoyevsky than with
provocateurs like Céline, Nathanael West and Lenny Bruce. They
looked less to literature than to stand-up comedy, the oral tradition
of the Jewish jokes that Freud collected, the tirade of insults that
ventilated aggression, the vaudeville shtick that brought Jews to the
forefront of American entertainment.

The usual targets of
their derision, besides Jewish mothers and Jewish husbands, were the
new suburban Jews who had made it after the war, the vulgar, wealthy
Patimkins in Goodbye, Columbus, who live in a posh Newark
suburb, play tennis and send their daughter to Radcliffe, and--this
got me when I first read it--have a separate refrigerator for fruit
in their finished basement. (Actually, it was their old fridge they
were thrifty enough to save, the way they've held on to remnants of
their old Newark personality.) As a foil to the Patimkins of Short
Hills, Roth gives us the inner-city blacks of Newark, where the Jews
used to live. We get glimpses of black workmen ordered around by the
Patimkins' callow son, and especially of a young boy who runs into
trouble simply because he wants to read a book on Gauguin in the
local public library. At the heart of the book, then, for all its
irreverence, is a sentimental idea of the virtue of poverty and the
simple life, something the upwardly mobile Jews have left behind but
the black boy still seeks in Gauguin's noble vision of Tahiti.

Goodbye, Columbus was published in 1959, a prelude
to a decade in which outrage and irreverence would become the
accepted cultural norms. Even Bellow would take a spin with black
humor in Herzog (1964), as Malamud would do, unconvincingly,
in Pictures of Fidelman in 1969. Here these stern moralists
dipped into sexual comedy as never before, the comedy of adultery in
Bellow, of sexual hunger and humiliation in Malamud. But they were
soon outflanked by their literary son Roth, who would make epic
comedy out of Jewish dietary laws, rabbinical pomposity, furtive
masturbation, plaintive longing for shiksas and, above all, the
family romance in Portnoy's Complaint. With its deliberately
coarse comic stereotypes, especially of the histrionic Jewish mother,
the long-suffering father and their son, the young Jewish prince,
this was the work that elicited Irving Howe's attack, the book that
turned the vulgar spritz of stand-up comedy into

The Oedipal pattern in Portnoy belongs
to a larger history: Roth and other black humorists were rebelling
not only against their own parents but against their literary
parents, the moralists of the previous generation, who were still
around and did not take kindly to it. Bellow responded to the
carnival aspect of the 1960s by taking on the voice of the censorious
Jewish sage in Mr. Sammler's Planet, arraigning middle-aged
adulterers along with women, blacks and young people in one sweeping
image of moral decay--of "sexual niggerhood," as he put it in one
indelible phrase. The date was 1970, the bitter end of that
tumultuous decade; Bellow's and Howe's responses were extreme but
typical of the overheated rhetoric of the generation gap and the
culture wars. Bellow's outrage, perhaps, was tinged with the envy
that so many middle-aged Americans, not simply Jews, felt toward the
new sexual freedoms of the young.

Malamud responded just as
pointedly in a 1968 story called "An Exorcism," but it is scarcely
known because he never reprinted it in his lifetime. More than any
other text, this story brings to a head the Oedipal tensions among
Jewish writers, shedding light on their key differences. It is
closely related to another story of generational conflict Malamud
wrote the same year, "My Son the Murderer," about a bitter standoff
between an anxious, intrusive father and his 22-year-old son, who is
angry at everyone, unhinged by images from Vietnam and grimly
awaiting his own draft notice. (Malamud had a son just the same age.)
The central figure in "An Exorcism" is an austere older writer--like
Malamud himself, but far less successful--a lonely man rigorously
devoted to his craft, a kind of saint and hero of art. An aspiring
writer, a young 1960s type, attaches himself to the older man at
writers' conferences--virtually the only places he ventures out. The
older man, Fogel, is grudging and taciturn, but gradually his
defenses drop, for he feels "grateful to the youth for lifting him,
almost against his will, out of his solitude." Having won his
confidence, the boy betrays him; he publishes a story based on an
embarrassing sexual episode in the older man's past. Fogel first
confronts, then forgives him. But when the student, as a provocative
stunt, seduces three women in a single night, the writer feels a wave
of nausea and violently exorcises him from his life.

given to wielding fiction as cultural polemic, Malamud clearly felt
uneasy with the naked anger of this story, which indicts not simply
one unscrupulous young man but a whole generation for its
freewheeling life and confessional style. In the eyes of an exacting
craftsman who fears that his kind of art is no longer valued, these
facile new writers simply don't invent enough. (Fogel accuses the
young man of doing outrageous things simply to write about them, of
being little more than "a walking tape recorder" of his "personal
experiences.") When Fogel tells his surrogate son that "Imagination
is not necessarily Id," Malamud could even be referring to Portnoy's
recent line about "putting the Id back in Yid." Roth would give his
own version of his spiritual apprenticeship to Malamud and Bellow ten
years later in The Ghost Writer. In any case, "An Exorcism"
remained unknown, while Portnoy's Complaint became the
ultimate piece of second-generation black humor, a hilarious whine
against the neurotic effects of prolonged exposure to Jewish morality
and the Jewish family.

Portnoy's complaint was an Oedipal
complaint, but even at the time, long before he published
Patrimony, his powerful 1991 memoir of the death of his
father, it was clear how deeply attached Roth was to the parents he
mocked and mythologized--the eternally constipated father, the
effusively overbearing mother who loved and forgave him as no other
woman could, loved him even for his transgressions. All through the
1970s Roth kept rewriting that novel in increasingly strident works
like The Breast, a misconceived fantasy; My Life as a
, a vengeful account of his first marriage; and The
Professor of Desire
. Roth seemed unable to escape the facts of
his life but also seemed desperate to offend. He attacked critics for
taking his work as autobiographical yet repeatedly fell back on
exaggerated versions of the known facts. In My Life as a Man
he even played on the relationship between fact and invention by
giving us what claimed to be the "real" story behind some fictional
versions. But of course he felt free to make up this story as

None of these almost military maneuvers against
critics and readers, which Roth also carried on in essays and
interviews, quite prepared us for his next book, The Ghost
, which launched the next stage of Jewish-American writing,
the one we are still in today. Let's call it the return, or the
homecoming. If the second stage was debunking and satirical, even
parricidal, the third stage began with Roth's filial homage to the
two writers with whom his name had always been linked. Malamud
appears in the book as E.I. Lonoff, very much the ascetic devotee of
craft we meet in Malamud's own late work. Bellow (with a touch of
Mailer) figures as the prolific, much-married, world-shaking Felix
Abravanel, a man who, as it turns out, "was clearly not in the market
for a twenty-three-year-old son." Roth himself appears as the young
Nathan Zuckerman, a dead ringer for the author at that age. Zuckerman
has just published his first, controversial stories, as Roth himself
had done, and his own father is angry at him for washing the family
linen in public. ("Well, Nathan, you certainly didn't leave anything
out, did you?") His father has gotten the elders of the Jewish
community on his case, in the person of one Judge Leopold Wapter, who
sends him a questionnaire (!) that concludes: "Can you honestly say
that there is anything in your short story that would not warm the
heart of a Julius Streicher or a Joseph Goebbels?"

Wapter stands for all the professional Jews and rabbinical critics
who had been upset by Roth's early stories--stories which, after all,
had surely been written to ruffle people's feathers, even to offend.
With very broad, satirical strokes, the older Roth is now
caricaturing his enemies, nursing old grievances, parading his
victimization as wounded virtue. Roth demands from his readers what
only his parents could give him: unconditional love. He wants to
transgress and wants to be forgiven, wants to be outrageous yet also
to be accepted, to be wickedly clever and be adored for it. When his
women or his critics fail to give this to him, he lashes out at them.
This rehearsal of old grievances is the tired and familiar part of
The Ghost Writer, but the book included much that, in
retrospect, was daringly fresh:

First, there is a
surprising and resonant literariness that matches the book's
evocative tone and warm filial theme. Roth's angry iconoclasm, his
need to offend and outrage, has for now been set aside. The Ghost
deals with Nathan Zuckerman's literary beginnings, and
Roth's virtuoso portraits of the older writers are perfectly in tune
with the literary allusions that form the backdrop of the
story--references to Isaac Babel, the great Soviet-Jewish writer
murdered by Stalin; to Henry James's story "The Middle Years," which
also deals with a young acolyte's relation to an older writer; and
most important, to the diary of Anne Frank. She is the figure behind
Amy Bellette, the young woman in Roth's story who may actually be
Anne Frank, and who may be having an affair with

Second, for all the shtick and satire in Roth's
previous fiction, this was his most Jewish book yet, not only for
Roth's tribute to earlier Jewish writers but in his tender retelling
of Anne Frank's story. Both the literariness and the Jewishness had
always been latent in Roth's work, just barely masked by its satiric
edge, its willed vulgarity. Roth's literary bent had been evident in
his essays on contemporary fiction, his brilliant story about Kafka,
the interviews he had given about each of his novels, and especially
the invaluable series he was editing for Penguin, "Writers From the
Other Europe," which launched the Western careers of such
little-known Polish and Czech writers as Milan Kundera. No critic, to
my knowledge, has yet tried to gauge the effect of this large
editorial enterprise on Roth's later fiction. As his own work bogged
down in Portnoy imitations and paranoia, this project took Roth
frequently to Eastern Europe, where he made a wealth of literary
contacts. Thus Roth found himself editing morally serious and
formally innovative work that, despite its congenial absurdism, cut
sharply against the grain of what he himself was writing. This
material exposed Roth to both the Holocaust and Soviet
totalitarianism, and ultimately gave his work a historical dimension,
and especially a Jewish dimension, it had previously lacked. These
books brought him back to his distant European roots. The angry young
man, the prodigal son, was gradually coming home.

In The
Ghost Writer
Roth still nurses his old quarrel with the Jewish
community, just as he would pursue his vendetta against Irving Howe
in The Anatomy Lesson. He eulogizes Lonoff as "the Jew who got
away," the Jew of the heart, or art--the noninstitutional Jew--and
portrays Anne Frank as a secular, detached Jew like himself. In a
bizarre moment, Zuckerman even imagines himself marrying Anne Frank,
perhaps the ultimate rejoinder to his Jewish critics, to all the
Judge Wapters of the world. But apart from this defensiveness,
there's a strain of reverence toward art in the book, toward the
Jewish historical experience, even toward the Jewish family, which
creates something really new in Roth. Instead of rebelling against
the father, he wants to be anointed by him: He's come "to submit
myself for candidacy as nothing less than E.I. Lonoff's spiritual
son." Adopted by Lonoff, married to Anne Frank, he will no longer be
vulnerable to the Howes and Wapters who criticize his writing for not
being Jewish or tasteful enough.

In retrospect we can see
how so much of value in Roth's later work--the wider political
horizons of The Counterlife and Operation Shylock, the
unexpected play with metafiction and magic realism in both those
books, with their ingenious variations on what is made up and what is
"real," and finally, his loving tribute to his late father in
Patrimony and to the figure of the Good Father in American
--can be shown to have originated in The Ghost
Moreover, they are strikingly typical of what I call the
third phase of American Jewish writing, when the Jewishness that once
seemed to be disappearing returned with a vengeance. In this phase
the inevitability of assimilation gives way to the work of

There's nothing so surprising about this pattern.
The great historian of immigration, Marcus Lee Hansen, long ago
enunciated the influential three-generation thesis that came to be
known as Hansen's Law: "What the son wishes to forget the grandson
wishes to remember." Sociologists have shown that this return
actually begins in the twilight years of the second generation. In
Patrimony Roth presents his aged father as something of a pain
in the neck but also as the keeper of the past, the storyteller, the
Great Rememberer. Driving around Newark with his son, the former
insurance agent, like a real census taker, recalls every occupant of
every building. "You mustn't forget anything--that's the inscription
on his coat of arms," his son writes. "To be alive, to him, is to be
made of memory."

The father's motto is also part of the
artistic credo of the son, who remembers his past with a
hallucinatory intensity. Yet by the mid-1980s Roth also developed a
wider historical purview, a sense of all that life that was lived
before him, or far away from him--in Eastern Europe, where he sets
"The Prague Orgy"; in England or Israel, where some of the best parts
of The Counterlife, Deception and Operation
take place. This is a more cosmopolitan Roth, reaching
outside himself for almost the first time, in dialogue with Zionism,
acutely sensitive to anti-Semitism, finding new meaning in the Jewish
identity he had once mocked and scorned.

Much of The
still belongs to the old self-involved Roth of the
Zuckerman saga--the fears of impotence, the scabrous comedy, the
Wagnerian family uproar--but the sections set in England and Israel
are something else. Until the early 1980s, there was as little trace
of the Jewish state in American fiction as there was of the old
European Diaspora in Israeli writing. American writers by and large
were not Zionists, and Israeli writers were not nostalgic for the
shtetl or the Pale. With its insistence on nationhood as the solution
to the Jewish problem, Israel was perhaps too tribal, too insular to
capture the attention of assimilated writers, however much it
preoccupied ordinary American Jews. Israel was the place where
Portnoy couldn't get an erection--surely the least memorable part of
that larger-than-life novel.

But more than a decade later,
when Zuckerman's brother Henry becomes a baal t'shuva, a
penitent, and Zuckerman looks him up among the zealots of the West
Bank, Roth's work crosses that of Amos Oz and David Grossman,
novelists who had written so well about the tensions dividing Israeli
society. Like them, Roth finds great talkers who can articulate sharp
ideological differences, which also reflect his own inner conflicts.
He begins to relish the sheer play of ideas, the emotional bite of
Jewish argument. The Counterlife inaugurates a dialogic phase
of Roth's writing that gets played out in Deception, an
experimental novel that is all dialogue; The Facts, where
Nathan Zuckerman appears at the end to offer a rebuttal to Roth's
memoir; and Operation Shylock, which returns to the Israeli
setting of The Counterlife. In this new fiction of ideas,
Roth's work acquired a real historical dimension, which would also
lead to an acclaimed but uneven trilogy about postwar America,
beginning with American Pastoral.

Zuckerman in
Israel, like Zuckerman recounting other people's stories in the
American books, is also Roth escaping from the self-absorption of his
earlier work. In England, cast among the not-so-genteel anti-Semites,
Zuckerman develops an extraordinary pride, aggressiveness and
sensitivity about being Jewish. With their layers within layers, both
The Counterlife and Operation Shylock are Roth's most
Jewish books, even as Zuckerman defends himself (and Jewish life in
the Diaspora) against the imperious claims of orthodoxy and Zionism.
They mark his return to the fold, as well as his most formally
complex fiction, pointing not only to the confusions between art and
life but to the multiple layers of Roth's identity.

giving so much attention to Roth, I run the risk of making it seem
like it's only his development that is at stake, not larger changes
in American Jewish writing. But every facet of Roth's later work has
its parallel in other writers who have emerged in the past twenty
years: the more explicit and informed Jewishness, the wider
historical framework, the play with metafiction or magic realism, and
the more intense literariness. In line with the wave of identity
politics in America, there has been a persistent search for roots
among younger Jewish writers, as there has been for older writers
from assimilated backgrounds such as Leslie Epstein, Anne Roiphe and
Alan Isler. If we add to the themes listed above a concern with
gender and sexual preference and a fascination with strict religious
observance, we would have a complete inventory of issues that have
attracted the younger generation, including Steve Stern, Allegra
Goodman, Lev Raphael, Thane Rosenbaum, Melvin Jules Bukiet, Pearl
Abraham, Rebecca Goldstein, Michael Chabon, Aryeh Lev Stollman,
Nathan Englander, Myla Goldberg, Tova Mirvis and Ehud Havazelet. They
have written about subjects as varied as the old and new Jews of
Memphis, the lives of young Jews in Oxford and Hawaii, the Orthodox
communities of New York and Israel, the attractions of Jewish
mysticism, the problems of gay Jewish identity, the surreal
experiences of the walking wounded--Holocaust survivors and their
children--and the old world of the shtetl and of Europe after the
war. Some of their writing, arduously researched, smells of the
library. They work best in short novels like Stollman's hypnotic
The Far Euphrates or in collections of overlapping stories
like Goodman's The Family Markowitz, composed of scenes and
vignettes that allude nostalgically to the old-style family
chronicle. The larger synthesis so far eludes them.

interests of these emerging writers were foreshadowed not only by the
shifting stance of Roth but by the themes explored by another writer
of his generation, Cynthia Ozick. Like Roth, she spent many years
indentured to the 1950s gospel of art according to Henry James, and
only later discovered her own vein of Jewish storytelling typical of
what I've called the third stage. To put it bluntly, Ozick's work is
far more Jewish than that of her main predecessors, richer with
cultural information, proudly nationalistic, even sentimentally
orthodox. Some of her stories and essays, such as her angry piece in
The New Yorker on Anne Frank's diary (reprinted in Ozick's
recent collection Quarrel & Quandary), launched stinging
attacks on secular Jews. Yet she began as a feminist and became the
most articulate woman in a largely patriarchal line that rarely
produced strong writing by women apart from such isolated figures as
Emma Lazarus, Mary Antin, Anzia Yezierska, Grace Paley and Tillie
Olsen. This is something else that has changed dramatically since

Bellow and Malamud had Jewishness in their bones, but
what they actually knew about Judaism could have been written on a
single page. They knew the ghetto neighborhoods, the character types,
the speech patterns and what they took in at the kitchen table. They
were born into Yiddish-speaking homes. Their Judaism was instinctive,
domestic, introspective. But their determination to navigate the
literary mainstream prevented them from getting too caught up with
specifically Jewish subjects. They refused to be consigned to any
literary ghetto. "I conceived of myself as a cosmopolitan man
enjoying his freedom," said Malamud. Ozick, on the other hand, like
I.B. Singer or Steve Stern, was fascinated by the whole magical side
of Judaism--the popular lore and legend, the dybbuks and golems of
Jewish mystical tradition. For Singer this was part of his experience
of growing up in Poland, the curious son of a learned rabbi,
entranced by hidden and forbidden byways of the Jewish tradition. For
Ozick and Stern it sometimes becomes a bookish, vicarious Judaism
based on reading and research. But this very bookishness--a certain
remoteness from life--becomes a key theme in their

Until recently a fear haunted Jewish-American
writing: that the subject was exhausted, that we live in inferior
times, that giants once walked the earth and said everything that
needed to be said; the rest is commentary. From her first important
story, "Envy, or Yiddish in America," in 1969, to her keynote
"Usurpation: Other People's Stories" in the mid 1970s, to The
Messiah of Stockholm
and The Puttermesser Papers, Ozick
repeatedly writes stories about writers, or stories about other
people's stories. This is a latecomer's literature, almost a textbook
example of the postmodern profusion of texts upon texts, or of Harold
Bloom's famous theory of the anxiety of influence, which emphasizes
the Oedipal tensions between writers and their precursors. We risk
becoming footnotes to our forebears.

Like The Ghost
, Ozick's "Envy"--the very title is revealing--is most
memorable for its portraits of two older writers, one a lethal
caricature of I.B. Singer--widely translated, fabulously successful,
yet cruel, egotistical and rejected by most other Yiddish
writers--the other loosely based on the great poet Jacob Glatstein,
celebrated among fellow Yiddishists yet never properly translated
into English. (Ozick herself later did some translations of his
work.) But the key figure is a young woman, perhaps based on Ozick
herself, whom the poet seizes upon as his lifeline into English, the
potential savior of all of Yiddish culture.

This poet is
envious of the Singer character but even more contemptuous of
American Jewish writers for their ignorance: "Jewish novelists!
Savages!" he says bitterly. "Their Yiddish! One word here, one word
there. Shikseh on one page, putz on the other, and that's the whole
vocabulary." Like Roth's novella, this is a kind of ghost story; the
characters embody a dead culture trying to come alive. But it's also
a vampire tale, since the young woman eventually rejects them as
bloodsuckers trying to live at her expense. Fascinated by the high
drama of an expiring Yiddish culture, she decides she cannot allow it
to take over her own life. Cynthia Ozick is thought of as some kind
of pious traditionalist, but this, her best story, written with
ferocious energy and style, is a work that radiates hostility from
first to last, reminding the reader of the sharp polemical turns she
often takes in her essays.

In Ozick's story "Usurpation,"
the spirit of envy takes over the protagonist herself. It begins with
a young author at the 92nd Street Y listening to a reading by a
famous older writer. After two or three sentences, her ears begin to
burn, for she feels he's telling a story that truly belongs to her,
that she was born to write. As it happens, the writer and the story
can easily be identified, since Ozick retells it. It's "The Silver
Crown," Malamud's story about a wonder rabbi, which is precisely
about the conflict of generations that is virtually the signature of
this third, or latecomer's, generation. It's also a story of the kind
of Jewish mystery and magic so dear to Ozick that she feels a sting
of regret at not having written it herself. Malamud had been there
first, but Ozick, like Steve Stern, makes her literary belatedness
the theme of her story.

It's no accident that Ozick's
stories overlap with her eloquent literary essays, or that
metafiction and postmodernism here make a surprising entry into
Jewish writing. Postmodernism, as I understand it, conveys the sense
that all texts are provisional, that we live in a world already
crowded with familiar texts and images, that originality is a
Romantic illusion and techniques like collage, pastiche and
pseudocommentary are better than realism for conveying our sense of
belatedness and repletion. At the heart of Ozick's fine story
"Puttermesser Paired" (in The Puttermesser Papers) are some
brilliantly told episodes from the life of George Eliot, which the
heroine partly re-enacts, just as Ozick weaves a lost novel by the
murdered Polish writer Bruno Schulz into The Messiah of
As in the work of Jorge Luis Borges, this is writing
about writing, perched on the fine line between commentary and

It's rare that literary history so closely
mirrors social history, but the conflict of literary generations I've
described here is part of a larger pattern. It's no news that America
has experienced a revival of ethnicity, or that the world has been
rocked by waves of resurgent nationalism. With their longstanding
commitment to the universalism of the Enlightenment, to which they
owed their emancipation, Jews have been ambivalent about
participating in this process. Jewish life in America has become far
more assimilated, but younger Jewish writers have both taken
advantage of this and sharply criticized it. They have turned to
Israel, to feminism, to the Holocaust, to earlier Jewish history and
to their own varied spiritual itineraries, ranging from neo-Orthodoxy
and mysticism to Eastern religion, as a way of redefining their
relation to both Jewish tradition and contemporary culture. If they
have lost the old connection to Europe, to Yiddish or to immigrant
life, they have begun to substitute their own distinctive Jewish and
American experiences. They are not simply living on the inherited
capital of past literary generations. The new writing so far may lack
the power of a Malamud, a Bellow or a Grace Paley, but it is
certainly not enervated by the bland, assimilated aspects of Jewish
life. Jewish writers have quarreled with one another and with
themselves, but these have been family quarrels, not holy wars.
Whatever tension this creates, it certainly gives no sign that they
are about to give up the ghost, especially now that the ghost, the
past, has taken on new flesh and blood.