THADDEUS STEVENS IN THE NEWS
New York City
I was sorry to see the June 11 lead editorial, “Sick Justice,” mention Thaddeus Stevens in the same paragraph with Alberto Gonzales, John Ashcroft and Richard Nixon. The Great Commoner, as Stevens was called, was a lifelong advocate of the abolition of slavery and the rights of black Americans. He does not deserve to be linked, even indirectly, with that crowd.
Indeed, Thaddeus Stevens was quite ill during the impeachment vote on President Andrew Johnson. He did give the concluding argument but had to sit down because he was so weak, and someone else finished reading his remarks. I believe it was Senator Grimes of Iowa who was so sick he had to be carried into the chambers to cast his vote. This dramatic event was chronicled in John F. Kennedy’s Profiles in Courage.
‘WIDE WORLD BEYOND THE LEFT’
New York City
Contrary to Katha Pollitt’s June 11 “Subject to Debate” column, my books The New Anti-Semitism and The Death of Feminism have not “tanked.” On the contrary, they have opened important doors for me to the worlds of heroic ex-Muslim and Muslim dissidents and antijihadist intellectuals, some of whom are conservatives and many of whom are feminists. Yes, Virginia, there is a wide world out there beyond the narrow confines of the left. Just because a book is not reviewed in The Nation or similar media does not mean it does not exist and has not attracted a serious and influential audience. How can a book “tank” and yet, in Pollitt’s words, its argument take on “a life of its own”?
Contrary to Pollitt’s dismissal of any experience that occurred “almost fifty years ago,” contemporary Tunisian intellectual al-Atif al-Akhdar writes, “Why have the people of the world managed to mourn their pasts and move on, while we (Arabs and Muslims) have…our bereavement over a past that does not pass? Why do other people love life, while we love death and violence, slaughter and suicide, and call it heroism and martyrdom?” Akhdar describes Islamic cultural dynamics that do not seem to change. The dynamics I encountered in Afghanistan long ago remain and have actually worsened in many Muslim countries. I call it Islamic gender and religious apartheid. Feminists should be–but are not–calling for boycotts of those countries where this is practiced.
Pollitt does not come in for “unhinged abuse” in The Death of Feminism. Lawyers vetted the pages that document her bullying and intolerance on a feminist listserv to which we both belonged. I was not her only target, but she challenged me viciously and nonstop on issues ranging from my book Woman’s Inhumanity to Woman (published by Nation Books!) to my analysis of RAWA as a marginal group whose political influence would have no future other than as dancing dogs among the American left. My views on anti-Semitism, Israel and religion came in for particularly scathing attacks. Finally, when I began to publish in FrontPage magazine and wrote a column in which I said I was merely thinking about voting Republican for the first time in my life, Pollitt led a totalitarian-like and successful purge of my presence on the listserv.
Unlike Pollitt, I take very little credit for my work on behalf of freedom in the Islamic world. The task is so huge. Pollitt, however, claims immediate credit for small and symbolic feminist gestures. It is too soon to congratulate ourselves for tasks we have yet to accomplish.
New York City
If Phyllis Chesler is happy that according to Bookscan The Death of Feminism sold around 1,000 copies in hardcover and 300 in paperback, who am I to dissuade her? Her book has had influence not because it is accurate or well thought out or well written–in fact it is execrable and full of spelling mistakes–but because a self-described feminist who attacks the women’s movement is a godsend to right-wingers like David Horowitz and the editors of The Weekly Standard, who have no interest in women’s rights except as an excuse to invade more countries.
Lawyers vetting her book is a joke–all that means is that I wouldn’t sue, not that she wrote the truth. But for the five people in the world who care, the most vehement discussion involving Chesler on the History in Action list was provoked by her heavy use of unverifiable personal anecdotes in Woman’s Inhumanity to Woman. The journalists on the list had trouble with that, and she took umbrage (although if memory serves, Chesler herself had raised the issue). Chesler was never “purged” from the list, which included many of her longtime friends. When it became obvious that she was planning to use material from the list in The Death of Feminism, people, including me, understandably felt betrayed. Chesler left of her own accord.
As for Chesler’s imputations that I boast of small good deeds, I agree that the deeds are small. Still, it is hard to defend yourself against charges of selfish indifference to injustice and atrocity, except by presenting the evidence that the charges are false.
NO ARM TWISTING, NO MEETING
Geneva; Brooklyn, N.Y.
Readers of Perry Anderson’s April 2 review of two new books on the United Nations [“Made in USA“] will have noted the extraordinarily ad hominem nature of the piece and drawn their own conclusions. With the exception of one individual, Sergio Vieira de Mello, those cited in his review are alive and can answer Anderson’s references themselves. Not so Vieira de Mello, for whom we worked at the time in question as executive assistant and senior adviser, respectively.
Anderson correctly describes Vieira de Mello as “reluctant to go” to Iraq early in the summer of 2003 as the special representative of the Secretary-General. “But an audience was arranged with Bush,” Anderson continues, “and Annan dispatched him.” Presumably this refers to an audience Vieira de Mello (rather than Annan) had with Bush, one aimed at overcoming the mentioned reluctance. We do not believe such an arm-twisting meeting ever took place. It would have to have been very secretive indeed. There was a meeting with Bush just before the US invasion. We were both at it (and at subsequent meetings that week with Rice, Armitage and others) and at no point was such a special representative role for Vieira de Mello discussed.
Anderson also describes Vieira de Mello’s role as “to create a network of collaborators for the occupation.” This is maybe more a question of interpretation than of fact. But that was certainly not the role Vieira de Mello (or the rest of us) intended to play. His main activity before his death was broadening the political discussion both within Iraq–including by bringing in parties the occupying power couldn’t or wouldn’t talk to–and abroad by extending this discussion to the capitals of the states neighboring Iraq. In all these endeavors, Vieira de Mello was motivated by a desire to insure that Iraqis had a meaningful say, rather than a purely symbolic role, in determining the future of their country, as well as striving to insure an early end to the occupation, a state of affairs he was on the record describing as untenable.
Curiously, having demeaned UN efforts in Iraq, Anderson seems to acknowledge the importance of the organization’s work when he describes Vieira de Mello’s murder–and let’s not forget the murder that same day of twenty-one other UN colleagues and associates–as being “politically the single most effective strike of the war.” But this is a grudging acknowledgment wrapped up as it is in the offensively callous suggestion that Sergio’s work in Iraq “inevitably” made him a target for killing.
SCOTT L. MALCOMSON
Inadvertently, Prentice and Malcomson’s letter sheds further light on the workings of the UN under Kofi Annan. For it appears that Sergio Vieira de Mello’s closest assistants were kept in the dark about his dealings prior to setting off for Baghdad. The meeting between an initially resistant Vieira de Mello and George Bush, of which they doubt the existence, is recorded by James Traub in his admiring biography of Annan. For UN cover in Iraq the Administration, Traub writes, “wanted Vieira de Mello, whom US officials had worked with in trouble spots all over the world. Condoleezza Rice asked him to come see her at the White House, and after pressing him to take the job, she brought him across the hall to see President Bush, who repeated the request. Vieira de Mello relented. Annan asked him to serve as his special representative for six months. Vieira de Mello offered three months, tops. They compromised at four. The special representative reached Baghdad on June 1.” As for what Vieira de Mello proceeded to do when he got there, Traub could not be more explicit: “Over the course of six weeks, he persuaded reluctant leadership figures to identify themselves with the American regime.” If his assistants were unaware even of who picked him for the job, it is little surprise they remain bemused about what it amounted to.
WHORES, WITCHES, DARKNESS
Lynn Randolph’s May 21 painting, “Scenes From Hell,” reminded me of the imagery used by St. John in the Book of Revelation and by the Protestant reformers who borrowed John’s lurid imagery to make visible the violence beneath the velvet-gloved hand of imperial oppression. One potent image was the Whore of Babylon astride a seven-headed beast. She holds a cup containing the blood of the saints. John’s image referred obliquely to the self-deifying Roman Empire and its bloody oppression. Randolph’s use of similar imagery strikes me as wholly appropriate for the situation we now face in this country.
“Scenes From Hell,” which reminded me of the works of Hieronymus Bosch, drew me in and had a powerful impact on me. Through my revulsion and fascination it slowly dawned on me: This is our world. It is not a fantasy. It is reality. A dark age is upon us.
Essex Junction, Vt.
If I want hellfire and damnation rather than reasoned discourse, I will go to the 700 Club. I share Lynn Randolph’s horror at the carnage caused by the current Administration’s dishonesty and ineptitude, but this has the odor of witch-burning.
WHY I LIVE AT THE P.O.
Kansas City, Mo.
I applaud your effort to expose the new postal rate hike for what it does to the small publisher. For publications accustomed to mailing at nonprofit rates, this hike is at more than 50 percent. It is threatening my livelihood as a printer. I have several small organizations that fly under the radar. Going to kill a few of ’em. And me too…