Takoma Park, Md.
I was surprised and thrilled to come upon “Untitled,” a poem by Tchicaya u Tam’si, also known as Gerard-Felix Tchicaya [Jan. 11/18]. His poetry became part of my life my senior year at Oberlin, 1982-83, thanks to a wonderful literary translation course I took, for which I ended up translating a series of u Tam’si’s poems from French into English. Having been to Zaire twice (where it turns out u Tam’si began working the year I was born), because my father worked for Unesco, I became interested in Zairois writers. Reading “Untitled” brought me back to how much I enjoyed the forceful use of emotional and visual images to evoke political and cultural ponderings, passion, reverie and more.
I was never sure I fully “understood” the poems, but it didn’t, and doesn’t, matter. Thank you for sharing some of u Tam’si’s vibrant spirit with your readers.
‘Cut the Theme Music’
According to Eric Alterman [“Focus on Israel,” Jan. 11/18], colonialism and occupation are simply problems of human friendship, to be solved when Palestinians and Israelis join hands, look into each others’ eyes and say “Hey, until now I didn’t know you were human.” Imagine the black population living under apartheid in South Africa being instructed to just (cue the AT&T theme song) “reach out and touch someone,” and the problems of colonialism and oppression magically evaporate.
Alterman assumes a referee status between right and left thinkers on the conflict, when actually he is a sweet-talker for one of the longest-running, most brutal occupations in history. Eric, cut the theme music. Let’s work to end the confiscation of land, eviction of families from East Jerusalem, unequal distribution of resources and illegal imprisonment. Then we might wake to a world where human beings, allotted an equal humanity and self-determination, can share and flourish.
If Eric Alterman’s point is that it is hypocritical to vilify Israelis, or that they are making some good films these days, I agree. However, his larger point reminded me of the way my parents used to think about the South, where they lived in the postwar years. Southern attitudes toward race struck them as surprisingly varied. My parents were friends with whites who were shocked by lynch justice and touchingly partisan for the black folk, whom they knew affectionately. How ignorant and unjust, thought my father, to condemn the white South in sweeping terms. As far as I know, none of them took part in the civil rights movement.
I was surprised that Alterman echoes the argument that Israel’s critics lack a sense of “proportion.” I could argue that German militaristic nationalism in 1914 was, proportionally speaking, not so bad compared with its British and French equivalents. And Serbian nationalism, the spark that set off the world conflagration, may have been even more excusable. By the same token, the wrong done to Alfred Dreyfus was surely trifling compared with an Eastern European pogrom or compared with the crimes perpetrated in Africa by the French army, in which Dreyfus was implicated. So didn’t Zola and the Dreyfusards get a little carried away in their righteous zeal?
We can apparently agree that criticism of Israel can include ignorance, self-righteousness and hypocrisy. Can we also agree that Israelis deserve not only the respect accorded to white South Africans–a people with a rich history and culture, with humane authors and valiant opponents of racial injustice–but also the sanctions that helped bring down the apartheid system?
Eric Alterman takes exception to Roane Carey’s remark that “if the [Palestinian Authority] collapses…it will strip off the mask that there is anything in the territories beyond Israeli occupation.” In Alterman’s view, Carey is oblivious to the comforting state of contentment among the occupied territories’ Palestinian citizens. According to a recent survey, 63 percent of those citizens believe their safety is “secured” or “completely secured.”
This must be a contingent sort of security, though, in light of the fact that 77 percent of those respondents were “worried” or “very worried” that they or a member of their family could be hurt by Israel in their daily life or that their land would be confiscated or home demolished. To help us find the fair and balanced tipping point along the “one-dimensional picture presented by both left and right,” Alterman prescribes some Israeli movies, of which I’ve seen two. Waltz With Bashir is indeed a good flick, but it’s entirely about Jewish angst; not exactly on point. The Lemon Tree is on point, however. It’s a moving dramatization of precisely what Carey is claiming: that occupation is at the core of existence in the territories, and that the phony “peace process” the PA has so disastrously bought into has no hope of reversing the relentless trajectory of oppression, dispossession and state violence. Ehud Olmert, co-architect of the Gaza atrocity, articulated the “leftist bugbear” Carey quotes and Alterman tries to hide: that Israel will soon “face a South Africa-style struggle for equal voting rights. As soon as that happens, the state of Israel is finished.” Come on, Eric! In all other contexts you hate “fair and balanced.” Why is this context different from all other contexts?
GEORGE P. SMITH
New York City
I’ve been writing for The Nation for twenty-seven years now. I just turned 50, so with luck, I have another twenty-seven or so years in me. During that time I hope, just once, to read someone other than myself in this magazine observe that the Israelis do not bear responsibility for absolutely every misfortune that has befallen the Palestinian people. And that in fact, the Palestinian leadership, and those who call themselves “militants”–but the rest of the world calls “terrorists”–bear significant responsibility as well. I guess today is not that day…
Watson: Waste Not, Want Not
What good news to read John Nichols’s selection of Detroit Councilwoman JoAnn Watson as Most Valuable Local Official for 2009 [Jan. 11/18]. Watson has been a leader with Zero Waste Detroit to stop the city from using the nation’s largest municipal waste incinerator. Her strong and persistent voice has been critical to our work. With her leadership and the hard work of community members and groups, Detroit is moving toward a system that focuses on materials recovery and new green jobs. Watson was with us every step of the way.
MARGARET WEBER, Zero Waste Detroit
Our Worthy Opponents
We’ve all seen it: the beet-red-faced kid in the grocery store, stomping, stiff-legged, screaming because some demand was not met. This, my friends, is the modern face of the Republican Party; rude, regressive and ranting. They’re joined at the hip with Blue Dog, wart hog, lost-in-a-fog Democrats and a smattering of insipid, insolent, ill-mannered independents, all fuming since the election of Barack Obama.
Call it the pout after the rout, an adult version of everything you hate about someone else’s kid. And the parents of this soiled, spoiled, well-oiled, naughty brood? They’re politicians like John McCain and Chuck Grassley, or the Neanderthals yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater, like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, who make political hay, or money, or both, at our country’s peril.
This has nothing to do with healthcare reform (I like paying eighteen bucks for an aspirin! The insurance industry will suffer if it has competition! Keep your damn government hands off my Medicare!) and everything to do with their notion that a black man should not be giving orders.
Adieu, Swank Filer–IV
I was sorry to read in “Noted” [Jan.4] about the retirement of a longtime Nation contributor, and I’d like to thank him for bringing my wife and me many hours of delighted frustration. He is honest to a point, but his wiles are twisted. (For those who are not cryptic-crossword solvers, the previous sentence is a clue, the answer to which is, of course, Frank W. Lewis.) I hope you can find a worthy successor!
BRIAN W. OGILVIE
We are in the process of doing just that. To take a crack at assuming Frank’s mantle, send sample puzzles to firstname.lastname@example.org with “Crosswords” in the subject line. –Ed.
In John Nichols and Robert W. McChesney’s “How to Save Journalism” [Jan. 25], the Christian Science Monitor was lumped in with newspapers that had ceased print editions to appear solely online. The venerable CSM has merely cut its print production from daily to weekly.
Also, in Christopher Hayes’s “The Great Leap” [Jan. 11/18], Yichang (not Yinchuan) is the name of the city near the Three Gorges dam in China.