The Hedgehog Blog
Political and social observations from two aspiring hedgehogs who love the Isaiah Berlin essay.
Friday, November 20, 2009
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Saturday, November 14, 2009
The game is on CBS College Sports at 4:30 p.m. Pacific time today. Here's a short pregame write-up.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
That's the headline of a story in Ha'Aretz today. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, addressing the 25th Session of the Standing Committee for Economic and Commercial Cooperation (COMCEC) of the Organization of the Islamic Conference in Turkey, said that U.S. President Barack Obama should make a choice in order to fulfill his campaign promise of change. And that choice was between support for Israel or friendship with Iran.
Let's see now. On the one hand we have Iran, a country that conspired with Hezbollah to murder 220 U.S. Marines in the 1983 Beirut barracks bombing and over 60 people in the bombing of the U.S. Embassy that same year; that supports the insurgents who have murdered U.S. troops in Iraq; that works with Venezuela's Hugo Chavez to subvert U.S. interests in Latin America; that is rapidly developing a nuclear weapons capability in defiance of the U.S. and Western Europe; and that is now doing its best to separate Turkey from NATO. It is also a brutal dictatorship that crushes dissent and is conducting show trials and executions of the regime's political opponents.
On the other hand, we have Israel, a democratic country that is probably one of the most pro-American nations in the world, that supports U.S. positions in the United Nations and the international arena more consistently than any other nation, that provides the U.S. with important technological developments, and whose port city of Haifa, according to GlobalSecurity.org, is the favorite port of call of the U.S. Navy Sixth Fleet, accounting for roughly 50% of all visits in the Eastern Mediterranean, with an average of 20 vessels, including aircraft carriers, visiting the port each year, many to utilize the harbor's excellent and unique repair and servicing facilities.
Gee, I know which one I would choose.
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
In a column in today's Wall Street Journal, entitled "From Berlin to Baghdad," Professor Fouad Ajami describes how the victory over Soviet-led Communism in the Cold War was closely followed by a new challenge to Western Democracy from Islamic jihadists.
Monday, November 09, 2009
As our flag flies at half mast at a U.S. Army base in Afghanistan (photo above), we are beginning to learn more about the shooter, Major Nidal Malik Hasan, including a report carried in UK's Daily Telegraph that he attempted to make contact with Al Qaeda prior to the massacre, and that he had attended the controversial Dar al-Hijrah mosque in Falls Church, Virginia, at the same time as two of the September 11 hijackers. At the time, that mosque was led by Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical American-born Yemeni imam. Awlaki left the US the following year, eventually going to Yemen, from where he targets Muslims in America with radical online lectures. It emerged on Monday that Hasan had been in contact with Awlak within the last year.
Thank goodness that the British press is investigating and reporting this story fully.
Wednesday, November 04, 2009
2012, the soon-to-be released disaster flick, depicts the destruction of the world as supposedly predicted for the year 2012 by the Mayan calendar. (That calendar does end in 2012, but I understand it actually just starts over again, like an odometer reaching 100,000 miles.) For the umpteenth time in cinema, Los Angeles is gleefully destroyed. A tidal wave takes out Washington, D.C., crushing the White House with the aircraft carrier U.S.S. John F. Kennedy.
Christian religious symbols are not spared. Saint Peter's Basilica in the Vatican crashes down on worshipers. In Rio de Janeiro the giant statue Christ of the Andes collapses over the city below.
However, one religious site is spared. Jonathan Crow at Yahoo! Movies reports that while director Roland Emmerich wanted to destroy the Kaaba in Mecca, Islam's most sacred site, on screen, he was talked out of it by his co-writer, Harald Kloser, who told Emmerich, "I will not have a fatwa on my head because of a movie." Emmerich continued:
"We have to all, in the western world, think about this. You can actually let Christian symbols fall apart, but if you would do this with [an] Arab symbol, you would have ... a fatwa, and that sounds a little bit like what the state of this world is. So it's just something which I kind of didn't [think] was [an] important element, anyway, in the film, so I kind of left it out."
In Hollywood, courage of conviction is shown by unfavorable depictions of George W. Bush, capitalism, the United States, the Roman Catholic Church, Protestant evangelicals and fundamentalists (which are not the same, although Hollywood does not know it), Mormons, Christianity in general, and Orthodox Jews. These are all fairly safe targets, because they have not been known to violently retaliate.
I do not know the entire story line of 2012, but presumably, if the whole planet earth goes, the Kaaba goes with it, even if its destruction is not portrayed on screen. It would go too far for the film to end with the Kaaba floating in outer space like the monolith from 2001, A Space Odyssey. Still, if the Muslim world demands it, perhaps Mr. Emmerich will change the film's ending.
Tuesday, November 03, 2009
In a column in today's Wall Street Journal, entitled "When No Really Means No," Bret Stephens recounts the sorry history of six years of negotiations aimed at stopping Iran's march toward nuclear weaponry. Iran's leaders have consistently and unequivocally refused to halt its nuclear enrichment program. When will the U.S. and Europe begin to take them at their word? More importantly, when will the U.S. and Europe resolve to do something about it? And Holy Multilateralism, does anyone really believe that China and Russia are willing to be part of the solution rather than the problem?
Sunday, November 01, 2009
As noted in an editorial today in the Jerusalem Post, the month of Tishrei 5770, or October 2009 on the secular calendar, marked the end of 2500 years of Jewish life in Yemen. Last month the United States State Department completed a clandestine operation to transfer the last 60 Yemenite Jews to the U.S. So ended a process that began with "Operation Flying Carpet" in 1949-1950, in which most of the Jewish population of Yemen, some 49,000 of my holy brothers and sisters, were flown to the newborn State of Israel.
This is the end of Jewish life in Yemen, but not the end of Yemenite Jewry. The "Teimani" as they are called in Hebrew, have made a huge cultural contribution to Israel, especially in the areas of religion, music, dance, art, crafts and cuisine.
Yemenite Jews even persist as a distinct group in the Diaspora. For example, my own kehillah (community) of North Hollywood boasts a Yemenite synagogue, which follows the prayer customs of Yemenite Jewry. This synagogue is the only one I have ever encountered that retains the 2000-year old custom of having a "meturgeman," or Aramaic translator, translate the weekly Torah portion into Aramaic as it is read in Hebrew. Jews instituted this custom when Aramaic supplanted Hebrew as the common tongue of the Jewish people during the period of the Second Temple. Indeed, the Talmud is written mostly in Aramaic. Ironically, since most Yemenite Jews today are fluent in Hebrew but use Aramaic only in their Talmudic study, the targum--Aramaic translation--has the opposite effect of its original purpose. It began as a way of making the weekly Torah portion in Hebrew--when Hebrew was the language of religious scholarship, but not commonly spoken or understood--comprehensible to an Aramaic speaking populace. Now it translates the Torah from Hebrew, once again a living language that its listeners largely understand, into Aramaic, a language that survives only in religious scholarship and a notorious Mel Gibson movie.
So Yemenite Jewry lives, but Yemen itself is "judenrein," Jew-free, as the Nazis use to so delicately put it. Yemenite Jews always lived as a tolerated minority, sometimes more tolerated, sometimes less. One of the most famous letters of Rabbi Moses Maimonedes, the great 12th century Torah scholar, philosopher and physician (he even became the personal physician to Saladin), the Letter to the Jews of Yemen, was a response to a request for counsel from a Yemenite rabbi, regarding the persecution the community was undergoing from the Shia Muslims who then ruled Yemen. Among the questions of Jewish law that Maimonedes addressed in this letter was whether members of their community who had been forcibly compelled to convert to Islam could be welcomed back into the Jewish community once the conditions of persecution eased.
Of course the Jewish community of Yemen is only one of the many Arabic Jewish communities--in Morocco, Iraq, Egypt, Tunisia, Syria--that were forced into exile. The number of Arab-speaking Jews who were forced out of their millennia-old communities to Israel, the United States and France in the period 1948-1960 exceeded 750,000--coincidentally about the number of Arab refugees that resulted from the creation of Israel. Many of the Jewish exiles had been wealthy businessmen in their Arab homelands, and almost all of them had to live their wealth behind and flea with a few shipping trunks and suitcases. Israel is often accused of genocide or ethnic cleansing against Palestinian Arabs, but there are undeniably millions of Arabs who live in Israel as citizens with full legal and civil rights, and the Arab populations of Gaza, Judea and Samaria--the so-called occupied territories--have dramatically increased under Israeli occupation. In contrast, only a few thousand Jews remain in Morrocco and Tunesia, and less than one hundred Jews still live in Egypt, Iraq and Syria. Now no Jews are left in Yemen.
Arab apologists will counter that the expulsion of Jews from Arab lands came about only because of Zionism. Historically, that is an accurage statement, but it begs the question of why the Arab world could not tolerate Zionism and the creation of the State of Israel. Jews were tolerated in the Arab world only so long as they maintained their sharia status as Dhimmi, subservient second-class citizens, who could not bear arms, paid a special tax, were banned from many trades and professions, could not ride a horse but only a donkey, and whose places of worship had to be lower in elevation than the local mosques. In many cases they could and would be attacked and killed by Muslims with impunity and no legal recourse. The unforgivable sin of Zionism was the establishment of a Jewish nation in the middle of the dar al-Islam, the territory of Islam, a nation in which Jews would have equal status with Moslems. Once that occurred, Arab regimes no longer trusted that their domestic Jewish populations would be content with dhimmi status. The Jews had to leave, and they did. Their departure from Arab nations may have impoverished the Jewish refugees in the short term, but in the longer term (as has repeatedly occurred throughout the history of Jewish exile) it has impoverished the nations that expelled them, depriving them of their intellectual elites, their leading merchants and financiers, and their hope of modernization in the post-colonial era.