Brown-Faced Man

As someone who unapologetically wears brownface every day, I find the hysterical front-page revelation of Justin Trudeau’s 2001 experiment with brownface pretty underwhelming. I also find the reaction to it on the part of various brown-faced Canadian politicians to be a transparent instance (so to speak) of grandstanding. If ever there was a case where policy ought to trump a supposed matter of character in politics, this is it–not so much because policy always trumps character in political matters, but because the supposed matter of character involved here is so morally inconsequential that just about anything trumps it. Continue reading

Free Speech on the Shoals of Ideology

This Op-Ed offers a cautionary tale for two apparently opposed sets of ideologues: right-wingers convinced that the Left has a monopoly on campus censorship, and left-wingers skeptical of the connection between government support for education and government suppression of educators. In Florida and New Jersey, the Right is censoring the supposed racism of the Left through pro-Israeli legislation; meanwhile, the Left, usually so eager to make accusations of racism, is caught off guard by the Right’s “anti-racist” resort to coercion and hysteria. Continue reading

Poetic Justice with Donald Trump

Didn’t Donald Trump do members of “the Squad” a favor of sorts by telling them to go back to their countries of origin?

After all, one of the members of the Squad, Rashida Tlaib, is Palestinian. If Trump thinks she should go back to her country of origin, it stands to reason that she must have one. So does Donald Trump think that Palestine is a country? That’s news to me, and would probably be news to Jared Kushner, David Friedman, Jason Greenblatt, and the entire cohort of Zionist frauds that populate the Trump administration.

Beyond that, if Tlaib has a country to go back to, one that is in some sense hers, it seems to follow that she has a right of return to it. So, does that mean that the United States Government now takes the Palestinians to have a right of return to Palestine? I guess it does, but has anyone informed the Israelis? Continue reading

Taking the Opportunity

The Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

Abba Eban

While you’re at it, why not do something practical to end U.S. support for the Israeli occupation, now in its 52nd year? I feel safer in the average synagogue or mosque in New Jersey (and I spend time in both) than I do when I visit the West Bank (as I also do) and face Israeli soldiers who come into the town where I’m living or the university campus where I’m teaching, engaging in gratuitous violence on flimsy pretexts. Your support for Israel is “unbreakable,” but your support for its occupation seems about as stable. It’s hard to see your condemnations of “hate” as anything more than empty rhetoric considering where you stand on the Israeli occupation.

We live in a country that started a war over a 2-year-long military occupation much milder than the Israeli one. Palestinians have shown amazing forbearance in putting up with the Israeli one for decades longer than that. The least we could do is to acknowledge its existence, acknowledge its significance, and speak and act accordingly. I don’t see even that minimal response to reality from any legislator in New Jersey and haven’t, for decades. I regret to say that you’re not an exception to that rule. Consider this note an invitation to become one.

Irfan Khawaja
Readington, New Jersey

‘S’ is for Slander

Below the fold, I’ve reproduced (with permission) the text of a letter regarding the P Is for Palestine controversy by Michael Lesher of Passaic, New Jersey, addressed to the Trustees and Director of the Highland Park Public Library, in Highland Park, New Jersey. More on the controversy from Jewish Link of New Jersey: Rochelle Kipnis (May 9), Elizabeth Kratz (May 17). From the Newark Star Ledger: Rachel Kleinman (May 9). From ABC News. From Fox News.

The library will be holding a public meeting on Wednesday, June 5th at 7:30 pm to discuss the matter. Continue reading

Teaching Machiavelli in Palestine

Here’s a draft of the paper I’m giving at the 25th Annual Conference of the Association for Core Texts and Courses a few weeks from now in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Comments welcome.

Anyone who teaches Machiavelli’s Prince in a college setting faces a daunting set of pedagogical problems, among them the apparent anachronism of the examples that Machiavelli adduces in support of the advice he gives the prince. Few political philosophers are trained to discuss the political histories of Greco-Roman antiquity, the Ottoman Empire, or Renaissance Europe, and fewer students can endure reading or hearing about them. Yet such examples clot the text of The Prince, jeopardizing its accessibility and relevance to twenty-first century students. Continue reading

“Naila and the Uprising”

For scheduling reasons, as usual, I missed my chance a few weeks ago to see Julia Bacha’s documentary film, “Naila and the Uprising” at the UN, where Bacha, the director, was in attendance to discuss the film at a pre-showing event. In case you were wondering, Julia Bacha is a filmmaker with Just Vision, an independent film company dedicated to “rendering Palestinian and Israeli grassroots leaders more visible, valued and influential in their efforts.” And “Naila” is the story of a young Gazan woman’s participation in the first Palestinian uprising, or intifada, of 1987-1993. Unless you’re a connoisseur of things Palestinian, you’d probably never have heard of director, film, or company. And if ordinary experience is any guide, American connoisseurs of things Palestinian are in pretty short supply. Continue reading

The Weaponization of Anti-Semitism

Here’s an informative podcast interview with my friend Steve Shalom, a political scientist at William Paterson University (Wayne, New Jersey), and an active member of Jewish Voice for Peace of Northern New Jersey. You have to scroll down a few clicks past the bio and the Banksy visual for the podcast itself.

What Steve says in the interview about anti-Semitism strikes me as one instance of many of the over-emphasis on race in American political discourse–not only to the exclusion of other sorts of identity, like gender and class, but to the exclusion of a straightforward focus on ethico-political issues as such. In other words, we not only have a tendency to focus on race above all other things, but to use our focus on race to distract attention from equally important things. It becomes easy to forget that sometimes an issue is just an issue. Continue reading

“It’s What We Do”: Film Screening and Pot Luck Dinner

For the many, of whom each individual is but an ordinary person, when they meet together may very likely be better than the few good, if regarded not individually but collectively, just as a feast to which many contribute is better than a dinner provided out of a single purse, especially if one of the many is bringing biryani and naan from Nirala’s of Elmwood Park.  –Aristotle, Politics, III.11

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“Little Drummer Girl”: The Lowdown

I spent a fair bit of my Thanksgiving holiday watching the “Little Drummer Girl” mini-series on BBC/AMC, apparently the second film version of the John LeCarre novel of that name. Whether you’ve seen it or not, I’ve done the hard work in this post of distilling everything about it that you need to know.

On the plus side:

  • Yes, the cinematography is as lush and captivating as everyone is saying.
  • Yes, Florence Pugh is hot, and does a great job portraying her character, Charlie.
  • Yes, Alexander Skarsgard is hot, and does a great job portraying his character, Gadi.
  • Yes, they have good chemistry.
  • Yes, Michael Shannon is credible as a Mossad agent, or at least as credible as he needs to be to an audience consisting primarily of non-Mossad agents.
  • Yes, the series is worth watching, even with all of its flaws and at 6 hours’ showing time, and yes, it whets your appetite for the book (which I haven’t read).

Continue reading