by Lawrence D. Mass
Is Phyllis Chesler a “homonationalist”? Is Sarah Schulman a “Jew-washer”? Was it “fascistic” to out Kate Millett as lesbian?
Phyllis Chesler is a feminist, psychologist and writer of renown. She’s the author and editor of numerous books. She lectures widely and writes for an array of publications. For many years, like Chesler, my life partner Arnie Kantrowitz and I have watched with dismay the resurgence of anti-Semitism. On the right, even when conservative spokespersons are or may give the appearance of being philo-Semitic or are themselves Jewish (Team Trump), this most malignant and genocidal of prejudices is yet again ubiquitous and explosively dangerous. In the age of Trump, white supremacist anti-Semitism is once again overt and ascendant in America. On the left, where it has likewise always been present and where some of its best known spokespersons (Karl Marx) likewise have been Jews, and where there is widespread complacency or worse about anti-Semitism, it feels more personally dismaying since Arnie and I pride ourselves on being liberal and progressive. In the relentlessly binary world of politics, Arnie and I often feel like misfits. We coequally value our minority identities of being gay and Jewish. We are mostly somewhat to the left of center. We don’t identify as persons of the left or right. We voted for Hillary.
My introduction to Phyllis was via our mutual friend William M. Hoffman, the noted playwright (As Is) and librettist (Ghosts of Versailles) who died earlier this year. In the 1990’s Bill spearheaded a salon that attempted to address resurgent anti-Semitism in the arts, media and society. Phyllis and I were regulars there. Though it would be another 20 years before I got to know Phyllis better, Bill and I had been very close since the early 1980’s. Not only were we gay and Jewish and involved in opera and recovery, we were mutually keyed into phenomena of internalized anti-Semitism, especially among Jewish intellectuals, writers and artists. Bill’s summary assessment of this behavior could seem very personal. “I hate liberals,” he’d quip. The first time he said that to me, it felt like a slap in the face.
My window of adult knowledge, as I’ve called it, of my own and other Jews’ internalization of anti-Semitism was primarily via my experience as a Jewish Wagnerite—as a self-effacing Jewish enthusiast of composer Richard Wagner, whose influence on Hitler and Nazism were such as to render Wagner a virtual perpetrator of the Holocaust. At the same time and in real measure because of my relationship with my socialist sister and many other persons of the left as well as of the center and right—I have a deeply personal and visceral sense of this issue. Notwithstanding the risk of projecting my own experience onto others, what my coming of self-awareness as Jewish has suggested to me is that there probably isn’t a single Jew anywhere, no matter how otherwise self-aware, brilliant, wise, brave or even observantly Jewish, who does not relatively quickly reveal a notable degree of internalized anti-Semitism. Bill Hoffman, for instance, never visited Israel, seemed squeamish about marching in the Israel Day parade (he did so only once, and for only a few blocks), and grimaced with horror, incredulity and something like rage when I once suggested that he looked Jewish, all but demanding that I retract an observation he considered so obviously false. I’ve written at length about much of this in my memoir, Confessions of a Jewish Wagnerite, and currently in my Huffington Post blog series, “On The Future of Wagnerism.”
Of all those in the recent period addressing this issue of anti-Semitism among people of the left—liberals, progressives, socialists, feminists and LGBT activists—Phyllis Chesler has been the most outspoken, incisive and courageous, especially in her criticism of the women’s movement for giving priority to Palestinian liberation over what should be a far more forefront and activist commitment to combating sexism and homophobia in Islamic societies. Instead of women organizing protests of often brutally oppressive Islamic theocracies, laws, institutions and traditions— of female circumcision, of honor killings, of blatantly discriminatory laws—their activism has become most conspicuous around efforts like the BDS movement (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) against Israel. As this activism grows, it becomes evermore troubled with questions of anti-Semitism in relationship to anti-Zionism. Why has BDS become such a rallying point for leftists, progressives, liberals and especially feminists? What’s become of NOW and the ERA? Why aren’t they more in the news? Time has passed and new organizations and initiatives have developed, including the massive Women’s March on Washington D.C. earlier this year. Even so, it can’t be denied that the women’s movement no longer seems to carry the mantle of activism it once did. In her books such as The Death of Feminism and The New Anti-Semitism, and in screeds and lectures, Chesler’s ability to conceptualize and articulate this issue can be stunning. And although her concerns about anti-Semitism are more centered on the dangers of Islamist extremism and terrorism rather than those now emanating from white supremacists, it’s Chesler who asks with singular prescience if what happened in France, where large numbers of Jews began emigrating to Israel in the wake of anti-Semitic attacks, could start happening here.
Sarah Schulman has been a prominent figure in the gay community for decades. She’s an acclaimed author, filmmaker, essayist, speaker and professor of English. Her intelligence and courage are impressive and her contributions to AIDS activism have been legion and priceless. Her novel Rat Bohemia is the most compelling evocation I have read of the abandonment of LGBT persons by their families of origin and mainstream society. Her later book, Ties That Bind, adds dimension and gives voice to this issue to an extent that her work in this area has to be considered a benchmark of LGBT literatures. It’s easy to appreciate how Sarah can empathize so deeply with another dispossessed group, LGBT Palestinians. Like and with Sarah herself, they struggle with rejection by their own families and Islamic homophobia as well as from Israeli occupation. Rat Bohemia helped me to see the bigger picture of how I myself have been discriminated against, relegated by Jewish relatives and others, however subtly and however enabled by me. And in Ties That Bind, she’s helped me both to accept and not accept what has happened and to better conceptualize what can’t and can be done about it.
Sarah is a professor of English at the College of Staten Island (CSI, CUNY) where Phyllis is Professor Emerita of Psychology and where Arnie was professor of English and chairman of the English Department. We’ve known Sarah via our communites for many years. As with Phyllis, we’re grateful for her activism around issues we care about. At a more personal level, I always liked and admired Sarah, even when I sensed we were sometimes in very different places. She was passionate about LGBT struggles and especially lesbian visibility when few others were, and we seemed to share the same feelings about outing, especially those whose closetedness was hurting us—either by their associations or absence thereof, or because of what they were or weren’t saying, admitting or doing. I so wanted Sarah to be a contributor to my Larry Kramer anthology, We Must Love One Another Or Die, but at that particular juncture in time and her work with ACT UP, Larry had pissed her off so badly, as he had so many others, that she declined.
Again, one of the reasons I so liked Sarah is for her denunciation of the closet. In fact, in the Larry Kramer anthology, I noted that she had been outspoken about closetedness among lesbians of prominence, including Susan Sontag. When the book was published, however, I got a call from Sarah herself asking if I could somehow recall the books and remove the passage about Sontag. Sarah admitted that she was concerned about the damage this could cause her reputation in literary circles because of Sontag’s influence. I was shocked by her request. Not only did I refuse, I wrote the whole incident up in a piece for Gay City News. Lest this seem like some kind of all-out indictment of Sarah on the issue of Sontag and outing or character, however, let me add that Larry Kramer was similarly loathe to go after Sontag for reasons that were likewise inconsistent with his anger at comparable closet cases. Coincidentally, Sontag had already given Kramer an endorsement as “one of our most valuable trouble makers.”
Apart from sending congratulations and expressing gratitude for her pioneering work with ACT UP (she is the creator and director of the ACT UP Oral History Project) on the occasion of the landmark documentary she produced with director Jim Hubbard, United in Anger: A History of ACT UP, I’ve had little direct contact with Sarah. In part this is because of her activism with Palestinians and her theoretics around so-called “pinkwashing.” I too believe that the Palestinian issue is real and needs to be more equitably dealt with, though there is little evidence that a successful resolution of the Palestinian issue or any other Western effort would make even a dent in the global insurgency that is Islamic jihad and its extremism, sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism and genocidal commitment to Israel’s destruction. The problem for me with Sarah’s efforts on behalf of Palestinians is that it would have a lot more credibility for me if there were a commensurately outspoken commitment on her part to denouncing Islamic homophobia, mysogyny and anti-Semitism. In the absence of that, I can’t help but conclude that what Chesler has to say about leftist critiques of Israel, the new anti-Semitism and the death of feminism can ring as true for Sarah as for others of the activist left.
For me, it’s impossible not to look at the work of Sarah Schulman in light of what she’s revealed to us about her upbringing, like that of Klinghoffer librettist Alice Walker, and not wonder about internalized anti-Semitism. That we may have been deeply hurt and want to get back at smugly or shamingly conservative or ostensibly tolerant but subtly homophobic Jewish parents and relatives is not the problem. The problem is when we have inadequate regard and compassion for who they are, and how and why they are as they are, and how, for better or worse, our fates our tied up with theirs in the context of anti-Semitism. It’s a problem when our drive for eye-for-an-eye justice for their rejection and relegation of us prevents us from having more self-awareness and humane concern for them and for ourselves in relationship to them. It’s a problem when we don’t feel the need to consider how our rebellions against them, however otherwise justifiable, are contributing to exceedingly dangerous, explicitly genocidal levels of anti-Semitism; for how they undermine the security and survival of Israel and with Israel, all Jewish people. As I see it, just as leftists demand tolerance and compassion for those who live under Islamic oppression and who are also victims of Islamophobia, so must they call for a commensurate tolerance and compassion for those for who are targets of anti-Semitism, notwithstanding the prejudices of Jewish orthodoxies.
Back to Chesler. Based on my own experience and impressions, and as requested by her, I gave Phyllis a strong endorsement for her book, The New Anti-Semitism, and spent several evenings with her and Bill Hoffman at her home in Manhattan. The first of these get-togethers went without a hitch. Phyllis can be self-important, discomfitingly blunt and overbearing, but she is an engaging figure and a gracious host. In the course of the second evening, however, a wrinkle emerged. Phyllis declined my offer to interview her for my Huffington Post blog. The reasons for that refusal were unclear. Was it because she didn’t have time? Was I politically incorrect? What was the problem? She never offered an explanation, notwithstanding my standard offer to my interviewees of giving them editing approval of the final draft.
At subsequent gatherings, more wrinkles emerged. Susan, Phyllis’s partner, made a snide comment for which she later apologized about how the only priority gay men seem to have is fucking. Because I know that feminists and lesbians sometimes have this perspective of gay men, and because I know it be virtually identical with Larry Kramer’s critique of gay men, and finally because I myself can feel it to be stereotypically true, I let it pass. As gay people, we’re all family and can speak our minds critically. That was the way I processed this moment. Incidentally, however, such a remark is not something Sarah Schulman would ever have said. She would never judge us that way. No wonder many gay men have such affection and regard for her. And therein may lie a key to Sarah’s embracement of Palestinians without judging them for neglects and failures around what we think should be their other activisms.
With minorities, we can be critical of ourselves, but when that same criticism comes from outside we can feel defensive. Who are these people to be telling us who and what and how we should be? Did then still-closted Susan Sontag have the right to judge gay men for our “vehement” sexuality? But Phyllis was one of us, right? On our next visit with her, Phyllis asked us all to come into the television room. She had something to show us (Arnie was with Bill and me that night). It was a brief spot she did on the Mike Huckabee show (”Gov’ner Mike,” as she referred to him). Although this was prior to the Kim Davis episode, it still should have set off alarms but somehow didn’t at the time because of what I understood Phyllis to be doing and where I understood her to be coming from. Bill Hoffman was the first to explain to me that Christian evangelicals were emerging as among the very few allies of Jews and Israel. Because of the seriousness of anti-Semitism, I could appreciate how this alliance was working and I could even feel circumstantially and momentarily tolerant of it, at least in terms of support for Jews and Israel. Of course, as a gay man there was no way I could endorse the seriously homophobic agendas of Christian evangelicals any more than I could have endorsed those of the Orthodox Jews who fought so bitterly to prevent us from getting our civil rights here in NYC.
Naively, I assumed that Chesler, in speaking on the Huckabee show about her book, The New Anti-Semitism, would also be conveying messages, even if only indirectly, that were pro-feminist and pro-LGBT. Appearing on the Mike Huckabee show is not something I could ever imagine doing myself. Nor would I expect to see other feminist or LGBT spokespersons there. Meanwhile, however, there is a large track record of politicos using oppositional media platforms to be heard and vice versa—e.g., Fox’s Bill O’Reilly, whose guests periodically included Barak Obama, and Bill Maher, whose HBO show has repeatedly featured Maher’s “friend,” Ann Coulter. I myself have appeared on Al Jezeera (to discuss the unaffordability of hepatitis C treatments).
The last of the evenings with Phyllis was her milestone birthday party, a grand event attended by prominent figures like Alan Dershowitz. There was eloquent testimony from everybody, especially Phyllis. I gave her “a golden bowl for a golden soul.” It was a wonderful evening, at the end of which Phyllis, after speaking personally about most everyone in attendance, looked around and asked, “Have I left anyone out?” “Yes,” I suddenly found myself volunteering: “Susan.” Until I suggested it, Chesler apparently was not going to acknowledge her partner Susan. Though she went on to praise Susan, it was not specifically said that Susan was her partner. Nor was there otherwise any explicit reference to anyone or anything else LGBT.
Is Phyllis in the closet? Bill Hoffman had implied that she goes in and out. I googled her. Her son pretty much outed her in an essay supporting gay marriage. But I couldn’t find anything Phyllis herself had written acknowledging being lesbian, her partnership with Susan, or clear support for gay rights and concerns, though I sensed in her writings as well as personally that she does care about these issues. I appreciated the emails she sent me about Islamic homophobia and about Jewish and Israeli gay activists trying to confront leftist, mostly BDS-related anti-Semitism on campus. In one article she used the term “we” in generalizing about issues of concern to women and LGBT persons, not so unlike the way then still-closeted Sontag used that same “we” to talk about “The Way We Live Now” in The New Yorker in the heyday of AIDS .
Meanwhile, however, Chesler was writing for Breitbart, the New York Post and Fox News, was apparently supporting Trump, and declining to participate in the big Women’s March earlier this year because it was honorarily co-chaired by Palestinian activist Linda Sarsour, a controversial figure whose activities and allegiances do indeed warrant scrutiny, especially in the context of any backdoor endorsements of anti-Israel or anti-Semitic initiatives. Yet it’s also possible to see Sarsour’s presence in the Women’s March as participating in the activism Phyllis has criticized Muslim and other feminists for not doing. At the time of my own participation in this march, I had no knowledge of Sarsour’s involvement and little awareness of who she was or what the controversies about her were. In any case, that awareness would not have kept me from being part of this historic event.
Whatever the issues about the closet, what Phyllis is saying is that a critic of Islamism like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who is so bravely and eloquently outspoken in her indictments for biases and crimes of sexism in Islamic socieities, is a conspicuously lone and reviled outsider in feminist and progressive circles. Linda Sarsour and Sarah Schulman, who should be in solidarity with Hirsi Ali, are nowhere to be seen on these fronts. On the contrary, what leftist critics like Schulman and Sarsour have to say about Hirsi Ali is pretty much limited to observations that she, Hirsi Ali, is appearing on venues like Fox News and is a member of a conservative think tank, the things I’m criticizing Chesler for. That Hirsi Ali is raising concerns of unassailable validity is neither acknowledged nor, apparently, respected. Indeed, it can be argued that Chesler and Hirsi Ali are associating with right wing media and enterprises because of the intransigence and hostility of their leftist critics.
On the other hand, is Chesler, however still in the closet, an example of Sarah Schulman’s concept of “homonationalism”? As defined by Sarah, “that’s when the only thing that kept people from a nationalist identity is homophobia, and once that homophobia is removed they embrace all these racist and religious supremacy categories...So right wing nationalists who are for the most part anti-Muslim and anti-Muslim immigration are now welcoming white gay people and some of them officially so.” E.g., Milo Yiannapoulos. And Phyllis Chesler?
My efforts to discuss some of these identity politics issues with Phyllis left me unnerved. My biggest concern, as I wrote her, was that in flirting with Trump, Breitbart, Fox News, evangelicals and Republicans, she was undermining her own otherwise impressive critique of feminists and leftists. If you’re critical of fascism, siding with an opposing fascism in retaliation is troubled, a pact with the devil, as I put it. It would be like embracing Stalin to oppose Hitler, a good analogy, especially for Phyllis since she does see the current struggle, and rightly so, as life-and-death in terms of the survival of Jews and Israel. Stalin was crucial to Hitler’s defeat, yes, but remaining silent about and thereby exonerating such a brutal fascist would be a very different matter. If acute concern for Israel’s survival is the main reason for Phyllis’s current allegiances, she should find a way to say that while also clearly acknowledging her displeasure and discomfort with rightist as well as leftist ideologues and agendas. It might not be easy but I do believe she could do so in a way that would help her better maintain the continuum, integrity and credibility of her work.
Chesler denies being in lockstep with Trump but easily becomes insulted, most recently around my response to her comments in the Washington Post on the passing of the late pioneering feminist Kate Millett. As Chesler points out in the piece, when Millett was publicly confronted about whether she identified as lesbian, she (Millett) said “yes,” but denounced her confronters and their tactics as “fascist.” Years later, in a filmed interview with Sarah Schulman (Lesbian Central), Millett’s thoughts on this issue were considerably less defensive. In my email exchanges with Phyllis, I tried to no avail to discuss the long-standing, challenging issue of the closet for bisexual people who are public figures. Like Sontag and Millett, Phyllis doesn’t want to be pressured to accept an identity she feels to be inaccurate or incomplete, meanwhile conveniently distancing herself from and relegating the social and political problems of those she is in bed with. I couldn’t help but raise this issue with Phyllis and ponder what Millett would have thought of a feminist who writes for Breitbart and is in essence stumping for Trump, in response to which there were several “How Dare You!”s. Diva time, as it can be as well when Sarah Schulman feels thwarted.
I guess where you end up in identity politics skirmishes is with that old bottom line of most strongly identifying with and clinging to whichever minority identity feels most threatened, and relegating the others. In some times and places, it’s being a woman. In others it’s being LGBT or a person of color, Palestinian or Jewish. I don’t trust the politics of the left or right to rid me of anti-Semitic dangers. Nor do I trust either extreme to protect me as a gay man, current civil rights notwithstanding.
I never bought the concept of “pinkwashing” (defined by Wikipedia as “the promotion of the gay-friendliness of a corporate or political entity in an attempt to downplay or soften aspects of it considered negative”). On the contrary, while some in tourism and politics may be promoting gay rights in ways that seem to obscure Palestinian occupation and oppression, gay rights in Israel is mostly the hard-fought achievement of Israeli LGBT activists. Inevitably, calling out this issue to the extent that Sarah has can seem an example of what her critics have called “Jew-washing” (which Urban Dictionary defines as “claiming Jewish heritage for the sole purpose of gaining political leverage in a fight against Israel and the Jewish people”; i.e., I’m Jewish. Therefore I can’t be anti-Semitic). Yet to me, equally notable examples of Jew-washing are Jewish homonationalists who sanction anti-immigrant rhetoric and ally themselves with anti-immigrant, sexist, homophobic and Islamophobic forces, with no self-consciousness of themselves as members of minorities that have been and will continue to be comparably vulnerable to anti-minority vilification and scapegoating by those forces. “I’m not one of those people” can seem as reflective of Chesler as of Schulman. If Schulman can appear to have internalilzed anti-Semitism, Chesler can seem to have internalized homophobia.
On the other hand, haven’t I myself done the equivalent of what I accuse Chesler and Schulman of—directly or indirectly supporting or tolerating leaders, countries, regimes and ideologies with questionable or worse human rights records and priorities? Haven’t we all? I would be lying if I said I wasn’t grateful for the Republicans and conservatives, including Netanyahu and even Trump, who forcefully called out and denounced the outrageous threats of genocide from Iran and others at the ineffectual and pervasively anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic United Nations and other public forums. Was my sometime support of bumbling but AIDS-benificent George Bush (who I didn’t vote for; I’ve never voted for a Republican)—for calling out the “axis of evil” troika of Iran, North Korea and Cuba, and for initiating the Iraq war against the Hitlerian maniac Saddam Hussein—any different from Chesler’s taciturnity towards Trump and the alt-right or Schulman’s towards Islamist extremism?
Perhaps not, but here’s where I feel we differ. I can state clearly that I have real concerns about Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in the occupied territories, about the proliferation of settlements and the Islamophobia and zealotry of too many settlers. Arnie and I are both very troubled by the occupation and would like to see a just and lasting peace, ideally a 2 state solution. At the same time, what we still most want to see in the bigger picture of Islam vs the West and the plight of the Palestinians is an end to Islamist terrorism and its monolithic, explicitly genocidal commitment to the destruction of Israel, the one area where I’ve found myself initially and fleetingly drawn to Trump, but that was before Trump’s pathological narcissism (see the psychiatric designations of “pathological narcissism” and “narcissistic personality disorder”), “pathological lying” (to use Bernie Sanders’ phrase), ignorance, racism, sexism, xenophobia, kleptomania, scapegoating and meanspiritedness more fully revealed themselves. In the long run, it seems clear to Arnie and me that the security of Israel and Jewish people, to say nothing of the rest of the world, will be dangerously undermined, not bolstered, by such an unstable megalomaniac as Donald Trump and Trumpism. If we had a dime for every time we’ve compared “that son of a bitch” (to use Trump’s phrase) to Hitler, we’d be millionaires.
What I’m not seeing are comparable public statements from Chesler about the oppression and persecution of LGBT people, here and globally, except for denouncing Islamic homophobia and terrorist acts like the Pulse nightclub massacre by Islamic terrorists, something Trump has done as well. Nor am I seeing such statements from Schulman about Islamist anti-Semitism, homophobia and the oppression of women, though she did speak out about homophobia and AIDS in Cuba. Shouldn’t anti-Semitism, honor killings of women and gays and female circumcision trouble her more? Does she think Israel’s oppression of Palestinians justifies terroristic acts of mass murder and genocidal anti-Semitism, including hatred-and violence-indoctrinating children’s school textbooks? Does she think because of her noble work with and on behalf of Palestinians that a sudden tsunami of anti-Semitism, such as has recurred so predictably and relentlessly throughout history, will spare her because she wasn’t one of those people—Zionist extremists? And does Chesler think she will likewise be spared the homophobic wrath of ignorant and bigoted evangelicals because she was once or twice in a heterosexual marriage and has progeny? Even if she doesn’t see herself as gay and looks the other way on abortion? For all Fox News, Breitbart, the Huckabee show and the New York Post know, she’s just one of them, a true conservative just-folks straight American.
My older leftist friends and acquaintances, like my sister, are still committed socialists. These are the ones who were passionately pro-Russia, pro-Castro, pro-Mao and against the war in Viet Nam. One of them, a 60’s radical now nearly 80, asked me if I watched the recent Oliver Stone interviews with Putin. No, I didn’t watch them, for the same reason I’ve never listened to any of Castro’s perorations and no longer listen to Donald Trump’s. These are authoritarians, demogogues, and were, are or would be police state dictators of police state dictatorships. I already know who they were and are, whatever the qualifiers. I can’t bear Trump’s unscripted harangues and rants and don’t trust the scripted ones, even those that say some things I agree with, like calling out Iran and North Korea as terrorist states and Cuba as a police state dictatorship.
I guess the way I see myself as different from Chesler and Schulman is that I like to believe that where there is fascism, whether it’s in Trump’s America, Putin’s Russia, Xi’s China, el-Sisi’s Egypt, and, yes, Netanyahu’s Israel, among Islamic, Christian and Jewish fundamentalists and extremists, and other zealots, xenophobes, populists and nationalists, in Cuba, North Korea, Iran, Turkey, Hungary, Saudi Arabia, Israel, China, Russia, Cuba, the Phillipines, Myanmar, Venezuela, Syria or anywhere else, I want to call it out and keep my distance from those regimes and their leaders and their apologists a lot more than I want to find ways to ignore or negotiate with them and thereby tacitly justify and endorse them. In other words, I would hope that I don’t find myself passively or tacitly aligning myself with fascists and fascist regimes by not being more explicitly critical of them, by keeping silent about their more outrageous pronouncements and acts because of what may seem to be precipitating social circumstances (poverty, colonialism) or because they may be presently neutral or even favorable when it comes to other issues I care deeply about, like Israel’s security or LGBT rights.
The core, the base, of nationalist movements is usually made up initially of those who feel and who in fact are economically disenfranchised. This was true of the early Nazi movement, just as it is true of much of the base that Trump panders to. But Trump’s base, like the Nazis (and some of whom are actual Nazis), needs to be called out a lot more than it needs to be pandered to. The reason so many of these people are indeed deplorable is not because of Hillary’s failures and what Breitbart rabble rouser Steve Bannon calls “limousine liberals” or “the swamp” in Washington, or moderate Republicans. However disadvantaged Germany found itself after World War 1—“The Great War,” a war of devastating aggression largely instigated and perpetrated by Germany—the Jews and communists were not to blame. It’s because, like the Nazis, and like Stalin, Castro and Putin, and like the current virtual figurehead of the alt-right in America, Donald Trump, early on these leaders, their thugs and their regimes and followers crossed the line of what’s right and what’s wrong, what’s moral and what’s immoral, what’s evil and what’s not, what’s acceptable and what’s not. They and not the greater society, not the wealthy, not the elites, not the Democrats, not the Republicans, not “the swamp,” not the “degenerates,” not the liberals, not the banks, not the Jews, not the MSM (mainstream media) are accountable for who and what they’ve said and done, for what they say and do. The same is true for Islamist extremists. Just as there was no justification for Nazism, there is none for Islamic or any other form of terrorism.
Nor, I must postuhumously grant Bill Hoffman, was there justification for the Reign of Terror that so dishonored The French Revolution. (His sympathies with the aristocracy and distrust of rabbles and mobs are the foundation of his opera, The Ghosts of Versailles, which has yet to be seen in France.) Terrorism, especially when it’s committed on behalf of factions and ideologies, may seem inevitable and justifiable, especially in conditions of economic extremity and war. Surpassingly, however, the challenge of terrorism is not justification, mollification or appeasement. It’s resistance, censure, judgment, prosecution, riddance and prevention.
Obviously, we can’t transform overnight some cultures and traditions that have been marked by poverty, isolation, prejudice and totalitarianism, sometimes for centuries. And sometimes the enemy of my enemy may be my ally. That we have to work and negotiate with many deplorable people and quagmires, with each other and with where people are, may be a given. And, yes, the devil is in the details. But let’s be careful how far we go in embracing topical causes and communities dear to us at the expense of others we should and do care about and should be speaking out about, lest we lose track of who we are, where we come from, where we belong, where we can expect to find sanctuary in worsening times, and what we really believe. Lest we lose credibility for being equitable, fair-minded, balanced and rational. Lest we lose our integrity. Lest we lose our moral compass. Lest we lose our souls.
Being political bedfellows may give an appearance of propriety, but it can be a setup for dysfunction and insomnia.