For a long time I did not hear the beauty of church bells; or more accurately, I did not wish to hear it. They sounded only like Christianity, which in my early years was a vexing triumphalist sound--the pealing of history, from which my honor as a Jew required me to recoil. When the tintinnabulations of the Church of St. Francis Xavier on Avenue O reached my ears, they brought the message that I was a member of a minority.
Obama and the Jews: you thought maybe you could get away without this discussion? If you did, then you misunderstand the quadrennial ceremony in which constituencies parade their fears so that candidates may adjust their pandering. It was Tim Russert who introduced the inevitable controversy into the "national conversation," at the debate in Cleveland. In his style of interrogation, Russert has evolved from a small-town prosecutor with a Google search in his hand into a game-show host with a trick question up his sleeve.
What you think of a presidential candidate is in large measure determined by what you think of the world. Different circumstances call for different talents, different sensibilities, different approaches to power. "Leadership" comes in many forms. A sterling individual may be historically inappropriate; and a person whom it is impossible to admire may accomplish significant things. The question of whether Barack Obama will make a fine commander-in chief finally depends on your view of the direction of history in the coming years.
So far the rocket-burst of Barack Obama has verified that Hillary Clinton has no obvious claim on the presidency; and that liberals, after seven lean years, are happy to lose their heads; and that excitement is exciting. Obama is certainly rinsing American politics of its over-ideologized and over- professionalized (they often go together) lassitude; his campaign has all the ardor of an insurgency but none of the anger. In November it may even be an honor to vote for him. But his astounding rise imposes a certain obligation of skeptical calm. Change: fine. A new generation: fine.
Of all the exasperations of this war, the most stinging is that its beginning is not all you need to know about its ending. The high reasons for the war were attended by fantasy, ignorance, and deceit. This cannot be denied. And in view of such origins, the temptation to insist upon a swift evacuation is very great. Almost 3,000 Americans have been killed, and more than 20,000 Americans have been wounded; and 150,000 Iraqis have been killed, according to the Iraqi government, in the fratricide that the war unleashed. 150,000: we are approaching a Saddam-like magnitude for the murder of innocen
'I am now in a catastrophic personal situation. Several death threats have been sent to me. … On the websites condemning me there is a map showing how to get to my house to kill me, they have my photo, the places where I work, the telephone numbers, and the death warrant. … There is no safe place for me, I have to beg two nights here, two nights there. … I must cancel all scheduled events. The authorities urge me to keep moving." In the wake of an outrageous attempt to punish him for the views that he fearlessly writes and speaks, these desperate words were written last week by Tony Judt.
Will the rich save the world? This has not been their traditional service to humankind; but in contemporary America you may be forgiven for believing in the messianic power of personal wealth. We are still enjoying the economicist fantasy that was inaugurated by technology in the Clinton years and consolidated by ideology in the Bush years. Could it be that the rich did not previously save the world because they were not rich enough? But they are rich enough now, right? I do not mean to be too clever.
FORGIVE MY TARDINESS, BUT last month The New York Times published an article that compared liberals unfavorably to fundamentalist mobs. The piece appeared on the paper’s fun op-ed page, on the occasion of the “cartoon riots” that were provoked by the publication in a conservative Danish newspaper of scornful images of the Prophet—no, that’s not accurate. The riots were provoked by Muslim politicians and diplomats for whom the Western blasphemy was an Allah-sent opportunity to divert the attention of various Muslim societies from what ails them.
In the spring of 1978, when the euphoria of doves who were exhilarated by Sadat's journey to Jerusalem was giving way to the euphoria of hawks who were exhilarated by Begin's refusal to allow that magnificent event to annul the geographical dreams of Jewish chauvinism, I spent an afternoon in Samaria with Ariel Sharon. Sharon was the minister of agriculture in the Likud government, and the chairman of the ministerial committee for settlement affairs. There were no Samaritans in Samaria, though political violence between Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank was still a few years away.
Even faced with the idea of Greater Palestine, it is impossible not to rejoice in the defeat of the idea of Greater Israel. It was always a foul idea, morally and strategically. It promoted the immediate ecstasy of the few above the eventual safety of the many; it introduced the toxins of messianism and mysticism into the politics of a great modern democracy; it preferred chosenness to human rights; it subordinated laws to visions, and the Jewish state to the Jewish millennium; it worshiped soil in a primitive, almost unJewish way.