Monday, July 31, 2006

Mel Deserves A Break

The things Mel Gibson is alleged to have said about Jews during his arrest for drunk driving are terrible, repulsive, utterly disgusting examples of anti-Semitism. In light of the feelings Jews already had about the actor in response to his film, "The Passion of the Christ," this latest episode only confirms to them that Gibson has some true anti-Semitic feelings. As someone who is sensitive to the suffering of Jews, and aware of the ceaseless efforts to demonize them in so many quarters, my defense of Gibson might seem strange, but I think the man deserves a break.

I don't think there's any question that Gibson's true feelings came to the fore when he was intoxicated. He was hysterical, complaining, swearing. One suspects he'd just had some run-in with someone, perhaps a Jew. While it's absurd that anti-Semites are so often blaming a Jewish cabal for all the world's ills, it is true that Hollywood has a very high proportion of Jews in positions of authority. So it's no stretch to imagine that the actor may have had his share of conflicts with Jews. And it seems well established that his father was an anti-Semite. Those attitudes probably did rub off on the son. But that doesn't mean Mel Gibson is a hate monger. For a parallel, I look at my own youth. I grew up in a black neighborhood with white grandparents who truly loved many of our black neighbors. Several of those neighbors are considered members of the family to this day. Yet I also remember times, particularly moments of anger, when my grandmother let loose with "nigger." I recall plenty of racist jokes being told, and lamentations that I was dating black girls. Those sentiments bothered me, but I always knew they were not rooted in hatred. Rather, they were the residue of social training and ignorance. My grandfather never actually used any derogatory terms for anyone, as far as I can remember. But my grandmother had a mouth like a sailor. She was full of piss and vinegar, but she was not full of hate.

Most people are pretty complicated. We can hold opposing ideas in our minds, feel things we know are irrational, want what we know to be wrong. If we were single-dimensional, we'd never feel shame, remorse or regret. It seems logical that Mel Gibson does have some anti-Semitic feelings, but that he also recognizes those feelings to be wrong, to be wicked. He is no worse than the rest of us who may keep our tongues in check, but have within us the capacity for evil as well as good.

At least Gibson's apology was on the mark. So often when a celebrity, athlete or politician says something offensive, they qualify their apologies: "I'm sorry IF my words offended," or "I'm sorry my words were taken out of context." In other words, they don't actually acknowledge totally that they were wrong -- just that some people might have interpreted their words as such. In Gibson's case, the actor was very contrite, and called his words "despicable," which indeed they were. If the man were a Kennedy, he'd just deny the incident. If he were a Democrat member of Congress from Georgia, he'd blame the police for their unprofessionalism. But Gibson seems to be a stand-up guy, though no one can dispute that his underlying anti-Semitism is something he needs to deal with and defeat if he expects to be re-accepted in Hollywood.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Truth, Justice and All That Stuff

The latest Superman movie says more than it probably intends about the current global climate of anti-Americanism, and it does so not by what is actually says as by what it refuses to say. Anyone who's seen the older Superman movies, television series or comic books knows all the standard lines about the Man of Steel leaping over tall buildings in a single bound, being faster than a speeding bullet, etc. The newest movie makes very clever use of the "It's a bird. It's a plane... It's Superman!" phrase.

What is strange, though, is the movie's treatment of Superman's mission statement -- truth, justice and the American way. In one scene, Daily Plant editor Perry White wonders aloud if Superman still stands for "truth, justice and all that stuff." All that stuff! It was a pretty obvious slap at American patriotism, and a significant departure from the spirit of the Superman comics upon which the movie is supposed to be based. One imagines the producers sitting around complaining that inclusion of "the American Way" would only turn off international viewers. As I watched the movie yesterday, I figured the edit was a bow to the increasingly knee-jerk anti-American international audience. But if it were as simple as that, why not just refer to truth and justice, and leave out the sarcastic "all that stuff"? On deeper consideration, it's pretty evident that the filmmakers wanted to cut that mission statement down to size, to highlight the comic book nature of American patriotism so reflected in this comic book superhero. And a little web surfing proved this analysis correct. It turns out the screenwriters admit that they wanted to expand the character to be an international hero here to serve all mankind. Certainly, the service of all men is a noble calling. But apparently the writers never stopped to consider the implications of Superman's defense of the American Way. It gets back to the eternal American belief -- so central to America's unique patriotism -- that the American Way is to serve all mankind. It is ingrained in our national identity that we have a special calling to share our way of life and our way of government will all mankind. Superman got this. His movie's writers don't, or they reject the universalist aspect of American patriotism in the first place. Either way, the seemingly minor change of phrasing is a slap in the face to America.

Lebanon Guilty?

The Middle East Media Research Institute, which directly translates Arabic broadcasts and print reports, posted the transcript of Hizollah leader Hassan Nasrallah's July 21 interview on Al Jazeera, in which the terror chief claims to have informed top Lebanese government officials of his organization's intent to kidnap Israelis for use as bartering chips to win the release of jailed Hizbollah members. If Nasrallah's claim is true, it means Lebanon's government was aware of terrorist plots which they took no action to prevent. Neither did the Lebanese government share this valuable intelligence with Israel or others who might have acted to prevent Hizbollah's incursion into Israel and its killing of several Israeli soldiers in that attack. Ultimately then, the Lebanese government is an accomplice in Hizbollah's attacks on Israel, and it deserves to be destroyed as any enemy. As such, Israel would be justified in expanding its air strikes to eliminate Lebanese military forces and government facilities, as well as targetting Lebanese officials who give aid and comfort to Hizbollah.

Of course, it could be that Nasrallah has some axe to grind with the Lebanese government and simply hopes to coax Israel into directing some of its military power away from his own besieged fighters. He might presume that the destruction of Lebanon's secular government would create a vacuum his organization could fill, thus leading to the coutry's "Talibanization." However, this could be prevented by a concerted allied interdiction of transportation routes into Lebanon from Syria, thus cutting off the flow of arms and munitions to radical groups such as Hizbollah and giving Lebanon's moderate Muslims, Christians and others the breathing room to establish a stronger government and armed forces that do not need to bow to the will of terrorists like Nasrallah.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Israel, Our Hearts Are With You

As Iran and Syria push their proxies to murder Israelis, and Palestinians show ever more vividly that they hate Jews more than they love life or freedom, who of good faith and honest mind does not stand with Israel? Mortimer Zuckerman's editorial in the current issue of U.S. News & World Report lays out cogently how Israel has made concession after concession, even pulling out of the Gaza unilaterally, only to embolden the savage spirit of its enemies. Living in Berkeley, as I do, one sees stickers and placards supporting the Palestinians and/or chastising Israel even more regularly than American flags. Will my liberal friends and neighbors now come to their senses and reject the illusion-driven indignation they have directed at Jews? At times like these, all of us who prize liberty and the right of all peoples to exist should make clear that we will always stand firm -- that JFK's vow that we would pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, and oppose any foe, to assure the survival and the success of liberty was no empty promise.

But for now, Israel fights evil alone. To victory Israel!