We often forget that one of the primary proponents of anti-Islamic ideology in the West prior to the War on Terror were Serbian nationalists like Radovan Karadzic, pictured above, in drag as a new age healer.
When I first heard San Antonio's Fearless Iranians from Hell, I thought they were terrible. Just another thrash band, with predictably bad metal leanings. But, twenty years later, the project's singularity is painfully obvious.
Faux-Middle Eastern hardcore, featuring the bass playing of an ex-member of the Butthole Surfers on the late, great Boner label, I played this hilarious 1986 EP back to back this morning with Muslimgauze, and it made a whole lot more sense.
While I'd argue that the concept is definitely stronger than the execution, one of the great things about punk has always been that as a form of critique, given the right context, sometimes a good idea is all that's really required.
If the National Intelligence Estimate published on Monday is true, and Iran is not actively pursuing a nuclear weapons program, it poses a potential problem for the Bush administration's relationship with American Jewry. Given how the US President said last August that Iran is aggressively expanding its military capabilities in order to trigger a nuclear 'holocaust' - using such explicit language - how might we reconsider Bush's willingness to employ such loaded terminology when no such preparations are actually taking place? In light of this revelation, should Jews reproach the head of state for employing terms that unnecessarily stoked our deepest-held fears?
Invoking the specter of the Nazi genocide for political purposes is nothing new. In the Jewish community, nearly sixty three years after the Second World War, the legacy of the Holocaust continues to exercise enormous influence over how we think and talk about politics. From the slightest turn of phrase to the ways in which we understand our relationship with the Christian and Islamic worlds, the Shoah ('catastrophe'), as we call it in Hebrew, is almost always a point of reference. Though there are numerous problems with the manner in which we grapple with this patrimony, there's something even more problematic when its memory is ideologically leveraged by non-Jews.
If Israel were not locked in a long distance conflict with Iran, it would be easier to overlook the inflammatory nature of the American leader's language. The problem is that Israel is in a heightened state of tension with the Islamic republic precisely because of American policies in the region. Frequently treated by its enemies as though it were an extension of the United States, witness Iraq's repeated missile attacks on Israel during Operation Desert Storm as but one example. Factor in Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's repeated denials of the Holocaust, and his threats to 'wipe Israel off the map' and Jews have every reason to take the US President's warnings with the utmost seriousness.
That is why it is incumbent that Israel's self-declared friends express their care for the country a little more wisely. To stand in solidarity with Israel, in opposition to demagogues who threaten its dissolution is one thing. But to take at face value the words of a crazed paper tiger, and repeat them as though they were the genuine item is another. Instead of assessing their empty threat responsibly, by repeating them as though the threat was indeed real, the former Governor of Texas ended up reinforcing the feelings of fear many Jews already felt instilled in them by the Iranian leader's racist rhetoric.
His curiosity piqued by a recent article in Haaretz discussing the relative merits of the New York Times' coverage of Israel, a colleague asked me if I could point him to what I think are the best studies of Western media reporting on the Arab-Israeli conflict. For those who understand the subtext of such inquiries, the editor couldn't have asked a more loaded question. To make such a request in today's environment means that you first have to ask why the question is important, and second, for whom.
Since September 11th, domestic coverage of the Middle East has obviously become more significant. Not just because the attacks on New York and Washington signaled the beginning of a conflict between America and West Asian Islamists. But, also because of how it placed far more editorial requirements on a news media already struggling - and, in the US, largely failing - to meet the complex cultural demands already required of Mideast coverage by the country's Jewish and Muslim Diaspora communities.
US news agencies haven't done the best job of striking this balance yet either. However, there is more English-language, Mideast-based media to rely on than ever before to make up for it. Take for example, Israeli publications like the English edition of Haaretz on the one hand, and Al Jazeera's English broadcasting service on the other, not to mention all of the translated editions of regional sources in between. Americans now have every opportunity to read news that's potentially more informative.
Though "local" is not always a synonym for "better", irrespective of partisanship and the limitations international media inevitably find themselves subject to, in comparison, few domestic sources, including the ethnic press, deliver the same quality goods. Does that mean that American periodicals should hang up their hats? No. Because of this country's obvious ties to the region - economic, cultural, and military, to name a few - US news outlets are morally obligated to continue reporting on the Mideast.
The question is how. Obviously, one answer would be to create content that was complementary with a foreign reporting that is better privileged for information. Another angle would be to concentrate on commissioning work on the numerous ways in which Americans deliberate about their involvement in a particular country's affairs. Thus, you emphasize domestic political discussions at, say the State Department, or, amongst Americans with cultural ties to said state, instead of the other way around.
As many editors at American news periodicals will tell you, the two biggest complaints about Mideast coverage are always that its either anti-Semitic, or similarly compromised by a desire to satisfy special interest groups. The problem with such criticisms is that they're not only frequently incorrect. But, most importantly, that they help divert editorial attention away from very real ethical problems, like learning how to properly tailor international news for a cosmopolitan, multicultural readership - during wartime.
Not long after 9/11, my favorite local record store began stocking up on European reissues of Turkish psychedelia from the late sixties and early seventies. Perhaps the third wave of musical imports from the greater Middle East that I can remember being taken up by American hipsters (beginning with their adoption of Ofra Haza in the mid-nineteen eighties,) the timing was entirely appropriate. Amidst the wreckage of the World Trade Center, American music fans were instinctively finding themselves drawn to the sounds of the Islamic equivalent of New York, London, or even San Francisco.
Indeed, if one wants to take a sampling of what makes the music of the eastern Mediterranean so unbelievably great, you can't do any better than listen to what's been coming out of Istanbul over the course of the past fourty years. Thus, I was reminded, as I delighted in the strangely familiar sounds of an American album whose arrangements epitomized what's best about Middle Eastern pop. The second full-length to be issued by Madlib's younger brother, Oh No,Dr No's Oxperiment is the closest thing that one will get to an archetypal Lebanese or Israeli Arab hip-hop record like Clotaire K's Lebanese LP, or DAM's more recent album, Dedication.
Relying exclusively on regional source material, if there is a recording that reflects a Middle East-impacted American zeitgeist, this album is ground zero. Opening with the Turkish fuzz guitar of "Heavy", to the mournful Arabic vocal part of "Down Under" near the it's end, Dr No is an excellent example of how organically Middle Eastern music and American hip-hop speak to each other. As cheesy as that sounds, it's the political metaphor implied by that conversation's fluency that's so crucial. Think back to the pretense of the album's title. It's like a book report about the positive things Americans may have learned from their Iraqi sojourn. Baghdad Calling, anyone?
A short excerpt from "Changing Partners: America or Europe?", the fifth chapter of my forthcoming book, Israel vs Utopia:
To many Jews and Israelis, however ideologically inclined, the charge of colonialism became a symptom of a much larger European about face that expressed itself in a deepening of both east and western European relations with the Arab world, an increase in Muslim immigration to France and the United Kingdom, and the routinization of Europe as the number one foreign site of Palestinian revolutionary violence.
Transpiring to the backdrop of the previous decades’ final regional colonial divestitures by France and the United Kingdom, and Europe thus becomes the right-wing Jewish caricature that it is portrayed to be today: the primary breeding ground of “Islamo-left” anti-Semitism, irrefutable proof that outside of Israel, America is the only place a Jew can truly be safe, if not call, however uncomfortably, home.