An interesting exercise in literary criticism here (via A&L Daily) - Why is there no Jewish Narnia? - or, more generally, how come Jews have contributed so little to the fantasy genre, given the large part they've played in Western literature generally? The short answer:
To put it crudely, if Christianity is a fantasy religion, then Judaism is a science fiction religion. If the former is individualistic, magical, and salvationist, the latter is collective, technical, and this-worldly.
To get the long answer you'll have to read the whole thing.
It could be, of course - speaking as someone who never cared for fantasy much past adolescence - that they've got better things to do.
By Hastingwood Trading Estate, across from Tottenham Marshes:
It was, I think, the yellow patch on the left that persuaded me that what I'd captured here, far from being merely another pedestrian attempt at capturing the chance post-industrial juxtapositions that characterise the visual environment of the dysfunctional consumerist junkyard that we call civilisation, was in fact a pellucid work of liminal criticism that questions our understanding of functionality in the context of an alienated subjectivity.
But, you know, I could be wrong about that.
I've mentioned B.R.Myers before. He's the author of The Cleanest Race (published in the US but not yet here), which argues that it's a mistake to think of North Korea as a Stalinist state; rather, with its emphasis on racial purity, it belongs on the far right of the political spectrum. Hitchens reviewed it here. Now, in Foreign Policy, Myers writes on North Korea's Race Problem:
North Korea's race-centric ideology was inspired by that of the fascist Japanese who ruled the peninsula from 1910 until the end of World War II. Having been taught by their colonizers to regard themselves as part of a superior Yamato race, the North Koreans in 1945 simply carried on the same mythmaking in a Koreanized form. This can be summarized in a single sentence: The Korean people are too pure-blooded, and so too virtuous, to survive in this evil world without a great parental leader. This paranoid nationalism might sound crude and puerile, but it is only in this ideological context that the country's distinguishing characteristics, which the outside world has long found so baffling, make perfect sense. Up close, North Korea is not Stalinist -- it's simply racist.
To illustrate the article there's a slideshow of North Korean propaganda posters. This heroic tableau, for example:
"Kim Jong Il comforts a distraught nation after his father's death on July 8, 1994. In the background is the 66-foot bronze statue of the Great Leader that was erected on Mansu Hill in Pyongyang in 1972. Dark skies in depictions of this period symbolize the growing threat from without."
There's classic footage here of North Koreans reacting to the death of the Great Leader.
Libyans may not find him so funny, but for the rest of us he's a goldmine:
Muammar Gaddafi has appealed for jihad against Switzerland, long regarded as one of the most peaceful nations in the world.
The Libyan leader’s call for a holy war was, he said, a response to a Swiss referendum in November to ban the construction of minarets on mosques.
It is the low point in a relationship that has been deteriorating since 2008 when Colonel Gaddafi’s son Hannibal was briefly detained in Geneva after allegedly beating his servants.
“Any Muslim in any part of the world who works with Switzerland is an apostate, is against (the Prophet) Muhammad, God and the Koran,” Colonel Gaddafi said at a rally broadcast on television.
He made the speech to mark the Prophet’s birthday, ensuring that many Arabs would take the call seriously.
It was not clear how he wanted Muslims to target Switzerland. “The masses of Muslims must go to all airports in the Islamic world and prevent any Swiss plane landing, to all harbours and prevent any Swiss ships docking,” he said, apparently unaware that Switzerland does not have a merchant navy, or coast.
It's not his first anti-Swiss tirade. From last year:
Relations between Libya and Switzerland soured in July 2008, when Gaddafi's son Hannibal and his wife were arrested by police in Geneva for allegedly beating their two servants at a local hotel. Gaddafi was so enraged by his son's two-day detention that he immediately retaliated by shutting down local subsidiaries of Swiss companies Nestlé and ABB in Libya, arresting two Swiss businessmen for supposed visa irregularities, canceling most commercial flights between the two countries and withdrawing about $5 billion from his Swiss bank accounts.
Then came Gaddafi's suggestion that Switzerland be carved up like a wheel of Swiss cheese. During the G-8 summit in Italy in July, Gaddafi said Switzerland "is a world mafia and not a state," adding that the Italian-speaking part of the country should be returned to Italy, the German-speaking part to Germany and the French-speaking part to France.
It's certainly no joke for Swiss businessman Max Goeld, arrested earlier this week:
Switzerland backed down today in its standoff with Libya when a businessman taking refuge in the country's embassy in Tripoli surrendered to police who had surrounded the building.
The move averted a confrontation over a long row that began when a son of the Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi, was arrested in Geneva and charged with assaulting his servants.
Libya had set a deadline of today for the surrender of Max Goeldi, who had been convicted for immigration charges, in a case that was seen as retaliation for the 2008 arrest of Hannibal Gaddafi – an accusation Libya has always denied.
Speaking in Brussels, the Austrian foreign minister, Michael Spindelegger, said police officers threatened to storm the embassy if the ultimatum to hand over Goeldi and another man were not heeded.
Goeldi emerged alone from the embassy and was met by a police general and senior justice ministry official before being taken away in handcuffs to start a four-month prison sentence.
Another Swiss businessman, Rachid Hamdani, who had also been sheltering in the embassy, emerged earlier. He had been acquitted of similar charges, and was driven to Tunisia after being given clearance to leave. Both men had been previously been forbidden to leave Libya.
The surrender of the pair was announced by Khaled Kouayeb, a Libyan justice ministry official, outside the embassy.
"The first Swiss, Hamdani, is innocent, and he was allowed to leave the country and go home, and the second Swiss is going to prison to carry out his four-month jail term," Kouayeb told reporters, according to Reuters.
The affair has caused outrage in Switzerland and was thought by some to have influenced the Swiss referendum last year in which the building of new minarets was banned.
Here's an interesting development:
Israel's Knesset last [Monday] night passed a landmark bill safeguarding the rights of Jewish refugees from Arab countries by 35 votes to one.
The law, proposed by MK Nissim Zev of Shas, requires the Israeli government to raise the issue of Jewish refugees when negotiating Arab demands regarding Arabs who fled pre-state Israel during the War of Independence. Whenever the subject of Arab refugees is raised in talks, the law requires the Israeli government to raise the question of compensation for Jews forced to flee their homes.
“The State of Israel will not sign, either directly or by proxy, any agreement or treaty with a country or authority dealing with a political settlement in the Middle East without ensuring the rights of Jewish refugees from Arab countries according to the U.N.’s refugee treaty,” the law states.
Up to a million Jews were forced to leave Arab countries and Iran in the decades following the foundation of the State of Israel in 1948, due to state-sanctioned persecution and violence. Today only some 4,000 Jews are left in the Arab world, bringing to an end a Jewish presence that in many cases pre-dated Islam and the Arab conquest by 1,000 years.
The bill has taken two years, since its initiation by MK Nissim Ze'ev of the Sephardi Orthodox Shas party, to become law. The new law aims to protect the rights of Jewish refugees from Arab countries and Iran in future peace negotiations in the Middle East. The bill defines a Jewish refugee as an Israeli citizen who left one of the Arab states, or Iran, following religious persecution. It stipulates that the Israeli government must include Jewish refugee rights, notably compensation, in all future peace talks.
Stanley Urman, the head of the advocacy group Justice for Jews from Arab Countries, welcomed the Knesset decision, saying: "The world must realise that Palestinians were not the only Middle East refugees; that there were Jewish refugees who also have rights under international law. This recognition is good for the State of Israel and it is good for the people of Israel."
Why is this bill so important? Because it holds the key to real peace in the Middle East. So many efforts at making peace between Israel and the Palestinians have run aground on the rock of the Palestinian 'right of return'. Not content with a Palestinian Arab state in the West Bank and Gaza, even the 'moderates' of the Fatah camp have been reluctant to recognise Israel as a Jewish state. The reason is that they are unwilling to drop their demand for the Arab refugees of 1948 - who now number upwards of four million if you include their descendants - to return to their homes in what is now Israel. This demand amounts to no less than the destruction of Israel by demographic means and the de facto creation of two Palestinian states, one in the West Bank, and one in place of Israel.
For too long the Arab refugees have occupied centre-stage in the Arab-Israeli drama. They are seen as the main victims of an Israeli injustice. By introducing the Jewish refugees into the picture - they and their descendants make up just under half the Jewish population of Israel - it will now be accepted that there were two sets of refugees, both with rights, who exchanged places in the Middle East.
Well...whether the Arab nations will now accept the other side of the Arab-Israeli refugee problem remains to be seen. Frankly that hope seems wildly optimistic at best. But it is surely an important and necessary development, both on the political and moral front: that one side at least is now committed to ensuring that the issue of Jewish refugees from Arab lands is linked to the issue of Palestinian refugees.
There's some more background here:
In April 2008, the U.S. Congress approved Resolution 185, supporting rights for Jews from Arab countries and stating that whatever rights are granted to Palestinian refugees in any future Israeli-Arab accord must be similarly accorded to Jewish refugees from Arab countries.
"We should have acted even before the US Congress," MK Ze'ev said after the conference, "but certainly now that the U.S. has recognized that the Jews and Arabs must be treated the same, certainly we should recognize that the Jews were robbed and were banished from their homes."
"In Damascus, we left all our property behind, including public and private property," one woman said at the conference. Another woman from Morocco said that the Arabs stole "our jewelry from off our necks," and another from Egypt said, “My grandfather owned two six-story buildings, and he wasn’t allowed to take a thing; we had to leave with just the clothes on our backs…”
Writing in a 2007 report published by the JJAC, Minister Cotler explained, "Let there be no doubt about it: Where there is no remembrance, there is no truth; where there is no truth, there will be no justice; where there is no justice, there will be no reconciliation; and where there is no reconciliation, there will be no peace.”
Knesset Speaker Ruby Rivlin told the conference, "The number of Jews living in northern Africa and the Middle East before 1948 was more than one million [and more than the highest estimates of the number of Arab refugees - ed.] … The same is true with the monetary demands: If the [Arab] refugees’ property was estimated at $4 billion in today’s money, the property of the Jewish refugees is estimated at $6 billion.”
Bataween's post at the Jewish Chronicle attracted the following pertinent comment on the plight of the Palestinian refugees:
The Arab nations could have solved their plight by absorbing them, instead of using them as pawns against Israel.
A complaint that gets right to the heart of the dispute: after the 1948 war, Israel gave the Jewish refugees homes, while the Arabs gave the Palestinians camps. The Jewish refugees are now part of Israel; the Palestinian refugees are still, effectively, in the camps, with their very own dedicated UN agency to fund them.
Then, the inevitable riposte:
[W]hy should the Arab nations "absorb" them? Should Britain "absorb" refugees from other countries? The Palestinian refugees are not the other Arab nations' problem. They are the problem of the Israelis and the Palestinians.
To which one might answer:
Firstly, Arab Nationalism is a major and much-trumpeted factor in Middle-Eastern politics:
Its central premise is that the peoples of the Arab World, from the Atlantic Ocean to the Arabian Sea, constitute one nation bound together by common linguistic, cultural, religious, and historical heritage, which should be rejuvenated and politically united. Their use for Modern Standard Arabic as the main written language & the Islamic faith predominance, consequently meant for the ideology that they have a common culture.
A common culture, the same language: what could have been easier than absorbing a relatively small number of refugees from Palestine? Compared to the other major population transfers of the time - India-Pakistan, say, or the Greek-Turkish population exchange of the early Twenties, this would have been relatively small-scale. It doesn't work like that, though. When denouncing Israel, Egyptians and Jordanians and Syrians are quick to proclaim the unity they feel as Arabs with their Palestinian brethren, but that doesn't seem to extend to actually helping them in any concrete fashion. Only Israel can, and must, pay for their suffering. Palestinians, it seems, are more useful when they're being repressed under the Zionist jackboot, in the full glare of the world's media, than they might be as individuals and fellow Arabs.
Not good enough? Well then, secondly, Arab nations have now waged three wars against Israel, and in each case have been, more or less, defeated. In general, aggressors who have subsequently been defeated have been made to pay some price for their transgressions - except, it seems, when the object of the aggression is The Zionist Entity. Surely, after merely succeeding in worsening the plight of the Palestinians, some moral commitment have been expected to a solution which didn't involve the destruction of Israel.
And, thirdly, the Arab states, as we've seen, have benefited very nicely from the Jewish flight from their homelands: to the tune of about $6 billion, if we're to believe Knesset Speaker Ruby Rivlin, above. Israel might be said to have used whatever came their way from the flight of the Palestinians to provide homes for the Jewish refugees. The Arabs had no such expense.
Not that I'm advocating the absorption of the Palestinians into Arab nations. We're way past that point now. The two-state option remains the only feasible solution. But at least there's now some official acknowledgement that there were two sides to the refugee problem, and the Knesset bill ensures that we don't forget that fact.
There's something almost comical about the blithe manner in which hard-line Islamic clerics routinely call for people who disagree with them to be put to death. Almost comical: unfortunately a great many foolish and impressionable people take them very seriously.
A prominent Saudi cleric has issued an edict calling for opponents of the kingdom's strict segregation of men and women to be put to death if they refuse to abandon their ideas.
Shaikh Abdul-Rahman al-Barrak said in a fatwa the mixing of genders at the workplace or in education "as advocated by modernisers" is prohibited because it allows "sight of what is forbidden, and forbidden talk between men and women".
"All of this leads to whatever ensues," he said in the text of the fatwa published on his website (albarrak.islamlight.net).
"Whoever allows this mixing ... allows forbidden things, and whoever allows them is an infidel and this means defection from Islam ... Either he retracts or he must be killed ... because he disavows and does not observe the Sharia," Barrak said.
"Anyone who accepts that his daughter, sister or wife works with men or attend mixed-gender schooling cares little about his honour and this is a type of pimping," Barrak said.
Barrak, believed to be 77, does not hold a government position but he is viewed by Islamists as the leading independent authority of Saudi Arabia's hardline version of Sunni Islam, often termed Wahhabism.
As the article points out, this should probably be seen as part of a fight-back by the old religious establishment against the (mildest of mild - for instance) reforms being promoted by King Abdullah.
A flock of Baikal Teal over Geumgang Lake in Gunsan, South Korea:
The Baikal Teal (Anas formosa), also called the Bimaculate Duck or Squawk Duck, is a dabbling duck that breeds within the forest zone of eastern Siberia from the Yenisey basin eastwards to Kamchatka, northern Koryak, eastern Magadan Oblast, northern Khabarovsk Krai, southeastern and northern Sakha east central Irkutsk Oblast, and northern Krasnoyarsk Krai. It is a migratory species, wintering in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, northern and eastern China, from Beijing down the coast to the Vietnam border, and west to Yunnan then north to Chongqing and Henan. Molecular and behavioral data suggest that it has no close relatives among living ducks and should be placed in a distinct genus...
So now you know.