Monday, September 24, 2007

Iran's President on Gays, Women, and 9/11

According to a piece in the NY Times today, "President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, facing a hostile reception at Columbia University this afternoon, said that Palestinians were suffering because of the Holocaust, proclaimed that there are no homosexuals in his country and said he wanted to visit the World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan during his trip to New York 'to show my respect.'"

Only in America. Here are Ahmadinejad's pearls of wisdom regarding gays, women, and the World Trade Center. Pardon my language, please, but I have only one word in response to all three of his assertions: bullshit.

In answer to criticism Mr. Bollinger had made about Iran’s treatment of women and gays, Mr. Ahmadinejad had much to say.

“In Iran, we don’t have homosexuals like in your country. We don’t have that in our country,” he said to boos and hisses and even some laughter from the audience.

“In Iran, we do not have this phenomenon,” Mr. Ahmadinejad continued, undeterred. “I do not know who has told you that we have it. But as for women, maybe you think that maybe being a woman is a crime.

“It’s not a crime to be a woman. Women are the best creatures created by God. They represent the kindness, the beauty that God instills in them. Women are respected in Iran.”

Mr. Ahmadinejad also said he hoped to visit the site of the World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan, although police had forbidden him to do so. Mr. Ahmadinejad said he wanted to “show my respect.”

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

SS Soldiers Have Feelings Too!

I've cross-posted at

I have always been a fan of Hannah Arendt.

I have not always, however, been a fan of the "banality of evil" argument. I get it--we are all capable of evil. I agree with that. But when applied to the "logic" of the Holocaust, I think the argument becomes problematic and potentially even transgressive. By saying that anyone could have been capable of the atrocities committed by Nazis and their sympathizers during World War II, we also, whether we intend it or not, minimize the extent to which each individual is responsible for his or her own behavior. We cut the perpetrators a bit of slack by implicitly suggesting that they only did what anyone else would've been equally capable of.

My point: okay, yeah, maybe it could've been anybody, but it wasn't. Each person who contributed in any way to the destruction of Jews and others during the Holocaust is individually responsible. The "it could have been anybody" argument is dangerous because it lessens the degree to which we are all responsible for our actions. And this goes for any genocide or act of violence--not just the Holocaust.

But then . . . there are times when I want to re-think this position.

Today there's a piece in the NYT about a letter received by a young archivist at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. The letter, written by a former US Army Intelligence officer, contained photographs of Auschwitz he had found 60 years ago in Germany.

It's not uncommon for someone to send old photos from the Holocaust to the museum, but these particular pictures depict something that is not often seen.

. . . a scrapbook of sorts of the lives of Auschwitz's senior SS officers that was maintained by Karl Hocker, the adjutant to the camp commandant. Rather than showing the men performing their death camp duties, the photos depicted, among other things, a horde of SS men singing cheerily to the accompaniment of an accordianist, Hocker lighting the camp's Christmas tree, a cadre of young SS women frolicking and officers relaxing, some with tunics shed, for a smoking break. . . . The album also contains photos of Josef Mengele, the camp doctor notorious for participating in the selections of arriving prisoners and cruel medical experiments. These are the first authenticated pictures of Mengele at Auschwitz . . .

Museum curators have avoided describing the album as something like "monsters at play" or "killers at their leisure." Ms. Cohen said the photos were instructive in that they showed the murderers were, in some sense, people who also behaved as ordinary human beings. "In their self-image, they were good men, good comrades, even civilized," she said.

I still don't like the "banality of evil" argument, but needless to say, these kinds of pictures give it a lot more credibility.

I highly suggest watching the slideshow here (turn your speakers on for the audio) -- it's only around two minutes long.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Sweet, Good, Happy, and All Sorts of Other New Year Blessings

Shana Tova Umetuka!

May you have a sweet and good year.

For once, I actually cling--with an embrace that is anything but tentative--to all of the blessings that my Jewish well-wishing friends have been bestowing on me.

Perhaps, I even believe them.

It will be a happy, happy year. A new year.

It has already begun to be sweet. has put together a nice little Renewal Reader for the new year. In it, five or six of the regular Jewcy contributors (myself included) offer brief insights on some of their favorite literary quotes--all focusing on beginnings and renewals in a manner that is more off-beat than you might imagine.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Jews and Secret Meetings

This weekend I met a small group of friends for drinks to celebrate the birthday of one of my girlfriends. Her boyfriend's roommate, who I don't know that well but have met on a few occasions, joined us as well. I had a very creepy exchange with him:

Roommate (an Asian male): So, Monica, did you do anything cool this summer?

Monica: Yeah, actually, I was in upstate New York for most of the summer.

Roommate: Oh, cool, what were you doing up there?

Monica: Cornell has this program for literary theory and so I was doing that.

Roommate: Oh, cool, I was up there once for a summer program in high school. I remember we had to walk by waterfalls to get to class. Hey, you must have read that book The Jewish Phenomenon, right? I've been reading it and it's crazy!

Monica: Whu . . . what? Uh, yeah, the waterfalls and gorges at Cornell are amazing.
But, the Jewish . . . what?

Roommate: The Jewish Phenomenon -- it's about how the Jews are so successful and how they can control everything. I grew up around a lot of Jewish kids and now everything makes sense.

Monica: [speechless]

Roommate: And, yeah, it's cool, so I guess there's like this secret meeting every year that all of the Jewish leaders go to make plans.

Monica: [swallowing the vomit that somehow surfaced in my throat] Oh, really. Wow, that's definitely crazy. What kind of meeting is this?

Roommate: I don't know, because it's like a secret, man.

I think Roommate has been reading The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Seriously, though, I was completely stunned by this exchange -- not just because there was zero awareness of the anti-Semitic nature of the book he was telling me about (and, to be fair, not all people agree that The Jewish Phenomenon is anti-Semitic), but because he seriously believes that there is a secret meeting of all Jewish leaders every year. The guy was so sweet, and seemed to think it was so cool, that I didn't have the heart to tell him the truth. The most unsettling thing about it is his eagerness to tell me about the book he was reading, and about the secret annual meeting of Jews. This happens to me often -- people know that I do work in Jewish literature and culture, and so they find the need to tell me about a book they've read about Jews, or that once they actually met a Jew, or that they have a Jewish family member. It's such a strange phenomenon in and of itself. But, I'm speechless . . .