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Monday, December 17, 2007

Anti-Semitism: A new Gift of God ?

Well, here we have it: Monsieur Dieudonné ("Mr. Gift of God," or "Mr. G of G" for short). He's a super-sophisticated French comic, of mixed African and French background, and he has given a new voice and opened a new audience for extreme anti-Semitism. He does not like, it seems, the "Americano-Zionist Axis." But it's all in good fun, right ? His views sound extreme left-wing, but heck, hold on: his best friends, some of them, are in the Front National, and that includes the wife of Jean-Marie Le Pen. All this is told by Tom Reiss in The New Yorker of November 19, 2007. Read the whole article, and don't miss the last paragraph.

To listen to Mr. G of G in person is painful, especially if you can understand French. But, for those francophones out there blessed with a touch of masochism (or sense of humor, as G of G would no doubt have it), here is his sketch "Mes Excuses" that Reiss has described in his article:

Update, Nov. 2009: Mr. Dieudonné has announced that his friends in Iran have graciously consented to finance him in the making of "anti-Zionist" movies.

Update, January 2014:  MEMRI has presented a revealing video concerning Mr. D.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Dotage and Fame: the Case of Ferdinand Sauerbruch

Here is a story of a German physician's occupational prestige, with its concurrent power over the lives of others, and how it was able to sweep aside, at least for a time, all evidence of incapacity and senility.

At the top of this posting we see a picture of Ferdinand Sauerbruch, the most famous of German surgeons of the twentieth century. The picture is the 1932 work of the Jewish artist Max Liebermann. Sauerbruch and Liebermann were neighbors and friends, apparently even after the Nazis took power. But Sauerbruch was, at the same time, a supporter of the Nazis. As with so many other German in public life at the time, the best that can be said on this topic is that his relationship to the regime was one of ambiguity.

Sauerbruch was recognized as one of the very top scientists of his generation. He was nominated for the Nobel prize no fewer than 54 times over a period of 14 years. But then a well-known German opponent of the Nazis, Carl von Ossietzky, received the Nobel Peace prize for 1935. Hitler was furious and forbade German citizens to accept further Nobel prizes. In their stead, the Nazis created a special German prize, apparently in compensation, and Sauerbruch accepted this all-German, Nazi-sponsored prize at the annual Nazi rally of 1937.

After the war, Sauerbruch made a similar peace with the Soviet occupation of East Germany, with whose help he continued his world-famous work in the world-famous hospital in East Berlin, the Charité (it was here, by the way, if childhood memory of what I was told can be trusted, that my own father worked with Sauerbruch as a young assistant after the first world war).

But now, soon after the end of WWII, comes the sad decline of Sauerbruch's mental powers, which he steadfastly denied to himself and to others. And here is the shocker: he continued to operate on patients without realizing what he was doing, causing untold calamities, unrestrained for some years by the authorities. After the Charité finally dismissed him, he continued to see private patients, gratis, from both parts of Berlin, causing more harm. The most fascinating part of the story is the fumbling, hesitant reaction of the German medical profession. Sauerbruch's prestige had been so high that the medical authorities, for a very long time, refused to stop his mayhem. The whole story, well told by the physician-journalist Jürgen Thorwald ("The Dismissal," 1960), is now well known to German physicians. But the German general public seems to know little. The German Wikipedia article on Sauerbruch, though it dutifully lists Thornwald's book, mentions nothing of his late-life dementia, and my attempt to insert some words to this effect was immediately edited out. (There is a mention of the problem, however, in the American Wikipedia).

Old Age and Religious Views

The New York Times Magazine of November 4 has an article on the distinguished British philosopher Antony Flew. It seems that after a lifetime of espousing atheism -- as one the most trenchant and clear-thinking writers in that field -- the aging Professor Flew has recanted and now espouses a form of deism. This turn has been widely publicized, and apparently manipulated, by religionists. A new book that bears Flew's name as author, for example, does not seem to have been written by him at all, but was authored by his new religious friends. The writer of this New York Times article, Mark Oppenheimer, suggests that the turn can largely be attributed to a form of senility on the part of Professor Flew. He has interviewed Flew in his home (Mrs. Flew serving glasses of water), finding that Flew was unable to remember crucial points that were made in what is ostensibly his own new book. Nor does he seem to recall many other things. Of course all that is very sad. It is obvious that our political and philosophical views are in some sense related to our state of health. That much is obvious on its face. But it is seldom that a specific instance of psychopathology-as-philosophy, or dotage-as-religion, can be so well documented. A memorable article.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

The Weather Underground

The Weatherman organization, variously known as Weather Underground, etc., existed in the United States for roughly ten years, from about 1969. But it was actually only for a few months that it had a viable existence; after its members inadvertently blew up a townhouse at 18 West 11th Street in Manhattan (March 2, 1970), killing three of their own, it was all downhill. Together with its allies in the Black Panther Party, Weatherman was the most violent American opposition to the Viet Nam war. It adopted Ho Chi Minh as its ideological father.

The video shown above is but one of a number of such treatments by a largely sympathetic press. Weatherman is most often pictured as idealistic, devoted to human betterment, but as using unacceptable methods, i.e. violence.

The most informative description of Weatherman is probably that by Kirkpatrick Sale in his book "SDS," published in 1973. SDS, Students for a Democratic Society, was the large student organization of the 1960's which later morphed into Weatherman. Like most writers on the subject, Sale writes as a sympathizer of this larger "Movement," but he writes with absolute realism about the darker side of Weatherman: its violence, blind fanaticism, hopeless self-righteousness, ridiculous posturing.

We now have a new account by one of the former Weathermen, or Weatherwomen, who were in that townhouse on 11th Street when the bomb went off. In fact that building belonged to Cathy Wilkerson's father. Her book is entitled "Flying Close to the Sun," Seven Stories Press, 2007. It adds very little to our knowledge or understanding of the movement. It does have a useful table of Weatherman bombings (taken from a 1974 book by Jonah Raskin), most of which took place after Sale's book was published. Wilkerson can also tell us, as Sale could not, what it was like to be a rank-and-file member. It seem that the leaders had (literally) caviar while the followers subsisted on peanuts. And it also appears that Weathermen considered themselves above all the laws of human restraint. Wilkerson participated in a sexual orgy with fellow members (but the sex was not good) while the love of her live was in jail for a few weeks.

Wilerson lived in hiding for years and also served time for her part in the bombings, but she has now repudiated her violent past. Her account is wooden and formulaic. Ho Chi Minh, after all that has happened to the international movement of the Communist dictatorship, is still her hero. Her book is much more recent, and is written by a participant, but it lacks the understanding, the descriptive power, and yes, the intelligence of Kirkpatrick Sale.

Weatherman will continue to be of interest to students of social movements. For one thing, it invites comparison to the movements of our day.

a) Weatherman was one of the most conspicuous opponents of the Viet Nam war. Today we have the Iraq war, and a variety of movements to oppose that. One contrast, well illustrated by Weatherman, is that today's war opponents do not champion the other side. There are no "Sadam, Sadam, Sadam Husein" chants that could be compared to Weatherman's "Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh."

b) Weatherman believed in direct action, violence, and the use of dynamite. In that it invites comparison to the terrorists of our day, say the Islamists. The contrast could not be more stark. Weatherman was careless in its use of bombs, but any loss of life, it would seem, was inadvertent. This surely cannot be said of the Islamists.

Weatherman, if not the only home-grown terrorist group in American history, was probably the most spectacular, certainly in modern times. But its fanaticism and violence were soon spent. It seems that there were no deep cultural American roots to sustain it in the long term.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Mr. Galloway Implodes

The British political movement "Respect," led by George Galloway MP, has imploded after existing for all of three years. One might say that Mr. Galloway himself has imploded.

Mr. Galloway, GG, has been an explosive, unpredictable, divisive force from the beginning of his career. A BBC report gives a restrained overall aperçu: always troubled by charges of financial irregularity, a declared enemy of "Bush, Blair, and Israel" (see the video below), yet an effective rabble-rouser and far-Left politician, Mr. Galloway nevertheless could never manage to cooperate even with those whose views are identical to his. The Independent adds the detail of Mr. G's justifying, in advance, a suicide murder of Tony Blair.

Mr. Galloway was originally a Labour MP from Scotland, as his truly pretty brogue will attest. But alas Labour expelled him. So Mr. G., with Muslim and Trotskyist supporters, created "Respect," and then was narrowly elected in a riding in England, defeating the only Black woman in the House in the process.

But now Respect, or so it would seem, has effectively come to an end. It has split, and will hold two rival conferences next week. It's hard to see how anything effective can survive.

The movement was cobbled together by joining British Muslim groups with the Trotskyist "Socialist Workers Party." What they have in common is this: all hate the West, all hate America, all hate Israel. It was a matter of lining up, in Mr. Galloway's memorable phrase, against "Bush, Blair, and Israel."

But while for the Muslims there surely is a God (at least so one would hope), for the Trotskyists there is no God but Trotsky (well, maybe Marx too). So, like all good things, Respect has come to an end. Galloway still has most of his Muslims, and with them has walked out to found "Respect Renewal." The SWP retains the old Respect. But without GG, how can that be more than an empty shell ?

The British writer Oliver Kamm has been able to hold his nose long enough to give us news, more or less blow-by-blow, of Renewal's implosion. The SWP has its own version, and so of course does Mr. Galloway.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

George Galloway, MP, at Anti-Israel demonstration, London, August 2006

Mr. George Galloway, about whom I will have more to say soon, does not like Israel. Some say that Israel loses little and gains a lot from having Mr. GG as such a devoted adversary.

And here is the same Mr. G, debating -- or rather refusing to debate -- a student at Oxford, February, 2013:

Friday, November 9, 2007

"The Internationale" with Scottish brogue

The Scottish Socialist Party gives us this bit of leftist shmaltz. Watch Barbara Scott. By the way, Mr. George Galloway (see later postings on this blog), one-time socialist MP from Scotland but now absconded to England, has never liked the Trotskyist SSP. Too much competition, I guess.

In one of those truly weird stories that plague extreme leftists from time to time, the Trotskyist SSP has had a great deal of grief from its former leader Tommy Sheridan. It's all about sex and alleged lies about sex -- so much so that the political side of these left-wingers has been seriously compromised. The links I have just provided will fill you in, if you're looking for a spot of entertainment.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

The Front National in Paris, April 2007

Supporters of the French Front National listen to their leader, Jean-Marie LePen, at the Palais des Sports, April 15, 2007

Monday, November 5, 2007

The Extreme Right in Today's Germany -- ct'd


They cannot escape history. Whatever similarities there may be with radical-right groups in other countries, it is the post-war extreme right in Germany that is uniquely shadowed by the figure of Adolf Hitler.

Last year's book by Toralf Staud, "Moderne Nazis" (in German), gives a thorough and vivid description of the Nationaldeutsche Partei Deutschlands and its variously associated but independent local "Kameradschaften." We are indeed fortunate to have this measured and scholarly account. One of its many virtues is its excellent bibliography of the scholarly and journalistic literature. If I have a criticism, it is its failure to provide photographs. As was true of its Nazi predecessors in the Hitler period, this post-war extremist milieu must be seen to be appreciated-- if not in person than at least in pictures. (Both YouTube and Flickr have pictorial materials, a small part of which I have presented on this blog earlier).

How large is this grouping in the Germany of today ? The German parliamentary system has a five-percent threshold that prevents splinter parties from entering the legislatures. As a result, the NPD has never been able to elect a representative to the national parliament. But in the late sixties and earlier seventies it was able to seat representatives in several Länder (states) of the then-West Germany. Today the NPD has representatives in only two Länder, Saxony and Mecklenburg - East Pomerania, both of which were in the former East Germany. The party garners between five and ten percent of the votes in those states, but can receive in excess of twenty percent in some small cities and towns. In the west, the NPD today is a hopelessly small splinter grouping.

As Staud shows in detail, the weight of the extreme right can only imperfectly be assessed by the voting strength of the NPD. The extreme right is somewhat heterogeneous, and some of its formations seem to be at odds with one another. On the one hand, for example, is the staid, traditional conservatism of German nationalism (harking back, in some respects, to the German-National Peoples Party [DNVP] of the pre-Nazi era), but on the other hand there are the very rowdy, unruly, brawling skinheads and right-rock enthusiasts. It is this latter scene, in particular, that seems to have given the extreme right wing, with the NPD at its center, a great new dynamism.

All sections of the extreme right have, more or less as articles of faith, these similarities:

1) First and foremost, a fierce xenophobia, especially a hostility to Germans of non-German origins, in particular those who came from Turkey.

2) A greater or lesser admiration of the Third Reich, or least a rejection of all views that saw Hitler as evil. Sometimes this takes the form of no more than nostalgia for the Wehrmacht, the trade in Nazi-era paraphernalia, etc. The new movie "The Unknown Soldier" (see review by A. O. Scott) documents the attempts of the extreme right to prevent the showing of an exhibition concerning the Wehrmacht in the Nazi era.

2) A rejection of the "system," i.e. of the constitutional order of the German Federal Republic. There is much talk of "revolution" and the need to re-make the world. This has not always been true of the NPD. When it was founded, shortly after the War, it seemed content enough to work within the established order. In this earlier period it was able to elect representatives to western state legislatures, which it is unable to do now in its revolutionary incarnation.

3) Anti-Semitism. It came as a surprise to me that this theme is little stressed and seems to have low salience. It is simply taken for granted that Jews are to be hated, but little energy seems to be expended in this pursuit.

4) Opposition to Israel. The NPD and its fellow-travelers regularly embrace the anti-Israel stance of Arabs and left-wing Germans. This does not seem to cause discomfort in a movement that regularly denounces both the Muslims of Germany and the German left-wing.

5) Opposition to the West, particularly the United States. Sometimes this is expressed in terms of up-to-date international politics, but always also in terms of history, of the still-resented Allied victory in WWII.

Now, with Adolf Hitler as the unspoken but constant subtext to this movement, certainly so in the eyes of its many German detractors, we must observe some crucial differences from the Nazi movement of the 1920's and 1930's.

A. Unlike the NSDAP (Nazis) of the late Weimar republic, the NPD has no sizable popular base. In west Germany it seems to have no base at all, and in the eastern states, overall, it has a following of less than five percent of the population. At present, at least, it does not constitute a threat to German democracy.

B. Again unlike the NSDAP, which ultimately came to power only through deals with respectable parties, the NPD has been almost completely ostracized by other political formations. As long as this ostracism holds, it is difficult to see the NDP insinuate itself into any position of power anywhere in Germany.

C. Neither the NDP nor any other grouping on the extreme right has a charismatic figure who would command loyalty or admiration or respect within his own movement, let alone in the general public. In short, and alas for these new Nazis, there is no living Adolf Hitler now that they need one so badly.

D. The choreography of these two movements is radically different. The old NSDAP based itself on military traditions. It built a para-military grouping around itself, with uniforms, banners, badges, insignia, and a bold crimson flag that its Führer had personally designed. The extreme right of today, originally using traditional folk music and folkish cultural elements, is today dominated by the cultural styles of skinheads and rock enthusiasts. There are no uniforms. There are no storm troops. There are no para-military barracks.

What these differences imply for the future of the movement is hard to say. What is clear, though, is that the NSDAP has not found any sort of afterlife for its most significant features.

Monday, October 8, 2007

LaRouchies, 2006

This picture was taken on March 17, 2006 and uploaded to Flickr by Bob Greer. It shows a demonstration by one of the LaRouche organizations ("Lyndon LaRouche Choir") to protest against Vice President Cheney.

Kameradschaft Radebeul, December 2006

Young people -- skinheads, right-wing rock enthusiasts, members of informal "Kameradschaften" -- seem to be the dynamic force behind the extreme right in Germany today.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

The Extreme Right Wing in Today's Germany, part 1

I expect to post information about this troubling phenomenon from time to time.

Today's extreme right wing in Germany has not been well reported in the western press, although the German media carry full, and disquieting, details. The movement, while heterogeneous, is united in its key tenets: anti-foreigner, anti-Semitic, respectful of the Third Reich, anti-American, anti-Israel.

At the center of this movement is the Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands, or NPD. The party cannot currently obtain the support of any appreciable number of voters in the old, western regions. But in recent years it has made spectacular electoral gains in two of the new, eastern "Laender" (provinces) of the Federal Republic:

1) Sachsen. This is the land of the two important cities of Dresden and Leipzig. It is densely populated, having about 230 inhabitants per square kilometer. In the last (2004) provincial elections, the NDP obtained 9.2% of the vote, sending 12 deputies to the provincial legislature in Dresden.

2) Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. This is largely rural and small-town territory, north and east of Berlin, with a population density of about 73 inhabitants per square kilometer. In 2006 it elected 6 NDP deputies to the provincial legislature in Schwerin, the party having obtained 7.3% of the vote.

There is little that the English-only reader can find that is either reliable or comprehensive. I thought that the (English-language) Wikipedia article on the NDP is particularly biased -- in favor of the NPD. But there is much in German that is informative. The German Wikipedia article is very good. There is also, among a number of other good German resources, the blog operated by Patrick Gensing.

Finally, there is the book-length study by Toralf Staud, "Moderne Nazis -- Die neuen Rechten und the Aufstieg der NPD," again, only in German so far. It should be issued in an English translation. I hope to report on this book in more detail in a future posting.