The book is set in the 1930s. The narrator is Rose Meadows, orphaned at 18, then turned out by her cousin Bertram, who trades her for his Communist girlfriend Ninel (Lenin spelled backwards), before Rose takes a job as an assistant, with ill-defined duties, to a family of German exiles who've lost everything and now are lost in America.
Ozick gives us this remarkable riff by Ninel, who is "angry at all novels" because, like movies, they "failed to diagnose the world as it was;" the "only invention worse . . . was religion:"
She railed against all varieties of worship. "If you want to get the real lowdown on, okay, let’s take Christianity," she urged, "try this out.
"You’re a believing Christian of the twentieth century and you’re transported by time machine back into ancient Rome. You’re walking around the main squares and it’s all pretty impressive. Big marble cathedrals with columns. Huge statutes all over the place, and folks crowding into the temples, genuflecting and bringing offerings. Plenty of priests and acolytes in fancy dress, the whole society rests on this spectacular stuff.
"And then you ask what’s behind it, what’s it all about. You sit down with a couple of these ancient Romans and they start telling you it’s Jupiter, the god who lives up in the sky and runs the world. And you think, Jupiter? Jupiter? What’s Jupiter? There isn’t any Jupiter, it’s all imagination, it’s all some made-up idea.
"You know damn well that this sacred Jupiter that everyone’s so devoted to, that everyone’s dependent on, that everyone praises and carries on about, and writes epics and treatises and holy books about, and mutters prayers to . . . you know damn well that their Jupiter is air, their Jupiter is a phantom, there isn’t any Jupiter, no Jupiter of any kind, the whole religion’s a sham and a fake and a delusion, no matter how many poets and intellectuals adhere to it, no matter how many thrills and epiphanies people get out of it.
"Then you come back to the twentieth century, and what you’ve seen and understood doesn’t mean a thing, you’re blind as a bat, you figure you’ve got the goods on Jupiter but Jesus is different, Jesus is for real, Jupiter is a vast communal lie but Jesus is a vast transcendent truth . . ."
Bertram listens to this and wants to marry her, but "Ninel doesn’t believe in marriage. She’s against it on principle." Rose has begun her education in a glimmering world.
In today’s issue of the Forward, John Kerry has an article entitled "An Unwavering Commitment to Reforming the Middle East."
There are a lot of me-too statements, designed to align Kerry with Bush’s positions on Israel, consistent with the strategy Kerry adopted in February. Kerry supports Israel’s right to build a security fence, says new Palestinian leadership is required, and thinks Sharon's withdrawal plan "holds great promise." He says a nuclear-armed Iran is "unacceptable."
These statements repeat positions emailed in June to Jewish supporters of Kerry in a document entitled "John Kerry: Strengthening Israel’s Security and Bolstering the US-Israel Special Relationship." Rather than simply repeat them in a Jewish periodical, the document should be put on Kerry’s website -- as a sign they represent a formal campaign position on U.S. foreign policy, not simply positions for consumption by a particular segment of the electorate. The current Kerry website statement on the Middle East contains none of the specifics in the document or article.
And, in the latest installment of truth-in-campaigning, Kerry’s Forward article leaves the misimpression that he led on the issue of Syria, and was more committed than Bush:
The Syria Accountability Act, which I co-sponsored in the Senate, gave the president authority to sanction Syria, a concrete step against Syria’s support for terror and its occupation of Lebanon. As president, I will never delay implementing sanctions as the Bush administration did for many months.
The bill passed the House (408-8) and the Senate (89-4) thanks (in AIPAC’s words) to "the commitment and leadership of Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) and Reps. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.)."
2. Number of months between the date the Act was signed into law (December 11, 2003) and the date sanctions were determined and announced (May 11, 2004): five.
In addition to the sanctions provided for under the Act, Bush decided to impose additional sanctions (including requiring U.S. financial institutions to sever correspondent accounts with the Commercial Bank of Syria and freezing assets of certain Syrian individuals and government entities).
3. Excerpt from a October 23, 2003 letter from Kerry to a constituent concerned about giving the Bush administration "the tools to become increasingly belligerent" under the Act:
"Like Secretary Powell, I am concerned that Syria is not whole-heartedly working towards meeting U.S. demands [that it stop supporting terrorist organizations] . . . I am hopeful that substantial Congressional support for the Accountability Act will influence Syria to meet the demands raised by Colin Powell in May in a more timely and transparent manner."
Not exactly a demand for immediate imposition of sanctions. More like an authorization to threaten sanctions, but not necessarily impose them. Sound familiar?
In its August 30 issue, Newsweek carries a report by Joshua Hammer entitled "Palestine: A Change in Direction." The report describes a potentially far- reaching change:
After four years of an armed uprising that is now widely regarded as a catastrophic failure, Palestinian society and legislators are rising up in an open revolt against the leadership -- including their once unassailable chairman. . . .
Dennis Ross . . . said last week that Palestinian leaders from within Arafat's own Fatah movement were serious, for the first time, about building a "positive political framework" . . .
He added that there was an emerging consensus among the Palestinians, trigged by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's desire to withdraw from Gaza, that they must "create a civil society based on the rule of law." Said Ross: "This is a remarkable development." . . .
Many Fatah members now acknowledge that Arafat's rule has been a disaster. . . . Israel's near-defeat of the Palestinian resistance has . . . stirred demands for reform. After 3,000 deaths (many of them civilians) and massive destruction, many Palestinians feel exhausted, beaten and skeptical about the logic of continuing the armed struggle.
The few active guerrillas in the West Bank admit that attacking Israeli targets has become a near-insurmountable challenge. "The [724km security] wall has made it almost impossible for us to conduct operations," says Zacaria Zubeideh, the leader of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades in the Jenin refugee camp.
Battered by Israel's harsh reprisals, ordinary Palestinians have turned their anger toward both the militants and the Palestinian Authority.
There are now only three conditions necessary for peace: (1) the removal of the once unassailable, now acknowledged disaster, Yasser Arafat: (2) the creation of a Palestinian civil society based on the rule of law; and (3) the emergence of a Peace Now movement among the Palestinian populace with a realistic peace proposal to make to Israel -- not a new set of leaders with peace-of-the-brave press releases in English.
As Dennis Ross’s monumental book makes abundantly clear, it was the absence of a Palestinian civil society educated for peace, combined with a leader whose negotiating strategy was to pocket every Israeli concession and then simply wait for the next one, that was critical to Oslo's failure.
It was not the absence of Israeli or American proposals, or sufficient American "involvement," or even-handed American negotiators, or full-time American envoys, or a forum aimed at a "comprehensive" agreement.
It was not the absence of a process: it was the absence of the three conditions set forth above.
Once those conditions are fulfilled, peace will happen overnight. Until they emerge, peace will never happen.
And unless they emerge, any peace "agreement" will simply be a prelude to the next war -- just as the critics of Oslo predicted when it was signed.
Just one month after the U.N. and EU launched a furious campaign against Israel's security fence, culminating in the International Court of Justice ruling that the fence is illegal, the EU announced it's planning to build a separation fence of its own, and invited Israel to participate in the construction.
The fence is being built to separate recently added EU members Poland and Hungary from their new neighbors -- Russia, Belarus and Ukraine. The EU said the fence is necessary to "prevent the free movement of migrants seeking to enter" EU territory.
Its new border!? That fence snakes right through the middle of the old Soviet Union, separating comrade from comrade, people who previously lived together for more than half a century in a workers’ paradise (okay, sure, it had certain "internal contradictions," but nothing that would merit a fence).
Perhaps the International Court of Justice should decide this too, because they have judges who are experts on where fences should be. The court recently ruled, in the case of Israel’s fence, that it was "not convinced that the specific course Israel has chosen for the wall was necessary to attain its security objectives."
Actually, Naomi Ragen may have a better idea: "Maybe Israel should say the fence is to keep out migrant workers, not terrorists."
The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) has translated an excerpt from an August 10, 2004 article in an Egyptian Government weekly religious magazine, entitled "The Jews Slaughtering Non-Jews, Draining their Blood, and Using it for Talmudic Religious Rituals:"
Whoever visits the Israeli parliament known as "The Knesset" will notice at the main entrance a sentence written on the wall saying:
"Compassion towards a non-Jew is forbidden, if you see him fall into a river or face danger, you are prohibited from saving him because all the nations are enemies of the Jews and when a non-Jew falls into a ditch, the Jew should close the ditch on him with a big boulder, until he dies, so that the enemies will lose one person and the Jews will be able to preserve their dream of the Promised Land, the Greater Israel!"
This sentence is taken from the Jewish Talmud which is holier that the Torah itself, and was described by the Israeli Ministry of Education in the lexicon that it published at the beginning of this year for primary school students in Israel . . .
The United States and Egypt enjoy a strong and friendly relationship based on shared mutual interest in Middle East peace and stability . . . .
An important pillar of the bilateral relationship remains U.S. security and economic assistance to Egypt . . . U.S. military aid to Egypt totals over $1.3 billion annually. In addition, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has provided over $25 billion in economic and development assistance to Egypt between 1975 and 2002.
In light of the shared mutual interest in Middle East peace, and more than $2 billion annually, perhaps they could stop allowing weapons to be tunneled into Gaza from Egypt -- a blatant violation of Article Three of the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty of March 1979.
And start preparing both their people and their border for peace.
Podhoretz argues that, just as Harry Truman established a policy of worldwide containment at the beginning of the Cold War (World War III) -- a policy Walter Lippmann criticized at the time as a messianic "ideological crusade" -- Bush has established a Bush Doctrine, with four pillars, to meet what will be a similar struggle.
The fourth pillar is a recognition that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict cannot be resolved absent the defeat of terrorism:
Bush seems to have realized that there was something bizarre about supporting the establishment of a Palestinian state that would be run by a terrorist like Yasir Arafat and his henchmen. Why should the United States acquiesce, let alone help, in adding yet another state to those harboring and sponsoring terrorism precisely at a time when we were at war to rid the world of just such regimes?
It was this principle that lead to Bush's landmark June 24, 2002 speech, which endorsed the "vision" of a Palestinian state but conditioned U.S. support on "regime change" in the Palestinian Authority. Just as it was useless to negotiate with the Taliban, or Saddam Hussein, it was useless -- and counterproductive -- to negotiate with Yasser Arafat.
The Palestinians, however, appear to be hoping for regime change in Washington, rather than Ramallah. Last week, the Council on Foreign Relations posted an interview with Khalil Shikaki, a prominent Palestinian political expert and director of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in Ramallah:
Do you think the American position will change if Senator Kerry wins the presidential election?
. . . I think, on the one hand, the problem of Bush and his obsession with Arafat will change, and I hope this will make Washington more open-minded with regard to elections and the possibility of Arafat participating.
In general, the notion of regime change that the Bush administration has espoused with regard to the Palestinians, in the June 2002 speech, is a policy that has been very counter- productive. I hope that Kerry would be more rational in the way he addresses the question of Palestinian leadership. .
Lt. Col. Jonathan D. Halevi reports in a brief for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs that Arafat is hoping for rehabilitation, a hope that "has many sources:"
According to diplomatic officials, the Quartet is thinking of reintroducing Arafat into Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations after the U.S. elections, despite longstanding U.S. and Israeli opposition to such a move.
French President Jacques Chirac noted at a June NATO summit that Arafat was "probably the only person who could impose compromise on the Palestinian people."
Furthermore, former President Bill Clinton told the Guardian on 20 June 2004 that Arafat is so influential in the Palestinian territories that America and Israel have no choice but to work with him if they want Mideast peace.
Forrest McDonald, Distinguished University Research Professor emeritus at the University of Alabama and one of our most eminent historians, has written a spirited memoir: "Recovering the Past."
Scott Morris’ review in the Wall Street Journal notes the gracious conclusion:
He clearly believes himself to be a lucky man, engaged in work he thoroughly enjoys and blessed with the freedom to pursue it. After rehearsing the long evolutionary odds against human beings coming into existence, Mr. McDonald, age 77, concludes:
"Whether I am hungry or well fed, whether I am sick or healthy, or cold or comfortable, or honored and respected or despised and kicked and beaten, even that I shall soon be leaving, all is trivial compared to the fact that I got here. I am a miracle, and so, dear reader, are you."
The conclusion to his book actually comes from his address to the last class he taught as a regular member of the faculty at Alabama, known on campus simply as The Speech, in which he marveled at his existence, given the "probabilities against my own existence -- or yours:"
You can attribute this to God; or to big bangs, or to sheer blind luck; all I can do is shout hallelujah, I got here. My God, I got here! In the face of this colossal fact, I must exult in my gratitude, for everything else is trivial: . . . Fellow miracles, let us rejoice together."
Tel Aviv University has conducted a poll of Israeli Jews regarding their preference in the presidential election:
Israeli Jews overwhelmingly want President George W. Bush to beat his Democrat challenger John Kerry in the US presidential election on November 2, according to an opinion poll.
A total of 49 percent of people questioned said they preferred Bush, with just 18 percent wanting Kerry to win.
Kerry was for Jimmy Carter before he was against him. He was against the fence before he was for it. He has never spoken to Ariel Sharon. He met with Arafat after 9/11 -- more than one year after Arafat rejected the Clinton parameters for peace, after the Karine-A capture, in the midst of Arafat’s current war, at a time when Bush was refusing to meet Arafat.
He thinks Taba is the key to peace. He says he knows how to move to peace but declines to "lay it all out." He says his record on Israel is "100 percent," when it demonstrably is not. He dodged questions about whether he supported Israel’s assassination of Hamas’s leader.
He dismissed George Bush’s landmark June 24, 2002 speech as a "step for the sake of a step." He now "completely" supports Bush's position on Israel, and his supporters argue there is no difference between him and Bush when it comes to Israel.
The post had an encouraging report on the state of the War ("the enemy is clearly and palpably losing ground" in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Israel), and then moved into a discussion of the intellectual roots of the War, and its relation to religion -- using the writings of Karen Armstrong and Sam Harris as a springboard:
Harris claims that if we seriously subscribe to God in any form we will eventually wind up settling accounts with WMDs; hence we must abolish God. Armstrong asserts that unless we accept all gods, any religion left out will eventually resort to [WMDs]. . . .
The cure to religious extremism, according to these arguments, is a choice of two elixirs: believing in nothing particular or classifying all religious belief as madness. . . . Both require the abolition of belief as the price of survival, the latter by maintaining there is nothing worth arguing over and the former asserting there is nothing to argue about.
The comments that followed suggested an alternative view:
Capt America: This bit on God . . . distorts the purpose behind the War on Terror. . . .It is not about God or any one particular definition thereof. The war on Terror is about ridding the world of the deadly manifestations of an all-encompassing worldview held by Islamic fascists.
Rick Darby: We are not at war against Allah. . . . I'd like to kill every committed Islamic terrorist that we can until they put down the sword for good. If that were accomplished, I'd be glad to chat with any Muslim and tell him or her that I admire many things about Islam. It has inspired an extraordinary design tradition.
I respect Muslims' aversion to a society in which pursuit of power and money has replaced the search for God. It's beautiful that they stop whatever they're doing several times a day and remember that life offers a higher calling. . . .
There is a great deal worth preserving and celebrating in the heart of Islam. By doing everything we can to destroy its twisted ideology of hatred and killing, we must not imagine -- and we must not send the message -- that we are at war with the patient, because we would heal the disease.
Old Dad: The War on Terror is partly a war to free Islam from the Islamists. It's no wonder that the United States is by far the most religious country in the west. The First Amendment practically ensures that. . . .
[M]ost of America is busy building the most tolerant, prosperous, and successful culture in the history of the world. In God We Trust, but we won't shove it down your throat at the point of a gun. Allah, Yahweh, all our welcome here, just don't fly planes into our buildings.
Dinesh D’Souza’s important article last month, on the intellectual response to Islamism (reprinted every year since 9/11, around July 4), is worth re-reading in this context. It is a powerful argument that the Islamic goal of a good society can only be achieved in a free society where religion is voluntary.