Monday, December 13, 2010

YouTube: Frank Zappa & Aayan Hirsi Ali

It's fun to go to YouTube and pop in the name of someone you are curious about and discover there are dozens of interesting videos and interviews with said person - viva YouTube! But then you get to the content and you wonder if you tube is a blessing or a curse. Take Frank Zappa for example. He was a great guitar player, composer, all-round musician, he was smart, funny, articulate and he was a family man. From the mid-1980s till his death in 1993 he was a sought-after guest on TV talk shows. Producers realized he could talk about anything in an interesting way and so he was duly trafficked in the media.

Take a look at this video. Zappa is on the Sunday morning TV show called Crossfire sometime in 1986. He is advocating a hands-off policy to the government concerning rock and pop lyrics. At the time Al Gore's wife was advocating a parental rating system of some sort to warn parents about the record content their kids were buying and listening to. Zappa said no, let's let the 1st Amendment take care of this. The panelists on Crossfire, including Robert Novak, clearly had no concept of Zappa or his accomplishments. None of them had taken the trouble to prepare for Frank much less listen to one of his records. You really get to see just how dopey and lazy and junky are the minds of these journalists. Just garbage bags of pulpy assertion.

On the other hand when Frank gets heated up he says, "The biggest threat towards America is moving America towards a fascist theocracy." Then you realize that Frank's---when you get off the subject of music---is a pretty standard-issue AAA (Artist/Anti-Authority) mind. A man's strength of mind is revealed in the analogies he strikes and when talented people start comparing America to fascism or our presidents to Hitler you know you are dealing with a second-rate mind. A mind that doesn't read, for starters.

Can you make the jump from Zappa's politics to his music? Hard to say. He was a composer of genius. He definitely marred his music by a purposeful embrace of asininity: farty trombone solos, obvious mockery of silly pop, cartoonish sound effects. Nobody pulled Frank aside to remind him that music of inconsequence doesn't need a genius to highlight its inherent smallness; it already contains the vapors of its eventual disappearance.

Aayan Hirsi Ali
Look her up on YouTube. She is the complete mental gumdrop, wow, especially if you like articulate beautiful black women which I surely do. But, after you've seen about 100 of her videos, you start listening to what she has to say.

Give Ms. Ali her due, by all means. She did grow up in an extreme form of East African tribal Islam. At age 12, she was thrown upon a table by her grandmother (and held down by male family members?) and had her clitoris cut (removed?) with a sharp knife. Feel free to use the word barbaric without irony. In her late teens she was headed towards patriarchal arranged marriage and the continuation of tribal life before she broke away and sought (and found) asylum in Europe. She became a Dutch parliamentarian and the subject of Theo Van Gogh’s short film about Women in Islam. He was murdered and then she was threatened with murder by the murderer. She lived with Body Guards (and still does). She moved to America in 2006 and became a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. She no longer believes in God and she loves to talk about the enlightenment and John Locke and John Stuart Mill. Her idea is that there is a political dimension to modern Islam that is being fed by ideas of the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt and funded by Wahhabi extremists in Saudi Arabia. She does not discount the personal grace that Islam brings into the lives of millions of common believers. So far so good.

But then this: Ms. Ali spends a lot of energy, speaking before groups and panels and debates, about the violent nature of the religion of Islam. She is bent on driving this point home: Islam = Violence. Yes, according to Ms. Ali, the miscreants raising hell all over the world in the name of Allah are only the manifestation of Islam's inherent violence. Islam as a whole is out to create mayhem and shake the foundations of the free, rational Western World. But surely this is an academic point if not an outright wrong one. As long as there is one simple, kind housewife who believes in Allah and Islamic tenets, Islam is NOT a religion of violence and my simple, kind housewife proves it. Ms. Ali gets around this by saying, well, the majority of simple, kind Muslims are ignorant of what their religion really teaches. Surely this is wrong. If millions of moms and dads and young people find inner peace and meaning in devotion to Islam and they are peaceful decent human beings, doesn't that life-fact undercut any interpretive-facts of Islam's inherent violence? People are what they are but they are not that dim-witted. Dedicated believers know of Islam's aggressive beginnings but that was then and now is now.

When Ms. Ali moves away from her obsessive point-making about Evil = Islam she is on sturdier ground. She uses her high-profile platform to scold Muslim communities for encouraging the political aspect of Islam to gain the upper hand in American communities and mosques. She accuses the West of timidity in dealing with its new Muslim populations. Why not confront new Muslim immigrants about civic virtues and the history of freedom in America. Most of these points are well-taken. Why not encourage Christian churches to reach out to Muslim communities. The only outside message on tap, sez she, is the message of the Muslim Brotherhood.

An additional treat of Hirsi Ali videos: she annihilates the Western left. In debate she can more than hold her own. She is a great scourge of muddled lazy thinking. She does take on a bit much in her quest for a force-fed Muslim enlightenment, though. I grew up in Everett, Washington, a pretty bare-knuckled town and I'm not all that sure the Enlightenment got as far as my home town. The sons and daughters of mill workers I grew up with didn't go around talking about John Locke. Ms. Ali mildly misses the point, as do most scholastic immigrants, that the American founders set up a system that would guarantee freedoms even for those who don't appreciate them. She needs--and will attain--a larger understanding of the tensions within the West. She needs to read more George Orwell.

Do well-to-do Christians fellowship with poor Christians? Are poor Pentecostal Christians as wise and worldly as rich Christians? Do black and white Christians fellowship with each other? Not really. When young high school Christians talk about college they know it will be a challenge and a confrontation. Biology, philosophy, physics, every class will uphold the primacy of inquiry and induction outside the sphere of Bible and faith. You just have to deal with it. Can these analogies be extended to young college-age Muslims? What if lower-class Pentecostal churches had a violent streak? What if they took certain sayings of Jesus (I am come not to grant peace but the sword – the kingdom of heaven is taken by violence) and built up a violent terroristic cult around them? If my young nephew got involved in such a murderous Christian cult would I, as some kind of practicing Christian, fight against him? It is hard to take a whole group and say one thing about it. Blacks battle this all the time. Yes, lots of black people live in the south end here in Sunbreak City. Yes many young black men from the south end commit crimes. After black kids murder a half dozen policemen whites look on and ponder and wish blacks would get their house in order. Are they wrong? Racist? Ill-informed? Judgemental?

How is this group identity playing out now on the totalizing stage of world Islam?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Notes after reading Through the History of the Cold War: The Correspondence of George F. Kennan and John Lukacs

Lots of complimenting each other; it is all quite civilized. Old fashioned courtesy and gentlemanly love for each other. Both fear for our civilization, not always rationally, but you see what they are getting at. Porn and popular culture gone wild, etc. (Am I a crank to demand more evidence of this?) Kennan offers up a bit too much equanimity for the Soviet Union. It was a murderous thug state, Sir. No mention, while both men descry the decay of culture, Nabokov, Updike, Vidal, Bellow, Mailer, Roth, Cheever, Gaddis not to mention the stolid modernists Joyce or Proust. For men who claim to treasure good writing and who demonstrate their love of good writing, would it have killed them to have read and followed American post-war lit? On the other hand these letters encourage me in my distancing myself from rabid conservatism and the mirror-mash of liberal ideas. I am confirmed in thinking our politicians shallow. But I am also confirmed in thinking our government blind and stupid and encumbered with needless bureaucracy; that something happened to American foreign policy after WWII; taken over by cowboys and ideologues (whew, especially in Latin America when Eisenhower or Kennedy decided to channel American largesse through the local militaries of each country. The military was seen as the only officiating institution, the only thing that worked in civil society besides the family. It was a mistake). The book gave me perspective. The constants of my life have been the growth of the American century, the stupidity of politicians, the rift between politicians and artists, the disintegration of the American family, the deterioration of the university, the strengthening of the military and the general loathing of all authority across the board. There are subdivisions of human conflict within these spheres, of course, but the general outlines are there. A thesis emerges from the letters, to wit: without any Kennan school or sphere of influence American foreign policy became a kind of candy store for politicians to eat and throw out the back end of a limo. No?

Lukacs occasionally irks as he tries to redefine every catagory of historical and philosophical thought. The odd tendetiousness, viz, the difference between nationalism and the state, populism vs nationalism. It gets tedious.

Lukacs and Kennan often criticize the right but narry a word for the malice of the left, the outright lies and will-to-power and desruction of the settled world that the left so delights in. They reserve their wrath for an odd effusion of Bill Buckley or National Review. I want to scream at them you've got to pick better enemies than Bill Buckley for God's sake. As diplomat and historian they are impatient with popular culture's presentation of Hitler and Stalin as outright monsters. Both men would have us reexamine Stalin and Hitler as statesmen of some kind of achievement however vile. Well, speaking as a populist, they were evil. That is not a wrong or just 'popular' view. I get impatient with the equanimity that Kennan extends to the Soviets and all the harshness he reserves for his own culture. And Lukacs harping on the degredaton of democracy and the United States. And their mild swipes at Jews really bother me. And the dismissal of Latin Americans and blacks. Cavalier is putting it mildly.

I want to say to them: you also might want to consider those film reels of the death camps and hundreds or thousands of naked floppy very dead cadavers being pushed into mass graves by bulldozers. That is, before you ask us to be more understanding or objective about Hitler's objective qualities as a leader or a populist or a nationalist or whatever. It is human to react and call him evil, when plainly he was. The popular reaction agaist him (and Stalin) as a monster is not off base.