Je suis Ahmed

Among the victims of the Paris criminal attack was an officer of North-African origin, Ahmed Merabet. Soon, there was a new hashtag in circulation, Je suis Ahmed, more politically clear than the “Je suis Charlie” one. Charlie-Hebdo continued an old tradition of satire that struck many as often playing with fire. A family member who practices Islam tells me he was offended by what Charlie-Hebdo did in its mockery of that religion. He adds there are many ways to express disagreement, and that many Muslims now worry about the reactions of the public.

A large demonstration is planned in Paris for Sunday. I hope the demonstrators, speakers, thinkers, and media will be able to show how much they value both freedom and inclusiveness. Perhaps they will avoid the rhetoric of war and exclusion. I hope they will not fall for what may have been the main goal of those who ordered the crimes at Charlie-Hebdo‘s headquarters and at the Hyper-Cacher store, and that is: to radicalize the situation. I hope especially that France will reject the deeply misleading rhetoric of terrorism and the failed all-out-war stance adopted by the US and its allies (including France in Syria). See Edgar Morin’s reaction in Le Monde.

Je suis Charlie

In the middle of the night, BBC reports of the armed attack on Charlie-Hebdo‘s Paris office. Twelve dead, among whom well-known collaborators who were participating in the weekly editorial meeting: Char(bonnier), Wolinski, Cabu, Tignous, Honoré, Maris.

I’m very moved to hear about these deaths in Paris because I grew up reading Pilote with my brothers. Pilote was one of the first steps in being weaned away from the Catholic youth press (Fripounet when I was little, then Cœurs Vaillants) and the discovery of irreverent forms of discourse that had a strong impact on us in the backwaters of my Catholic, left-leaning, Breton-speaking, Brittany: Hara Kiri, later Fluide Glacial, and finally Charlie-Hebdo. Not to mention Le Canard Enchaîné for many years. Among our heroes in the political and artistic sense were Reiser (died in the 80s) and those killed today and whose names bear repeating: Wolinski, Cabu, and later, Char, Tignous, and Maris (“Oncle Bernard”), an economics professor and journalist (commentator on economic matters: “J’ai tout compris à l’économie” on France-Inter radio). Cabu had long been drawing for Le Canard. I always looked forward to his strip.

I am trying to understand why I react so strongly to this planned attack on a satirical, in-your-face newspaper that was in great financial difficulties (not for the first time). Aside from the attachment one forms in youth (my brother and I couldn’t wait for Thursday when we would get Pilote and negotiate the sharing of the reading), there is the sense that the huge catastrophes that have been happening for a very long time in Irak, Iran, Syria, Palestine, Yemen, Mali, without forgetting the big problems in France, are intimately tied to this attack on the freedom to think, speak, and draw. There is also the overwhelming feeling of being embarked or dragged along in a much longer story in the making since the sixteenth century, of slow, often monumentally tragic separation of religious and political or rational discourses. A story and history in which the fear triggered by the sound and fury may drive away the brave, hidden, fragile hope that a fuller life lies ahead in the will to share resources and make peace without submission or humiliation. This belief and hope in a broader and deeper use of reason or ratio, including its caustic use, seem exclusive. Indeed, I opt for reason and suspend or reject religious revelation as being a handy, often venerable, and wrong shortcut to authoritarian allocation of goods. Yet I remain confused because I also feel that the deployment of reason is partly a luxury. A splendid power that was hard earned from within the crucible of religious conviction, and that has all too quickly been narrowly turned at the service of self-satisfied conquering greed.

Many demonstrations are planned in French cities. See Charlie-Hebdo @ twitter where maps and times are available.

Charlie Hebdo

Militarized SC police?

At its December 9, 2014 meeting, the Santa Cruz city council voted 6 to 1—Micah Posner was the lone brave dissenter—to accept a $251,000 Homeland Security grant to buy an armored vehicle of the type Lenco sells to specialized agencies (one of the variants of the so-called Bearcat). It reflects an increasing militarization of local police. There were heated reactions. The audio and DVD file of this meeting are not yet available on the site. One can read about it in the Sentinel.

Unsurprisingly, the police argue the vehicle is purely defensive. A petition about the buying of this vehicle is circulating. It calls for public hearings about the militarization of the Police Department. I’m most concerned about the larger national dynamics. Homeland so-called Security is a PR agent and buyer for a heavily militarized economy. This is happening at the same time real security in jobs, health, pensions, is down. The SC city council caved in to powers that do not have our security at heart. The SC police department and chief do what they think is important in a job that is very hard and dangerous. But the larger issue is the militarization of our society. That is why I signed the petition and invite readers to do the same.

TeX for U

Open source software is an extraordinary resource for textual work. I use MacTeX for typesetting, TeXShop as editor, BibDesk for bibliographies, and TextMate as another editor. The last one has been open sourced but is proprietary. Texts and presentations using complicated writing systems and coding become part of text creations. They are free! free of the kind of rent that all proprietary systems are exacting, free of forced formatting that we don’t control, free of automatic data gathering many paid programs resort to. I love the beauty of TeX typesetting, the freedom it gives in writing, the archival possibilities it offers, and the sense of participating in a large community. There is also the techie factor, I confess, or is that the geek factor. I am a member of the TeX Users Group and urge readers and friends to become members themselves: check the membership form.


Eric Fair, now professor at Lehigh University, wrote in his testimony for today’s New York Times: “I was an interrogator at Abu Ghraib. I tortured.” When he realizes a younger generation doesn’t even have a memory of the images of Abu Ghraib and he could try to escape or at least dress up his memories, he doesn’t allow himself the tempting comfort of forgetfulness. Partly because oblivion is not possible for someone who can still smell the odors of the building where he participated in state-ordered torture and can’t help to remember certain events that I don’t even want to imagine? He doesn’t “move on,” or let time “heal,” as the magic invocations go. Forgetting is not forgiveness. Neither is rationalizing. To know that others did it and that it was ordered by state agencies and political leaders doesn’t help either. Some of the latter, perhaps even the New York Times editors who pushed for war in 2002 and 2003, are now in partial remorse mode. Grand bien leur fasse. But how can Eric Fair be forgiven? How can I who draw much comfort and peace from our economically and socially pervasive military machinery?

president 2016

In 1992, I would have voted for Hillary Clinton rather than Bill. I didn’t care for Bill’s willingness to sacrifice her to the wolves of the health insurance and medical industry, or his unwillingness to spend some real political capital. But in 2016? The bank and security industry wants her, the defense industry has no objection, the neo-cons are getting ready to work with her, the pro-Israel right thinks she is a new Cyrus the Great. See the Intercept. It’s already done, a fait accompli, unavoidable. Conclusion: no need for me to go and vote for her.

state of Palestine

Now that the midterm elections have sent a more reactionary House and Senate to Washington, the Israeli right and its US supporters couldn’t wait to resume their dance with the US representatives. They share a loathing of Obama and his administration, mostly because of his early attempts to take his distances from damaging Middle-East policies of previous US governments that they favor, and his later vain efforts to get real negotiations going between Israeli and Palestinian representatives. So, various openings are quickly being made, for instance in the shape of an opinion in last Friday’s NYT by Naftali Bennett, Israel’s minister of the economy and leader of the right-wing Ha-bayt ha-Yedudi, The Jewish Home party. He proposes to do away with the idea of a negotiated settlement between the two peoples. No UN, no resolution, no Oslo agreement, no pursuit of a two-state solution, no Palestinian people.

The urgency has deeper reasons than the occurrence of a new political situation in Washington. Here are three main reasons that, in my opinion, guide the intensity of the right wingers’ agenda regarding Palestine and the fate of Palestinians.

  1. The major reason is that the core of the zionist religious right’s enthusiasm is the continuation of the classic zionism’s national dream on a re-energized religious basis. It creates difficulties because it blurs the separation of religion and state on which the modern state of Israel was based, though it was not formalized by a constitution. It claims ownership of the whole area on the basis of divine will revealed to Abraham and putative successors. It is a messianism and often a temple-centered messianism (witness Feiglin and Yehuda Glick recently). This messianism has been developing in the recent months, according to Vincent Lemire (see links below). It is the mirror image of the Muslim fervor surrounding the Haram esh-sharif, a fervor that Hamas may also have an interest now in exacerbating and turning into a central piece of its religious politics. Not that this will bother conservative US representatives who wish to do the same blurring here in the US and furthermore share at least superficially the messianic beliefs of the Israeli religious right. It remains to be seen whether our house representatives and senators will be willing to push things along these messianic lines or prudently back off. An incorrigible optimist bets on the latter.
  2. Secondly, an international movement of recognition of Palestine is spreading. Sweden has just recognized the state of Palestine and was the 135th country to do so according to today’s Le Monde debate on the topic About twenty countries still refuse to do so, most importantly the remaining superpower, the USA. Various parties in these twenty countries are contemplating a recognition. This international movement of recognition of the state of Palestine is seen as most dangerous by the Israeli right because it moves towards giving the same legal basis to the state of Palestine as the UN gave Israel on 29 November 1947. M. Abbas and the Palestinian authority have long been pursuing a policy of legitimate authority founded on international law. The US refusal to budge on this matter will not remain tenable much longer.
  3. Finally, there is the demographic evolution in Israel and Palestinian territories. See the wiki on the demographics of the Palestinian territories.The case of Jerusalem is paradigmatic. The status of Jerusalem and the return of the refugees are two tightly linked issues that need to be negotiated in future final status negotiations.The population within the municipality of Jerusalem is now at circa 800,000: 500,000 Israeli Jews and 300,000 Palestinian Arab inhabitants in East Jerusalem, including 35,000 in the old city. Since 1967, the Arab population of Jerusalem has grown by a factor of 4, that of the Jewish population by a factor of 2.5 (figures given by Vincent Lemire, historian, see his interview in Libération and the Open Jerusalem Project). The distribution of the population of the old city by religious affiliation is: 26,000 Muslims, 6,000 Christians, and 4,000 Jews. Most religious Israeli Jews don’t live in the old city. But many of them in turn (of various obedience), faced with the demographic resistance of the Palestinian population in Jerusalem, increase the pressure on Arab quarters just outside the old city: Silwan and Sheikh Jarrah. The belt of colonies just beyond the city perimeter of Jerusalem expands and thickens: Maalei Adumim, Har Homa, Pizgat Zeev, etc.

Given these reasons, there is an internal consistency to what a representative of the religious extreme right suggests in his NYT article. It is a logic that has catastrophic consequences. The article rejects the notion of a state of Palestine and replaces it, unsurprisingly, with the logic of a greater Israel.

What of Gaza under Hamas? Bennett asserts that “It cannot be a party to any agreement.” It can remain the biggest open-air prison in the world. The systematic debilitation and sub-human status of 1.6 million people, almost half of whom are under 15 if I believe the statistics, will continue.

For the West Bank, Bennett uses the security and terror rhetoric that is accepted nowadays by so many people (not only Republicans). Notice that he doesn’t use Biblical names in this article directed to a non-religious readership and calls “West Bank” the Palestinian areas that go also under the post-Oslo letters A, B, and C. His letter advocates a land grab under the general claim of security that he knows has a good chance of getting the US house and senate—including many democrats—on his side, at least for a moment. He writes that “for its security, Israel cannot withdraw from more territory and cannot allow for the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank.”

So, he proposes four measures regarding the West Bank that will further demean Palestinians in their aspirations to freedom and self-government and will continue a massive enforcement of the open-air prison characteristics in that area. His suggestions are the following:

  1. “We would work to upgrade Palestinian autonomy in the West Bank in the areas already under Palestinian control.” This refers to areas A and B, as was made explicit in the e-version of the article that reads: “First, we would work to upgrade the Palestinian autonomy in the West Bank, in the areas largely under Palestinian control (known as Areas A and B, according to the Oslo Accords)”. These areas were defined by the Oslo II agreement, a process whose viability according to Bennett has been upended by “the new reality in the Middle East.” He relies upon it as a weapon against Palestinian aspirations. Areas A and B happen to have about 90-95% of the West Bank’s Palestinian population. See the maps and details. In terms of territory, however, area A has about 3% of the West Bank—exclusive of East Jerusalem—and area B has 23-25% of the West Bank, with about 440 villages and no Israeli implantations. Together with the other suggestions by Bennett, this would be left to the “Palestinian entity.” No state. No independence. Hardly any territory, but a reservation where the population would have to make do with whatever the Israel government grants it. A subhuman existence not unlike that of Gaza, given the security measures likely to develop in response to any violence.
  2. A “huge upgrade of roads and infrastructure, as well as the removal of roadblocks and checkpoints throughout the West Bank.” Exactly where? In area C? Will these roads continue to be penetration roads? Will there be strict control of the Palestinian population living in areas A and B, that is, will the roadblocks and checkpoints be moved between area C—annexed by Israel—and areas A-B? I suppose that’s the idea.
  3. “economic bridges of peace between Israelis and Palestinians:” that is, more industrial zones in illegal colonies. This idea presumably would concern area C.
  4. “Lastly, I propose applying Israeli law in the part of the West Bank controlled by Israel under the Oslo Accords. (Palestinian who live there would be offered full Israeli citizenship).” This is Area C, as made explicit, once more, in the electronic version of this opinion piece: “Lastly, I propose applying Israeli law in Area C, which is the part of the West Bank controlled by Israel under the Oslo agreement.” This assertion of “national sovereignty” is illegal land grabbing. What is Area C? It constitutes at least 61% of Palestinian territories East of the 1967 Green Line as of now (disputed question: actually almost 75% of the West Bank). It conveniently has about 5% of the Palestinian West Bank population only at the moment, for all kinds of reasons (previous land occupation especially). See the map and articles on B’ site.

Bennett concludes by mouthing platitudes on “new realities” that have “brought an end to the viability of the Oslo peace process.” Obama may have been hated by the right and the not-so-right. Imagine, he had the audacity to visit Arab countries at the beginning of his first mandate. Even worse, he and his government mentioned again, after a long hiatus, the language of just, negotiated settlement on the basis of UN Security Council Resolution 242, with swaps. Anathema of course, because it is the only basis for some semblance of just settlement.

Now, with Bennett and other tenors of the religious extreme right, not even a two-state solution is advocated as part of a hypocritical discourse that the present Israeli government has kept up for a while under US pressure. The little pressure there was is gone. Nothing for Palestinians. On the contrary, the measures proposed by Bennett spell a new era of increased repression. The hope of the extreme right wingers: continue the annexation of area C—60-75% of the whole area conquered in June 1967— and “give up” all of areas A and B, while making sure it becomes another Gaza=open air prison.

Do our new representatives and senators want to be part of this injustice and what it spells for the whole area?

silence of goodness

Last weekend, Toni Morrison gave a talk at UCSC on literature and the silence of goodness. It was part of the 2014 Founders Celebration events at UCSC.

She gave a similar talk at Cornell last year (“Translating goodness”), and in the Ingersoll 2012 Lecture at Harvard Divinity School. She began with a non-literary example of forgiveness, that of the Amish community’s reaction after the shooting of nine young girls (five died) and the suicide of the killer in 2006. They responded with support for the families, media silence, and no vengeance. The silence particularly impressed Toni Morrison and started her thinking about this broader topic of the silence of goodness. Evil exercises no fascination on her. She wondered about its attraction for others, what she called its worshipping. Why is evil so captivating? In the nineteenth century, she said, whatever the forces of malice, redemption was there at the end. She spoke of the effects of WW I, the disappearance of happy endings. With WW I and one could add even worse with WW II, the dynamics of evil and redemption set up in nineteenth-century bourgeois fiction didn’t quite fathom anymore the depths human misery could reach, and any morality play looked trite and hypocritical. Acts of goodness were greeted with suspicion or irony. True heroes were dead ones.

It all sounded so categorical. I wondered about Saint-Exupéry’s works. Or children’s literature. I granted the point however that the force of goodness is more mysterious than that of evil, this crafty grabber of the intellectual platform. Before giving examples of the role of goodness in the drama of her own books, she mentioned Umberto Eco’s The Prague Cemetery, fascinating, distant, scornful of good intentions. In Roth, Bellow, etc., goodness seemed comical and frail. She noted an exception to this chorus of minds fascinated by evil: Marilyn Robinson. I thought of others still.

All along the talk, I kept thinking of Apollinaire’s line in La jolie rousse: “Nous voulons explorer la bonté contrée énorme où tout se tait” = “We want to explore kindness enormous region where all falls quiet.” Apollinaire the wounded soldier of WW I. The drama of good vs evil swirls around kindness, goodness, self-giving, forgiveness, as the hurricane around its eye. Forgiveness, the broad giving of everything that counts without calculation or expectation of recognition (hence its no-name, no-image) is at the center of being human or pan-human, or is all that this noosphere may consist of. A fiction of it is rather paradoxical. Better if fiction continues to function as a reminder of the eye at the center of the storm. The father of the prodigal or lost son in Luke 15—another story—looks so weak, so un-patriarchal, yet so dramatically decisive and speedy in restoring the younger son to original status. It was the right thing to do, he says to his older, envious, raging son. He begs him to enter into this pacified, giving society “where everything falls quiet.”

Modern society presents many opportunities to give and forgive in ways that are more splendid and sublime than ever before because completely invisible to others. In fact, the raison d’être of modern economic development, with its systematic erasure of stifling local, traditional bonds and the explosion of enticing, temporary, greedy freedoms of capitalist structures, is its enabling of un-named, quiet, transforming, non-reciprocal and assymetric giving. I’m not thinking about philanthropy, certainly not the name-rich philanthropy of Founders’ Day at a fast-corporatizing UCSC and its expensive speech on the silence of goodness (20,000$+ if I’m not mistaken). I’m thinking of hidden forms of generosity, beyond our anonymous taxation and social security systems, though they are at the heart of it too. This giving and forgiving beyond public morality, this thousand-fold com-passion or em-pathy in families, offices, streets, companies, that is our work of fiction, a negative of the printed and electronic one, the heart of a moving coral reef. Like a coral reef, it is capable of establishing “lasting institutions” in spite of what Melville’s Billy Budd says, quoted by Hannah Arendt (On Revolution, p. 86). Printed history and fiction sometimes hesitatingly point in the direction of this old, unmarketable story.


Amos Oz on Israel and Palestine, Yedioth Aharonoth, Oct. 25, 2014:

There is no chance and no point, after a hundred years of hatred and violence, of trying to put the Israelis and the Palestinians into a double bed and hope for a honeymoon. If we don’t become two states, and quickly, there will be one state here, and it will be an Arab state. If there is an Arab state here, I don’t envy our children and grandchildren.

Gildas Hamel