Ten International Film Previews

1. Coming Home (Chinese)
2. You Call It Passion (Korean)
3. A Decent Engagement (Indian)
4. A Separation (Iranian)
5. Mustang (Turkish)
6. Footnote (Israeli)
7. The Source (French about North Africa)
8. Poli Opposti (Italian)
9. Barbara (German about East Germany)
10. The Yellow Eyes of the Crocodiles (French)

Ten International Film Previews

by

Howard Adelman

These are not reviews per se, but sketches and reflections on what these films may say about the world today and one country in that world. They are not representative of their country. Their selection depended on films that I have watched in the last week, mainly on the flight home from Israel. The list excludes the Hungarian film, Son of Saul, on which I wrote three blogs. The compilation is not comprehensive either – no Russian films, no Latin American films and no films from Black Africa. The order of the previews is arbitrary, simply traveling from east to west and then south to north.

Coming Home (China)

First shown at Cannes in 2014, the title of this film in Chinese literally translates as The Return, a name that makes far more sense in terms of the plot and theme. For the film is about a professor, Lu Yanshi (Lu played by Chen Daoming), sent away to a “re-education” camp during the Cultural Revolution who returns twice to his wife, Feng Wanyu (Yu played by Gong Li) and daughter, Dandan (Zhang Huiwen), an aspiring ballerina. [I know that referring to Lu – the husband – and Yu – the wife – can be very confusing; it was while watching the movie, at least for the first half hour. But that is how they refer to one another.] The first time when he escapes, his family is intact, but he is re-arrested when he tries to meet his wife. He returns a second time when he is rehabilitated years later. In neither case does he come home, for the first time he cannot reach home and the second time there is no home to come to; intervening events have destroyed “home” in any meaningful sense except the physical.

The film is superbly acted, but it is far more than a domestic drama or even an indictment of the Cultural Revolution. The film is an allegory of recognition. In fact, Yanshi, the name of the professor, literally means “how to recognize” in both Cantonese and Mandarin. But the term is more often associated with passionate romance, definitely not the passion of the next film discussed. Yet this is a film of passionate romance on the deepest level.

When the professor first returns and encounters his daughter whom he has not seen in over ten years – he was arrested when she was four years old – she does not recognize him as her father or her responsibilities to him. Ironically, this loyal child of two revolutions – a communist and a cultural one – only knows personal ambition. As a direct result of this failure of recognition, and the trauma of a blackmail Yu was forced to endure, Lu’s wife will suffer amnesia and no longer recognizes her husband when he returns a second time. The movie offers an allegory that suggests that it is one thing for greed, blind ambition and power mongering behind a Cultural Revolution to produce an authoritarian and repressive state. It is perhaps even worse when contemporary China enters a state of amnesia about that period creating a double calamity for the victims.
You Call It Passion (Korea)

Newspaper stories can be about publishers and the pursuit of power, such as Orson Welles’ classic Citizen Kane, or about juxtaposing a journalist’s ethos of setting truth against power by covering the tale of two very different but dedicated, determined and diligent journalists (Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford) trying to uncover the Watergate scandal. Or it can be about a hard bitten reporter who turns out to be a very good detective as James Stewart did in Call Northside 777. Newspapers used to be excellent backdrops for interweaving glamour and intrigue, money and power, ambition and ethics. This is no longer the case as newspapers struggle to stay alive in the world of the new media. This tale of the tabloid press is a little bit of all of these themes, but never seems to focus on any of them as it narrates the tale of a very bright but innocent newspaper intern, Do Ra-hee (Park Bo-young) who joins the workforce of a very large, likely pulp, newspaper in the entertainment section that is more about scooping for scandals than it is about allowing readers to get greater insight into the artists and entertainers in Seoul.

Though the intern is a woman who looks like a teenager to a North American, this is no weak feminist track like Front Page Woman. The movie is about getting the scoop on a famous young male actor, but as a cross between the reporter as detective as well as one torn by ethical concerns when offered material by “a reliable source” that could destroy a career but enormously advance that of the young reporter. I initially thought the movie was going to be a contemporary Korean remake of the classic Hollywood tale It Happened One Night, with Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert, but this time with a young female rather than male reporter trying to get the goods on a celebrity. But the closest this movie gets to the hard bitten reporter is the entertainment editor, Ha Jae-kwan (Jung Jae-young), who yells at his journalists to put passion into their jobs and make passion what their jobs are about. But the movie is really about saving their own jobs by uncovering economic skulduggery. The film is a lesson in lack of direction where a movie fails to decide at the core what it is about. Neither comedy nor romance, neither exposé nor ethical drama, neither a poem to a journalist’s passion for truth nor deconstruction of an editor’s drive to get a scoop while being a bit of both of the latter, the movie is a lightweight addition to the genre of newspaper movies.

A Decent Engagement (India)

India makes excellent movies, from Bollywood entertainment to serious court room films about justice, like Chaitanya Tamhane’s Court. This is clearly not one of them. Put an American hunk into an Indian setting where he is finally to meet the love of his life in a traditional arranged marriage and you have the basic elements of tension and conflict, comedy and romance. But not one of them is in evidence here. The situations are clichés. The script is terrible. The film is not helped when the lead cannot decide whether he is mentally challenged or an innocent abroad or, more accurately, an American with the patina of an Indian in Delhi. As soon as the lead opens his mouth, we learn that he cannot act. The best part of the movie is the plethora of scenes of Indian life that serve as fillers to a threadbare script, but also serve as a respite from a disastrous movie.

A Separation (Iran)

Iran has wonderful directors and actors. In a country with a built-in stress between creativity and repressive control, especially under the auspices of religious law, the opportunities for exciting and great films certainly exist, even if the conditions for exploiting the opportunities are extremely difficult. Asghar Farhadi’s movie walks that line with a great sense of balance. It is a simple courtroom drama about the unintended consequences of competing but legitimate personal interests and priorities clashing where both truth and a hierarchy of norms are both very unsettled in spite of the claims of Sharia law to have a monopoly on both.

Nader (Peyman Moaadi) and Simin (Leila Hatami) may love one another, but Nader is attached to his father who suffers from dementia while Simin wants to ensure that their daughter has a future. Thus, past and future clash in the present. And the film is greatest in showing that there are no easy answers as two excellent actors pursue that task.

Mustang (Turkey)

Set in a small remote agricultural village far from Istanbul, Mustang is an absolutely wonderful film. There is no difficulty in determining on which side of the modernity-tradition divide the female director (Deniz Gamze Ergüven) falls, as five very close sisters grow up in the home of their aunt and uncle who fall back on protection and policing when the first threat appears on the horizon to the couple’s reputation. The girls, all with a great sense of joie to vivre that is wonderfully portrayed and at all times infectious, is viewed from the perspective of and also driven mostly by the youngest, a mustang determined not to be tamed.

The film begins with the will to live and celebrates life’s joyful, comedic and happy moments, but gradually, and very gradually, descends into claustrophobia in a house made into a prison for confining the human spirit before the plot turns to loss, the greatest being the camaraderie among the five girls, and eventual tragedy. The movie is touching without in any way being cloying, funny without being farcical, and horrific without any of the usual exposure to gross torture. And though clearly on the side of freedom and feminism, the movie somehow manages not to be didactic. Unlike the Indian film above, all the beautiful cinematography of landscape and life are integral to the flow of the film.

Footnote (Israel)

This is one film I did not see in the last five days. But not for lack of trying. Since I was flying from Israel, I was looking forward to watching one of the many excellent Israeli films. I could speculate why I could not find one, but instead I will simply add a footnote to an excellent 2012 Israeli film about both the love and the competition between a father and a son who happen to be in the same realm of scholarship. But there is a difference. The father is engaged in pilpul, a minute engagement in teasing out inconsistencies and insights from small passages in the Talmud. The son, by contrast, is a populizer of Judaism and a public intellectual instead of probing into the minutiae of scholarship.

I loved the movie, not simply because it was about the real tension I experience between the minutiae of scholarship and the desire to communicate to a larger audience, but because the movie was about the fact that neither aspiration can substitute for love within the family, and especially between father and son. To do so with an acute comic sense is masterful. The brilliant hilarious scene of s cluster of great scholars crowded into a tiny office to resolve a dispute offers the humorous side of Israel, precisely because it exemplifies what is so maddening and tragic about the wonderful country.

The Source (France about North Africa)

Aristophanes’ Lysistrata provides the template for this contemporary version of women in a small village using a sexual strike to force their underemployed men to undertake work that can ease the burden of their overworked and treacherous effort at carrying water back from a well. Instead of striking for peace in opposition to the Peloponnesian War, these North African women declare a sexual war to overcome the resignation to and backwardness of crippling tradition. Like the Turkish movie above, Mustang, the setting is in a small remote village. Like Mustang, the film flirts with the comedic against a backdrop of hardship, but that is physical as much as it is moral. Both films are about women in motion that brings forth the poetry of that action.

In this film, an outsider Leila (Leila Bekhti) is married to a village teacher. Rather than the youngest daughter of a family acting as the spur to upset the settled applecart because there is neither a road nor a cart to bring the water from the village well, Leila organizes the protest against assigning women to carrying water hanging from a pole slung across the backs of the women, including pregnant ones. The result of the current obsolete system leads to a disproportionate number of miscarriages and deaths of children. Unlike the Turkish film, and unlike Turkey itself these days, Radu Mihaileanu imbues his movie with love and hope rather than tragedy and despair.

Poli Opposti (Italy)

This movie is a sophisticated contemporary comedy set in a thoroughly modern world, not only one where sexual repression has been removed, but where the women have become the hard bitten, cold and insensitive ball breakers, and the men have been transposed into sensitive souls. Often funny, always very well acted, this traditional version of a comedy of opposites that attract and fall in love, is conceived in an inverted mode. It is a delight to watch precisely because credibility is not a stake. The female warrior divorce lawyer (Sarah Feiberbaum) and her son are saved from being cast into the cold of an unloving world by a sensitive human relations counsellor (Luca Argentero) who believes in pushing cooperation and dialogue rather than exacerbating already deep divisions. If Lysistrata informed The Source, the sophisticated comedies of traditional Hollywood provide the template for this movie, but it is updated by reversing the archetypal male and female roles.

Barbara (German about East Germany)

The story portrayed in Coming Home of abuse by political authorities in China was mirrored by events in East Germany. But Barbara is a film about voyeurism rather than intimate love in the face of oppression. Nina Hoss plays a brilliant physician, not sent to a re-education camp, but to the boonies because she applied for an exit visa. Lu Yanshi just wanted to return home. Barbara just wants to get out. Escape, not unlike that of Huckleberry Finn, a book she reads to a patient and escapee she is protecting. But Barbara had become hardened, not by male abandonment, but by male domination and real repression. She smokes heavily and smiles rarely. But when she does, she lights up the screen.

Though a failure in trust imbues both Coming Home and Barbara with an enormous degree of tension, it is all the more oppressive in Barbara because it appears to be so total and comprehensive leaving very little room for humanity and empathy. Yu in Coming Home develops cold and expressionless eyes, but they are sometimes awakened and we delight in the joy and sensitivity of those rare occasions. The same look, however, in the landlady in Barbara is menacing rather than simply vacant. Both films record the devastating effects of state oppression with great attention to detail, but the regime of surveillance, the informers in East Germany, are omnipresent and anonymous. In the love story of Lu and Yu, the informers are intimates and the party secretary is portrayed in a sympathetic way. East Germany and Stasi reached a dead end; If Coming Home is any indication, there is some hope that China can overcome or get around oppression because, after the Cultural Revolution, room has been made for inter-human sensitivity and empathy even as the government retains its iron grip on society in general and the country suffers from collective amnesia.

However, excellent films can emerge from the worst conditions.

The Yellow Eyes of the Crocodiles (France)

Two sisters, one glamorous, cold and self-serving, Iris (Emmanuelle Béart), the other, Joséphine (Julie Depardieu), mousy, intellectual and self-effacing, one oblivious to the needs of her son, the other sensitive but often clumsy in dealing with the needs of her two daughters, especially the older one who is so caught up in the attraction of the glitter of her aunt, provide the core of this story of recognition both on the inter-personal and collective level but from a radically different standpoint than Coming Home. In Yellow Eyes, the deceit is obvious and eventually self-destructive. That is why it is a comedy. In Coming Home, the failure of recognition becomes buried deep in the broken families resulting from the Cultural Revolution.

The acting is brilliant as is the direction by Cécile Telerman. One of the greatest rewards in watching foreign as well as American films is observing women come into their own as great directors. When the variety of directors throws light, not only on the screen, but on and into the world in which we live, the rewards are enormous.

With the help of Alex Zisman

Corporeality II Daesh (ISIS or ISIL)

Corporeality II Daesh (ISIS or ISIL)

by

Howard Adelman

In my blog on President Barack Obama’s State of the Union Address, I mentioned, but only mentioned, that Obama had cited that fighting Daesh (which he referred to as ISIL) and other terrorists is the top priority of his administration. “Priority number one is protecting the American people and going after terrorist networks.” Since Daesh was and is not an existential threat to the American people, referring to the fight against Daesh as WWIII was a gross “over-the-top” exaggeration that inflated the threat of ISIS enormously. Nevertheless, “Both Al Qaeda and now ISIL pose a direct threat to our people, because in today’s world, even a handful of terrorists who place no value on human life, including their own, can do a lot of damage. They use the internet to poison the minds of individuals inside our country; they undermine our allies.”

Further, he refused to conflate Daesh with Islam. “We don’t need to build them up to show that we’re serious, nor do we need to push away vital allies in this fight by echoing the lie that ISIL is representative of one of the world’s largest religions. We just need to call them what they are  —  killers and fanatics who have to be rooted out, hunted down, and destroyed.” What strategy was he following to accomplish that goal? “For more than a year, America has led a coalition of more than 60 countries to cut off ISIL’s financing, disrupt their plots, stop the flow of terrorist fighters, and stamp out their vicious ideology. With nearly 10,000 air strikes, we are taking out their leadership, their oil, their training camps, and their weapons. We are training, arming, and supporting forces who are steadily reclaiming territory in Iraq and Syria.” Once again he repeated his plea to Congress to authorize the use of military force against ISIS.

There are a number of puzzles about the war on Daesh as the top foreign policy agenda item for the U.S. First, why was it his top priority? Why not John Kerry’s since the strategy involved creating a broad coalition? Why not the Secretary of Defence since this was also a military mission? Because, in the U.S. system of government, the U.S. President is also Commander-in-Chief. In the Torah, Aaron the High Priest was not only foreign minister but commander-in-chief of the Israelites’ defense forces, not Moses. In virtually all Western democracies, the Prime Minister is NOT the head of the armed forces.

But before I offer an account trying to explain that anomaly, let me clarify why, since Paris and San Bernardino, Daesh has become the outstanding military enemy of the U.S. I want to help understand the body politic of these jihadist terrorists. The answer in one sense is simple. Obama gave it himself in a speech this past December. The Daesh attacks “shook Americans’ confidence in the government’s ability to protect them from terror groups.” The Assad regime was demoted. So even though normally the enemy of my enemy is my friend, in this case, this is not true. For yesterday, when ISIS led three coordinated attacks using a car bomb aimed at a bus and two suicide bombers aimed at the rescue teams in the suburb of Sayeda Zeinab Southern Damascus (the site of Shi’ites’ holiest shrine) killing 35, mostly Hezbollah fighters in the bus that was transporting them (at a cost to Daesh of 25 of their own), the U.S. and her allies did not cheer.

Further, in Iraq, there is a huge dam located in territory captured back from Daesh and once again controlled by the Iraqi military only 18 km. from Mosul. The dam is fundamentally weak. Given the fighting, the weakness of the dam and the difficulty in repairing it under such circumstances, its bursting would send a wall of water down on Mosul, a Daesh stronghold, Iraqi’s with the help of Americans, however, are evaluating the weakness of the dam and helping to take restorative measures to ensure it does not collapse. America’s war is not with Muslims, not with ordinary Iraqi civilians, nor even with Hezbollah Shi’ite fighters allied with Assad when they are targets of Daesh terrorism. America’s war is with Daesh and its terrorist look-alikes.

Why is Daesh so formidable even though its bases and leaders have been attacked with over 10,000 air strikes, even though it is under retreat in Iraq because of America and its allies reinforcing the Iraqi and Kurdish armies, and even though it is in retreat in Syria because of Russian and Hezbollah reinforcing the Assad regime? After all, there is little evidence that Daesh is a cohesive terrorist network. In that sense, it is even weaker than al Qaeda was. The sensationalism and repetition of its terrorist attacks have been invaluable in recruiting. However,   Daesh does not follow the examples of African warlord rebel groups who recruit mainly through terror rather than ideology and indoctrination. Daesh does, however, retain its adherents through precisely the same system of terror when the recruits discover how totally disappointing, ruthless and un-Islamic Daesh really is. So it is not surprising that 15-year-old Younes Abaaoud, the partner of his much older brother Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the Belgian jihadist and mastermind of the 13 November 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris, though he vowed revenge for his brother’s death, also became the target of a Daesh hit squad when he admitted to colleagues that he thought the attacks had gone “too far.” Daesh is not powerful structurally, strategically or even ideologically, but it is vicious in its terrorist practices.

Daesh is powerful as the best advertising agent for Islamicist terror, but wants to keep its reliance on terror to keep its recruits in line secret. Daesh is also powerful because it plays on specific weaknesses of America’s allies, weaknesses which a leading Republican candidate for the presidency wants to replicate in the U.S. States like France attack the wearing of the hijab by girls in schools in defense of their secular religion of laicité for absolutely no valid political reason and, at the same time, populates its suburbs of Paris, the infamous banlieues like Saint Denis, with 25% unemployment among the Muslim youth, with its deteriorating school system and medical services, with foreigners. France is just terrible in its multicultural policies of integration. Britain is almost as bad as MI-5 tracks an estimated 3,000 homegrown jihadists, but the U.K.’s weakness are somewhat different.

The scholarly evidence overwhelmingly shows that states that provide religious security for all their citizens and that have healthy multicultural programs that offer minority youth the same educational and employment opportunities as the native born, do not provide anywhere near the ripe recruiting grounds as states that fail in their multicultural policies. As Patrick Aeberhard, the Parisian-born cardiologist and co-founder of Médecins sans Frontières, has said with respect to France, “We didn’t know how to integrate the Magréhbins, who were mostly northern Algerians, who were French, who should have blended right in.” The surprise is that, in spite of some of the virulent anti-Islam rhetoric, only 250 American Muslims have joined the Islamic State, according to a report by the House Homeland Security Committee; 68 of them have been indicted on charges of supporting Daesh according to the Center on National Security at Fordham Law School.

For the evidence on the proposition that healthy multiculturalism is a formidable deterrent to jihadi terrorism, read the academic publications of the Terrorism Research Initiative under the direction of Alex Schmid or the special issue of Politics dealing with terrorism published by the School of Politics, Philosophy & International Studies at the University of Hull under the direction of Raphael Cohen-Almagor. The more Islamophobia in a country, the more fertile the ground is for the growth of Islamicist terror groups. Daesh feeds on Islamic alienation. In the U.S. since 9/11, right-wing extremists have murdered 48 people. Islamicist extremists in 26 deadly attacks have killed 31, including the 14 at San Bernardino. On 15 April 2013, the two bombs set off near the finish line of the Boston marathon wounded 250 people but only killed three.

I want to now go back to the theoretical discussions of French multiculturalism because they reveal a vision of the body politic in which the nation and state are one. Citizens must be assimilated, not just integrated. Since French political theory is so important in the principles underlying the American body politic, it is helpful to explore various aspects of that theory to understand not only Obama’s problem in dealing with terrorism and the French problem, but the body politic of contemporary jihadist terrorism.

Many French philosophers agree that the new immigrants have failed to assimilate into French culture, but instead of blaming French policies of assimilation (versus integration), blame the immigrants for both refusing to assimilate and selling a doctrine of multiculturalism intended to undermine the French state rather than enrich it. Well before the current Syrian refugee crisis, Pascal Bruckner, one of the new French philosophers, joined the right and argued that Western sentimentalism has permitted a mass invasion from Africa and the Middle East that threatened to destroy the foundations of French and Western civilization. (La Tyrannie de la pénitence (2006) The Tyranny of Guilt). He claimed that multiculturalism is a fraud and defended the unifying principles of reason and the Enlightenment and has been one of the rationalizers of the laws against public displays of religious symbols in France rather than the historical development of tolerance and pluralism.

Alan Finkielkraut is another of the new French philosophers. Though Jewish and a child of Holocaust survivors, he has attacked multiculturalism arguing that France has always been assimilationist and has never been multicultural (L’identité malhereuse (2013) The Unhappy Identity). Multiculturalism, he argued, was an Islamic plot deliberately promoted by Islam to subvert French ideas and culture. He argued that France was headed for a Franco-Creole-Mahghrebin civilization under the aegis of Islam. “France is voluptuously sinking in the undifferentiated.”

Other French philosophers such as Michel Onfray, take the same path through from a complementary perspective. Following the 13 November 2015 terrorist attack in Paris, he withdrew his book, Penser l’Islam because he did not think his attack on Islam to show it celebrated violence and terrorism could have a rational discussion. Nevertheless, from the previews of the book and his other writings, it is clear that he did not assign any responsibility to France, except to its soft sentimental underside, but instead envisioned the deep roots of terrorism to reside in Islam itself.

In contrast, André Glucksmann, the French philosopher of my age who died just three days before the Daesh terror attacks on Paris on 13 November 2015 and who practiced a similar form of philosophical analysis as I do using a detailed analysis of current events to extrapolate and illustrate philosophic principles, wrote: the war of Islamicist terror is not a war of East against West for the prime and overwhelming number of deaths are those who belong to the Islamic faith. It is not that we agreed on most things – he supported the intervention led by George W. Bush. But he was often brilliantly insightful and besides, had a sense of wit I lack. It was André who wrote the terrific 2004 book, The Discourse of Hate and said that, “Maybe violent wickedness can be decapitated, but stupidity has too many heads.”

That is the problem with Daesh. It is not just violently wicked. It is also stupid so it is hard to discern any grand rational strategy in much of its terrorism other than its brilliance in using terror and the internet as recruiting tools and targeting oil production areas for initial conquest to ensure an inflow of money. Daesh is built on a politics of money and blood, spilling the blood of others indiscriminately and forging bonds of blood between and among its adherents and blood flowing in the streets from innocents everywhere. For Daesh, warfare has been reduced to its basest and core foundation stones.

There are two common themes in understanding the body politic of Daesh. First is the use of terror to forge men into blood brothers. It is no surprise that many of the jihadists were, in fact, blood brothers:

  • 19-year old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and 26-year-old Tamerlan Tsarnaev who perpetrated the terrorist attack at the Boston marathon by setting off bombs near the finish line
  • Abdelhamid Abaaoud and his younger 15-year-old brother Younes who organized the 13 November 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris against the Le Petit Cambodge and Le Carillon cafés, the Stade de France during a German-French football match, and especially the Bataclan concert venue where 130 were killed
  • Chérif Kouachi and Said Kouachi who, on my 77th birthday, 7 January 2015, with assault rifles perpetrated the massacre at the offices of the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine killing 11 and wounding 11 others, and subsequently killed a French National Police Officer and five Jews in a Parisian kosher supermarket, but then, in the name of al Qaeda rather than Daesh, and the ostensible objective of defending Mohammed from blasphemy using gheerah or protective jealousy.

The contrast between the last two attacks is revealing. The Islam, and Kosher supermarket attackers were professionals who used military gestures, infantry tactics and fired and aimed execution-style single shots to the head. They also had a very specific motive – revenge against Jews and Charlie Hebdo for its controversial satiric pictures of Mohammed. In contrast, the November Paris attacks targeted ordinary Parisians carrying out typical and ordinary leisure activities. The shootings and killings were random with no specific targets at all. And that is where Daesh trumps al Qaeda as a terrorist “organization” – the objective is simply to sew fear whether in the battlefield or in the home turf of the allies against whom it is fighting And look at the response. Two million French citizens and foreigners marched in unison to uphold France’s principles of liberty, equality and fraternity after the Charlie Hebdo and supermarket attack. After the most violent terrorist attack since WWII this past November, Parisians cowered at home, with the encouragement of the government lest masses of French and foreigners become a new target. Prudence trumped public displays of patriotism.

Bernard-Henri Lévy, another French philosopher, has argued that this new wave of terrorism is built on Xerox copycat principles so that even the so-called third intifada of the knives and car rammings in Israel are not so much expressions of a Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation – though the resentment and frustrations are there – so much as just another expression of a worldwide jihad hysteria. (The Algemeiner, 21 October 2015) Palestinian leaders, particularly Hamas leaders, have encouraged and incited ordinary Palestinians to attack Jews, any Jews, Israeli or non-Israeli, civilian or military, young or old. Take to the streets and maim as many Jews as you can with as much pain as possible and spilling as much blood as possible. Then to hear Mahmoud Abbas call these acts “heroic” simply turns more and more Israelis and Jews off any peace process with the Palestinians. In fact, the resort to the knife in contrast to a Kalashnikov rifle can be seen as a throwback to classic Arab terrorism. Muhanad Alukabi, who stabbed and killed a victim in Beersheba (wounding 11 others) professed his allegiance to ISIS.

Daesh does not need to operate with a head. Certainly all its actions, its prideful displays and its heartlessness attest to that. For Daesh is a cult of blood, knitting its adherents together to constitute them as blood brothers, and aiming at the spilling of as much blood of the enemies as possible. If that is the real enemy, is an Islamic plot to foist multiculturalism on the French polity or the inadequate and incompetent application of multiculturalism to blame, an application which celebrates pluralism and integration rather than assimilation?

Emmanuel Levinas, France’s foremost post WWII thinker and a Jewish theologian as well, has also stood against the French intellectual tide denouncing multiculturalism in Philosophical Perspectives on the ‘War on Terrorism.’ For Levinas, ethics, the norms that govern conduct in society, are rooted in the experience of having to deal with the Other, with the Other’s alterity, whether Moses dealing with the Egyptians versus the Midianites, or Jethro dealing with the Egyptians and the Israelites. Ethics arise out of a face-to-face encounter with the Other as Other, and a demand to respect the opacity of that Otherness. This does not always mean extending hospitality to the Other and welcoming the stranger. For when the Other defines you as wholly Other, as an inferior Other, as a threatening Other, and, therefore as an Other that must be exterminated, then the Other that does so is an enemy. The Other is then not a stranger whom one does not know, but an Other who is all-too-familiar. The Other is not someone with whom one can dialogue and whom one should respect while acknowledging differences. There can be no dialogue with such an enemy. That enemy is owed no respect, only disdain, disgust and a militant defence.

So the problem is fourfold:

Daesh as a terrorist cult dedicated to randomly spilling blood.

Daesh as a terrorist organization that breeds loyalty, not by ideology, but by sharing blood so its warriors become blood brothers.

France is a state with a fundamental ideology that disdains multiculturalism.

France is a state that has misapplied the practices of multiculturalism.

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

Tomorrow: Terrorism and the Application of Multiculturalism in Canada

Following: Obama: Caught between the Body Politic of France and Canada

V. Samantha Power, the UN Security Council and the Jordanian Resolution on Palestine

V. Samantha Power, the UN Security Council and the Jordanian Resolution on Palestine

by

Howard Adelman

This morning, I had planned to write a blog on Samantha Power’s relationship to the doctrine of the Responsibility to Protect and reserve my discussion of her role on the Security Council for my series of case studies. It would allow me to follow up on the question of the extent to which Samantha Power has become a supporter of Israel, an issue that I raised in yesterday’s blog. But I have also been itching to write about the recent UN Security Council vote on the Jordanian-sponsored Palestinian resolution that failed to pass. In particular, I wanted to write about my puzzlement over the Palestinian decision to push the vote for the end of last year, which I had not expected, instead of early this year when Venezuela and Malaysia, both strong supporters of Palestine, replaced two friends of Israel, Australia, which voted against the resolution, and Rwanda which abstained. If they waited, the Palestinians would have been assured of the nine votes needed, and, in any case, may still bring up the resolution again. As it is, most of us counting the numbers thought the Palestinians had enough support for the resolution tabled at the Security Council on the 30th of December and brought up for a vote on the 31st.. As it turned out, the key to the failure to pass turned out to be Nigeria.

I will deal with the voting itself tomorrow. In this blog I will present and analyze the resolution. On 31 December 2014, the UN Security Council convened to vote on a so-called compromise motion of the original draft circulated by Jordan just before Christmas. I have appended the resolution tabled on the 30th at the end of this blog. The additions to the 17 December resolution are in bold. Where there were changes in wording, the new wording is in bold and the older version is in italics.

There are a few significant but relatively minor differences between the two drafts, but both called for peace between Israel and the Palestinians to be negotiated within a limited time frame of one year. A preamble clause was added citing relevant previous UN resolutions on Jerusalem declaring that the annexation of East Jerusalem was illegal. Another preamble clause cited the advisory ruling of 9 July 2004 of the International Court of Justice that the wall constructed in the Occupied Territories had legal consequences. Instead of one of the parameters of a peace agreement referring to an agreed settlement of other outstanding issues, the word just was substituted. The biggest change, in line with the change in the preamble on Jerusalem, was to alter the paragraph calling for Jerusalem to be the shared capital of the two states. A more general wording called Jerusalem the capital, not a shared capital, of the two States. In other words, each state could have its capital in a part of Jerusalem.

Instead of weakening the original document through a compromise with the French version, the new version was even stronger, except for the clause on Jerusalem. The French were supposedly pushing for a resolution that might win American support. There was no chance of that. Further, the French voted in support of the resolution even though it still included the idea of finalizing a peace agreement within one year and did not seem to include any of their suggestions. The Palestinians misleadingly had insisted that their draft was a compromise with the French version. When the French were asked about this, they were non-committal and very diplomatic. The French Foreign Ministry said, “Our aim is to bring the international community together in support of the peace process. We therefore wish to see presented to the UN Security Council a text likely to get unanimity…The Palestinians have announced the submission of a text in New York. We will examine it in light of this objective.” There was no chance of the wording of the text achieving unanimity. Instead of it being a compromise with a phantom French text, the final text was stronger. The French supported it anyway.
Why? In putting the resolution to a vote in the Security Council, the French supported the Palestinian drive to avoid the American-Israeli diplomatic dead end by setting a short timetable for negotiations and an end to the occupation, The peace process had to move on and evolve. That meant taking Barack Obama at his word and adopting a multilateral approach, or, as the French envoy to the United Nations put it, with the vision of a two-state solution receding, “the peace process must evolve. If parties can’t take decisions alone, the international community has to share the burden.”

The key terms of the resolution were:
• endorsement of the two-state solution with each state having secure and recognized borders
• the borders were to be based on the 1967 borders with agreed, limited and equivalent land swaps
• the right of the Palestinian state to have East Jerusalem as its capital
• rejecting settlements, including in East Jerusalem, as illegal
• defining the annexation of East Jerusalem as illegal
• calling for a just and agreed resolution of the Palestinian refugee problem on the basis of international law [not international practices] citing resolution 194 (III) which does not, contrary to what many have been led to believe, specify a “right to return”
• clauses denouncing the illegality of the wall in the West Bank and the blockade of Gaza
• reiterating peaceful means as the exclusive method of conflict resolution
• denouncing both terrorism and the failure to protect civilians in time of war
• acknowledging American peace efforts but effectively sidelining the USA and shifting the peace negotiations to the auspices of an international conference
• affirms the urgent need (not the requirement or the obligation) to get an agreement in 12 months
• security arrangements for both states to be secured by a third party presence
• a phased withdrawal of Israeli security forces to be completed by the end of 2017 at the latest

Even before the revised resolution was modified and submitted, there was strong opposition to the resolution circulated by Jordan on 17 December from within the Palestinian community, not including Hamas which opposed submitting a resolution altogether since Hamas adamantly opposes a two-state solution. The criticisms included:
• absence of an enforcement mechanism
• absence of penalties against Israel for its continued occupation, expansion of settlements, its imposition of “apartheid,” and its denial of Palestinian rights for 66 years
• failing to recognize the imbalance in power between the two sides and, instead, treating Israel and Palestine as equal partners
• the resolution did not mandate the creation of a Palestinian state within 12 months, but simply “affirmed the urgent need” for its creation
• the resolution introduced nothing new since there have been many UN resolutions already on record affirming “a just lasting comprehensive peaceful solution that brings an end to the Israeli occupation since 1967 and fulfills the vision of two independent, democratic and prosperous states, Israel and a sovereign, contiguous and viable State of Palestine living side by side in peace and security within mutually and internationally recognized borders.”
• The strongest criticism was aimed at the acceptance of the principle of negotiated “mutually agreed, limited and equivalent land swaps” since, for the critics, land acquired in 1948 is occupied and is not to be bartered away while legitimizing the land acquisitions by Israel in the 1948 war. (For those critics who do not even recognize partition, Israel itself must be dismantled and all of its territory is occupied land.)
• Resolution 194 (III) is interpreted as endorsing the right of refugee return, a right that cannot be negotiated or bargained away; the resolution, in effect, retreated in favour of a “negotiated solution” as supported by the Arab League Peace Initiative rather than a mandated requirement
• The major stress on Israeli security merely legitimizes the Israeli military occupation as a “security” arrangement and the IDF as a “security force” rather than an imperialist colonial occupying army
• Existing settlements are not labeled illegal, as UN resolutions usually do, but the resolution merely calls upon the parties to abstain from settlement activities.”

Even Marwan Barghouti, sitting in solitary confinement in an Israeli jail for calling for a new uprising, criticized the Jordanian resolution, although he does support both a two-state solution and putting a resolution before the Security Council. The revised document incorporated his criticisms of Jerusalem as a “shared capital” and his demand to include a reference to prisoners. He was also critical of the mild wording of the reference to the settlements and disliked the endorsement of land swaps, thereby, in his interpretation, legalizing the Israeli settlements. As far as he was concerned, any resolution had to label all Israeli settlements as illegal and, hence, that they be removed. Finally, the refugee right of return had to be endorsed.
There was a great deal of politics in the week leading up to the vote, some necessary, such as submitting the compromise back to the Arab League for ratification. But it became very clear, and Saeb Erekat, spokesperson for the Palestinians, repeatedly reinforced that interpretation, that the Palestinian delegation seemed very eager to bring the resolution to a vote before the New Year, that is, before they would have a guaranteed number of votes necessary to pass the resolution. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas phoned U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to tell him that he intended to press ahead in spite of U.S., and, of course, Israeli opposition. Israel threatened retaliation because the Palestinians were engaging in an end run instead of negotiating directly with Israel. Israel did not want to be bound by third party imposed deadlines, even though the deadline was aspirational rather than mandatory. Israel had too much experience with so-called goodwill resolutions that were soon interpreted to be embedded with poison. Israel quickly acted upon its threat by withholding tax transfers to the Palestinian Authority due in the New Year just because of the initiative, even though it failed to pass.

What were American objections? Since the resolution simply affirmed the need to end the occupation and arrive at an agreement in twelve months, it did not seem to cross Washington’s red line which adamantly opposed any unilateral action. But it did cross a line. For the results were a product produced by one side instead of a negotiated one. There was also an unstated process objection. The Americans were being sidelined. The Palestinians had become convinced that the Americans were too biased towards Israel and they could not get a fair deal as long as America was the key mediator. Quite aside from the insult to America’s status, the U.S. was convinced that there could be no deal without American help given the position and security concerns of the Israelis.

The United States also differed with the resolution on several substantive issues. Some issues, as the British Ambassador, Mark Lyall Grant stated, were largely linguistic, though nevertheless very significant, such as the language dealing with refugees. Others were problems with timelines even if only moral and not imposed. On Jerusalem, Israeli support for a divided Jerusalem was required. But Israel would never support any deal unless there were strong provisions to protect Israel’s security. The resolution was totally flimsy on that issue. When Americans said the resolution was not constructive, they usually added the clause that it failed “to address Israel’s security needs.” But the most important issue for the Americans, which could not be discussed, was the Israeli elections in March. The Americans were determined not to give Netanyahu a platform on which to beat a battle drum and increase his chances of forming the next government. Given their experience with Bibi, they had become convinced that, as long as he was at the helm, no agreement with the Palestinians was possible.

What was Samantha Power’s position? She insisted the resolution was “deeply imbalanced” and only addressed the issue of one side. In comments after the vote, she said that: “the effort of pushing the resolution to a vote, instead of giving voice to the aspirations of both Palestinians and Israelis, addressed only one side.” She insisted that the Palestinians, in pushing for the Security Council vote, had staged a “confrontation” that would push the parties farther apart. But she gave no evidence that she had any idea of how to get them together.

Did Samantha Power play any significant role in ensuring the failure of the resolution?

Tomorrow: The Machinations Behind the Vote on the Palestinian Resolution

Jordan: draft resolution tabled at the UN Security Council on 30/12/2014

Reaffirming its previous resolutions, in particular resolutions 242 (1967); 338 (1973), 1397 (2002), 1515 (2003), 1544 (2004), 1850 (2008), 1860 (2009) and the Madrid Principles,
Reiterating its vision of a region where two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, live side by side in peace within secure and recognized borders,
Reaffirming the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and to independence in their State of Palestine, with East Jerusalem as its capital,
Recalling General Assembly resolution 181 (II) of 29 November 1947,
Reaffirming the principle of the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by force and recalling its resolutions 446 (1979), 452 (1979) and 465 (1980), determining, inter alia, that the policies and practices of Israel in establishing settlements in the territories occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, have no legal validity and constitute a serious obstruction to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East,
Recalling also its relevant resolutions regarding the status of Jerusalem, including resolution 478 (1980) of 20 August 1980, and bearing in mind that the annexation of East Jerusalem is not recognized by the international community,
Affirming the imperative of resolving the problem of the Palestine refugees on the basis of international law and relevant resolutions, including resolution 194 (III), as stipulated in the Arab Peace Initiative,
Recalling the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice of 9 July 2004 on the legal consequences of the construction of a wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory,
Underlining that the Gaza Strip constitutes an integral part of the Palestinian territory occupied in 1967, and calling for a sustainable solution to the situation in the Gaza Strip, including the sustained and regular opening of its border crossings for normal flow of persons and goods, in accordance with international humanitarian law,
Welcoming the important progress in Palestinian state-building efforts recognised by the World Bank and the IMF in 2012, and reiterating its call to all States and international organizations to contribute to the Palestinian institution building programme in preparation for independence,
Reaffirming that a just, lasting and peaceful settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can only be achieved by peaceful means, based on an enduring commitment to mutual recognition, freedom from violence, incitement and terror, and the two-State solution, building on previous agreements and obligations and stressing that the only viable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an agreement that ends the occupation that began in 1967, resolves all permanent status issues as previously defined by the parties, and fulfils the legitimate aspirations of both parties,
Condemning all violence and hostilities directed against civilians and all acts of terrorism, and reminding all States of their obligations under resolution 1373 (2001),
Recalling the obligation to ensure the safety and well-being of civilians and ensure their protection in situations of armed conflict,
Reaffirming the right of all States in the region to live in peace within secure and internationally recognized borders,
Noting with appreciation the efforts of the United States in 2013/14 to facilitate and advance negotiations between the parties aimed at achieving a final peace settlement,
Aware of its responsibilities to help secure a long-term solution to the conflict,
1. Affirms the urgent need to attain, no later than 12 months after the adoption of this resolution, a just, lasting and comprehensive peaceful solution that brings an end to the Israeli occupation since 1967 and fulfils the vision of two independent, democratic and prosperous states, Israel and a sovereign, contiguous and viable State of Palestine, living side by side in peace and security within mutually and internationally recognized borders;
2. Decides that the negotiated solution will be based on the following parameters:
– borders based on 4 June 1967 lines with mutually agreed, limited, equivalent land swaps;
– security arrangements, including through a third-party presence, that guarantee and respect the sovereignty of a State of Palestine, including through a full and phased withdrawal of the Israeli occupying forces, which will end the occupation that began in 1967 over an agreed transition period in a reasonable timeframe, not to exceed the end of 2017, and that ensure the security of both Israel and Palestine through effective border security and by preventing the resurgence of terrorism and effectively addressing security threats, including emerging and vital threats in the region;
– a just and agreed solution to the Palestine refugee question on the basis of Arab Peace Initiative, international law and relevant United Nations resolutions, including resolution 194 (III);
– a just resolution of the status of Jerusalem as the capital of the two States which fulfils the legitimate aspirations of both parties and protects freedom of worship; [v.s Jerusalem as the shared capital of the two States which fulfils the legitimate aspirations of both parties and protects freedom of worship;)
– the just (vs, an agreed) settlement of all other outstanding issues, including water and prisoners;
3. Recognizes that the final status agreement shall put an end to the occupation and an end to all claims and lead to immediate mutual recognition;
4. Affirms that the definition of a plan and schedule for implementing the security arrangements shall be placed at the centre of the negotiations within the framework established by this resolution;
5. Looks forward to welcoming Palestine as a full Member State of the United Nations within the timeframe defined in the present resolution;
6. Urges both parties to engage seriously in the work of building trust and to act together in the pursuit of peace by negotiating in good faith and refraining from all acts of incitement and provocative acts or statements, and also calls upon all States and international organizations to support the parties in confidence-building measures and to contribute to an atmosphere conducive to negotiations;
7. Calls upon all parties to abide by their obligations under international humanitarian law, including the Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War of 12 August 1949;
8. Encourages concurrent efforts to achieve a comprehensive peace in the region, which would unlock the full potential of neighbourly relations in the Middle East and reaffirms in this regard the importance of the full implementation of the Arab Peace Initiative;
9. Calls for a renewed negotiation framework that ensures the close involvement, alongside the parties, of major stakeholders to help the parties reach an agreement within the established timeframe and implement all aspects of the final status, including through the provision of political support as well as tangible support for post-conflict and peace-building arrangements, and welcomes the proposition to hold an international conference that would launch the negotiations;
10. Calls upon both parties to abstain from any unilateral and illegal actions, as well as all provocations and incitement, that could escalate tensions and undermine the viability and attainability of a two-State solution on the basis of the parameters defined in this resolution;
11. Reiterates its demand in this regard for the complete cessation of all Israeli settlement activities in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem;
12. Calls for immediate efforts to redress the unsustainable situation in the Gaza Strip, including through the provision of expanded humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian civilian population via the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East and other United Nations agencies and through serious efforts to address the underlying issues of the crisis, including consolidation of the ceasefire between the parties;
13. Requests the Secretary-General to report on the implementation of this resolution every three months;
14. Decides to remain seized of the matter.