Friday, July 18, 2014

Israel Vs Hamas: Winning the War and Losing the Propaganda

A Marxist friend relentlessly posted messages and articles against Israel and finally called support of Israel as evil as supporting Nazism. Of course such stupidities are always trotted out with the excuse "oh I am not an anti-semite". She then proceeds to delegitimize the existence of Israel just like Hamas. I mean at what point would anybody concede their anti-semitism. So many nations have been formed and destroyed in the course of human history and particularly between 1940-1990 but only the formation of Israel irks the preening human rightists. Strangely this Marxist and her acolytes are silent about Chechnya and Saudi Arabia and China.

It is beyond indecent to see idiotic statements on Facebook that say" Israel does unto Hamas what Nazis did unto Jews". 6 million Jews died without raising a finger, as loyal citizens of the many countries they resided in, with nobody to give them voice and no rockets to launch at the Nazi state. Yes, Hamas is no match for Israel's military might but by that logic Osama Bin Laden was no match for USA either. Comparing holocaust to the current battle in Gaza is plain idiocy and does not bear scrutiny. Unfortunately such silly idiocies have the strength to become a rooted myth that makes reality look like a lie.

For the millionth time let me reiterate that Israel was NOT the consolation price that a guilt ridden West offered the Jews for holocaust. The promise of Israel was made in the Balfour declaration in 1917, nearly 21 years before Kristallnacht.

Another Facebook simpleton posted a photo showing the shrinking borders of Palestine from what the UN mandated to what it is today in 2014. True, it is shrunken and for that the Palestinians can congratulate themselves and their Arab brethren. As I've repeatedly pointed out Israel pleaded to be left alone in 1948 when the UN mandate created two states but Palestinians egged on by their Arab neighbors vowed to push the Jews into the Red sea but lost. That a beleaguered people, with far less international help than what Hamas gets today, even survived such a war is the greatest miracle of modern history. Not satisfied with the damage wrought the Arabs tried again in 1967 with Jordan, Syria and Egypt to snuff out Israel only to be defeated in the most humiliating manner. And yes, the borders shrank once again as a victorious Israel.

Life is unfair and Israel learned that, yet again, during the Yom Kippur war. Humiliated by the defeat in 1967 Anwar Sadat launched the Yom Kippur war that almost destroyed Israel. Unlike the 1967 war this time Israel slept and ignored the signs of war. In addition, Israel's Golda Meir also realized that another pre-emptive strike would alienate the American establishment. With great bravery Israel defended itself and marched into Egypt. Sadat, in a face saving gesture, declared victory and got on a plane to sign truce with Israel.

Life is unfair and Israel, yet and yet again, learned that in 1991. In 1991 the Arab nations pleaded with America to stop Saddam Hussein but their one condition was that Israel should not be involved. If Israel got into the war, the Arab coalition warned that they would oppose. Seeking to use that condition to destroy the alliance Saddam Hussein launched missile attacks into Tel Aviv. By every international law Israel was entitled to retaliate and yet its hand was stayed by America just to save the coalition.

Anything to do with Israel brings out the worst from many of its opponents. Let us be clear that the current round of violence was initiated by Hamas with the kidnapping and subsequent brutal killing of 3 Israelis. While Israel looked for the kidnapped citizens Palestine, Hamas and the world cared a damn. When the bodies turned up and a revenge killing happened, which Israeli government condemned and did everything to apprehend the guilty, the world started taking notice. Then Hamas started firing rockets into Israel and Israel replied back in kind. Now human rights advocates and activists sprouted from every corner of the world like locusts. A pornography of grief has ensued with the tragic killing of 3 children, playing on a beach, during an Israeli bombing.

Iran acquiring a nuclear bomb threatens Saudi Arabia as much as it threatens Israel or US. Yet, Saudi regime is relaxing knowing full well that America and Israel will take care of it. This duplicity is what paints America and Israel into a corner.

So much is made of America's aid to Palestine. America buys oil from Arab states and funds totalitarian regimes in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Unlike Israel those nations who enjoy American dollars have repaid US in treachery. Russia is the backer of the murderous regime in Syria. Where is the indignation for that? What is the level of indignation against a terrorist army like ISIS or even the Boko Haram?

There is so much of hue and a cry about Palestinian casualties as against almost zero Israeli casualty. Hamas locates its rocket launchers in homes and schools and purposefully leaves its citizens unprotected. In fact Hamas wants more casualties so they can parade corpses. This is the ugliest truth. An Israeli mother writing in a letter to New York Times editor said that she cried reading about the dead Gazan children even as she herself was hiding from rockets fired by Hamas. The rockets fired by Hamas were 'intended' to kill civilians unlike Israel's rockets.

The ever redoubtable Charles Krauthammer offers the stark contrast in 'moral clarity' with a quote from an Israeli minister "we are using missile defense to protect our civilians they are using civilians to protect their missiles". As Krauthammer, with his anger barely concealed, points out Israel had exited out of Gaza in the full glare of international TVs and there is no occupation in Gaza or even the much hated settlements. Instead of building a state for its citizens Palestniians sought to create a sanctuary for terror with a view to nurturing a permanent state of war with Israel.

Another much circulated cartoon on Facebook shows Israel showering rockets on Gaza in response to one rocket from Gaza. New York Times which ran many critical article against Israel, including a much well documented one on the 4 children being killed, also ran another article that stated "sheer number (of rockets) fired by militants since July 8th has shaken Israeli society". Israel's fabled 'iron dome' defense foils most of the rocket attacks and therefore Israeli casualty is almost zero. But that is NOT the point. While the dome protects life imagine living under a barrage of rockets and perpetual air raid sirens.

Terrorist organizations have the aura and romance of being some nitwits idea of a freedom fighter. Hamas is romanticized by unscrupulous idiots. Hamas happened because Arafat's Al Fatah was a corrupt and effete organization. And Hamas too is corrupt with many of its top leaders being millionaires. The tragedy of Palestinians is not the state of Israel but its leadership.

Even school textbooks are vehicles of hate in the Middle East. To be sure Israeli textbooks have their share of scaremongering. But the Palestinian textbooks go beyond scaremongering into hate mongering.

Unlike those who hate Israel and are blind to Hamas's fault I shall not be blind towards Israel. The current ground war is pointless and it only alienates much more. As much as Krauthammer might take comfort in the 'roof knocking' it is grotesque and useless. Telling a family to pick up its bags and run to god knows where in the face of an impending rocket strike is unfathomably horrendous. I admire Israel for how it has grown into a formidable economic and military power amidst unprecedented existential threats but such growth places great responsibility too.

All that said it is sheer propaganda to place the blame disproportionately on Israel's head. As the Israeli mother wrote to New York Times it is a wonder why Hamas builds tunnels to hide its weapons but no shelters against Israeli rockets. As one who considers himself a student of Jewish history I'll never say that Israel should heed world opinion. The world opinion be damned. In another of his long list of sharp and clarifying op-eds Krauthammer pointed out that it is silly to harp on how the world loved America on 9/11 and Le Monde writing 'we are all New Yorkers now', because on just two days later the same editorials were calling for America to stand silent. Krauthammer acidly remarked that the world loves America when it is weak. Its the age old Nietzchean struggle of the world hating the strong. World opinion has never been of help to Israel and will never stand up for Israel.

A case in point in point is the flotilla to Gaza that Israel embargoed in 2010. Then too many cried hoarse about how Israel was preventing just food and unarmed activists from going to Gaza. Later investigations revealed how the flotilla had no intention of promoting anything but peace and were in fact armed.

It is a region where there is no hope for sense or rationality. I'll not offer any prescriptions to any side. The reality is far too complex and intractable for legions of arm chair analysts, including me.


1. Israeli mother's letter to NYT

2. Charles Krauthammer's column in Washington Post, 'Moral clarity in Gaza',

3. New York Times detailed reporting on the killing of 4 Gaza children

4. New York Times article on rockets fired Hamas

5. Textbook propaganda in Israel and Palestine - from Economist

Monday, July 14, 2014

Jeyamohan and Women Writers - 1: Sexism in Western Literature

Jeyamohan, as only Jeyamohan does, stirred a hornets nest with his remarks on the literary merits, or lack thereof, of women writers in Tamil. What started as a legitimate debate soon degenerated into blatant sexism and personal innuendoes amply abetted by his fan club. Just as I was about to write a blog on western women writers and the sexism debate in western literature, setting the stage to rebut many of the clamnies that Jeyamohan and his fans trotted out, a reader wrote to Jeyamohan, based on just itinerant googling of a few authors, lamenting that women writers of the west, unlike Tamil women writers,  create lasting literature triumphing dire poverty and adverse circumstances. The reader's contention being that Tamil women writers offer lame excuses as impediments to writing a 'Harry Potter'. The poor reader is unaware of the long and continuing debate on sexism in western literature by even the likes of Margaret Atwood. 

The Paris Review magazine has been conducting highly acclaimed interviews of writers for several decades and publishes them as anthologies. In an anthology titled 'Women writers at work' Margaret Atwood addresses at length the issue of sexism in her introduction and many parts deserve to be quoted here.

Margaret Atwood
"There is, still, a sort of trained-dog fascination with the idea of women writers- not that the thing is done well, but that is done at all, by a creature that is not supposed to possess such capabilities. And so a biographer may well focus on the woman, on gossip and sexual detail and domestic arrangements and political involvement, to the exclusion of the artist".

Atwood adroitly contrasts how Joyce Carol Oates is asked "the 'woman' question, phrased in her case as 'what are the advantages of being a woman writer?'", with how the same question is posed to Joan Didion on the 'disadvantages' of being a woman writer. Oates answers, kind of acidly, "advantages! Too many to enumerate, probably. Since, being a woman, I can't be taken seriously by the sort of male critics who rank writers 1,2,3 in the public press, I am free I suppose, to do as I like". Oates probably had a premonition of Naipual, not Jeyamohan, who said no woman writer wrote like him, in mind. 

Joan Didion was gentler in enumerating the disadvantages of being a woman writer. Didion replied "women who wrote novels were quite often perceived as invalids...Novels by women tended to be described, even by their publishers, as sensitive". Quite often interviewers would ask women writers 'what they felt' whereas they would ask male writers "what they thought". 

Katherine Anne Porter's interviewer asks her, nonchalantly, "what about the creation of masculine characters, then? Most women writers, even the best of them like George Eliot, have run aground there." Nobody asks a male writer how he imagines his female characters, at least not so brazenly. 

Rebecca West, replying to if she felt 'men did not want to help her as a writer?', said "Oh, yes! So many men hate you. When my husband was dying I had some very strange dialogues. People were very rude because they'd heard I was a woman writer". That was in 1981.

Asked about racism in publishing and literature Maya Angelou responded "in the shape of American society, the white male is on top, then the white female and then the black make, and at the bottom is the black woman". Angelou even recounts how she was prevented from directing a scene in Sweden, for which she had composed the score and wrote the screenplay, because she was a black woman. They brought, Angelou remembers, a Swedish director "who hadn't even shaken a black person's hands before".

In an age of political correctness and a new found realization of the value of diversity in every walk of life the western world has spawned appropriate discussions of gender and racial diversity in the arts. The VIDA count project analyses how women writers are  presented and reviewed by major magazines like New Yorker, Times Literary Supplement, Granta, NYRB etc. For 2012 NYRB had reviewed 316 male authors and 89 female authors. 

Jodi Picoult asked pointedly, referring to Jonathan Franzen's much acclaimed book 'Freedom', "I think it's a very old and deep-seated double standard that holds that when a man writes about family and feeling, it's literature with a capital L, but when a woman considers the same topics, it's romance, or a beach book-in short, it's something unworthy of a serious critic's attention". Jeyakanthan mostly wrote of interpersonal relationships and family squabbles. 

The New Republic magazine which wrote of the fracas between Picoult and Franzen noted that publishing giant Rand House's editor Chris Jackson innocently said 'that he could not remember the last time he had read a work of fiction by a woman'. Jackson, whose wife owns one of the best bookstores in Manhattan, backtracked later saying he liked Jennifer Egan and Chimananda Adichie. 

Amanda Filipacchi writing for New York Times exposed how wikipedia segregated American women novelists under a separate sub section while retaining male authors under 'American novelists'. In response Filipacchi's page, according to a follow up column by her, was savaged by wikipedia editors. 

This is a man's world. If so much shenanigans can happen in a society that is relatively far more liberal than India one can only imagine the extent of discrimination in a feudal and far more patriarchal society like India. In a society where male teachers taunt girl students for attempting to gain an engineering degree or girls studying one cannot fathom the insurmountable odds of a woman making forays into an area where even males are discouraged from venturing into by parents. 

Barbara Tuchman who redefined history writing with 'Guns of August' spoke of how as mother of three children she had to become a house wife and on account of which people found it easy to say "this is something that Barbara wanted to do. Its not professional'. Coming from a storied family of ambassadors to US Presidents Barbara Tuchman's ability to fend of sexism was far better than most could have done.

In America Eve Ensler could read from a stage her poetry collection titled 'Vagina monologues' and retain an aura of a writer instead of a wanton woman. In the west Simone de Beauvoir could carve out a niche for her as a writer despite being widely known as Sartre's mistress and even his procurer. 

From Anais Nin's 'Delta of Venus' to Erica Jong's 'Fear of flying' to blatantly prurient Catherine Millet's 'Sexual life of Catherine M' erotica by women authors has garnered attention, lots of derision and a hard earned place alongside 'Lady Chatterley's lover'. 

Writers write mostly out of experience and it is almost impossible to separate the creator from the creation. As such it will remain a debate whether a woman writer can portray male characters as much as a male writer will encounter limits in portraying a women. There will be exceptions. This transcendence of the writer from his/her being and life is all the more contentious when they seek to transcend class or race barriers. Portrayal of black characters by white authors, male and female, remains a minefield that has tripped up William Styron and Nadine Gordimer alike. 

Judging women writers will remain an area fraught with sensibilities as much as it is to judge black writers or any writer belonging to a minority. Accusations, of unfair harshness and stale benchmarks that don't take into account different experiences, will be flung by those at the receiving end of criticisms. Likewise critics would cry "thats a cheap shot". Of course there are times when both are true.

In a strange coincidence Jonathan Franzen, like Jeyamohan writing of the unappealing looks of Kamala Das, wrote that Edith Warton was ugly. I'll not rush to label such Freudian criticism as sexist. However, to make such a criticism the critique needs to have built a reservoir of trust and that is where Jeyamohan and Franzen fail miserably.  

Even the reading habits vary on account gender, race and class and so would the judgment as reader. To a white reader 'Gone with the wind' is a classic but to a black reader it may appear as thinly disguised yearning for the era of slavery as a gallant era 'gone with the wind'. Erica Jong felt compelled to write of the 'zipless fuck' while Tolstoy sought to punish Anna.

Women authors are often accused of being starved of imagination beyond feminine themes. Nobody accused Philip Roth of paucity of imagination for his misogyny and for peopling his books with Jewish characters. Eudora Welty is asked if she is irked by being called a 'regional writer' for writing books based on one region. Yet, many male authors have written most of their novels revolving around familiar geography or ethnic backgrounds that they hail from. V.S. Naipual is known for his books on Trinidad and Indian descent characters. 

There are stories that are better told by a woman. Only a Ralph Ellison could write 'Invisible man' and only Margaret Atwood could write the fiercely feminist 'Penelopiad'. The same is true of 'Second sex'. However, being a woman does not mean that they can understand women naturally. Ayn Rand was a failure in portraying women characters. 

When women were integrated into combat divisions in US army there was lot of discussion over whether standards would be diluted to accommodate women, especially physical requirements. Studies established that the physical requirements about ability to do strenuous exercises were designed with men in mind and in reality had no relation to what was needed in battlefield. Women brought their own advantages too to the army. Women are considered better snipers than men. More often than not what many take for granted as standards have been created by men for men. 

Atwood in her introduction recounts an incident when a panel happened to comprise entirely of women writers and they were asked how they felt about being in one such. The authors prevaricated in their answers. Regretting that prevarication Atwood wonders they should have answered "why not". Yes, "why not". No male author has been asked how he felt sitting in an all-male panel.

The Paris Interviews anthology 'Women writers at work' is a veritable treasure. Each interview is preceded by a succinct biography, a short backdrop on the interview, an excerpt from each author's working copy (usually handwritten). The questions range from their work habits to inspirations to how they tolerate their editors. I've given below in the references a few interviews. 

Jeyamohan's reader seeks to ask Tamil women writers whether there is a Katherine Anne Porter amongst them. He wonders who would be Tamil's J.K. Rowling. This is patently unfair because none amongst the men is a Rowling either. I'd ask who amongst the men is Hilary Mantel or Margaret Atwood? If its unfair to place all of Western literature on one scale and Tamil male authors on another then so is it to do so with female writers.

Jeyamohan and his readers have gleefully flung many charges against Tamil women writers beyond just a question of literary merit. For instance they claim that women writers promote their works, unqualified works, insidiously. Yet, it is the male writers who bring Tamil cinema actresses, directors and musicians to their book releases. More of their slander and scurrilous claims will be held to the test of truth in my subsequent blogs.


1. Paris Review Interviews:

2. Frank Bruni's column in New York Times about sexism in literature

3. Jonathan Franzen's rebuttal to Bruni in his letter to NYT editor

5. VIDA web count of literary magazine's coverage of women writers

7. Amanda Filipacchi's column in New York Times about Wikipedia's sexism

8. Jonathan Franzen on Edith Wharton in New Yorker

11. Erica Jong's 'Fear of flying' ('zipless fuck')

12. Barbara Tuchman on motherhood and being writer

13. பெண்ணெழுத்து -நவீன்