Rights Are for People Like Us | The Weekly Sift

Rights Are for People Like Us | The Weekly Sift.

Rights Are for People Like Us

Those high-flown principles put forward by the militiamen defending Cliven Bundy’s rights … do they apply to anybody else?


The best summaries I’ve seen of the conflict between Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and the federal Bureau of Land Management are from the local St. George News and the Washington Post. Cutting it down somewhat: the BLM charges that Bundy has been grazing his cattle on public land without paying grazing and tresspass fees for 20 years. (They got their first court order telling him to stop in 1998; he ignored it.) The claimed fees now amount to over $1 million, and so April 5 the BLM started seizing some of Bundy’s illegally grazing cattle.

Self-appointed defender of Freedom.

Armed militiamen who support Bundy started gathering at a camp on April 10, and on April 12 the BLM backed down after what the Las Vegas Review-Journal described as “a 20-minute standoff … [w]ith rifles pointing toward each side”. The BLM released a statement:

Based on information about conditions on the ground, and in consultation with law enforcement, we have made a decision to conclude the cattle gather because of our serious concern about the safety of employees and members of the public.

The Bundy Ranch blog described the scene like this:

The result was a group of Bundy’s family members and supporters making a slow advance on a line of armed agents who kept ordering them to halt. At one point, the protesters were even told “one more step and you’re dead,” but the group kept coming, eventually walking easily through the line of federal agents and SWAT members who obviously didn’t have the courage of their convictions. According to InfoWars, the BLM had already announced it was leaving, but the county sheriff refused Bundy’s demand to disarm the federal agents and return his cattle. Within about a half hour, the cattle were released from the federal pen.

In other words, federal agents tried to enforce the law, were met with armed resistance from a mob, and decided to temporize rather than start killing people. On the extreme Right, this was celebrated as a victory for Freedom. Bundy’s son said, “The people have the power when they unite. The war has just begun.”

And the mainstream Right went along. The Powerline blog wrote “Why You Should Be Sympathetic Toward Cliven Bundy” while admitting “legally, Bundy doesn’t have a leg to stand on.” National Review‘s Kevin Williamson made “The Case for a Little Sedition“, saying

Of course the law is against Cliven Bundy. How could it be otherwise? The law was against Mohandas Gandhi, too

Fox News commentator Andrew Napolitano described the BLM (and not the miltiamen) as “a group of thugs dressed in military uniform with loaded M16s pointed at a rancher and his family.” Fox News produced this sympathetic segment, in which National Review editor Rich Lowry described the resistance as “in the finest American tradition of civil disobedience going back to Henry David Thoreau.”

To me, the Bundy incident has captured much of the basic sickness of conservatism in America: The rhetoric is full of high principle, but it’s hard to find any actual principle that would apply to anyone other than People Like Us — people like the people who belong to the conservative fringe.

It’s tempting to characterize this kind of thing as racism. Certainly that’s what the NYT’s Timothy Egan is suggesting with:

If you changed that picture to Black Panthers surrounding a lawful eviction in the inner city, do you think right-wing media would be there cheering the outlaws?

But it’s more subtle than that. Probably a black man who behaved like a far-fringe-rightist in all other ways could become People Like Us and come to have similar “rights” recognized. But the Black Panthers are clearly not People Like Us, so it would be an absolute horror if they were to arm themselves and resist the law. Likewise, it would be a horror if a Hispanic militia decided to liberate one of Sheriff Arpaio’s detention camps for immigrants. If some miltiamen got killed in such an attempt, I doubt Fox News would lament about “government overreach”. The Occupy protesters weren’t People Like Us, so they could be thrown off public land with impunity. Imagine the outrage if Occupy had militarized Zuccotti Park!

One of the reasons Bundy is supposed to deserve sympathy is that “his family has been ranching on the acres at issue since the late 19th century”. You can imagine how far similar sympathy would extend if armed Native Americans were threatening to kill whites over land their people had been hunting and fishing on for thousands of years. Hispanics have been wandering back and forth across the Rio Grande for centuries, but if they do it today, we have to enforce the Rule of Law. If people get killed, well, so be it.

But not People Like Us. When we feel wronged and take up arms, everyone should sympathize, the government should show restraint, and the media should re-litigate our case to the general public.

A number of Bundy’s sympathizers are rehashing the bizarre claims he has made in court: that the federal government can’t own land inside a state, or that the federal government is itself illegitimate. Bundy repeatedly refers to the federal government’s ownership as “unconstitutional”, probably because his reading of the Constitution never got as far as Article IV:

The Congress shall have Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States

This is why we have courts, to adjudicate disputes like this. Bundy made his argument in court and lost. Most people don’t then get to appeal their case to the Court of Nuts With Guns. But People Like Us do.

Whenever Bundy supporters are given media time, I would like to see them challenged to state their position in such a way that they would support similar rights for people not at all like them and not already part of the conservative movement. And I’d like to see mainstream conservative pundits confronted with a different challenge: Are there any limits to what you will support if the people doing it are on your side?

Is it possible to be a Jewish intellectual?

http://www.haaretz.com/jewish-world/jewish-world-features/.premium-1.585401

Is it possible to be a Jewish intellectual?

How do concepts such as ‘ahavat Israel’ and ‘solidarity for the Jewish people’ square with the need for intellectuals to remain detached from their national or religious group to retain their moral integrity?

Hannah Arendt

Hannah Arendt Photo by AP

 

In a famous exchange between Gershom Scholem and Hannah Arendt, the scholar of Jewish mysticism accused the political theorist of not having enough “ahavat Israel” (love for the Jewish nation and people). What did Arendt do to deserve such a supreme insult? She had written a series of articles for The New Yorker on the Eichmann trial, published in 1963 as a short book called “Eichmann in Jerusalem.”

In what turned out to be one of the most famous reports of any trial, Arendt indicted the Jews who had aided the Nazis, the Judenräte, claiming there would have been fewer dead people had the Jewish leaders not been accomplices to the demands of the Nazis. She also indicted the State of Israel for turning the event into a show trial and missing the new legal category that Eichmann’s crime represented. Mostly, though, she seemed to let Eichmann off the hook of “radical evil” too easily, viewing his actions as the somewhat benign consequence of an inability to think for himself and understand the nature of his words and actions. (Her famous expression “the banality of evil” suggested that evil could be of an invisible and pervasive variety, coming not from diabolical psychological makeup, but from ordinary failures of thought, from the incapacity to think independently about what a moral action is, and from the habit of following orders.) In other words, instead of displaying what we would have expected from a Jew on such an occasion – undiluted horror at Eichmann’s deeds; unreserved compassion for the moral dilemmas of the Jewish leaders who dealt with the Nazis; solidarity with the State of Israel – Arendt analyzed each one with a cold sense of truth and justice, and blurred the moral terms in which these had been hitherto judged by the public.

This, Scholem claimed, in a letter he wrote to Arendt on June 23, 1963, made Arendt’s intellectual position point to a lack of love for Israel. “So why does your book then leave behind such a feeling of bitterness and shame, and not with respect to that which is reported, but with respect to the reporter?” he wrote. “Why does your report cover over to such a large extent that which is brought forward in that book, which you rightly wanted to recommend for reflection? The answer, insofar as I have one, and which I cannot suppress, precisely because I esteem you so highly … [is] what stands between us in this matter … is the heartless, the downright malicious tone you employ in dealing with the topic that so profoundly concerns the center of our life [the Holocaust]. There is something in the Jewish language that is completely indefinable, yet fully concrete – what the Jews call ahavat Israel, love for the Jews. With you, my dear Hannah, as with so many intellectuals coming from the German left, there is no trace of it. I don’t have sympathy for the style of lightheartedness, I mean the English ‘flippancy,’ which you muster all too often … in your book. It is unimaginably unbefitting for the matter of which you speak … Was there really no place, at such an occasion, for what one might name with the modest German word Herzenstakt? [‘duty of the heart’].”

Scholem’s response goes to the heart of what we may call the problem of the Jewish critique today. Scholem, like Arendt, had supported the idea of a binational state, yet here he reacted like other Zionist Jews, with dismay and anger. Scholem interpreted Arendt’s indictment of the Judenräte and of Israel as the expression of inappropriate, infuriating distance, and even, in his own words, “malice” and “heartlessness” (he could hardly have found worse accusations). Tone, then, is not a matter of opinion (they shared the same opinions); rather, it is what we pay attention to in those from whom we expect love and commitment.

Arendt’s tone, Scholem suggested, lacked a priori closeness to the Jewish people, and such a tone is inappropriate in occasions in which the right thing is to refrain from telling all the truth, because there are moments when telling the truth should be subsumed under a duty of the heart. Scholem did not call for self-censorship, only for the same sense of appropriateness that makes us not talk about the defects of someone during his or her funeral. When so many are still mourning, stubborn truthfulness amounts to a sneer.

Arendt was not intimidated and did not spare him in her answer: “How right you are that I have no such love, and for two reasons: First, I have never in my life ‘loved’ some nation or collective – not the German, French or American nation, or the working class, or whatever else might exist. The fact is that I love only my friends and am quite incapable of any other sort of love. Second, this kind of love for the Jews would seem suspect to me, since I am Jewish myself. I don’t love myself or anything I know that belongs to the substance of my being … [T]he magnificence of this people once lay in its belief in God – that is, in the way its trust and love of God far outweighed its fear of God. And now this people believes only in itself? In this sense I don’t love the Jews, nor do I ‘believe’ in them.”

To Arendt’s ears, Scholem’s love of the Jewish people sounded like a call to collective narcissism. We now know she erred on many important facts central to her thesis; but facts would not have altered her basic and deep suspicion of “the nonreflexive, self-celebratory nature of group affiliations,” as historian Steven E. Aschheim put it. Thus, even if Scholem and Arendt had both supported Brit Shalom (a group which, in the 1920s and ’30s, favored Arab-Jewish coexistence in Palestine), here they parted company, precisely on the question of how close to the Jewish people Arendt’s tone of speech should be.

To better grasp what should strike us here, let me refer to another debate, one that had taken place just a few years earlier in France, where another intellectual’s position had also generated a storm. Upon receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature in Stockholm in 1957, Albert Camus was interviewed by an Arab student about his positions on the Algerian war. He famously answered, “People are now planting bombs in the tramways of Algiers. My mother might be on one of those tramways. If that is justice, then I prefer my mother.”

Camus’ statement provoked a ruckus in French intellectual circles. As Norman Podhoretz wrote, “When he declared that he chose his mother above justice, he was, as [Conor Cruise] O’Brien puts it, choosing ‘his own tribe’ against an abstract ideal of universal justice. A greater heresy against the dogmas of the left is hard to imagine.”

Indeed, since the Dreyfus affair, at the end of the 19th century, intellectuals’ intervention in the public sphere had been defined by their claim to universality, a position that remained unchanged throughout the 20th century. Another commentator, Andrew Hussey, emphasized the point in a Literary Review article: “[Camus’] impassioned statement [about choosing his mother over justice] has been held up by generations of anti-colonialists and academic post-colonialist theorists – including the likes of Edward Said – as proof of Camus’s weak-mindedness and vacillating nature and, by extension, colonial arrogance toward Algeria.”

I evoke here Camus’ example only to better highlight how the position of the contemporary Jewish intellectual differs from what we may call the position of the intellectual in Europe. What was anathema to the European intellectual – to defend one’s group and family against competing universal claims – is, in fact, what is routinely expected from the Jewish intellectual – by which I mean not only the intellectual of Jewish origins, but the one who engages in a dialogue with his/her community.

I am, of course, perfectly aware there is a wide range of positions in the Jewish intellectual world – from the Zionist to the anti-Zionist via the religious Zionist and the liberal-secular. And yet within this diversity, there are structural constraints, push-and-pull forces that make the position of the Jewish intellectual somewhat unique. In trying to reflect on this position and its constraints, I will adopt Julien Benda’s definition of an intellectual. His 1927 treatise “The Betrayal of the Intellectuals” argued that intellectuals ought to remain above the fray of ordinary politics, and that detachment from one’s national, religious or ethnic group was the condition for the intellectual’s capacity to keep his moral integrity. That is because moral integrity, for Benda, is defined by universal values, which one can represent only by detachment from a particularist, national membership to a group.

Arendt’s dismissal of ahavat Israel runs even deeper than her distaste for collective narcissism. It threatened what Arendt, and many other thinkers before her, defined as the very essence of thinking: namely, independence of mind. In the same letter to Scholem, without even trying to hide her sense of superiority, she averred: “What confuses you is that my arguments and my approach are different from what you are used to; in other words, the trouble is that I am independent. By this I mean, on the one hand, that I do not belong to any organization and always speak only for myself. And on the other hand, that I have great confidence in [Gotthold] Lessing’s selbstdenken [thinking for oneself] for which, I think, no ideology, no public opinion, and no ‘convictions’ can ever be a substitute. Whatever objections you may have to the results, you won’t understand them unless you realize that they are really my own and nobody else’s.”

For Arendt, as for many other Enlightenment thinkers, the possibility of knowing the truth depended on the possibility of thinking on one’s own, unimpeded by prejudices and traditions. This independence gave her a crucial right: not to address the special historical situation of the Jewish people. If true thinking is defined by its independence, it must disregard the needs of her audience or group of reference. That is because remaining within the compass of a group’s own preoccupations would threaten the thinker’s capacity to withdraw from the world in a disinterested way. Arendt coined a striking expression to speak about such activity of thinking: “disinterested intelligence” – the capacity to detach oneself from one’s self-determinations and identity, to understand and judge the world from numerous perspectives, from outside oneself.

Scholem was right: Arendt adopted the position that was most familiar to European Jewish intellectuals who had been, by and large, opposed to nationalism and for whom universalism and Lessing’s selbstdenken were almost synonymous: to think for oneself was to be a universalist, because it presupposed the capacity to see and understand humanity at large rather than to espouse the point of view of a specific group. Groups had narrow interests, and could only blunt the sharpness of disinterested intelligence.

Even more than non-Jews, Jews had a fraught relationship with patriotism and nationalism, whose histories had run on parallel tracks to the history of racism. Moreover, the extension of universal rights had been the quickest road for the Jews to achieve equality in their national contexts. As the sociologist Zygmunt Bauman wrote, “Universality is the war-cry of the underprivileged … [and] Jews were underprivileged.”

But as Arendt would experience firsthand, the question of group solidarity came to haunt the Jewish intellectual with a new insistence, because of the two most important events of Jewish history of the last millennium: the Holocaust and the creation of the Jewish state. As an imagined community, the Jews reorganized themselves around a new geographical and political center – Israel – and around a new temporal axis – the memory of the Shoah – making the universalist position that the Jewish intellectual had hitherto taken far more difficult to hold.

Even if some Jews remained universalists, from the 1960s onward, that universalism faced the two highly particularist demands of the State of Israel and the memorialization of the Shoah, and both renewed and even intensified the claims of ahavat Israel. As historian Pierre Birnbaum wrote, “[A] long history is probably coming to an end: that of the encounter of the Jews and the Enlightenment, conceived strictly on the universalist mode.”

Arendt’s refusal to respond to the needs of her group and the fury her positions generated is only one of the many occurrences in a long list of hostile reactions by the organized Jewish community to critique, defined here as a sustained questioning of a group’s beliefs and practices. (For a superb discussion of these issues, see Idith Zertal’s 2005 book “Israel’s Holocaust and the Politics of Nationhood.”) In fact, over the last 30 years, one of the favorite exercises of various representatives of Jewish and Israeli communities has been to unmask the hidden anti-Zionist or anti-Jewish tenets of critique. I am not saying some of the critiques of Israel may not be motivated by anti-Semitism.I simply note that the suspicion of critique has become an elaborate cultural and intellectual genre in the Jewish world.

Given that many of the members of that Jewish community do not profess strict religious dogma (and are thus dissimilar from the Muslims who issue fatwas against their intellectuals), this raises a puzzle. Why have moderately religious Jewish communities become so reluctant to perform what has characterized the ordinary task of intellectuals since Socrates: namely, to criticize and question the assumptions of their group in the name of universals? Why has it become so palpably difficult to criticize Israel or Jewish communities, even when Israel engages in blatant “marches of folly”? Scholem’s anger offers a hint: To be admissible, critique (of the Jewish people) must produce a code of love and solidarity.

The politics of solidarity

For sociologists, solidarity is an ordinary feature of any group, it is situated in the many rituals through which people act as members of a group, be it a tribe, a large country, or a university (public holidays, anthems, distinctive food or clothing style all mark group membership and solidarity). Ahavat Israel is a form of solidarity, but slightly differs from it. For one, it is an explicitly formulated injunction to love one’s group, whereas ordinary solidarity is invisibly embedded in social relations. The Talmudic sage Rabbi Akiva made the injunction of loving one’s neighbor into a rule, and his interpreters (Hazal, the sages) interpreted that rule as a commandment to love the close neighbor, the Jew. That interpretation became institutionalized in the 12th century by Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah.

There is another difference between solidarity and ahavat Israel: the historical context of Rabbi Akiva’s injunction was the destruction of the Temple and the growing conflict between different Jewish sects, the persecution of Jews, the Second Diaspora, and the rise of Christianity. In that sense, ahavat Israel was more than solidarity. It was a self-conscious attempt to overcome divisiveness through the imperative of loving a threatened metaphysical, transhistorical and trans-geographical entity called the Jewish people. I would call ahavat Israel a form of hyper-solidarity, an imperative that was all the more moral in that it invited one to consciously, actively love one’s group and to protect it from self-destructive divisiveness and the threats of others.

Cultural values can perpetuate themselves when they are institutionalized and reproduced in organizations. In becoming institutionalized, values become also ways of generating feelings (think, for example, of the “love of one’s country,” which remains abstract until it is institutionalized in concrete practices). Counterintuitively, I would argue that the imperative of ahavat Israel intensified in the period after World War II by way of three major institutions: the structure of American politics; the memorialization of the Holocaust; and Zionism.

1.

What is conventionally called the Israel Lobby – arguably the strongest one in American politics, along with the National Rifle Association – was the result of the encounter of the powerful cultural value of ahavat Israel with two key institutional features of American society: the fact that American politics is organized into interest groups; and the fact that immigrant minorities could legitimately hyphenate their citizenship (these two conditions are, for example, absent in France).

The Israel Lobby started exercising its power on American politics with the Truman administration (see Jerome Slater’s blog for an in-depth discussion of John Judis’ book “Genesis: Truman, American Jews, and the Origins of the Arab/Israeli Conflict”), and basically went from strength to strength with the following administrations, enforcing everywhere the idea that American Jews had a natural bond of solidarity with Israel, and creating a powerful politics of solidarity through organizations like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and myriad other networks, both philanthropic and Zionist (e.g., one-year study programs at Israeli universities, Taglit-Birthright trips, the Hadassah organization, the Hillel organization on American campuses, and many others). John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt’s widely derided book “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy” (2007) has exposed what it views as the detrimental effects of such lobbying on American foreign interests.

But my point here is different: The Israel lobby institutionalized ahavat Israel in the space of American politics. Once it became institutionalized, it became a powerful, invisible, unspoken assumption of organized American-Jewish politics. In Mearsheimer and Walt’s original essay, published in the London Review of Books in March 2006, they quote an activist from a major Jewish organization: “It is routine for us [Jews] to say, ‘This is our policy on a certain issue, but we must check what the Israelis think.’ We as a community do it all the time.” Mearsheimer and Walt reported that when Edgar Bronfman – then president of the World Jewish Congress – wrote a letter to President George W. Bush in mid-2003, urging him to intervenewith Israel’s project to build a “security fence,” his move was deemed “obscene” by members of the Jewish community. In the eyes of many, the only function that the president of the World Jewish Congress should have is to lobby the president of the United States to support policies of the Israeli government.

Clearly, then, the organized American-Jewish community translated ahavat Israel into the prime form of political expression. Such imperative of solidarity brings with it the injunction to not oppose or express publicly disagreement with official Jewish bodies. Rabbi Dr. David Luchins – who had been a Senate staff member for three decades – said it was “devastating” for American Jews to criticize Israeli policies “in front of U.S. politicians” or in ads in The New York Times. (Haaretz, August 2, 2004). The expression “in front of” reveals an unconscious and deep division between an in-group back stage, and a front-stage of non-Jews, a high “in-group” awareness, an inner injunction that the inside should be protected from the outside, an imperative of solidarity, and a belief that public critique fissures the strength of a vulnerable group. This basic in-group/out-group division in turn creates transnational bonds of solidarity and extends to world Jewry at large.

2.

The second element that played an enormous role in the consolidation of Jewish solidarity in conditions of modernity was the institutionalization of the memory of the Holocaust. Sometime during the 1970s and ’80s, liberal societies became increasingly uncomfortable with their colonial past and of the pan-European persecution of the Jews. They engaged in a politics of memorialization, recognizing through public apologies and rituals of memory the suffering that European powers had inflicted on their colonial minorities and on the Jews. Such political recognition of liberal societies resonated with changes within Jewish communities after World War II, who reorganized their identity around non-religious values.

The memory of the Shoah became a source of secular identity for Jews, and was accentuated by the universalization of the Holocaust by liberal societies (non-Jews started appropriating the memory of the Shoah to promote their own universal values). The centrality of the Shoah for Jewish identity is largely confirmed by an October 2013 Pew Research Center survey, which asked young American Jews to define their Jewish identity. A staggering 73 percent answered that remembering the Holocaust was an essential part of their Jewish identity. Thus, the collective memory of the Shoah generated solidarity by becoming a form of, or a part of, Jewish identity.

More than that, memory quickly became a devoir de memoire – a moral duty to remember, commemorate, identify with Jewish history. This memory in turn connected Jews to a central element of the moral vocabulary of modern societies: the victim.

Victims (of political regimes, massacres, traumas, disasters) have become the central and uncontested moral figure of the post-1960s political culture, ironically helping Jews find the moral status they had lacked in a European culture that had, for centuries, demonized them. The exercise of memory had further and more subtle implications on Jewish solidarity. Through a displacement that is frequent in the collective unconscious of peoples and nations, Arab countries – which did not initially recognize the State of Israel and launched their own aggressive wars against it – would slowly replace the Germans’ threat to annihilate the Jews.

Germany had become one of the most liberal countries in the world, had done a considerable amount of symbolic memorialization of the genocide they undertook, as well as taking financial responsibility for it, and was thus no longer a target of Jewish fear and mistrust. Arabs, however – who cultivated their own brand of anti-Semitism inside and outside Arab nations (see, for example, the virulent species of Muslim anti-Semitism currently in vogue in France) – could become the New Germans: the entity that for Jews now threatened to annihilate them. Drawing a straight historical line between the Nazis and the Arabs, fear constituted a strong axis of solidarity for Jews around the world.

3.

The third and final element that turned solidarity into the prime emotional and political motif of world Jewish communities was Zionism itself. As a nationalist ideology, Zionism became somewhat anomalous: Instead of ending with the creation of the state, it only gained in strength and scope. In fact, it became an ongoing project of identification, membership and belonging for Jews around the world, both inside and outside Israel. Through the wide-ranging and far-reaching activities of the Jewish Agency and myriad youth movements deployed in the Diaspora, Zionism extended its activities far beyond the borders of Israel, long after the creation of the state in 1948.

Zionism became a permanent and transnational nationalist practice, creating and incessantly activating the conditions for identification with Israel among Jews. In that sense, it made belonging into a permanent condition of being Jewish, produced and reproduced by a large amount of Jewish institutions, events and organizations (the Jewish Agency, gala events, support for the Israel Defense Forces, philanthropic events, the very concept of aliyah and “return,” etc.). As Faisal Devji argues in “Muslim Zion,” his 2013 book about the making of Pakistan, “Zion is a political form rather than a holy land, one that rejects hereditary linkages between ethnicity and soil in favor of membership based on nothing but an idea of belonging.”

My point is this: Beyond the real plurality of positions and interests that make up the Jewish community, the imperative of hyper-solidarity has been the dominant political ethos and pathos of contemporary organized Jewry. To paraphrase Carl von Clausewitz’s famous words, for the Jews, hyper-solidarity has been politics by other means.

This is in sharp contrast to traditional forms of politics, which preoccupy themselves with questions of representation, limitations of power, the relationship between rulers and ruled, etc. The politics of hyper-solidarity, and hyper-solidarity as politics, are so deeply entrenched in Jewish liturgy, in philanthropic networks, in collective memory, in institutions linking Israel and the Diaspora communities, it has come to define and even overwhelm the moral, existential and epistemic reality of Jews, the filter through which questions of morality and truth are thought of and decided.

What obstructs the realization that solidarity and belonging have been political strategies and a source of political strength is that solidarity is always a work of love, a moral enterprise and, by and large, we do not have a political vocabulary to criticize love. This double characteristic of solidarity – it is a source of both power and moral identity – explains why it is more difficult for the Jewish critic to find an institutional niche inside organized Jewish communities, why critique cannot be proffered. Rather, what is audible inside the organized Jewish community is only a critique that affirms its basic identification with, and love of, the Jews and Israel.

A few examples come to mind. Ari Shavit’s recent book, evocatively titled “My Promised Land,” discusses the Nakba (“catastrophe” – what the Palestinians call their expulsion by the Jews when Israel was created), but still vehemently affirms and reaffirms throughout its unwavering commitment and love for the State of Israel. Or think of the efforts by American-Jewish liberals to show that their liberalism is an emanation of (presumably universalist) Jewish values rooted in the Bible, as if humanist and liberal values unconnected to Jewishness would disqualify their legitimacy. Or J Street, a liberal organization that defines itself as a political alternative to AIPAC. Jeremy Ben-Ami, the founder and chair of J Street, declared on the inauguration of the organization: “The party and the viewpoint that we’re closest to in Israeli politics is actually Kadima.”

In other words, if an organization calling itself an alternative to the mainstream Jewish networks of solidarity defines its views on foreign policy as being closest to a party founded by members of Likud, such an organization clearly aims to consciously remain within the orbit and compass of Israeli conventional politics.

These examples help us ask the following question: Why is it so difficult to criticize Israel from a greater distance? Why is critical detachment so difficult?

Solidarity vs. Truth

In his 1983 lectures on “Discourse and Truth,” French philosopher Michel Foucault became interested in an astonishing form of speech, which he called “parrhetic.” Parrhesia is that quality of speech whose impulse is to say the truth (and not, for example, to conceal, or to persuade or to want power). How do we know its impulse is to say the truth? Because telling the truth endangers the speaker, puts him/her at risk of being banished by his/her community or the sovereign. Parrhesia is the fearless speech one utters to someone who in turn has the possibility of punishing him/her for telling the truth (punishment can be real or symbolic).

Because of this danger, Foucault argues that between the sovereign and the truth-speaker, a “parrhesiastic contract” is forged. This contract, he explained, “became relatively important in the political life of rulers in the Greco-Roman world” and consisted of the following: “The sovereign, the one who has power but lacks the truth, addresses himself to the one who has the truth but lacks power, and tells him: ‘If you tell me the truth, no matter what this truth turns out to be, you won’t be punished; and those who are responsible for any injustices will be punished, but not those who speak the truth about such injustices.’”

Parrhetic speech appeared to be an important element of Athenian democracy, both for the rulers and citizens. It later became the mark of the wise sovereign, the one who was able to listen to the hard truths told by his adviser (as opposed to the foolish rulers who do not listen to difficult truths).

Let me offer what can be nothing more than a speculation here: For most of their long history, Jews have not enjoyed political sovereignty, and thus did not develop cultural and political models for parrhetic contracts – by which the sovereign forgoes his power and listens to the truth (in other words, hears the critique of his power). While the image of the biblical prophet could have provided a model of parrhetic speech, its possible legacy was never exploited in the context of a politics of critique.

On the contrary: Because exclusion and the halakha (Jewish religious law) forced on Jews a communal life contained within well-drawn ethnic and religious boundaries, preoccupied with the purity of Jewish blood, manifestations of solidarity were of paramount importance and substituted for politics. Moreover, after the 17th century fiasco of the false messianism of Shabbetai Zvi, Jewish communities became far more preoccupied with the false speech that pretends to say the truth, rather than with the question of the conditions for true speech. Let me offer the hypothesis that these two elements made cultural models of parrhetic contracts far less dominant in Jewish culture than in the non-Jewish one.

Parrhesia is a speech that claims to say the truth, but changes its object according to the domain in which it is exercised. Sometimes it can be opposed to, say, Apollo’s silence; sometimes to the will of the people itself (as when one opposes demagoguery, or the flattery of the majority); and sometimes, as with Socrates, parrhesia is, as Foucault explains, “opposed to self-ignorance and the false teachings of the sophists.” Parrhetic speech does not always speak the same truth, but it speaks the truth that a specific community or sovereign does not want to hear.

Following Foucault’s concepts, we may say then that the parrhetic speech of the Jewish intellectual is directed not to self-ignorance (as in Socrates) or to silence (Apollo), but to group solidarity, because, as Arendt rightly claimed, parrhetic speech is independent. If an intellectual is the one “who has the right, the duty and the courage to speak the truth,” then he is the one who takes the risk to breach solidarity with the group.

The Jewish intellectual‘s dilemma is even more acute than that of the non-Jewish intellectual, because s/he is divided between two equally powerful and explicit moral imperatives: truth and solidarity. To put oneself in the position of speaking the truth is to undermine the solidarity of the group, found not only in the affirmation of love to the group, but also in the participation of its collective myths and stories.

Finally, by definition, parrhetic contracts – those which legitimize critique – enable the critic to remain within the group. But in conditions of hyper-solidarity, to criticize is to forgo that solidarity, because critique always assumes a position of exteriority. When Arendt wrote to Scholem, “The injustice committed by my own people naturally provokes me more than injustice done by others,” she only defined the normal situation of parrhetic speech. But she was not granted the right to occupy the parrhetic position – that is, remaining inside the group while critiquing it. Indeed, “Eichmann in Jerusalem” was virtually banned in Israel until 2000, when it was finally translated into Hebrew.

Critique in the Jewish world must either constantly provide proofs of love or must face accusations of anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism, various forms of ostracism, black lists, media watch agencies, organizations such as Im Tirtzu monitoring course curricula and universities, philanthropic blackmail, etc.

One could retort that critique of Israel is far more present in Israel than among Jewish communities in the Diaspora. This is correct. Here, too, Foucault is enlightening. In his analysis of Euripides’ “The Phoenician Women,” Jocasta – Oedipus’ mother – asks her son Polyneices what it feels like to be exiled.

 

Jocasta: This above all I long to know: What is an exile’s life? Is it great misery?

Polyneices: The greatest; worse in reality than in report.

Jocasta: Worse in what way? What chiefly galls an exile’s heart?

Polyneices: The worst is this: right of free speech does not exist.

Jocasta: That’s a slave’s life – to be forbidden to speak one’s mind.

Polyneices: One has to endure the idiocy of those who rule.

Jocasta: To join fools in their foolishness – that makes one sick.

Polyneices: One finds it pays to deny nature and be a slave.

 

Exile, says Polyneices, prevents you from speaking the truth fearlessly. Only being at home provides the conditions for fearless speech, perhaps precisely because only political homes and sovereigns create parrhetic contracts and enable critics to remain inside the group while looking at it from the outside. We are then compelled to conclude that while most of the liberal nations in which Jews live are far more liberal than Israel, their Jewish communities are far less liberal in their toleration of dissent than Israel.

Some, like U.S. philosopher Michael Walzer, would argue that it is the responsibility of the critic to be heard in such a way as to remain inside the group. The best critics, Walzer claims, are those who speak in a tone that feels close and familiar to the group he criticizes; the best critics rebuke their fellows in the name of the values their group holds dear, and does not speak from radical detachment (like Arendt, for example). But Walzer does not ask if some communities make it easier to remain inside their compass while critiquing them. He does not ask which contracts must exist for a critic’s voice to feel close and familiar to the members of the community s/he addresses. He does not ask if some communities do not make more demands of closeness than others. Surely, not only critics but also their communities must be scrutinized for the extent to which they enable or deny the right to criticize them.

Before I conclude, let me confess this: I am moved by Scholem’s anguish. Like him, I believe there are such things as duties of the heart (herzenstakt). These duties are the informal codes that regulate our sense of appropriateness, how we mark our respect and care in delicate and painful circumstances.

Should the intellectual care about tact and taste? As Scholem suggested, the Jewish people aches and we request from you that you suspend your cold examination and participate with us in this pain. One does not criticize a person at their funeral. Scholem invokes a tacit code of honor in which one should not attack someone who is weak or add pain to a long-standing history of suffering.

A striking example of such tact can be found in Raymond Aron, the great Jewish-French intellectual. A few years after Arendt wrote with restrained passion about Israel, on June 7, 1967 – after the onset of the Six-Day War – Aron wrote in Le Figaro: “Statecide, of course, is not genocide. The French Jews who gave their soul to all the black, brown or yellow Revolutionaries now feel great pain when their friends scream their fear of death. I suffer like them not because we have become Zionists or Israelis, but because an irresistible movement of solidarity rises in us. And it does not matter where such movement comes from [emphasis added]. If the great powers, according to their own cold and interested calculations, let that small state that is not mine get destroyed, this crime, which will be small in regard to the world, would take away from me any desire to live and I believe that millions and millions of men would be ashamed of their humanity.”

Aron makes clear that Israel is not his country; he remains French. And yet he says in heartrending terms that if Israel ceased to exist, he would not have the strength to keep living. Solidarity here is not a principled or systematic position, but an instinct activated by a unique historical event. It is not politics, not an institution, but a movement of the heart, the trace of a noninstitutional memory, a supreme form of tact, knowing what to do and say in the right circumstances – not because of an a priori ideological position, but because in extreme circumstances, one simply knows for whom one’s heart beats faster.

In the public sphere, herzenstakt is that ineffable capacity to balance the urge to speak the truth with the recognition of someone else’s actual or potential distress. In that sense, Arendt lacked tact, and infuriatingly so. But she and Scholem’s exchange opened a much-needed debate on the brutal demands of love that the politics of solidarity makes. Jewish intellectuals must resist these demands. When distress becomes institutionalized and memory routinized, the duties of the heart become the handmaidens of ordinary politics. When solidarity becomes a form of politics, it should be treated as politics: we should look for its interests and strategies, for the myths it builds, for the people it excludes and for the injustices it creates. Solidarity can never be demanded a priori by institutions, nations or communities; it should never be the default mode of a group. It can be only the end point of citizens’ relations to just nations and just institutions.

If the contemporary Jewish intellectual has an urgent task, then, it is to unveil the conditions under which Jewish solidarity should or should not be accepted, debunked or embraced. In the face of the ongoing, unrelenting injustices toward Palestinians and Arabs living in Israel, his/her moral duty is to let go, achingly, of that solidarity.

This essay was originally a 2014 Andrea and Charles Bronfman Lecture in Israeli Studies, at the University of Toronto.

Please Fund Our Kickstarter To Send Mike Huckabee To North Korea, Where He Can Be Free

Please Fund Our Kickstarter To Send Mike Huckabee To North Korea, Where He Can Be Free.

PROPERTY RIGHTS UBER ALLES  11:23 am April 14, 2014

Please Fund Our Kickstarter To Send Mike Huckabee To North Korea, Where He Can Be Free

by snipy

Huckabee: ‘More Freedom Sometimes in North Korea Than in United…
Huckabee: ‘More Freedom Sometimes in North Korea Than in United States’

Do you dig Mike Huckabee? Who doesn’t, really? If you do, you’ll definitely be into his speech at the Conservative Value Freedom Summit God Bless America Property Rights Jamboree thing over the weekend, sponsored, of course, by Citizens United and Americans For Prosperity. Huckabee, like every other conservative there, was stroking himself off to the thought that there might be an insurrection uprising shootout fun time over Cliven Bundy’s refusal to pay fees to graze his cattle on public land, because everyone knows that God meant for Americans to use every last bit of land for their personal gain whether they own it or not, because freedom. But Huckabee took his haranguing one step farther, and managed to do a conservative greatest hit concert and hit every imaginary grievance those people have. Oh, and he also decided he’d rather live in North Korea because of all their freedoms.

 

Oh my god, check out that crowd of old white people. They keep hopping up to give Mike a standing O for his stirring words, but then they sit right down again, only to pop up a few seconds later. A bunch of them probably had to take their heart pills after that.

Now you might think “oh hey, I kind of wouldn’t feel free in a place where people are starving to death and get shot by the Dear Leader for disagreeing, or for being his ex-girlfriend, you know how it is, chicks man, but that is because you are not Mike Huckabee, and you have not suffered the slings and arrows of Fast and Furious, which is a thing conservatives are still mad about, we guess? Also too BENGHAZI!1!, which we did not think could relate at all to cattle grazing, but in the fevered mind of Mike Huckabee it does because we have no idea why.

Mike Huckabee is also very mad about Brandeis students protesting the proposed commencement speaker, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, because they realized she is maybe kind of a bit too firebrand-y about hating Islam. And oh, Mike is positively overcome with sadmad about Brendan Eich having to leave Mozilla because of the gay marriage hating. We are not really sure how examples of two private institutions making decisions about speech in their own private institutions equal government tyranny, but again, we are not Mike Huckabee. Perhaps he thinks that Bamz amassed some ATF and FBI agents at the doors of Brandeis and Mozilla and made them do it?

So Fast and Furious plus Benghazi multiplied by Brandeis and Mozilla equals less freedom than North Korea, especially because Mike Huckabee has to show ID at the airport.

“My gosh, I’m beginning to think that there’s more freedom in North Korea sometimes than there is in the United States,” he continued. “When I go to the airport, I have to get in the surrender position while people put hands all over me. And I have to provide photo ID in a couple of different forms, and prove that I really am not going to terrorize the airplane.”

Huckabee added: “But if I want to go vote, I don’t need a thing. All I got to do is show up and I can give them anybody’s name, and that’s okay.”

Sound argument! Except for the fact that there is no constitutional right to fly on a plane, but the whole voting thing is kinda enshrined in the Constitution, but otherwise those things are exactly the same indeed.

Given that we don’t yet have the technology to send Mike Huckabee on a rocket into the sun, we’ll have to settle for crowdfunding a plane to take him to the Worker’s Paradise that is North Korea. Help us out, won’t you?

[Raw Story]

Read more at http://wonkette.com/546424/please-fund-our-kickstarter-to-send-mike-huckabee-to-north-korea-where-he-can-be-free#211rEY374UiLbBJH.99

PROPERTY RIGHTS UBER ALLES  11:23 am April 14, 2014

Please Fund Our Kickstarter To Send Mike Huckabee To North Korea, Where He Can Be Free

by snipy

Huckabee: ‘More Freedom Sometimes in North Korea Than in United…
Huckabee: ‘More Freedom Sometimes in North Korea Than in United States’

Do you dig Mike Huckabee? Who doesn’t, really? If you do, you’ll definitely be into his speech at the Conservative Value Freedom Summit God Bless America Property Rights Jamboree thing over the weekend, sponsored, of course, by Citizens United and Americans For Prosperity. Huckabee, like every other conservative there, was stroking himself off to the thought that there might be an insurrection uprising shootout fun time over Cliven Bundy’s refusal to pay fees to graze his cattle on public land, because everyone knows that God meant for Americans to use every last bit of land for their personal gain whether they own it or not, because freedom. But Huckabee took his haranguing one step farther, and managed to do a conservative greatest hit concert and hit every imaginary grievance those people have. Oh, and he also decided he’d rather live in North Korea because of all their freedoms.

 

Oh my god, check out that crowd of old white people. They keep hopping up to give Mike a standing O for his stirring words, but then they sit right down again, only to pop up a few seconds later. A bunch of them probably had to take their heart pills after that.

Now you might think “oh hey, I kind of wouldn’t feel free in a place where people are starving to death and get shot by the Dear Leader for disagreeing, or for being his ex-girlfriend, you know how it is, chicks man, but that is because you are not Mike Huckabee, and you have not suffered the slings and arrows of Fast and Furious, which is a thing conservatives are still mad about, we guess? Also too BENGHAZI!1!, which we did not think could relate at all to cattle grazing, but in the fevered mind of Mike Huckabee it does because we have no idea why.

Mike Huckabee is also very mad about Brandeis students protesting the proposed commencement speaker, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, because they realized she is maybe kind of a bit too firebrand-y about hating Islam. And oh, Mike is positively overcome with sadmad about Brendan Eich having to leave Mozilla because of the gay marriage hating. We are not really sure how examples of two private institutions making decisions about speech in their own private institutions equal government tyranny, but again, we are not Mike Huckabee. Perhaps he thinks that Bamz amassed some ATF and FBI agents at the doors of Brandeis and Mozilla and made them do it?

So Fast and Furious plus Benghazi multiplied by Brandeis and Mozilla equals less freedom than North Korea, especially because Mike Huckabee has to show ID at the airport.

“My gosh, I’m beginning to think that there’s more freedom in North Korea sometimes than there is in the United States,” he continued. “When I go to the airport, I have to get in the surrender position while people put hands all over me. And I have to provide photo ID in a couple of different forms, and prove that I really am not going to terrorize the airplane.”

Huckabee added: “But if I want to go vote, I don’t need a thing. All I got to do is show up and I can give them anybody’s name, and that’s okay.”

Sound argument! Except for the fact that there is no constitutional right to fly on a plane, but the whole voting thing is kinda enshrined in the Constitution, but otherwise those things are exactly the same indeed.

Given that we don’t yet have the technology to send Mike Huckabee on a rocket into the sun, we’ll have to settle for crowdfunding a plane to take him to the Worker’s Paradise that is North Korea. Help us out, won’t you?

[Raw Story]

Read more at http://wonkette.com/546424/please-fund-our-kickstarter-to-send-mike-huckabee-to-north-korea-where-he-can-be-free#211rEY374UiLbBJH.99

PROPERTY RIGHTS UBER ALLES  11:23 am April 14, 2014

Please Fund Our Kickstarter To Send Mike Huckabee To North Korea, Where He Can Be Free

by snipy

Huckabee: ‘More Freedom Sometimes in North Korea Than in United…
Huckabee: ‘More Freedom Sometimes in North Korea Than in United States’

Do you dig Mike Huckabee? Who doesn’t, really? If you do, you’ll definitely be into his speech at the Conservative Value Freedom Summit God Bless America Property Rights Jamboree thing over the weekend, sponsored, of course, by Citizens United and Americans For Prosperity. Huckabee, like every other conservative there, was stroking himself off to the thought that there might be an insurrection uprising shootout fun time over Cliven Bundy’s refusal to pay fees to graze his cattle on public land, because everyone knows that God meant for Americans to use every last bit of land for their personal gain whether they own it or not, because freedom. But Huckabee took his haranguing one step farther, and managed to do a conservative greatest hit concert and hit every imaginary grievance those people have. Oh, and he also decided he’d rather live in North Korea because of all their freedoms.

 

Oh my god, check out that crowd of old white people. They keep hopping up to give Mike a standing O for his stirring words, but then they sit right down again, only to pop up a few seconds later. A bunch of them probably had to take their heart pills after that.

Now you might think “oh hey, I kind of wouldn’t feel free in a place where people are starving to death and get shot by the Dear Leader for disagreeing, or for being his ex-girlfriend, you know how it is, chicks man, but that is because you are not Mike Huckabee, and you have not suffered the slings and arrows of Fast and Furious, which is a thing conservatives are still mad about, we guess? Also too BENGHAZI!1!, which we did not think could relate at all to cattle grazing, but in the fevered mind of Mike Huckabee it does because we have no idea why.

Mike Huckabee is also very mad about Brandeis students protesting the proposed commencement speaker, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, because they realized she is maybe kind of a bit too firebrand-y about hating Islam. And oh, Mike is positively overcome with sadmad about Brendan Eich having to leave Mozilla because of the gay marriage hating. We are not really sure how examples of two private institutions making decisions about speech in their own private institutions equal government tyranny, but again, we are not Mike Huckabee. Perhaps he thinks that Bamz amassed some ATF and FBI agents at the doors of Brandeis and Mozilla and made them do it?

So Fast and Furious plus Benghazi multiplied by Brandeis and Mozilla equals less freedom than North Korea, especially because Mike Huckabee has to show ID at the airport.

“My gosh, I’m beginning to think that there’s more freedom in North Korea sometimes than there is in the United States,” he continued. “When I go to the airport, I have to get in the surrender position while people put hands all over me. And I have to provide photo ID in a couple of different forms, and prove that I really am not going to terrorize the airplane.”

Huckabee added: “But if I want to go vote, I don’t need a thing. All I got to do is show up and I can give them anybody’s name, and that’s okay.”

Sound argument! Except for the fact that there is no constitutional right to fly on a plane, but the whole voting thing is kinda enshrined in the Constitution, but otherwise those things are exactly the same indeed.

Given that we don’t yet have the technology to send Mike Huckabee on a rocket into the sun, we’ll have to settle for crowdfunding a plane to take him to the Worker’s Paradise that is North Korea. Help us out, won’t you?

[Raw Story]

Read more at http://wonkette.com/546424/please-fund-our-kickstarter-to-send-mike-huckabee-to-north-korea-where-he-can-be-free#211rEY374UiLbBJH.99

Portraits of Reconciliation

If you need a good cry or some serious reflection upon humanity, here’s an outstanding NY Times piece…

http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/04/06/magazine/06-pieter-hugo-rwanda-portraits.html?action=click&contentCollection=Baseball&module=MostEmailed&version=Full&region=Marginalia&src=me&pgtype=article

Portraits of Reconciliation

20 years after the genocide in Rwanda,
reconciliation still happens one encounter at a time.

Photographs By Pieter Hugo Text by Susan Dominus

François Sinzikiramuka, perpetrator (left); Christophe Karorero, survivor.

Last month, the photographer Pieter Hugo went to southern Rwanda, two decades after nearly a million people were killed during the country’s genocide, and captured a series of unlikely, almost unthinkable tableaus. In one, a woman rests her hand on the shoulder of the man who killed her father and brothers. In another, a woman poses with a casually reclining man who looted her property and whose father helped murder her husband and children. In many of these photos, there is little evident warmth between the pairs, and yet there they are, together. In each, the perpetrator is a Hutu who was granted pardon by the Tutsi survivor of his crime.

The people who agreed to be photographed are part of a continuing national effort toward reconciliation and worked closely with AMI (Association Modeste et Innocent), a nonprofit organization. In AMI’s program, small groups of Hutus and Tutsis are counseled over many months, culminating in the perpetrator’s formal request for forgiveness. If forgiveness is granted by the survivor, the perpetrator and his family and friends typically bring a basket of offerings, usually food and sorghum or banana beer. The accord is sealed with song and dance.

The photographs on the following pages are a small selection of a larger body on display — outdoors, in large format — starting this month in The Hague. The series was commissioned by Creative Court, an arts organization based there, as part of “Rwanda 20 Years,” a program exploring the theme of forgiveness. The images will eventually be shown at memorials and churches in Rwanda.

At the photo shoots, Hugo said, the relationships between the victims and the perpetrators varied widely. Some pairs showed up and sat easily together, chatting about village gossip. Others arrived willing to be photographed but unable to go much further. “There’s clearly different degrees of forgiveness,” Hugo said. “In the photographs, the distance or closeness you see is pretty accurate.”

In interviews conducted by AMI and Creative Court for the project, the subjects spoke of the pardoning process as an important step toward improving their lives. “These people can’t go anywhere else — they have to make peace,” Hugo explained. “Forgiveness is not born out of some airy-fairy sense of benevolence. It’s more out of a survival instinct.” Yet the practical necessity of reconciliation does not detract from the emotional strength required of these Rwandans to forge it — or to be photographed, for that matter, side by side.

Sinzikiramuka, Perpetrator (opening image, left): “I asked him for forgiveness because his brother was killed in my presence. He asked me why I pleaded guilty, and I replied that I did it as someone who witnessed this crime but who was unable to save anybody. It was the order from authorities. I let him know who the killers were, and the killers also asked him for pardon.”

Karorero, Survivor: “Sometimes justice does not give someone a satisfactory answer — cases are subject to corruption. But when it comes to forgiveness willingly granted, one is satisfied once and for all. When someone is full of anger, he can lose his mind. But when I granted forgiveness, I felt my mind at rest.”

Jean Pierre Karenzi Perpetrator (left) Viviane Nyiramana SurvivorKarenzi: “My conscience was not quiet, and when I would see her I was very ashamed. After being trained about unity and reconciliation, I went to her house and asked for forgiveness. Then I shook her hand. So far, we are on good terms.”

Nyiramana: “He killed my father and three brothers. He did these killings with other people, but he came alone to me and asked for pardon. He and a group of other offenders who had been in prison helped me build a house with a covered roof. I was afraid of him — now I have granted him pardon, things have become normal, and in my mind I feel clear.”

Godefroid Mudaheranwa Perpetrator (left) Evasta Mukanyandwi SurvivorMudaheranwa: “I burned her house. I attacked her in order to kill her and her children, but God protected them, and they escaped. When I was released from jail, if I saw her, I would run and hide. Then AMI started to provide us with trainings. I decided to ask her for forgiveness. To have good relationships with the person to whom you did evil deeds — we thank God.”

Mukanyandwi: “I used to hate him. When he came to my house and knelt down before me and asked for forgiveness, I was moved by his sincerity. Now, if I cry for help, he comes to rescue me. When I face any issue, I call him.”

Juvenal Nzabamwita Perpetrator (right) Cansilde Kampundu SurvivorNzabamwita: “I damaged and looted her property. I spent nine and a half years in jail. I had been educated to know good from evil before being released. And when I came home, I thought it would be good to approach the person to whom I did evil deeds and ask for her forgiveness. I told her that I would stand by her, with all the means at my disposal. My own father was involved in killing her children. When I learned that my parent had behaved wickedly, for that I profoundly begged her pardon, too.”

Kampundu: “My husband was hiding, and men hunted him down and killed him on a Tuesday. The following Tuesday, they came back and killed my two sons. I was hoping that my daughters would be saved, but then they took them to my husband’s village and killed them and threw them in the latrine. I was not able to remove them from that hole. I knelt down and prayed for them, along with my younger brother, and covered the latrine with dirt. The reason I granted pardon is because I realized that I would never get back the beloved ones I had lost. I could not live a lonely life — I wondered, if I was ill, who was going to stay by my bedside, and if I was in trouble and cried for help, who was going to rescue me? I preferred to grant pardon.”

Deogratias Habyarimana Perpetrator (right) Cesarie Mukabutera SurvivorHabyarimana: “When I was still in jail, President Kagame stated that the prisoners who would plead guilty and ask pardon would be released. I was among the first ones to do this. Once I was outside, it was also necessary to ask pardon to the victim. Mother Mukabutera Caesarea could not have known I was involved in the killings of her children, but I told her what happened. When she granted me pardon, all the things in my heart that had made her look at me like a wicked man faded away.”

Mukabutera: “Many among us had experienced the evils of war many times, and I was asking myself what I was created for. The internal voice used to tell me, ‘‘It is not fair to avenge your beloved one.’’ It took time, but in the end we realized that we are all Rwandans. The genocide was due to bad governance that set neighbors, brothers and sisters against one another. Now you accept and you forgive. The person you have forgiven becomes a good neighbor. One feels peaceful and thinks well of the future.”

François Ntambara Perpetrator (left) Epiphanie Mukamusoni SurvivorNtambara: “Because of the genocide perpetrated in 1994, I participated in the killing of the son of this woman. We are now members of the same group of unity and reconciliation. We share in everything; if she needs some water to drink, I fetch some for her. There is no suspicion between us, whether under sunlight or during the night. I used to have nightmares recalling the sad events I have been through, but now I can sleep peacefully. And when we are together, we are like brother and sister, no suspicion between us.”

Mukamusoni: “He killed my child, then he came to ask me pardon. I immediately granted it to him because he did not do it by himself — he was haunted by the devil. I was pleased by the way he testified to the crime instead of keeping it in hiding, because it hurts if someone keeps hiding a crime he committed against you. Before, when I had not yet granted him pardon, he could not come close to me. I treated him like my enemy. But now, I would rather treat him like my own child.”

Dominique Ndahimana Perpetrator (left) Cansilde Munganyinka SurvivorNdahimana: “The day I thought of asking pardon, I felt unburdened and relieved. I had lost my humanity because of the crime I committed, but now I am like any human being.”

Munganyinka: “After I was chased from my village and Dominique and others looted it, I became homeless and insane. Later, when he asked my pardon, I said: ‘I have nothing to feed my children. Are you going to help raise my children? Are you going to build a house for them?’ The next week, Dominique came with some survivors and former prisoners who perpetrated genocide. There were more than 50 of them, and they built my family a house. Ever since then, I have started to feel better. I was like a dry stick; now I feel peaceful in my heart, and I share this peace with my neighbors.”

Laurent Nsabimana Perpetrator (right) Beatrice Mukarwambari SurvivorNsabimana: “I participated in destroying her house because we took the owner for dead. The houses that remained without owners — we thought it was better to destroy them in order to get firewood. Her forgiveness proved to me that she is a person with a pure heart.”

Mukarwambari: “If I am not stubborn, life moves forward. When someone comes close to you without hatred, although horrible things happened, you welcome him and grant what he is looking for from you. Forgiveness equals mercy.”

Digital design: Matt Ruby and Rumsey Taylor

Suggestions from an old SIU-C watcher for new entrants to our system

Here is some academic advisement from beyond the grave by deceased Southern Illinois University philosophy professor George McClure. He contributed this essay for issue #1 of BASEMENT, an underground newspaper in Carbondale, IL that came off the press in the form of 3,000 8 page tabloids April 1, 1989. Space and time constraints resulted in the omission of this piece. Written over 25 years ago, it may or may not be relevant for you today, but I’ve been carrying the typewritten manuscript with me for the duration and submit it for your edification.

Suggestions from an old SIU-C watcher for new entrants to our system:

This is addressed to those people who want to get an education, whatever that means.  Part of what it means to me is that you’d like to exit the place a bit smarter and more open for new possibilities than you were when you got here.  Also, of course, you’d like to be equipped with some abilities that would make you more able to earn a living in the present (awful) real world.  I don’t think these are two exclusively eliminative options.  But you have to work at it because the external bureaucracy isn’t set up to encourage education.  I mean, the officials who operate the offices and advisement centers and loan offices (with a few important exceptions I’ll mention later) are just trying to do their jobs as defined by their bosses.  Few persons of authority you’ll talk to are disinterested counselors as to how to trick SIU into giving you a decent education.

Well, but wait for a second.  Why should you want a decent education for Christ’s sake?  I’m not sure.  God knows there are plenty of clods and sods who’ve made a name for themselves without any benefit of the slightest knowledge of anything whatever—and without any demonstrable skills in activities above the level of guile and thievery.  It’s hard to say briefly, but a lot of good people, for the last couple of millennia, have thought that having some sense of what’s going on, and some sense of what’s important for human life, is a better guide to the good life than simply sticking your head where the wind only blows one way.  Education, as I’m using the term, doesn’t by any means guarantee that you’ll have that sense, or that you’ll always be clear about why you got the shaft, but it usually puts you in a position to detect its entrance, and, after the first shock, figure out some alternative responses.

To get practical: here are some suggestions about getting an education at SIU (not listed in order of importance):

Avoid all professional colleges (except possibly engineering) during your first two years.  Register in some college like liberal arts where you don’t have many requirements and you do have a lot of electives.  The reason is that in most of the professional (I use that word with revulsion and sneers) colleges, the faculty are not themselves educated.  They (most, not all) came through the American system of the ’60’s and ’70’s when their schools (of education, business, agriculture, etc.) were not training teachers or scientists, just turning out graduates as fast as they could, in order to boost their own claims to academic respectability.  The more graduates they turned out, the more important they were.  If anyone disagreed about their academic credentials, they started their own journals in which they could publish junk that older journals would never have accepted.  If you seek academic advice from these professionals, you will get mush, because they themselves never had an education, and, not having missed it (since they are making more money than any history prof) they are not aware of its benefits.  When, in time, life catches up with them–e.g., they turn alcoholic, change religions or wives–they have no resources from which to draw sustenance, hope, or understanding.  To comfort themselves in their loneliness, they try to recruit you into the same meaningless career they are victims of.  Misery loves company.  Also, it boosts the student credit hour ratio.

The college of education is especially to be shunned.  Here is the largest collection of pseudo-social scientists masquerading as professionals who know something about how to do what no one knows how to do very well:  educate the young.  But remind yourselves that in the last year or so, major professors of education (themselves!) have recommended (in SCIENCE magazine, for example) that colleges of education at Harvard, Yale, etc. be abolished.  The idea is that prospective teachers should learn something–chemistry, English, or whatever it is they need to be grammar school teachers or high school teachers on the side, and then, go and teach chemistry or reading, to children.  No doubt, there are a few helpful hints and pieces of wisdom (gained through experience, not “scientific studies”) that can be passed on to you, later, when you need it.  But don’t enter a college that exists mostly to give meaningless degrees to not very bright white males who want to move up from principal to superintendent.

Second piece of advice:  Work to develop an active network of informants about quality courses.  (Not who gives an A for a lay, but who seems on top of the field, or at least, who isn’t totally boring.)  There are many helpful people here at SIU who will give such networking aid, if asked.  But you do have to ask, seriously and persistently.  There are advisers, in the college of Liberal Arts, and in the college of Science, who really know what kind of class Prof. Blow runs, and whether Blow is understandable, knowledgeable, boring, or what.  They also know whether this is a class that a person simply wishing to broaden their education can benefit from, or whether this is a class strictly for majors already committed to the field.

Then, too, you need to sidle up to older students who seem, at least, to have been around longer.  Who do they think is good?  If the older and wiser guy starts telling you about who is an easy grade, you can turn them off.  We all want an easy grade, but, damnit, we want to learn a little something too.

Third piece of advice:  if the above two fail, rely on your own cunning.  Sign up for six or seven classes that appear to you to offer some interesting possibilities.  Go to the first few sessions of all of them, and, if you can, talk to instructors or TA’s about what’s going to happen in the class.  In any case, listen to what the instructor seems to be planning, and listen for any signs of intelligibility or understanding of the subject matter.  Also, look out for stylistic incompatibility.  I mean, look out for whether the manner in which this particular person seems to conduct the class is compatible with your own limits of tolerance.  The prof may be very good, but also be possessed of a manner you can’t abide.  No point in sticking around if you’re going to be repulsed by every tone and nuance in the prof’s delivery.  You may decide that you can tolerate the style in order to get the material.  Whatever.  But, at the end of the week or two, make your decision about which three or four or five of the classes you’ll stick with, and drop the others.  At this stage, it won’t cost you anything except the hassle of bureaucracy.  And you will improve your chances of ending up with classes you enjoy and or learn something from.  If, later in the semester, it turns out that you made a mistake about this or that class, drop it officially.  That means, go back to the damned bureaucracy and fill out the proper forms for dropping.  Don’t just blow it off.  If you do that, you’ll get an F on your record, and it’s harder to get rid of those things.  The system, and its computers, are set up for the person who goes through lock-step, obeying all channeling rules, and never changing her mind or having those second thoughts produced by growth and development.

The moral of this polemic is that you can, if you’re devious enough, get an education at SIU, but you have to scheme and plot to do it.

The Parable of the Mashed Potato Police

http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2014/03/tsa-confessions-mashed-potato-police-105116.html#.UzeMKsfQqmM

The Parable of the Mashed Potato Police

And other tales of working for the TSA.

By JASON EDWARD HARRINGTON

I recently had a bad flashback. I was lying in bed trying to fall asleep when I was hit with a vivid memory from my time as a Transportation Security Administration officer at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. It was 2008, and I was conducting a bag check when three of my TSA colleagues got into an argument with a passenger at the checkpoint. Things got pretty heated.

The subject of debate? Whether mashed potatoes were a liquid or a solid.

In the end, of course, the TSA agents had the last word: Since the potatoes took the shape of their container, they were determined to be a liquid—specifically, a gel. That’s the official TSA line. “Liquids, aerosols and gels over 3.4 ounces cannot be brought through security.” The potatoes were forcibly surrendered.

If you’re anything like me, you may have thought, “Well, mashed potatoes are technically gelatinous, so…”—which sends one down the rabbit hole of bureaucratic absurdity that ends with a passenger looking a TSA officer in the eye and saying, “Do you really think my mashed potatoes are a terrorist threat?” And the officer, if he or she is just an all-around tool, saying: “Ma’am, possibly. Rules are rules.”

I’ve had a lot of flashbacks lately—nearly buried memories that have come flooding back ever since Politico Magazine published “Dear America, I Saw You Naked,” my first-person account of working for the TSA and anonymously blogging about my adventures in airport security.

Another one: It’s 2010, and a passenger is trying to bring her live goldfish through security. One of my co-workers informs her that the fish can go through but the water cannot. The woman is on the verge of tears when a supervisor steps in to save the fish’s life.

And another: Working alongside a screener who always demanded that pacifiers be removed from infants’ mouths and submitted for X-ray screening before the babies and their mothers were permitted to pass through the metal detectors.

Perhaps the biggest surprise to come out of what I now see as the life-changing experience of having my story go viral is the realization of just how much I still have left to tell about my six years at the TSA—the strange checkpoint happenings, the colorful passengers and the outrageous, real-life TSA characters.

Americans took my initial report as confirmation of what they always dreaded about a humiliating experience so many millions of them had shared. But I also realized that there was a part of the story I hadn’t fully told: about a government agency and its leaders, and how they came up with the absurd policies that turned me and my colleagues into just-following-orders Mashed Potato Police.

***

Soon after the article went up on the Politico website, I sent a note to my editor marveling at the fact that I had 30 new Twitter followers, up from a grand total of 240. I’d thought my article would get passed around in government and civil-liberties circles—a curiosity story of an anonymous TSA blogger unmasking himself, and that would be it.

Little did I know that within a few hours I’d be getting an average of three emails a minute—in the middle of the night—including interview requests from Good Morning America, Today, NBC Nightly News, The Kelly File and many others. And while my 30 new followers had at first seemed like a big deal, a few days later I had more than 5,000. Stephen Colbert even joked about my story. Stephen Colbert!

I got more emails in response to the article than I had in my entire year and a half writing my blog, Taking Sense Away, even when I revealed on the blog that the “nude” scanners didn’t work and that TSA employees were making predictably awful jokes about passengers’ bodies. I got only one piece of hate mail in response to my Politico Magazine article: an anonymous message that informed me that I was a “goon” because, it said, “Once a TSA goon, always a TSA goon.”

A few people did reach out to warn me that I am almost certainly being monitored by intelligence agencies now that I have revealed myself as a critic of the TSA. “My ex-husband is now a senior executive at the NSA at Fort Meade,” one said. “The NSA will probably track you.”

I’m not sure how credible these warnings are, but after being the subject of two official government responses—in which TSA denied and downplayed the claims made on my blog and in my essay—it’s hard not to worry that I’m being watched. I’ve received so many letters making this point that I now take it for granted that my every online move is being monitored by someone, somewhere. If the truth is more banal, so be it: I’d much rather be paranoid and wrong.

Most of the responses from current and former TSA employees were just as supportive as those from the general public—and that was another surprise. Quite a few read like letters from inmates: “Hi Jason. Remember me? We worked Terminal 1 together for a year-long bid. I am so glad you made it out and are doing something interesting with your life! Patting down crotches all day was the worst, wasn’t it?”

But some TSA employees saw my essay as an attempt to smear frontline workers. They were angry that I seemed to place responsibility for the agency’s problems squarely on the shoulders of low-ranking employees, rather than focusing on upper management and underlying organizational problems.

That was the argument in the email that gave me the most pause, a note from one of my former co-workers at O’Hare: “Obviously, TSA is not my dream job,” it said. “Sometimes I go home crying. I’d love it if you wrote more about the incompetency of the managers who got their jobs because of who they know. What you did will definitely make my job harder, because who will be attacked? Every worker on the floor in a uniform. Am I angry? No. But write more. Tell about those unqualified managers who take no part in the checkpoint operation, and who humiliate their workers. I know you’ve seen it all. Tell them.”

It’s an important point, and in fact that was my goal in launching my blog while still working on the TSA payroll: to call attention to the agency’s systemic flaws, while also defending the good, hardworking members of the nearly 50,000-deep frontline TSA workforce.

The agency was the product of a panicked national moment—fertile soil for poor decision-making—and irrationality was etched into the TSA’s DNA. Like most passengers, the average screener regrets the atmosphere of “permanent emergency” that has permeated airport checkpoints since 9/11,a reactionary culture passed down from TSA leadership year after year. And yet the most common concerns among TSA screeners usually stem from organizational flaws closer to the checkpoint floor.

***

One of the agency’s biggest problems is its arbitrary promotion system, which is also the source of a lot of outrage in letters I’ve gotten from current and former TSA workers. I saw signs of rampant cronyism and favoritism at O’Hare while I was there, and the emails I’ve received from around the country contain similar observations. And it’s not just me seeing this: Last year, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced it would launch an investigation after a Department of Homeland Security Inspector General report found “rampant” favoritism at the TSA.

The second most common cause for complaint that I’ve heard from floor-level employees is the yearly re-certification system. While I was there, an officer’s suitability for his or her job was determined in large part by a two-hour test administered once a year, in which a TSA screener was put before two clipboard-wielding test administrators and observed while giving patdowns and doing bag searches on test subjects.

In practice, this meant that screeners who were rude to co-workers and passengers or just generally incompetent but had made it through their probationary period could hang onto their jobs by learning to work the system. All they had to do was give a convincing two-hour performance once a year—their conduct the rest of the time carried relatively little weight.

I personally experienced the absurdity of the TSA’s certification bureaucracy when I was informed one day—more than two years after I’d been hired, and after having checked thousands of driver’s licenses and passports—that I was not on-record as having ever received travel-document training from the TSA. Apparently, my certification papers had been lost, so I was pulled off the travel-document checking position on the spot and de-certified until I took the training class again.

“So does this mean,” I asked my supervisor, “that all the passports and driver’s licenses that I’ve cleared through security over the past two years have been security breaches?”

“Let’s not think about that,” my supervisor said.


Coming out from anonymity has allowed me to take part in trying to change the TSA: I was contacted by a staffer for Sen. Tom Coburn, the ranking member on the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, and the watchdog group Judicial Watch, which asked me to help in an investigation of assault and molestation claims against the TSA. I told Judicial Watch everything I knew about how complaints are handled at TSA checkpoints, including that the yellow complaint cards passengers are given to voice their concerns are widely regarded as a joke by TSA supervisors. “Rarely does anyone actually read those” was something I heard all the time.

I also signed a declaration for blogger and civil liberties activist Jonathan Corbett’s ongoing lawsuit against the TSA over its use of the body scanners, swearing that everything in my essay about the agency was true so that he could submit it as evidence. He had a 24-hour deadline; if I’d had more time I would have added a statement describing how I had repeatedly witnessed TSA breaking its promise to the public that the screeners who reviewed the full-body scanner images would never come face-to-face with the passengers whose naked bodies they’d just seen.

In a few places around the Internet, I’ve found my name and Edward Snowden’s mentioned in the same sentence—in one case framed as “Jason Harrington is no Edward Snowden.” But let’s be clear: I never fancied my crotch-patting tales to be on par with revelations of top-secret global surveillance programs.

One thing I wrote—my very first blog post, which informed the public that many TSA employees felt the radiation-emitting Rapiscan imagers were ineffective, and that the TSA tried to work around the machines’ inherent flaws with secret directives involving additional patdowns—qualified as a whistleblowing act. Other than that, I’ve mostly just been telling stories of public interest.

That doesn’t mean I don’t consider some of what the TSA has been doing the last few years scandalous; I do. Perhaps the most egregious waste of money at the agency right now is the SPOT program, in which “Behavior Detection Officers” are supposed to read people’s body language in order to identify would-be terrorists.

A decade in, we’ve now spent a billion dollars on the program despite the fact that it’s based on pseudoscience that has been debunked in one study after another, and there’s no proof it has turned up even one terrorist threat. Many of the Behavior Detection Officers I knew at O’Hare privately admitted that their program amounted to a lot of walking around all day getting paid a lot of money for doing nothing.

I used to hear all the time from both passengers and TSA agents that airport security would make great fodder for a TV show or book. Since my essay was published, I’ve heard from agents and producers who share that sentiment, and I recently signed with a literary agent. With any luck, my true TSA stories will be bound for bookshelves soon.

One of the most common questions I get now is: “Do you get extra screening when you fly these days?” I haven’t flown since my essay was published, but I will soon.

Then again, there’s a train that can get me to New York. It may take 16 hours longer, but sleeper cars are kind of nice, and besides, the nation’s railways are relatively clear of the Transportation Security Administration. For now.

Jason Edward Harrington is a writer and MFA candidate in the creative writing program at the University of Mississippi in Oxford. Follow him on Twitter @Jas0nHarringt0n. 

J Street’s challenge to the U.S.-Jewish right: Focus on peace

Here’s the real J Street challenge: http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.582595

 

In Jewish communal venues, let’s call an end to attack videos and mudslinging, and discuss the challenges facing Israel and the Jewish people. A response to Alan Dershowitz.

By | Mar. 28, 2014 | 9:58 PM

Jeremy Ben-Ami

Jeremy Ben-Ami Photo by Alon Ron

 

The majority of world Jewry agrees today: the future, security and character of the state of Israel all depend on reaching a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

That’s why Secretary of State John Kerry’s push to achieve it is perhaps the most vital pro-Israel initiative since Bill Clinton was President.

Right now, the fate of that effort hangs in the balance. With negotiations stalled, the effort could break down leading to a rapid growth in Israel’s international isolation and in efforts to pressure it through boycotts, divestment and the like.

Given the significant negative consequences that could follow failure, one might imagine that pro-Israel advocates would be screaming from the rooftops to do everything possible to help the talks succeed before it’s too late.

Yet instead of organizing to meet this existential threat, some on the far right of the American Jewish community are focusing their effort and their fire in a different direction – on members of their own community. In particular, there is a new well-funded and energetic campaign to defame and delegitimize J Street, centered on an hour-long attack-umentary called the “J Street Challenge.”

Sadly even a couple of mainstream, established Jewish organizations and figures are associating themselves with it – contrary to our community’s firm commitment to civil debate on issues of legitimate disagreement.

Those who’ve made the film and are hawking it are, however, missing the real challenges that J Street is posing to the Jewish community. Here are a few of them:

• With the world losing patience with Israel’s policy toward the Palestinians, will we rally to urge the national homeland of our people to change course before it loses its democracy or its Jewish character?

• As the BDS Movement against Israel gains traction, will we recognize that the best way to defeat it isn’t spending our energy on preventing its supporters from being heard, but on ending the conflict in two states for two peoples?

• If you recognize the existential necessity of a two-state solution for Israel to survive as a Jewish and democratic homeland, isn’t it time to acknowledge the price that has to be paid to achieve it? How can we say we support a two-state solution but oppose establishing borders based on the pre-67 lines with swaps? How can we say we support two states and oppose a Palestinian capital in the Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem?

• Is it appropriate to call those who criticize Israeli government policy anti-Israel or anti-Semitic? Plenty of Israelis including security chiefs, former Prime Ministers and Members of the Knesset are critical of present policy, and they’re certainly not anti-Israel. In fact, using the anti-Semitism label to describe criticism of Israeli policy demeans the horror of real anti-Semitism.

• Is it right or smart to limit the right to speak in Jewish communal spaces to those with whom you agree? The more we limit admission to Jewish communal spaces by imposing ideological litmus tests regarding Israel, the smaller our Jewish community will be.

• Are we, as a people, treating the Palestinian people the way we ourselves want to be treated? Are we living up to the moral standards of our people and have we learned the lessons of our own oppression through the centuries and across the globe?

• Can we finally stop ignoring what is happening beyond the Green Line? The day-to-day maintenance of a 47-year occupation of another people runs counter to the interests and values of Israel and the Jewish people. It places all the wonder and accomplishment of the state of Israel at risk. It is time for the occupation to end.

We urge those attacking us to spend a little less time leveling baseless accusations against a now-established Jewish organization and a little more time addressing these fundamental challenges facing the Israel we love.

One participant in the “Challenge” movie, Daniel Gordis, recently did, and we had a wonderful, substantive discussion about all these critical issues. We didn’t change each other’s minds but we provided food for thought for hundreds who came to hear us.

The possible failure of the Kerry mission is a disaster of epic proportions for the Jewish people and the state of Israel. That’s a challenge worthy of the time and effort of people like Alan Dershowitz and Charles Jacobs.

In Jewish communal venues here and across the globe, let’s call an end to the attack videos and mudslinging and let’s start discussing the significant challenges that really threaten not just Israel but the heart and the soul of the Jewish people.

Jeremy Ben-Ami is the founder and president of J Street.

Gwar Frontman Dave Brockie Has Died

http://www.styleweekly.com/richmond/gwar-frontman-dave-brockie-has-died/Content?oid=2048548

Gwar Frontman Dave Brockie Has Died

Update: Richmond Police say they don’t suspect foul play.

by

Updated 8:21 a.m.: In the death investigation of David M. Brockie, detectives with Richmond Police say they “do not suspect foul play at this time,” department spokeswoman Dionne Waugh tells Style.

Police were called to Brockie’s residence in the 4800 block of West Seminary Avenue at approximately 6:53 p.m. on Sunday, she says, and found Brockie deceased when they arrived. The Medical Examiner’s office will determine the cause of death.

RICHMOND — The founder and lead singer of renowned metal band Gwar, David Brockie, has died, numerous sources close to the band tell Style Weekly.A member of the Richmond Police Department confirmed early Monday that the 50-year-old musician was found dead in his home Sunday between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. by his roommate.

“Dave was one of the funniest, smartest, most creative and energetic persons I’ve known,” former Gwar bassist Mike Bishop says. “He was brash sometimes, always crass, irreverent, he was hilarious in every way. But he was also deeply intelligent and interested in life, history, politics and art.”

“His penchant for scatological humors belied a lucid wit. He was a criminally underrated lyricist and hard rock vocalist, one of the best, ever! A great front man, a great painter, writer, he was also a hell of a bass guitarist. I loved him. He was capable of great empathy and had a real sense of justice.”

The news comes in a year the Grammy-nominated band marks its 30th anniversary and recently returned from a long-awaited first performance in Japan. It recently announced that it would hold its fifth Gwar-B-Q concert Aug. 16 at Hadad’s Water Park.

Brockie, aka Oderus Urungus, founded what became Richmond’s most famous band in 1984 with a group of five boundary-pushing artists and musicians working out of North Side’s Richmond Dairy. The band struck a nerve, selling out shows and touring the globe. It released its 13th album in 2013.

The self-described “Scumdogs of the Universe” were known for their messy shows, outlandish costumes and intentionally offensive theatrics. “We were and still are provocateurs,” Brockie told Style in a 2012 feature story. “We’re just a bunch of guys with warped senses of humor spit balling the most evil ideas that we could think of, to hold up a twisted mirror to the culture.”

Friends and others posted condolences and remembrances across Facebook into Monday morning. “I wish it was a joke,” says former band member Chris Bopst, a music writer for Style. “Everyone is in shock.”

We’ll report more details as they become available and share the band’s official statement here.

Brockie, a devoted fan of the Washington Redskins and a World War II buff, had recently fulfilled two of his lifelong dreams by visiting Stalingrad and playing shows in Japan with Gwar.

While the singer’s death will be mourned internationally by the metal community, his passing will hit even harder here at home among friends and family. It would seem to mark the end of an era in Richmond and this city will be a different place without him.

Brockie made numerous appearances in character commenting on current events and culture, including such unexpected places as “Red Eye” on Fox News. In an interview last month on Insane Clown Posse Theater, Oderus Urungus talked about the essence of what made him tick: