Thursday, September 28

Whose Art?

While I believe that the looting of art and the illegal trafficking of antiquities are to be condemned, I think hypocrisy is also to be condemned. This week, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts transferred to the Italian Ministry of Culture thirteen objects from its collection that the Italian government determined to have been looted and sold illegally to the MFA. A similar transfer occurred in February of this year when New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art returned twenty objects, including the 2500-year old Euphronios krater, to Italy.

Naturally, the objects were not returned because it was determined in principle to be wrong for an American museum to possess antiquities from Europe. The issue was that the lawful provenance of the objects themselves could not be demonstrated. The Italian government argued that they had been looted and were subsequently sold to the MFA by dealers who had themselves acquired the objects using sketchy means.

However, a case can be made that many of the world’s antiquities residing in museums were, at some point in their history, removed illegally from their place of origin. Certainly this is true of the Parthenon Marbles (aka the Elgin Marbles) and many other antiquities from Greece that were unlawfully taken from Greece during the era of Ottoman rule and earlier.

For example, it should be noted that six of the thirteen objects returned to Italy this week were originally produced in Athens during the fifth century BCE. I doubt very much that the Italian government can prove that these six objects were lawfully removed from Greece in the first place. It cannot possibly be demonstrated that they were legitimately purchased from the Greek state (since the Greek state did not exist prior to the first quarter of the 19th century) or from the artist or the original Greek owner (since no bill of sale exists).

While it is possible that they were transferred to Italy by means of legitimate trade at some point during their long history, there is no documentation demonstrating this to be the case. What is perhaps more likely is that these six objects were looted from Greece before they were looted from Italy and later sold on the black market. In that case, shouldn’t they be returned to Greece, rather than Italy?

Shown above is one of the thirteen returned objects: a two-handled jar (pelike) depicting Phineus with the sons of Boreas (Ceramic, Red Figure, Greek, Classical Period, ca. 450 BCE, the Nausicaa Painter, Place of Manufacture: Athens, Attica, Greece).

Wednesday, September 27

A Piano Should Fall on His Head

I’m sorry, but Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley’s recent attempt to appear relevant to the next generation of young Catholics is just too lame. He’s created a blog to record his recent trip to Rome, and the entries are peppered with cutesy little anecdotes, photos, and lots of “LOL’s”. In a recent entry he writes: “I also think it’s amusing in a way because I feel like I’m on some reality television show on MTV…lol.” Gag. What would that MTV reality show be called, I wonder? “Newlyweds: Sean and Mitt”? “Womb Raiders”? “Pimp My Altar”?

I know I’m not alone when I say that it makes me want to vomit when the bastions of backwardness try to show how hip and cool they are with meaningless gestures and nods to pop culture. Perhaps it’s just me, but spreading religious bigotry and marginalizing queers and women just ain’t cool.

Of course, there are plenty of gullible young Catholics who think otherwise, as demonstrated by this comment from a student at Boston College High School:

“Wow those pictures are awesome! Cardinal Sean, you rock. Honestly, you’re the coolest cardinal in the whole church.”
I bet you wouldn’t think that if you were gay, dude. Or maybe you are and just haven’t realized it yet.

As is customary for a blog, his contains a link to his profile, which brings you to a brief bio and a list of his turn-ons, which include self-mortification, the rosary, incense, and sandals. His turn-offs include women and gays. Just kidding (though I’m sure I’m not far off the mark).

And what is with the accent mark in Seán?? It seems a tad bit gay to me.

Because O’Malley was in Rome to attend the Padre Pio Masses, his blog contains many photos of Padre Pio-related events and locations. Below is one of the photos he took at a Padre Pio shrine in Rome with the caption: “A beautiful marble sculpture of Jesus and Padre Pio. It was created from a single block of marble.” Notice the position of the padre’s hand on Jesus’ groin. You cannot tell me that the sculptor that produced this wasn’t gay:

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Joking aside, let’s not forget what O’Malley stands for and the kind of fanatical, hate-filled rhetoric that he’s spread from his Boston pulpit in recent years:

“The recent ruling of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court which radically redefines marriage is a national tragedy” (in a statement that was to be read at all Masses celebrated in Massachusetts’ four dioceses during the weekend of Nov. 29-30, 2003).

“The concerted campaign of movies and TV to reshape the public opinion into accepting same sex marriages has been a great disservice to the American people… Any redefinition of marriage must be seen as an attack on the common good” (Oct. 2, 2003).

“Despite the experience of all human cultures and the empirical data of sociological studies, the court ignores the fact that the stable, permanent relationship of a husband and wife is the optimal basis for child rearing. The court’s decision will harm our children, who are entitled to be able to count on their parents’ marriages as the secure foundation of their family lives” (Feb. 7, 2004).

“Should the Supreme Judicial Court’s decision to redefine marriage as any voluntary union of persons become the law of the land, it would have an enormously negative impact on our society…

We are further concerned with proposals to give same-sex couples identical benefits and protections to those given to husbands and wives that pose a grave threat to religious liberty and the freedom of conscience. Whether the name used is same-sex marriage or civil unions, an equal treatment requirement in the constitution may be used to coerce private and public entities to adopt practices that would violate their values and understanding of the family and social justice” (March 10, 2004).

“An expansion of the definition of marriage will not benefit families but rather further erode the unique and important role that marriage plays in contributing to society. Much is at stake as we consider this matter, may God grant us the wisdom to do what is right” (Sep. 21, 2005).

Don’t Miss It

Ambassador Afif Safieh
head of the PLO Mission to the United States

The Cathedral Church of St. Paul
138 Tremont Street, Boston

Wednesday, September 27 at 6:30pm.

Afif Emile Safieh was appointed head of the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization) mission to the U.S. following 15 years as the Palestinian representative to the United Kingdom and the Vatican. Born in Jerusalem in 1950, he later studied at Jerusalem’s College Des Freres. In 1972 he obtained his degree in political science and international relations from the Catholic University of Louvain, Belgium. Between 1976 and 1978, he was deputy director of the PLO Observer Mission to the United Nations in Geneva. Later he became a staff member in President Arafat’s office in Beirut, where he was in charge of European affairs and U.N. institutions.

Between 1981 and 1985, he was a researcher at the Center for European Studies in the Catholic University of Louvain, Belgium, after which he was a visiting scholar at the Center for International Affairs at Harvard University until 1987. From 1987 until 1990, Safieh was the PLO representative to the Netherlands during which time he was also involved in the November-December 1988 negotiations in Stockholm that led to the official and direct American-Palestinian dialogue. From September 1990 to 2005, he was the Palestinian General Delegate to the United Kingdom.

Tuesday, September 26

Göz Lokumu

Regular visitors to Aman Yala will know that many of my entries focus on art and music. I write about a genre of Greek music known as Rembetika and also works of art, some well know and others lesser known, that strike me as homoerotic or simply celebrate the beauty of the male form.

The point of these posts is not to mimic an encyclopedia entry. I often provide some basic background information usually in the form of historical context or biographical information about the artist. However, that information is secondary, and those who wanting a more thorough or academic treatment should probably look elsewhere, perhaps Wikipedia.

The purpose of these posts is simply to share my subjective response to the work, my observations and feelings when I see or hear the work in question. Naturally, a different person might respond differently. S/he might make different observations, might think and feel something different than I do. For example, a man might look at the Mona Lisa and be reminded of his wife, or mother, or co-worker. Such is the evocative power of art. Moreover, those who are not interested in my observations are under no obligation to read further.

Now that I’ve said that, I’ll turn to September’s Göz Lokumu. As you might recall from a previous post, I recently visited the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. I was frankly blown away by their collection and I took many photographs (don’t worry, it’s allowed). I suspect that some of the works I photographed will show up in future Göz Lokumu posts.

The museum’s central barrel vault features an impression sculpture collection with a few by sculptor Auguste Rodin (1840-1917) thrown in. One of them, The Age of Bronze (1877), is shown above. His John the Baptist (1878) can be seen in the background.

If you like lean, muscular builds, then you’ll like The Age of Bronze. I stood looking up at the fig-leaf clad figure for several minutes, my gaze lingering over his abdomen and then drawn upwards past his navel, to his chest, into his armpit, and then over to the rapturous look on his handsome face.

Is he waking up? Is he bathing? It’s not clear. What I see, however, is pleasure. I see none of the agony suggested by the work’s earlier title, The Vanquished. I do not see the dejection observed by the anonymous critic writing for L’Etoile Belge (January 29, 1877), which caused him to write that “it seems as if the artist wanted to represent a man on the point of committing suicide.”

For The Age of Bronze, Rodin chose a twenty-two year old Belgian soldier, Auguste Neyt (shown left). When the sculpture was first displayed in Brussels, critics were suspicious of its incredible realism and accused Rodin of making a cast from a live model, a charge that caused him no small amount of anguish. Rodin vigorously defended himself against the rumors, which followed him to Paris. He made sure that his next sculpture was larger than lifesize.

Propaganda No More

This past week has seen the leak of a secret “National Intelligence Estimate” (NIE) that concluded, among other things, that the Iraq War has made the world a more dangerous place by fomenting Islamic radicalism. The leaked report, which was prepared in April and is titled “Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States,” represents the unanimous opinion of 16 United States intelligence agencies. Portions of that document were declassified today. Read them here.

In a similar development, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf released his memoir In the Line of Fire, in which he criticized the Iraq War, arguing it has made the world “more dangerous.” What’s more, Musharraf concluded that Pakistan, the United States, and Saudi Arabia created an extremist “monster” by supporting radical Islamic groups during the Soviet Union’s occupation of Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989.

Long argued by those patriotic enough to criticize their government, these two ideas—that the War on Terror is making the world less safe and that some of America’s Cold War strategies for defeating the Soviet Union contributed to the rise of Al Qaeda and Islamic militants—have long been dismissed by Republicans as liberal propaganda, but this week has made it a little bit tougher for Republican spin doctors to do that.

Now that America’s intelligence agencies and one of our major allies in the so-called War on Terror have joined the chorus of voices condemning our failed foreign policy, the Republicans will have a tougher time defending their record, and in an election year to boot.

Poor Republicans. It’s tough when your friends turn on you.

Saturday, September 23

La vue de Paris

Joe and I spent part this past Thursday in Paris, where we had a seven-hour layover on our way home from Ukraine. Why we were in Ukraine is a separate post entirely, one that I hope to compose in the next few days.

Paris is lovely. The only other time I’ve been was also during a layover with Joe on our way to Rome back in 2002, when we visited the Latin Quarter and Sacré Coeur church. This time we decided to spend the afternoon at the Musée d’Orsay on a recommendation from our friend Kate.

I absolutely loved it. The space—a converted railway station for those who haven’t been—is magnificent, and the collection itself is impressive. We had only about 2½ hours to spare, and needless to say, the Orsay was much more manageable than the Louvre would have been in so short a span of time. Still, we saw only a fraction of the collection, and I’m hoping to make it back again in the not too distant future, perhaps this winter.

The above image shows Hercules the Archer (bronze, 1909, Musée d’Orsay, Paris) by Emile Antoine Bourdelle (1861-1929), who was a student of Rodin (1840-1917). Looking up at this massive nude from underneath was unexpectedly erotic. I say “unexpectedly” because the sculpted figure portrays a body type to which I am not normally drawn.

For all the figure’s muscular bulk and the raw power of his warrior stance, what struck me most was his incredible vulnerability, perhaps because from beneath I found myself staring directly up into his exposed perineum.

I wondered whether viewers a century ago would have found themselves as aroused.

Technical Update

I was overseas for a week, which is why there haven’t been any updates to this blog, although I was aware of a technical problem with the photo montage contained in my last Rembetiko of the Month post. I’m not sure it ever played properly using You Tube, so I uploaded it to vidiLife instead. It seems to be working now.

Wednesday, September 13

Rembetiko of the Month

Press the play button to begin. Please be aware that there is sound.

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Κρυφή πληγή αδύνατόν νά λάβει σωτηρία
γιατί σ’αυτήν τήν συμφορά εσύ είσαι η αιτία.

A secret wound can never heal
because you are the cause of this calamity.

The singer of this αμανές (a-man-ESS) set in Smyrnaïc Minor is Marika Frandzeskopoulou (1898 – ?), otherwise known as “Marika Politissa” (pictured right). The designation of “politissa” refers to a woman from Constantinople (Istanbul).

Lambros Leondaridis plays the lyra accompanied by an unknown oud or mandola. This recording was made by Polydor in Athens ca. 1931/2. Its sound and style are very characteristic of the Rembetika songs from Smyrna of which Frandzeskopoulou recorded many in Athens in the 1930s.

I chose this particular αμανές to accompany the attached photo-montage, which consists primarily of pictures taken during and after the burning of Smyrna in September 1922 because, to me, it is not bluesy (or sexy) like many other αμανέδες, but terrifying. It conveys not so much longing, as it does horror and distress. It is a lament, a dirge. It is heart-breaking and it’s one of my favorites.

It is as if Constantinople were crying for her sister Smyrna.

Recommended Listening:
Women of Rembetika

Tuesday, September 12

Three Photos

Joe and I took advantage of this past Saturday’s summer-like weather and spent part of the day on Singing Beach. The water was warm enough for swimming, but mostly we ate and dozed. On our walk back to the motorcycle, I took the above photo looking out toward Manchester by the Sea’s harbor. It was low tide.

On Sunday, we took a late afternoon walk in the Blue Hills with our housemate G. We hadn’t been in a while, and we decided to hike up to Hancock Hill, which we did a couple of months ago. It offers what is arguably the area’s most spectacular view of Boston (apart from maybe the view from the Longfellow Bridge across the Charles River). We hiked straight up, which was challenging, but there is a more meandering route.

Fortunately, I have only a handful of local readers, so I doubt Hancock Hill is going to be inundated by visitors. I’ve posted about the Blue Hills before, and it still remains one of the area’s best kept secrets. I guess the outdoors isn’t for everyone, which is just fine with me. The above photo (click on it to enlarge) is looking north toward the city, while the photo below is looking west (obviously) toward the setting sun.

Monday, September 11

A Postscript

As a follow-up to my last Rembetiko of the Month post, I’d like to say a few things in response to Matthew and others who took the time to register their objections to what I wrote. I don’t always devote an entire separate post to issues that have been raised in comments, but have no problem doing so when I feel it is warranted.

First of all, I want to clarify that my allusion to the events that took place in Smyrna in September 1922 was not because I feel that the song featured in my post addresses those events or was written about those events. If you read that post, you’ll recall that I acknowledged that the song is understood as being addressed to a child whose mother died during childbirth.

I brought up the destruction of Smyrna because that’s what I think of when I hear Asikis’ haunting lullaby. To say that the song makes me think of the loss of life that took place in Smyrna in September 1922 is a factual statement, quite different than my saying that the song is about Smyrna. I don’t feel the need to offer an apology for that, for such is the evocative power of art.

The mind moves in leaps and bounds, making connections and associations that are often unpredictable. Only a small minority of conservative-minded people would argue that one should only think and feel those things that the artist intended. We don’t always (or even often) know precisely what an artist intended and even if we did, how could we (and why would we) train our minds to think and feel only those things?

Nor do I think it inappropriate to talk about unpleasant historical events in relation to art, which cannot be divorced from its historic context. Rembetika, for example, cannot be understood apart from the tragic events that unfolded in Asia Minor and Greece during the first decades of the twentieth century.

More importantly, I stand by my statements about the massacre of Greek and Armenian civilians by Atatürk’s army (under the command of Nureddin Pasha) in September 1922. Others may dismiss these events as myths and lies, but I cannot and will not. In writing about them, moreover, my concern is not with their offensiveness, but with their veracity.

I believe the accounts of atrocities committed by the Turkish army in Smyrna to be true. I assess their veracity using the same criteria used by historians in writing about any past event. One such criterion is whether or not one person’s version of the story can be corroborated by other independent sources. Greek and Armenian eyewitnesses who survived the massacre along with American diplomats and missionaries and other foreign observers all attest to the murder of Greek and Armenian civilians in Smyrna, with news dispatches from the destroyed city estimating the number of dead at over 100,000.

Richard Clogg in A Concise History of Modern Greece puts the number of Christian civilians murdered at Smyrna considerably lower at 20,000 to 30,000. The precise number will probably never be known. It should be noted that these events, along with the larger persecution of the Ottoman Empire’s Greek and Armenian subjects that took place between 1914 and 1922, are contested by the Turkish government, but that is not a compelling reason for me to conclude that they did not take place.

Moreover, to justify these atrocities on the grounds that the Greek army had invaded and occupied the west coast of Asia Minor beginning in 1919 constitutes moral myopia. The Greek and Armenian civilian populations of Asia Minor were not subjects of Greece. They were Ottoman subjects and they were non-combatants. The slaughter of innocent civilians—even when they share the same ethnicity with enemy soldiers—must be distinguished from slaughter on the battlefield, and the correct response is not to defend it, but to condemn it. That is precisely what I have done in the case of the War on Terror, for example.

It is curious to me that Matthew would feel that my acknowledgement that “atrocities were committed on both sides” was not strong enough, as though making such an acknowledgement were itself insignificant. If that is the case, why is it so difficult for some to acknowledge that Atatürk’s army committed atrocities?

I admitted in my post—and have never denied—that the Greek army committed atrocities against the Turkish civilian population during their occupation of Asia Minor between 1919 and 1922. It is important to point out, however, that the Greek High Commissioner, Aristides Stergiadis, who was responsible for overseeing the Greek occupation of Smyrna and the surrounding area, is widely recognized as having been harsh and swift in his discipline of Greek soldiers who abused Turkish civilians.

Nonetheless, during the course of the occupation (especially during the landing of the Greek army in Smyrna in 1919 and then again during the their hasty and disorganized retreat in the summer of 1922) atrocities occurred, but never on the scale of the massacres that took place against the Greeks and Armenians along the Aegean and Black Sea coasts, in the Anatolian heartland, and in the eastern provinces. I do not say this to minimize the deaths of Turkish civilians, but simply to point out that they did not occur on the same scale as the mass killings of Greeks and Armenians.

The tragic events that took place at Smyrna in September 1922 were but one episode in a series of violent acts committed against the Empire’s civilian populations (the Armenian genocide being part of this) between 1914 and 1922. In spite of the fact that these events are well documented, many Turkish politicians have demonstrated their unwillingness to acknowledge the deliberate killing of civilians by the Turkish armed forces during the Ottoman Empire’s final decades.

Not only have these crimes not been acknowledged, but the Turkish government went so far as to ban an academic conference on the subject last year. Rather than criticizing those who openly acknowledge that atrocities were committed on both sides, perhaps Matthew should be criticizing those who refuse even to acknowledge that atrocities were committed at all.

It seems to me that in both Matthew’s and Sotiris’ (another who commented on my Rembetiko post) comments, I am being condemned for not saying things that they feel I should have said, but I am also being accused of saying things that I did not actually say.

Allow me to point out that my post was not an attempt to provide either a comprehensive list of the atrocities committed by the Greeks and Turks against one another or a full blown analysis of the Greco-Turkish conflict following the First World War. I’d like to remind them that my last Rembetiko of the Month was a blog post, not a doctoral thesis. Nor was it intended to address the Orthodox religion or Cyprus and the suffering (on both sides) that occurred there.

Moreover, just because I have not addressed a particular topic does not give anyone license to project an opinion onto me (simply to justify their rant). That is presumptuous, since I am the most qualified to speak about what I do or do not believe. I am not so easily pigeonholed.

I think that Sotiris and Matthew also need to be reminded that not every Greek (or Greek American in my case) who talks about Smyrna and the atrocities committed by Atatürk’s army is a rabid Greek nationalist eager to defend Greece and dehumanize the Turkish people. As for me, I can hardly be considered an apologist for Greece. Many of my Rembetiko of the Month posts describe the prejudice encountered by Greek refugees from Asia Minor following their arrival in Greece in the 1920s, and I have written several posts criticizing both Greece and Cyprus for their discriminatory treatment of sexual minorities. Scroll through the archives and you’ll find them.
I have avoided making sweeping generalizations that condemn or “pothole” (Matthew’s term) an entire nation or race. I have never in the past nor will I in the future refer to Turks as barbarians, a view that Sotiris was taught as a child and seems eager to attribute to me, a fellow Greek of the Diaspora. While Sotiris has clearly come across Greeks who deny that the Turkish people constitute a distinct ethnic group with their own culture and history, I have made no such claims on my blog, nor will I.

However, one must be allowed—in fact, has a moral and ethical obligation—to condemn atrocities, both past and present, without being accused of racism or ethnocentrism, lest the world’s armies be granted the license to act with impunity against civilian populations. If atrocities disappear from our collective memory, we are more likely to repeat them.

Recommended Reading:
Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story by Henry Morgenthau
The Blight of Asia by George Horton
Not Even My Name by Thea Halo
A Concise History of Greece by Richard Clogg
From Empire to Republic: Turkish Nationalism and the Armenian Genocide by Taner Akçam
Smyrna 1922: The Destruction of a City by Marjorie Housepian Dobkin
Ionian Vision: Greece in Asia Minor, 1919-1922 by Michael Llewellyn Smith
Farewell Anatolia by Dido Sotiriou

What We’ve Lost

The fifth anniversary of 9/11 hardly seems like a milestone. 9/11 has never stopped being commemorated and exploited. It is invoked whenever the current administration and the Republicans feel their poll numbers slipping. The memory of 9/11 is thrown around with such carelessness by our leaders that any official commemoration 9/11 seems entirely devoid of meaning.

Still, I find myself thinking about all that we’ve lost since that day. Five years ago, 19 fanatics used box cutters to hijack our airplanes and wreak havoc in our skies. Since that time, our government has used those events to hijack our country and wreak even greater havoc in the world.

I mourn the loss of life that occurred five years ago. I mourn the even greater loss of life that has occurred as a result of our government’s misguided War on Terror. I mourn the loss of our civil liberties, justified by that seemingly endless conflict. I mourn the net loss of goodwill that emerged after we were attacked, but has since been squandered. I mourn the loss of wisdom and restraint in our foreign policy, a loss we could hardly afford to sustain given the stilted nature of our policies prior to 9/11. I mourn the loss of our credibility on the world stage.

What I mourn most is the lost opportunity to take a critical look at our policies. After 9/11 we had an unprecedented opportunity to take a long, hard look at ourselves and some of the things we do in the world that spread bitterness and discontent, the seeds from which terrorism ultimately springs. Instead, we passed up that opportunity, choosing delusion over reality. Five years later, we still subscribe to the same banal myth that they hate us because we are free.

Five years later, there is even greater bitterness and discontent as a result of our response to 9/11. Tens of thousands of civilian casualties in Afghanistan and Iraq, prisoner abuse, and unwavering support for Israel as our ally in the War on Terror have not made us safer. Because we have failed to understand why it is that they hate us, we have yet to learn that heavy-handed military solutions serve only to exacerbate the problem.

Five years later, I mourn the loss of my safety. I suppose what 9/11 demonstrated is that even when we felt we were safe, we weren’t. 9/11 taught all of us that there is a difference between feeling safe and being safe. Five years later, I now realize that we are not safe, that we never were, even when we felt that we were. I miss feeling safe and carefree, though perhaps my increased sense of vulnerability has caused me to gain greater empathy with those whose lives, homes, and families are threatened and destroyed because of the United States, our policies, and the War on Terror.

I hope that with each new anniversary of 9/11, our collective empathy continues to grow, until the time comes when it is no longer necessary.

Saturday, September 9

Fighting Terror with Terror

Yesterday on our way up to Maine, Joe and I were listening to NPR’s On Point, the second hour of which featured distinguished author Howard Zinn on the subject of the Iraq war and its futility in bringing democracy to the Iraqi people or achieving greater national security for the United States. Alluding to the tens of thousands of civilian deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan, Zinn pointed to the hypocrisy and overall ineffectiveness of fighting a War on Terror using terror as a means. Listen to the broadcast here.

The equation of war with terrorism was central to Dr. Zinn’s argument. That position was criticized by David Frum, former special assistant and speech writer to President George W. Bush, current contributing editor to the National Review, and resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

Reducing the war vs. terrorism discussion to a dorm room debate, Frum made a clear distinction between the two, arguing that what distinguishes terrorism from war is its deliberate targeting of civilians, while in war, civilians are only inadvertently killed. This is an important distinction for conservatives whose defense of American violence overseas in the War on Terror hinges upon the inadvertency factor.

I called in and was lucky enough to get on the air. I pointed out that even if we accept Frum’s distinction between war and terror, then by his own definition, the single greatest act of terrorism ever committed in the history of this planet was when the United States dropped atomic bombs on the civilian populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during the Second World War. There was nothing inadvertent about those civilian deaths. The United States deliberately targeted civilians in order to achieve its political and military goals and intimidate the Japanese government into surrender.

That, according to Frum’s own definition, is terrorism. Perhaps the United States should be more careful about throwing around the terrorist label.

Wednesday, September 6

Rembetiko of the Month

August came and went without a Rembetiko of the Month post, so this is the first of two posts for September.

July’s post was a pretty heart-wrenching αμανές (a-man-ESS) by Marika Kanaropoulou (aka Brousalia, Tourkalitsa). You’ll recall that I chose it because of the fighting in Lebanon. I suppose there will always be enough misery in the world for αμανέδες, and the Ussak αμανές I chose for this post conveys not only the pain of loss, but a particular type of loss, in this case a child’s loss of its parents. It reflects my own frustration with a world in which children are made orphans. Some of my posts in the coming weeks will shed some light on why I’m spending so much time thinking about these things.

Click here to listen.

Κοιμήσου γιατί χάσαμε, παιδί μου, τη μαμά σου.
Νά σέ φιλήσω, μάτια μου, νά δρόσει την καρδιά σου.

Νίνι, νάνι.

Άμαν, σε μιά στιγμή ορφάνεψες καί έχασες τη φολιά σου.
Μέρα καί νύχτα αγρυπνώ, παιδάκι μου, παιδάκι μου, κοντά σου.

Νίνι, νάνι.

Sleep, my child, for we have lost your mother.
Let me kiss you, sweetheart, to cool your burning heart.

Sleep, sleep.

Aman, in an instant you were orphaned and lost your nest.
Day and night, I will keep watch over you, my child, my child.

Sleep, sleep.
Photobucket - Video and Image HostingGrigoris Asikis (1890 – 1967) was born in Constantinople and migrated to Greece in 1922 following the Asia Minor catastrophe and the ensuing population exchange between Greece and Turkey. Recognized as one of Greece’s best oud players, Asikis (pictured left ca. 1930) probably recorded this haunting melody in Athens in the early 1930s accompanied by Lambros Leondaridis on lyra. It is featured on The Rough Guide to Rebetika compilation.

The liner notes conclude that the song is a lullaby for an infant that has lost its mother in childbirth. That may very well be, but when I listen to the poignant lyrics, I am transported to the tragic scene that unfolded on the quais at Smyrna in late September 1922.

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingAs the city burned, tens of thousands of Greek and Armenian refugees fled to the waterfront to escape Atatürk’s army. Trapped between the flames and the sea, they cried out to the warships of the Great Powers anchored in the harbor who refused to grant them passage. Thousands perished. Mothers watched as their newborns starved or died of exposure. The elderly and infirmed soon met a similar fate.

The men were rounded up by the soldiers and either shot dead or sent to work on labor battalions in the Anatolian interior. Without the protection of their fathers and husbands, many of the women were raped and killed. Children watched in horror as their mothers and fathers were taken from them. It is these children that I think of when I hear this song. And it’s not just them. I think also of Lebanon, Israel, Iraq, Darfur, and all the other places in the world where war has robbed children of their safety, their homes, their parents, and their innocence.

I feel as though I need to say a word or two in conclusion to my readers in Turkey, some of whom may be offended by what I have written here. It is not my desire to alienate you. However, in alluding to the horrific events that took place in Smyrna in 1922, I have told the story as I believe it happened and according to the firsthand accounts of eyewitnesses. If these things are difficult for us to hear, they were more difficult for those who experienced them. I have never denied, moreover, that during the fighting between the Greek army and Atatürk’s nationalist forces in Asia Minor in the years following the First World War, atrocities were committed on both sides.

Facing history takes courage. Anyone who reads this blog should have no difficulty recognizing that I myself am not the least bit romantic about America or her past (or Greece for that matter). I do not close my eyes to her blemishes and misdeeds when I learn of them, because to do otherwise is not only dishonest, but represents a perverse and distorted form of patriotism. That’s not for me. The truth matters, even when it’s harsh and unflattering.

I ask my Turkish friends to consider this: If I refuse to ignore my own country’s sins, how can I begin pretending for another country?

Tuesday, September 5

We do not (at this time) negotiate with terrorists.

Yesterday in the Saudi Arabian city of Jeddah, UN Secretary Kofi Annan announced that Israel and Hezbollah have agreed to accept UN mediation that will allow the two sides to work out a deal for the release of two Israeli soldiers captured by Hezbollah in a cross-border raid on July 12. 34 days of intense fighting followed in which both Lebanon and northern Israel suffered heavy casualties and billions of dollars in damage to property and infrastructure.

While Israel isn’t saying much about the upcoming talks, their willingness to agree to mediation demonstrates the emptiness and futility of the “We do not negotiate with terrorists” dogma, so often espoused by both Israel and the United States. In the end, when casualties are heavy enough and warring parties weary enough, negotiating with terrorists suddenly becomes a viable solution.

Perhaps Israel was worn down by the fighting. Or perhaps they realized that attaching the terrorist label to their enemies while deliberately targeting civilian areas in Lebanon was causing a public relations problem. Perhaps Israel realized that in war, we all become terrorists, and deligitimizing and dehumanizing one’s enemies serves only to prolong the conflict.

There is perhaps a valuable lesson here for the United States. Had Israel negotiated earlier, as they are willing to do now, they could have spared themselves and the civilian population of Lebanon much suffering and agony. However, by all appearances, we are not ready to relinquish our “We do not negotiate with terrorists” dogma. As the fifth anniversary of 9/11 approaches, we do not yet see the emptiness of such posturing. Perhaps that’s because most of the casualties in the War on Terror have been endured by the populations of Iraq and Afghanistan (and Guantanamo). In spite of the fact that support for the Iraq war continues to dwindle, it seems that the threshold of war-weariness necessary to abandon our refusal to negotiate with our enemies has not yet been reached.

It took Hezbollah rockets falling on Haifa, Israel’s third largest city, and reaching as far south as Hadera in central Israel, and the displacement of 300,000 Israeli civilians for Israeli leaders to suspend (at least temporarily) their previous adherence to the “We do not negotiate with terrorists” model.

What is it going to take for the United States to do the same? We will get there eventually. The only questions are how long the journey will take and how many will die along the way.

Friday, September 1

Ο Διδάσκων Σεπτέμβρης

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It’s back to school time. When I used to work at Boston University, I always used to look forward to September because that’s when all the students returned. The campus was pretty quiet in the summer, but in September the sidewalks exploded with life. Everywhere you looked, there were beautiful young people hurrying to class, to the gym, to the cafeteria.

Tsarouchis’ September, though lovely, is not a youth. He’s a bit more seasoned than the undergraduates whose youthful beauty I admired on campus. Though he has books at his feet, he’s more the teacher than the student. That’s why I’ve called him “Teaching September.”

If only I’d had him for a teacher when I was a youth.
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