American Dreamz: When satire doesn’t go far enough

A few months back, I picked up, on a lark, a short French novel called Allah Superstar authored by the pseudonymous Y.B. (generally known to be Yassir Benmiloud, columnist for the Algerian daily El Watan). I bought it entirely on the basis of the excerpt on the back cover:

Une fatwa, voilà ce qu’il me faut pour devenir à la mode. C’est plus rapide que Star Academy, ça dure plus longtemps, tu voyages dans le monde entier, tu donnes des conférences, tu descends dans des palaces, tu montes sur scène avec U2, tu prends le thé avec le pape, une bière ou deux voire trois avec Chirac, une vodka givrée avec Poutine, un cigare humide avec Clinton, une grosse ligne avec Bush Junior, un masque à gaz avec Saddam Hussein, à chaque fois que tu dis une connerie tout le monde entier il t’écoute vu que tu as une fatwa au cul le pauvre, alors que le monde entier il est autant dans la merde que toi vu que c’est bientôt la fin du monde pour tout le monde.

A fatwa, that what I need to get famous! It’s faster than Star Academy [a French American Idol-type show], it lasts longer, you can travel the world, give speeches, stay in palaces, be up on stage with U2, take tea with the Pope, a beer or two or even three with Chirac, a chilled vodka with Putin, a humid cigar with Clinton, snort up a thick line with Bush Junior, share a gas mask with Saddam Hussein, and no matter what stupid thing you say everybody listens because you have a fatwa on your ass, while everybody else is just as deep in shit as you are seeing how the world’s gonna end real soon.

Allah Superstar, written as a monologue in several chapters, follows a young Frenchman of half Arab, half-European ancestry as he tries to become a famous comedian. Ultimately, he is seduced to, well, the Dark Side of Islam, gets his fatwa as part of a fundamentalist plot to make him famous, and when he is finally asked to perform at the Olympia in Paris (think: the French version of Radio City Music Hall) for a special September 11th performance, he blows himself up on stage, killing most of the audience.

This plot is similar enough to the one in the film American Dreamz (which has already been out for six weeks in the States, but only just came out here, and which I went to see this afternoon because, frankly, the World Cup is not my bag) that I wonder if “Y.B.” has considered suing the film’s producers. It’s far from identical, but weaker claims have led to studios to pay up.

But where Allah Superstar is a satire of French society that brings together the desire for fame at all costs, transgressive comedy and fears of terrorism, American Dreamz, directed by the man responsible for American Pie, is merely a little joke on shows like American Idol and President Bush. As satire, it falls far below the potential implicit in its concept.

The rest of this review contains spoilers, so you decide if you want to read it.
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David Irving: My Part in His Downfall

David Irving, as no doubt we all know, is beginning his new career as a jailbird, in the great grey walls of the Josefstadt prison next to the even greater and greyer Landesgericht between Vienna’s city hall and its university. Now, there are plenty of facile things to say about this: freedom of expression is vital, dammit!/Nazis must be suppressed!/What if he was a Muslim? But I hope to raise some others.

Total disclosure: I participated tangentially in Irving’s lawsuit against Deborah Lipstadt. At the time I was a student of the world Holocaust authority, Professor Peter Longerich, who was one of the team of historians who acted as expert witnesses under the direction of Professor Richard J. Evans. Whilst Longerich was known to be preparing for one of his court appearances, he asked me to borrow various works of reference from the Bedford Library at Royal Holloway for him. I was not pleased, some time later, when the librarians demanded I pay fines on the books, although Irving’s defeat was some relief.

Irving is a liar who deserves nothing but contempt. (Richard Evans’s book on the case is strongly recommended for detail.) It cannot go unremarked that he has always chosen to “challenge conventional wisdom”, in the charitable way people put it, in front of audiences who are both already converted to his point of view and willing to pay well for confirmation of theirs. His lecture circuit – mad US militias, western European fascists, apartheid South Africa – speaks for itself, as do those who admit to financing him.

And there’s the rub. In Britain, his nonsense might just be tolerable. But this is in a sense a luxury afforded by a lack of fascists. I can think of many countries where this is so:
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Rumours

The Independent reports a ‘government source’ in Kiev telling their reporter that plans are afoot to try and connect the opposition forces with a terrorist attack:

Ukraine’s embattled government is ready to stage faked terrorist attacks to destabilise the country and discredit the opposition ahead of a rerun of the presidential vote, a senior government source has told The Independent.

The official, who works for the government of the Moscow-backed candidate and current Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, said: “One of the plans is to blow up a pipeline and blame it on opposition supporters. Ukraine is the key transit country for Russian gas supplies to the West.”

Mr Yanukovych’s backers fear the prospect of their candidate losing to Viktor Yushchenko and are ready to plunge the country into economic chaos, the source revealed. “They are planning to use criminals – plain bandits – that they have a hold over.” The source said that a senior member of the government had been tasked with overseeing terrorist acts.

There’s also talk of potential financial chaos in Ukraine because of the protests:

Supporters of Mr Yanukovych and the current President Leonid Kuchma will also seek to play on fears that inflation will wipe out people’s savings as it did after the disintegration of the Soviet Union.

There has already been a run on banks and black market money changers are returning to the streets with far higher dollar and euro exchange rates.

The government has already suggested that it will not be able to pay pensions and government salaries in December, although the opposition claims there are adequate reserves to pay everything.

Daniel Pipes on Tariq Ramadan: Why French literacy still matters

Readers of my previous comment on Tariq Ramadan will no doubt have come away with the impression that I don’t much like Daniel Pipes. This is not an entirely accurate assessment of my opinon of him. I think Pipes is an unreconstructed bigot and xenophobic fanatic whose academic work fails to meet even the lowest standards of scholarship, whose career has been built on politically driven attacks, and who has set up with his “Campus Watch” as a terrorist front designed to intimidate academics and ensure that there is as little debate, discussion or rational thought on Israel, US foreign policy or Islam as possible. His reseach and scholarship are not intended to better inform action but to support specific agendas, usually revolving around hating some foreign force or people. Instead of fostering debate, his work is intended to intimidate. Pipes advocates religiously targetted surveillance, he supports making federal university funding conditional on ideology, and he has helped to terrorise professors who are named on his website. In short, I think Pipes is swine.

He is a second generation right-wing tool, the son of one of the men most responsible for America’s “Team B”, which grossly overblew the Soviet menace in the 70s and 80s – causing massive US defense spending and resulting deficits – and complained that anyone with a better sense of reality was soft on communism. Normally, Pipes’ parentage would constitute poor grounds for condeming him as having a pathological relationship to facts. But keep this in mind, since it constitutes one of his arguments against Ramadan.

All you need is Google to find out why I think these things about Daniel Pipes. It’s not a lot of work. His own website provides ample examples.

But, today, I will be targeting something a little more specific. Pipes has put up on his website his comment on Tariq Ramadan’s visa denial, originally published in the New York Post on Friday. In it, he makes specific points against Tariq Ramadan, linking, in some cases, to articles on the web in support. These articles are primarily in French. As a service to our non-francophone readers, we will be translating the relevant sections, since they lead one to the conclusion that Pipes assumes his readers will just take his word on their contents.

We report, you decide.
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Metis, Bie and Kerdos: Some Thoughts On Defeating Terrorism

Maybe it’s the presence of Talos in the comments section, or maybe it’s the arrival of the Athens Olympics on my personal horizon, but something this morning is carrying me back to the world of the Greeks, and to some early ideas of how best to secure objectives in the face of adversity.

First metis and bie:

What Does Metis Mean?

The history of the word goes back more than 28 centuries to the time of Homer around, 850BC. To the ancient Greeks, metis represented a particular type of cunning intelligence used if success was to be won in the most diverse fields of action. In the Iliad and the Odyssey, Odysseus is the hero most commonly associated with metis. The most famous strategem (metis) is the Trojan Horse, by which the Greeks finally managed to conquer Troy. This is a good example of metis for it represents a solution to a problem not resolvable by conventional means.

Metis is often contrasted with the word, bie, which means brute force. All through the Iliad, the big question is, will Troy fall by metis or bie – by wiliness or brute strength? The answer is by metis.

In the intellectual world of the Greek philosopher, there was a radical dichotomy between being and becoming, between the intelligible and the sensible. On the one hand there is the sphere of being, of the one, the unchanging, of the limited, of true and definite knowledge; on the other hand, the sphere of becoming, of the multiple, the unstable and the unlimited, of oblique and changeable opinion. Metis is characterised by the way it operates by continuously oscillating between the two opposite poles. Within a changing reality with limitless possibilities, a person with metis can achieve.

So metis is a type if intelligence and of thought, a way of knowing; it implies a complex but coherent body of mental attitudes and intellectual behaviour which combine flair, forethought, resourcefulness, vigilance, pragmatism, opportunism and the wisdom of experience.

When art and science unite, extra possibilities and opportunities are made resulting in innovation that can be driven by creativity. Metis is about finding elegant solutions to difficult problems instead of relying on brute force.

Now are you with me? What is lacking in our war with terrorism today, and all too often woefully lacking, is the component of metis. It is as if 2,000 years or more of history did not lie behind us, as if we had to learn every day anew the painful lessons of yesterday. Why am I saying this now? Well look what happened in Spain yesterday, what is happening today, and what will happen in the elections tomorrow.
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