Wednesday, September 28, 2011
Photojournalism Behind the Scenes [ITA-ENG subs] from Ruben Salvadori on Vimeo.
An outstanding video that exposes the Pallywood that is created by photographers and their willing actor subjects.
Presentation of Photojournalism Behind the Scenes, an auto-critical photo essay showing the paradoxes of conflict-image production and considering the role of the photographer in the events.
This project was awarded the Photodreaming Contest organized by Forma Foundation in which I was then selected by Denis Curti, the director of Contrasto (the major photo-agency in Italy, which represents Magnum's work in the country and for which the top Italian photographers work) to shoot an assignment for the prestigious agency.
for publications or any other info and comment contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Presentazione di "Dietro le quinte del fotogiornalismo", un essay fotografico di autocritica che mostra i paradossi della produzione di immagini di conflitto e considera il ruolo del fotografo negli eventi.
Questo progetto è stato premiato al concorso Photodreaming indetto dalla Fondazione Forma, dove sono poi stato selezionato da Denis Curti, direttore di Contrasto (la maggiore agenzia fotografica in Italia, che rappresenta i fotografi Magnum e per cui lavorano i migliori fotografi italiani) per collaborare ad un servizio fotografico per la prestigiosa agenzia.
An interesting article by Paolino Accolla for PlanetNext on my work: planetnext.net/2011/09/media-photo-journalism-behind-the-scenes/
From Nonie Darwish at FrontPage Magazine:
Alsaegh's Facebook page is here; you might want to support him.
About a year ago, I posted an Arabic language poem titled “Tears at the Heart of the Holocaust” on my website, ArabsForIsrael.com. The poem expressed its Arab author’s love for the Jewish people and his mourning over what happened to them in the Holocaust. The brave poet, Mr. Alaa Alsaegh, is an immigrant to the US from Iraq, who now lives in Missouri. Such poems did not sit well with the Muslim community, which caused Mr. Alsaegh to be alienated from it. He received threats because of his support for the Jewish people, was called an infidel and a traitor to Islam, but he continued with his writing of poems and did not take the threats too seriously.After this article was published, a St. Louis TV station finally covered the story, confirming the details:
...[O]n August 14, 2011 and in broad daylight and heavy traffic, he was viciously attacked on the streets of St. Louis, Missouri. According to Mr. Alsaegh, as he was driving at 10:30 in the morning on Compton St. near Park Ave., a small white car cut him off and hit his car, while another car stopped behind him. The occupants of the cars, some of whom wore security guard-type uniforms, quickly entered Alsaegh’s car, pointing a gun at him. They pushed his upper body down against the steering wheel, stabbed him and pulled off his shirt to expose his back. Then, with a knife, they carved the Star of David on his back while laughing as they recited his pro-Jewish poem.Mr. Alsaegh believes that the attackers could be Somalis, but he was not sure. After the attackers fled the scene, Mr. Alsaegh was surrounded by witnesses to the crime and was taken to the hospital. The photo representing this story was taken at the hospital.
...This incident has been totally ignored by the mainstream media.
Alsaegh's Facebook page is here; you might want to support him.
All of Klal Yisroel is asked to say Tehillim for the Vizhnitzer Rebbe of Bnei Brak, Rav Moshe Yehoshua Hager, whose condition at Tel Hashomer Hospital has been deemed critical. The Rebbe’s doctors have expressed concern over the last few hours regarding his condition, which they describe as “serious.” The Rebbe is 94 years old.
The families of the Rebbe’s two sons, Rav Yisroel and Rav Mendel, and two of his daughters, Rebbetzin Ernster and the Belzer Rebbetzin, have been at the hospital to be near the Rebbe. We are told that his other two daughters, the Satmar Rebbetzin and the Skverer Rebbetzin, both who reside in the United States, have departed for Eretz Yisroel in light of the matzav.
The Vizhnitzer Rebbe of Bnei Brak, who is the nosi of the Moetzes Gedolei Hatorah in Eretz Yisroel, heads one of the most illustrious Chassidic families in the world. In addition to leading a large chassidus of his own, his children are some of most prominent admorim in the world. The Rebbe has two sons and four daughters. His oldest son is Rav Yisroel, who has been leading the Vizhnitzer kehillah in recent years when his father has been unwell. Rav Menachem Mendel, the Rebbe’s second son, is named after the founding Vizhnitzer Rebbe, author of Tzemach Tzaddik. He serves as av bais din of the Vizhnitzer kehillah in Bnei Brak.
The Rebbe’s sons-in-law are the Skverer Rebbe, Rav Dovid Twersky, of Shikun Skver; the Belzer Rebbe, Rav Yissochor Dov Rokeach, of Yerushalayim; Rav Aharon Teitelbaum of Satmar of Kiryas Yoel; and Rav Menachem Ernster, rosh yeshiva of the Vizhnitzer Yeshiva in Bnei Brak. The Rebbe’s brother, Rav Mordechai Hager, is the Vizhnitzer Rebbe of Monsey.
A massive tefillah gathering is now being held at the main Vizhnitzer Bais Medrash in Bnei Brak.
All are asked to daven for a refuah sheleimah for Rav Moshe Yehoshua ben Margalis.
The Jewish People begin the High Holydays on Wednesday evening, ushering in the year 5772 by starting nearly a month of special days: Two days of Rosh Hashanah on Thursday and Friday are this year followed immediately by Shabbat Shuva, the Sabbath of Repentance, and on Sunday by the Fast of Gedaliah.
Rosh Hashana is also the start of the Ten Days of Repentance which culminate with the solemn Fast of Yom Kippur on the tenth day of Tishrei. Special verses about repentance are added to the silent Amidah prayer said three times daily during these ten days.
This is Judaism's time for introspection, when Jews look back and examine their actions in the year that has just ended, seeking to improve their observance of the Torah’s commandments directed towards G-d and towards their fellow man. They are expected to ask forgiveness from those they may have offended or hurt during the past year.
On the Sabbath of Repentance this Saturday, a special chapter is read from the book of the prophet Hosea, calling the Jewish people to repent and return to G-d. Rabbis traditionally deliver a sermon, drasha, on repentance in the afternoon.
The Fast of Gedaliah commemorates the end of Jewish rule in the Land of Israel following the destruction of the First Holy Temple some 2,500 years ago, prompting the sages to say that the end of Jewish independence is comparable in solemnity to Yom Kippur.
The Jewish New Year has several names, among them the Day of Judgment. It is a time for careful stock-taking of one's relationship with G-d, and the longer Rosh Hashanah morning prayers filled with emotion, responsive readings and songs, are therefore intense and inspirational – usually led by a carefully chosen cantor or member of the congregation - concentrating on G-d's Kingship, eternal presence and His judgment of all creatures.
“Repentance, prayer and charity avert the evil decree” is a central line from the Machzor, the special holiday prayer book, listing the course of action that it is hoped will lead to meriting a good year.
Upon returning home after the evening prayers, symbolic foods – simanim - are served, whose names allow a play on words that ask for our merits to be numerous, for our enemies to be destroyed, that we lead rather than follow. There are especially sweet ones, such as apples dipped in honey, to symbolize a sweet year.
Fruits that require a special Shehecheyanu blessing, said for something new, because they are being eaten for the first time since the previous season, are served on the second night. Pomegranates are often used for this purpose. Traditionally, children wear a new garment for the first time the second night and can say the blessing. Candles are lit both nights, but it is forbidden to light a match on the holiday, so an existing flame is used to kindle them.
Based on the commandment in Numbers 29:1, 100 shofar blasts are dramatically sounded throughout the prayers, "awakening" us to improve our ways. The congregation refrains from speech from the first shofar blasts until the last ones at the end of the service..
The Tashlikh prayer is recited on the first afternoon, preferably near a live stream of water in which we ask G-d to "throw away" our sins.
Many religious Israeli youth spend the holiday at secular kibbutzim to lead the services, volunteer to lead services in the IDF and in hospitals. Breslover Hassidim and others have begun a custom of going to Uman, Ukraine, to pray at the gravesite synagogues of their spiritual leader, Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, who passed away in Tishrei of 1810. Prominent rabbis, however, oppose the idea of leaving the Holy Land to spend Rosh Hashana in the Diaspora.
Five days after Yom Kippur the holiday of Sukkot begins, which in Israel, is seven days long, but is two days longer in the Diaspora, culminating the month of holidays.
Exiled in New York, stripped of everything he once owned, Leon Lagnado ached with nostalgia for the Cairo of the 1940s, the exciting and endlessly promising city of his youth. He was one of history's victims - in this case, the rancorous history of the Middle East.
In Cairo last week, another stage in that story unfolded when gangs of thugs stormed the Israeli embassy while Egyptian soldiers stood by without interfering. Israel had to beg the United States to beg the Egyptians to rescue six Israeli security guards trapped by the mob. Finally, the Egyptian soldiers did their duty.
It was a humiliating moment for Israel. It was also a dismaying event for everyone who cherishes pleasant feelings about the great city Lagnado once knew. In the 1940s, Cairo was sometimes called the most cosmopolitan city in the world. From the start of the 19th century to the middle of the 20th, it was tolerant in outlook and multiracial in population, incredible as that seems in 2011. Today, it's a grim monoculture.
Lagnado was a prosperous Jewish businessman who socialized with British officers and French merchants. Christians, Muslims and Jews often lived in the same buildings. Their children studied and played together. Lagnado, who liked to gamble, was once invited to join King Farouk at poker. In those days, 80,000 Jews lived in Cairo. It was Lagnado's home and his family's home, until suddenly it wasn't. After the founding of Israel, Egyptians decided that their Jews had to go home, though many of them had never known any home but Egypt.
The Egyptians began acting like 1930s Nazis. They confiscated Jewish bank accounts and fired Jews from government jobs. They withdrew professional status from Jewish doctors, engineers, lawyers and teachers. In 1960, the military governor of Cairo published an article praising the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and its account of Jews conspiring to rule the world. The Egyptian government distributed throughout Africa a pamphlet, Israel, the Enemy of Africa, slandering Jews as thieves and murderers.
There were pogroms, riots and synagogue burnings as well as racist propaganda. Still, the Lagnados were so optimistic that they stayed 'till 1963. That year, when the six of them were finally forced to leave, they were allowed to take 26 suitcases and $200, the financial limit imposed by the government.
Lagnado died an unhappy pedlar of neckties on the streets of Manhattan, having never learned American ways. We know his melancholy story because in 2007 his daughter, Lucette Lagnado, a Wall Street Journal reporter, erected a lovely monument to him in the form of her book, The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit. (She recently brought out a second memoir, The Arrogant Years, about herself and her mother.)
The expulsion of the Lagnados was a tiny part of a pattern stretching across the Middle East. In reaction against Israel, one country after another - Iraq, Algeria, Iran, Yemen, etc. - decided it could no longer tolerate Jews. Across the region about 800,000 became refugees. Many ended up in Israel. The rest scattered around the world. Their existence is no secret, but they are seldom talked about except in nostalgic books such as Lucette Lagnado's. There's no separate UN agency for them, as there is for Palestinian refugees. No one describes the expulsions as "ethnic cleansing," though that's what they were.
The World Organization of Jews from Arab Countries, which tries vainly to obtain compensation from the rich Middle East countries, has estimated that Jewish property confiscated by governments would be valued now at $300billion. The land that the Jews were forced to leave behind amounts to about four times the size of the current state of Israel.
They lost more than their property when they were forced out. They lost a culture, a shared way of life. Most of them were Sephardic Jews whose lives in Arabia stretched back millennia. This doesn't bother Arab nationalists, like the hooligans who stormed the embassy in Cairo. They believe their cause is righteous, and they persuade the gullible everywhere to sympathize.
From a certain angle, it sometimes appears that in recent times humanity has been trying to teach itself tolerance. For several generations, many major cities have recreated themselves according to a new ideal of pluralism. But at the same time the Middle East has been moving backward, toward monoracial, one-religion communities. And it is there that millions of citizens are fighting for democracy, perhaps with no more than a sketchy idea of what that word means.
The Palestinians are in the process of seeking sovereignty from the United Nations, but in doing so, they are asking for more than what was offered them in any prior negotiation with Israel—including during the talks involving President Clinton and Ehud Barak in 2000 and 2001. Rather than more, it is imperative that the Palestinians get less.
It is imperative to world peace that the Palestinians pay a price—even if it’s only a symbolic price—for rejecting the generous Clinton/Barak offer and responding to it with a second intifada in which 4,000 people were killed. It is also important that Israel not return to the precise armistice lines that existed prior to the 1967 war. If the Palestinians were to achieve a return to the status quo prior to Jordan’s attack on Israel in June of 1967, then military aggression will not have been punished, it will have been rewarded. That’s why Security Council Resolution 242—which was essentially the peace treaty that resulted from the end of the Six Day War—intended for Israel to retain territory necessary to give it secure boundaries (Indeed, in the formal application submitted by Abbas, he sought membership based on UN General Assembly Resolution 1810-11 of November 29, 1947, which would put the borders where they were before the Arab armies invaded the new Jewish state in 1948. This would reward multiple aggressions.)
Yet, however important it is that aggressive and unjustified violence not be rewarded, the international community seems bent on doing just that. If the end result of Jordan’s 1967 attack on Israel—an attack supported by the Palestinian leadership and participated in by Palestinian soldiers—is that the Palestinians get back everything Jordan lost, there will be no disincentive to comparable military attacks around the world. If the Palestinians get more than, or even as much as, they rejected in 2000 and 2001 (and did not accept in 2007), then further intifadas with mass casualties will be encouraged. A price must be paid for violence. That’s how the laws of war are supposed to work and there is no reason to make an exception in the case of the Palestinians.
I support a two-state solution based on negotiation and mutual compromise. But the negotiations must not begin where previous offers, which were not accepted, left off. They must take into account how we got to the present situation: The Arab rejection of the UN partition plan and the attack on the new Jewish state that resulted in the death of one percent of Israel’s population; the attack by Jordan and its Palestinian soldiers against Israel in 1967, which resulted in Israel’s capture of the West Bank; Israel’s offer to trade captured land for peace that was rejected at Khartoum with the three infamous “no’s”—no peace, no recognition, no negotiation; Israel’s generous offer of statehood in 2000-2001 that was answered by violence; and Olmert’s subsequent, even more generous, offer that was not accepted by President Abbas.
Efforts to achieve peace must look forward but they must not forget the past. A balance must be struck between not rewarding past violence and not creating unreasonable barriers to a future peace. But the Palestinians made it clear last week that they reject such balance.
I was at the United Nations on Friday when President Abbas made his speech demanding full recognition of Palestine as a state with the borders as they existed just before the Jordanians and Palestinians attacked Israel. In other words he wants a “do over.” He wants the nations that attacked Israel to suffer no consequences for their attempt to destroy the Jewish State. He wants to get back The Western Wall, The Jewish Quarter, and the access road to Hebrew University. Only then will he begin negotiations from this position of strength. But why then negotiate if the UN gives him more than he can possibly get through negotiation? Will he be in a position to seek less from Israel than what the UN gave him? Will he survive if he is seen as less Palestinian than the UN? Abbas blamed Israel for the self-inflicted wound the Palestinians cynically call the Nakba(the catastrophe). He denied the Jewish history of the land of Israel and he quoted with approval his terrorist predecessor Arafat. He refused to acknowledge Israel’s legitimate security needs. Abbas’s message, in sum, left little or no room for further compromise.
I also sat in the General Assembly as Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offered to begin negotiations with Abbas, with absolutely no preconditions, in New York, at the United Nations, that very day. He said he would come to Ramallah to negotiate with him or keep the door of his Jerusalem office open. He did not even require as a precondition to negotiations that the Palestinians acknowledge what the UN recognized in 1947—namely, that Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people.
Although many in the international communities and on the editorial pages of newspapers claim that Abbas wants to negotiate a two-state solution, while Netanyahu has refused to do so, the truth was on full and open display at the General Assembly on Friday: Netanyahu wants to negotiate a peace now, whereas Abbas wants to win recognition from the United Nations before any negotiations begin. As Netanyahu put it: “Let’s stop negotiating about negotiating and let’s just start negotiating right now.”
If the Palestinians accept Netanyahu’s offer to negotiate a peaceful two-state solution, it will get a real state on the ground—a state that Israel, the United States, and the rest of the international community will recognize. It will not be on the pre-1967 borders because the Palestinians are not entitled to such borders and because such borders are not conducive to peace, but it will be close. The Palestinians will get a viable state and Israel will get a secure state.
If, on the other hand, the UN were to reward nearly a century of Palestinian rejectionism and violence by simply turning the clock back to 1967 (or 1947), it will be encouraging more cost-free rejectionism and violence. The Palestinians must pay a price for the thousands of lives their rejectionism and violence have caused. The price must not be so heavy as to preclude peace, but it must be heavy enough to deter war.
Alan Dershowitz is a professor at Harvard Law School.
A YEAR or two ago, I took a taxi from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv. It was a brilliant sunny day and all around me the hills were green, as we passed a prosperous Arab village, a beautiful kibbutz, a bit of jangled traffic.
The taxi driver was English, an English Jew who had found a better life in Israel - better pay, less anti-Semitism, safer streets, an easy air commute to his daughter in England, but close to other relatives in Israel, and lots and lots of sunshine.
That day, a Roger Whittaker song was playing on the taxi radio. This Israel, I thought, there's something beautiful here.
Let me offer you a couple of other images.
On the BBC website, a British journalist, neither Jewish nor Israeli, recounts this experience in Cairo: "While walking in the street, someone pushed me from behind with such force that I nearly fell over. Turning around,
I found myself surrounded by five men, one of whom tried to punch me in the face. I stopped the attack by pointing out how shameful it was for a Muslim to assault a guest in his country, especially during Ramadan.
"Relieved that the assault was over, I was appalled by the apology offered by one of my assailants: 'Sorry,' he said contritely, 'we thought you were a Jew'."
Here's a third image, this time from outside the Middle East. An acquaintance of mine, an American woman, neither Israeli nor Jewish, nor in any way connected with the Middle East, was helping to run an outreach program in southern Thailand involving Muslim and Buddhist students.
At the end, one of the Muslim students said to her words along the lines of: thank you, that was very nice. Much better than I expected. And the final sentence: "I'd never met a Zionist before."
The key issue in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, and in the wider Israeli-Arab dispute, is the issue that dare not speak its name, the pervasive and profound anti-Semitism that permeates the contemporary Islamic world, especially the Middle East.
This is the real barrier to peace, and people who are concerned with peace will try to ameliorate it.
It is analytically false, historically untrue and conceptually impossible that all this anti-Semitism has arisen from Israel's sins, real and imagined.
As Richard Cohen pointed out in The Washington Post last week, when Anwar Sadat was a young army officer in 1953, he was interviewed by Al-Musawwar magazine and asked what he would say to Adolf Hitler. His reply? "My dear Hitler, I admire you from the bottom of my heart".
When he addressed the UN General Assembly in New York yesterday, Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd spoke of the urgency of getting a final settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians. If this did not happen soon, he feared a "spiralling of violence". If a settlement were reached, huge new Arab markets would open up to Israel, it would receive diplomatic recognition from all its Arab neighbours and attention could focus on the real security threat to the region, Iran. If it did not reach a final settlement soon, then the consequences for Israel's security would be dire.
I do not doubt Rudd's goodwill, nor his analytical competence, but I believe this analysis to be profoundly flawed at four levels.
First, Israel cannot will a peace agreement into existence if there is not a partner on the other side both willing and able to make and enforce a peace agreement that provides for Israel's security.
Second, a failed peace agreement, or one not enforced, could gravely compromise Israel's security, in far more damaging ways than exist today.
Third, Israel's security position has grievously deteriorated in recent months, through dynamics that have nothing to do with the Israel-Palestinian dispute, but which provide a far more dangerous context in which to ask Israel to take existential risks.
Fourth, you cannot have a lasting peace settlement when Israel's neighbours are consumed with hatred for Jews and contempt for Israel as a political entity.
Here's another thought. Very often, normalisation and a period of non-violence precede a peace agreement, rather than a peace agreement producing normalisation. Israel, and international partners, are working hard to normalise life in the West Bank, so that it becomes prosperous and decent, so that the Palestinians have something to lose, as it were.
It's at least as likely that normalisation could lead to peace, as that a peace agreement would magically produce normalisation.
Rudd is not alone in his analysis. It is conventional wisdom among the international conference-going class that the dispute could and must be settled quickly. But let's take my four analytical objections one by one.
Is there a peace partner for the Israelis? This is not a rhetorical question. It's a practical one. If you make peace with an enemy, you must be confident the enemy can control the forces on his side, that attacks won't continue on you.
Now here is the situation Israel confronts. Nearly half the Palestinian population is controlled by Hamas, designated by Australian and US law as a terrorist organisation. Hamas is also formally part of the broader national Palestinian government. It has not, as Western interlocutors once required, renounced terrorism, accepted Israel's right to exist, nor agreed to abide by any past agreements of the Palestinian Authority. Israel cannot just magically make Hamas into a Kumbaya peace movement. Even in the West Bank, the Fatah-led government promotes incitement and hatred against Israel from earliest school materials through to TV broadcasts and the rest. Every map of Palestine contains the whole of Israel, not just the occupied territories. More importantly, perhaps, the Palestinian government maintains itself in Ramallah only through the force of Israeli arms. It is not unreasonable for Israel to have extreme concerns about the sort of government that would eventually emerge in Ramallah.
The second objection is that a failed peace agreement could be much worse than the situation today. If the West Bank goes like Gaza, there will be a flood of rockets and other weapons into it once Israeli soldiers are gone. No Palestinian national movement is likely to accept indefinite Israeli control of its border with Jordan, yet if that border is not controlled the West Bank will likely go like Gaza. But Israel is a small, skinny nation. A Palestinian state would be within a few kilometres of the main Israeli population centres. Gaza-style rocket launches could cripple the Israeli economy. Even stray mortars would paralyse Tel Aviv airport. What if, as Hamas frequently does in Gaza, a West Bank Palestinian government encouraged such rocket launches, but then said they were really being launched by some shadowy militant group beyond its control?
This is not an argument to say that there can never be a Palestinian state. But it is entirely reasonable to ask that a Palestinian partner be able to ensure that Israel's security will be respected, as it has never been respected in the past.
Some very senior figures say privately that if outrageous attacks occurred Israel could simply re-invade Palestinian territory, but the world would know that Israel had tried to offer an independent Palestinian state.
This is wildly unrealistic. Israel never gets any credit for any offer it makes. In 2000, Ehud Barak offered Yasser Arafat about 95 per cent of the West Bank, all of Gaza, East Jerusalem and territory from Israel proper to compensate the 5 per cent of the West Bank that would accommodate the major Jewish settlement blocs.
Nearly a decade later, Ehud Olmert made essentially the same offer. In neither case could the Palestinian leadership accept the offer because it would have necessitated an end of claims against Israel and an end of conflict. The Palestinians will never get a better offer than they got from Barak and Olmert, who were prepared to take the enormous risks outlined above.
You are forced to ask in the end whether the Palestinian leadership is even serious about an independent state on realistic terms or whether it is caught up either in mere short-term manoeuvering, with no long-term vision at all, or if the long-term vision is some apocalyptic plan for Israel's ultimate destruction.
The late Abdurrahman Wahid, the former president of Indonesia, once told me of his disgust when Yasser Arafat said to him in private conversation that his ultimate aim was to tip the Jews into the sea. Perhaps the greatest analytical problem with those who urge an immediate solution is their failure to recognise the devastating deterioration in Israel's external security situation. The Israeli diplomats in the embassy in Cairo were nearly murdered by a mob two weeks ago. The Egyptian government declined to take calls from their Israeli counterparts as the mob was struggling to smash down the concrete around the embassy so they could smash to pieces the diplomats inside.
Only when US President Barack Obama personally intervened did the Egyptians dispatch soldiers to save the Israelis' lives.
Turkey's Prime Minister, Recep Erdogan, has in effect decided to end his country's long alliance with Israel. He seeks popularity in the Arab world now by demonising Israel and has threatened to send his navy to confront Israel. These are enormous and adverse changes to Israel's security environment. They were not remotely caused by anything to do with the Palestinian dispute. They both reflect the radical decline of US influence in the Middle East. Those arguing for an immediate Palestinian state say Israel can propitiate these concerns by granting a Palestinian state. But where is there one zot of evidence for this?
Instead, regional powers, if they want to help the Palestinians, would be reassuring Israel. But, as we have seen, Israel's neighbours hate Israel and demonise Jews.
The Palestinian leadership itself has more or less guaranteed there can be no settlement by insisting on the right of return of all Palestinians who ever lived in pre-independence Israel, and all their descendants. This amounts to five million people. It ignores, of course, the millions of Jews, and their descendants, forced to leave Arab lands because of murderous anti-Semitic violence. But in any event, as all senior Palestinian leaders know, no Israeli government will ever commit suicide by inviting five million Palestinians to live in Israel proper.
In previous private negotiations, Palestinian leaders have been willing to give up this preposterous claim. But they have made it such a strong part of their emotional denigration of Israel that to do so publicly will inevitably invite a hostile reaction among Palestinians and within the wider Arab world. Taken all together, this means no permanent settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute is possible at present. To pretend otherwise is at the very least irresponsible.
A Singular Focus
These are interesting days for the intersection of comics and the Clash of Civilizations. The real-life adventures of a former al-Qaeda militant have become a popular comic book in Indonesia – the most populous Muslim nation in the world – chronicling his transformation from enemy to ally in the fight against terrorism. DC Comics, the home of Batman, sent him to Paris and replaced sidekick Robin with a French Algerian Muslim known as Nightrunner. “The 99,” a comic book creation out of the Middle East featuring 99 superheroes, each representing a different aspect of Islamic culture, has received the blessing of President Obama and is hooking up with other DC comic heroes as well as becoming an animated TV series.
And then there’s Pigman, the jihadists’ nemesis and the protagonist of Bosch Fawstin’s graphic novel The Infidel, a story of Muslim twin brothers whose lives veer in polar opposite directions in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. The Infidel echoes Fawstin’s own journey from his Albanian Muslim beginnings, to apostate and Ayn Rand devotee.
Fawstin is a cartoonist who scored an Eisner Award nomination – the comics industry equivalent of an Oscar nod – for his debut graphic novel, Table For One. He’s also aFrontPage contributing artist and the author/illustrator of ProPIGanda: Drawing the Line Against Jihad, a collection of images and essays that serve as a companion piece to The Infidel.
(Fawstin will be speaking Tuesday night about his work and inspiration at the Luxe Hotel in Los Angeles.)
Mark Tapson: Tell us about your youth as a Muslim and why you left Islam and embraced the philosophy of Ayn Rand.
Bosch Fawstin: I was born in the Bronx, New York to Albanian/Muslim immigrants who weren’t very devout. I don’t think they knew much about their own religion, but I’d say we were culturally Muslim in that we adhered to certain prohibitions and traditions of Islam, such as not eating pork, celebrating its holidays, etc. We rarely went to mosque, maybe twice a year to one in Brooklyn where the Arab imam spoke in Arabic and my brothers and male cousins and I more or less aped the sounds and prayer moves he made.
But however lax my Muslim upbringing was, Islamic anti-Semitism & misogyny were almost always present. Fortunately for me I was raised in America, which allowed me to learn how morally corrupt this all was. I can’t claim to be fully conscious about it at the time, but my direct experience in the world made me very suspicious about the Islamic b.s. I was being taught, which led to my naturally phasing out of Islam without much of a hard break being necessary. The only God I ever “knew” was Allah, and the only time I ever invoked him was right before one of the beatings my dad gave me. And after one too many of those, with no help coming my way, the already tenuous belief in God also began to phase out of my life.
But atheism without a moral philosophy is nothing, so discovering Ayn Rand’s work and philosophy in my late teens was the most important thing that could have happened to me at that time in my life. Here was a morality based in reality with a reverence for individualism. And being raised in a culture where women were considered a necessary evil, as only they can deliver male heirs, and where the birth of a girl is something to mourn, I have to admit that the fact that this great writer and philosopher was a woman really surprised me at the time. The existence of this woman and her life-changing philosophy only proved further to me how full of it Islam was.
MT: Describe your early work as an artist and how the 9/11 attacks changed your focus and direction.
BF: The first thing I remember drawing well was a horse when I was 6, and the great reaction I got from my teacher and classmates helped me to focus on drawing more. Then my oldest brother brought home some superhero comic books, and I quickly fell in love with them. That helped focus me on what I wanted to draw when I grew up. I won nearly every art contest I entered from elementary school to high school, but I didn’t end up seriously drawing comics until my late 20s after a number of years spent making a living as a waiter and going to about a half-dozen art classes in New York over the years. My first graphic novel, Table for One, came from my experience in the restaurant business. And it was a day after one of those night classes in NY when 9/11 hit.
For me, as an American, as an artist, there was before 9/11 and after 9/11. Nothing would ever be the same and I knew that I wanted to respond to it with my work, but I also knew that I had a lot to find out about Islam and Jihad before I felt comfortable in writing and drawing a story dealing with it. So I continued working on Table for One, but post-9/11, I added some things in the book that I felt had to be said, as my first commentary about 9/11, mainly on a double-page spread where I allow the New York restaurant customers to talk a bit about it.
After I released Table for One in 2004, I continued my research on all things Islam and Jihad and began to put together a story that fit me like a glove. My first thought after the attacks was to create a Captain America story where he takes on Jihad, until I stopped cold and realized that Marvel Comics would never allow that story to be told the way I was going to tell it, so then I stepped back and started thinking about the enemy and what he fears. That’s where Pigman came from. Pigman is an ex-Muslim, Frank Warner, who was fighting Islam and Jihad in the battlefield of ideas for a number of years before 9/11 as a writer through his books. After the attacks, seeing how gutless and ineffective Washington’s response to the atrocity was, he decides to take the war into his own hands. Exploiting the enemy’s “pigotry,” he dresses up in pigskin leather and ruthlessly puts down the mad dog jihadists wherever he finds them.
But however cathartic the character and his actions were for me, I still felt I needed more to say about this post-9/11 world, particularly about the growing Islamic correctness that really took hold after the attacks with the anti-reality check of our time, “Islam means peace.” From that came my decision to have twin stories being told within a graphic novel I would end up calling The Infidel. It’s a story about twin brothers of Albanian/Muslim background who have diametrically opposite reactions to 9/11. One of them, Killian Duke, leaves Islam and creates the Pigman comic book and the other, Salaam Duka, fully submits to Islam. And their conflict is super-echoed by Pigman’s battle against his former friend and now arch-enemy, SuperJihad. This story has allowed me to say all that I’ve wanted to say about this post-9/11 world in the best way I can say it, through comics.
MT: What do you hope to accomplish with Pigman, the jihadists’ worst nightmare?
BF: I think it’s important that we see this enemy pay for what they’ve done, pay in a way that they fully deserve to, and pay on the page in clear visual form, at the hands of one who fully understands the enemy and speaks their language. There’s value in that, for me personally, and I think for readers, to show what should happen to those who plan and execute the mass murder of innocent human beings. War is ugly and so is Pigman. Some have told me that they wish Pigman was more heroic and attractive as superheroes ought to be, but my thinking is that Pigman was born from the horror of 9/11, and that this enemy deserves nothing less and nothing more than Pigman. They deserve a hero who will do whatever it takes to end their threat, however ugly a form that takes. The effectiveness of our real life soldiers in this war has been crippled because of the moral vanity of politicians who are calling the shots. We would win this war if our soldiers were allowed to fight it, and so Pigman for me is a way to show how to fight this enemy without any hamstrings.
MT: How is the clash of Islam and the West treated in the world of comics and graphic novels? Do you see the same kind of cultural appeasement in that arena as one can see from, say, Hollywood? And are we underestimating the cultural impact that comics have?
BF: Comics have been as truthless and as gutless as any corner of pop culture about Islam and Jihad since 9/11. The first thing comics at large did after 9/11 was to have benefit books that mourned our loss without ever mentioning who was responsible for it. There was even one comic book writer who chose to come out as a pacifist after the attacks and who vowed to glorify Islam in some form in his future comics. From what little I’ve seen, his attempts to do just that were pathetic.
And now this month, September 2011, is the month that a number of comic books dealing with 9/11 are coming out. There’s a “Truther” comic book coming out called “The Big Lie”; what an appropriate description of the book. Then there’s what appears to be an ode to Islam titled “Habibi,” written and drawn by one who actually said about the book that it’s “more out of shame of being American than any attack on Islamic society.” And this is someone who claims to have read the Koran, which should make him ashamed of being an Islamophile. And then there’s a comic about the killing of Osama bin Laden titled “Code Word: Geronimo,” which I imagine is a pretty straightforward take on the scumbag’s comeuppance, without any mention of his ideology. And finally, there’s Frank Miller’s Holy Terror, originally a Batman vs. al-Qaeda story, which appears to take on the enemy in a more direct way than we’ve seen in comics so far, outside of my own work. I’m curious to see what kind of effect Miller’s book will have, if it will inspire more work that takes on this enemy.
MT: You were invited to appear on Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show” to discuss Batman’s Muslim sidekick in DC Comics. Tell us about your experience in the lion’s den of the left-leaning media.
BF: I knew I’d be taking a chance going on, since they’d have the power make me look like they wanted me to look, but it was truly an offer I couldn’t refuse, due to my inability to get any traction for my book from agents, editors or publishers over the years. Even those who showed interest cited Muslim reprisal as their reason for not taking it on. About my first contact with “The Daily Show,” when I realized that the producer who emailed me was actually who he said he was, I went through two long conversations with two different producers about my work and why I do it. It was my critical essay/cartoon about the “Muslim Batman” that caught their attention, and I think in particular it was the one line that I had at the end of the piece where I wrote, “If you’re as sick and tired of this Islamicrap as I am, then check out my graphic novel.” My “interviewer,” the “Liberal Muslim” Aasif Mandvi, initiated a back-and-forth on my word “Islamicrap,” which was funny, but which they ended up cutting. Since my appearance on the show, I’ve interested an agent in taking it on, which is just one concrete way that justified my being on.
(For a look at Fawstin’s appearance on “The Daily Show,” along with his account of the entire three-hour shoot, go here.)
MT: Tell us about some of your many stand-alone works, like the cover of David Horowitz’s book A Point in Time, or one of my personal favorites, your poster in support of Geert Wilders and free speech. What’s your process from inspiration to finished work, and what would you say the major themes of your work are?
BF: I was honored to have David Horowitz commission me to illustrate an idea that he had for the cover of his new book, with the understanding that the publisher might not end up using it. After a number of attempts to get his idea visualized – three stakes backed by a wall, to have a cold look about it, all in gray, white and black. As he told me, the centerpiece of the book is the description of Dostoevsky’s mock execution by firing squad and the illustration was to cover that. I’m happy to say that his publisher did end up using my illustration for the cover.
On my “I’m Geert Wilders!” piece (I’ve done two other drawings of him since): He’s the only Western politician who is completely honest about the threat we face with Islam, so I wanted to honor that and stand up for him like in that scene in Spartacus.
About my work, in a way I think I really write and draw about things that make my blood boil, whether against evil or in support of those who are fighting evil. These days, my main targets are Islam and Obama and how destructive they are to the world. And because Obama was raised Muslim and is as uncritical about it as can be, sometimes my counter-attack on one of these targets ends up being a counter-attack on both.
Superhero comic books have always been about the battle between good vs. evil, but sometimes, especially these days, comic book villains really can’t compete with the evil running wild in the world at the moment, so for the foreseeable future, I’ll keep going after the real-world villains.