Pardon my bloggerly desuetude, but last week I was out on vacation. Now I’m back, and to make up for the lost time in blog-o-land, I’m posting a few longer essays you might have missed. (I did, at least.)
First, there’s this excellent review of the Arab scholar Gilbert Achcar’s book The Arabs and the Holocaust: The Arab-Israeli War of Narratives in the n + 1. The reviewer, Bruce Robbins, a comp lit professor at Columbia, details Achcar’s deft analysis of Muslim anti-semitism. According to the review, Achcar, a Lebanese Muslim who teaches at London university, takes many Muslims to task for their deplorable embrace of shoddy European anti-semitic theories, from the conspiracies peddled in "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion" to racist Nazi ideology.
But Achcar is just as scrupulous in taking Jews and non-Arabs to task for putting a holy mote around the Holocaust so that any invocation of the tragedy is immediately deemed suspect or worse. According to Robbins’ review, Achcar points out countless instances where Arab invocations of the Holocaust and the parallels they often drawn to the expulsion of Palestinians, the Nakba, are more delicate than hard-line Jewish critics suppose: many Muslims know the Holocaust was a much more sinister event, but many Muslims the Palestinian’s loss of their own land is an equally personal tragedy as well. African Americans, Rwandas and increasingly, historians assessing Stalin’s purges, use the Holocaust as a poignant symbol of human suffering. It is not about superlatives — about which tragedy is more tragic, more perverse — it’s about appealing to the common suffering that all peoples ineluctably face.
Second, there’s Leon Wieseltier’s poignant critique of Obama’s position on Libya. Wieseltier, the literary editor of The New Republic, takes liberals to task for their cautious if not outright dismisal of Obama’s Libyan intervention. Many liberals have recently argued that multilaterial attacks, even on humanitarian grounds is a nice idea. But it’s terribly inconsistent with our other positions on the current crop of Arab revolts, and exposes us to even more ridicule within the Muslim world. After all, some liberals argue, how come we all of a sudden support the rebel cause in Libya yet reject the one in Bahrain? Both ruling dictators appear to have no mercy on their people, so why pick one over another?
Wieseltier has no truck with any of this. Sure, he argues, it’d be nice to have the self-satisfaction of intellectual consistency, but it is better to stave of one potential tragedy even if it entails willingly allowing for the possibility of another–and even if the reason for choosing one over the other is craven self-interest. A life saved is a life saved, and better is the hypocrite who fights down tyrants than the intellectually consistent politico who sits on his hands.
Last, in the current New Yorker Malcolm Gladwell reviews Ugly Beauty: The Ugly Face of the Beauty Business. The book, by Ruth Brandon, tells the dual biography of the leading cosmetic queens of 20th century Paris–Helena Rubinstein, a Jew born in Krakow, and Eugene Schueller, the French tycoon who founded L’Oreal, and whose parent company eventually bought Rubinstein’s company. He also cozied up to the Nazis.
There is plenty of dastardliness here–and, I might add, of a kind even more glaring in light of John Galliano’s recent tirage. But even more intriguing is Gladwell’s broader point: that Schueller was less a dyed in the wool anti-semite than a cunning opportunist. As soon as the Nazis began losing the war and it became clear that is was no longer profitable to cozy up with the Vichy regime, Schueller immediately joined the Allied cause. Morality, bigotry, and nice humanist ideals had nothing to do with his business model, and that, Gladwell argues, is a legacy that many corporations still embrace today.