Sunday, April 28, 2024

Kalifat..."is the solutiion"

Demonstrators in Hamburg this weekend have been calling for the establishment of a Caliphate in (or on?) Germany.

The problem, as such, is this. Islam is not just another flavour of monotheism, the final update on that questionable Jewish innovation.

The notion that it is as deserving of a kind of hands-off respect as any other faith tradition disregards, dangerously, the way that it includes codifications of some very explicit political intentions, which it would be as irresponsible to ignore as any other party manifesto with intolerant overtones. (Since WWII Germany has taken a very hard line with extremism, but appears a tad more reticent when metaphysical faith is the public persona of such.)

Like other believers, any given devout Muslim can of course cherry pick his or her way through the Koran, the Hadiths etc. ignoring the persistent political prescriptions and focusing exclusively on the spiritual. 

But in practice these earthly imperatives remain no matter what the body of believers choose to do, and they an underlying intentionality of their own, for this basic, innate Islamism baked into the religion itself has tended to bond on contact with the concepts and ways of expression formed within Western Europe's own tradition of illiberal thinking, and such contact is only going to become to more systematic within a civilisation seemingly striving for diversity…as if that alone might guarantee greater broad-mindedness.

Los Impactados (2023)


If it had been up to me the title of this movie would have been Gente Corriente...but, sadly, it wasn't.

Award-winning Argie director Lucía Puenzo’s latest flick does have an alternative name though: Electrophilia.

Its protagonist is a vet who awakes from a coma of more than a month after being struck by lightning on a cattle farm, to find that her fundamental relationship with charged electrons has changed.

Struggling to move on, she is invited to become a member of a somewhat cultish group of relampagazo survivors led by a charismatic yet melancholic doctor, who may have been disbarred for some of the results of his experimental therapies.

Because this is an Argentinian film (and it could really be absolutely nothing else) there is not much else to it in terms of plot, barring shifts or mood, knowing looks, heavy backstory and so on, and the science is left rather sketchy.

I enjoyed it for what it was, yet inevitably left it feeling that it could easily have been something else, something that might have attempted to get under my skin just a little bit more.

Friday, April 26, 2024

Serial Suppression

I am starting to realise that my disappointment with the Dune sequel was actually part of a larger pattern of serial disappointment with the oeuvre of Denis Villeneuve, previously disguised perhaps by the sheer gorgeousness of these films.

I've accumulated enough circumstantial evidence to declare that, either intentionally or through a form of negligence, the Canadian director has been taking science fiction narratives grounded in really meaty ideas and, in effect, vegetarianising them (though until Dune Part Two he had not gone fully vegan!) 
I've now read a few chapters of Dune and have been fairly astonished how many crucial concepts he must have been minded to suppress.

With Herbert and Dick there was, I suppose, the available excuse that their works were like the fossilised remains of twentieth century dinosaurs, brimming with exotic, perhaps even outlandish concerns which don't necessarily transfer to our present moment. (And might even offend an overly sensitive person.)

Yet that would surely not be the case with Ted Chiang, whose short story was adapted as Arrival, seemingly after filtering out almost all its rather profound observations about linguistics and free will.

Monkey Man (2024)

Upon paying a quick visit to IMDB to check up on a cast member I made the discovery that within the action genre there is sub category going by the name of "one man army" to which Monkey Man belongs as deservedly as say, the John Wick saga.

This unashamedly full-on action flick, written, directed, produced and starring Dev Patel, has the striking distinction that it is embedded in a stylised mythological blend of its own confection and yet very obviously desirous of being about something in the real world beyond the private quest for redress of its protagonist and his murky Mumbai-esque milieu.


It's this latter ambition that has probably led to its release at a time when Modi and the religious right are seeking renewal in the world's largest democratic election and will almost certainly see it denied either a cinematic release or even a streaming deal in India.

That said Patel and his collaborators on the screenplay are very much looking in from the outside, from Indonesia in fact, where the movie was shot. And he consciously and showily borrows from both the Thai and Indonesian action traditions, with deliberate echoes from the likes of Ong-Bak and The Raid.

The kitchen fight was one of several elements which also reminded me of Jet Li in Kiss of the Dragon. We also get brawls in a brothel, a bathroom and a lift, which tick all the boxes and yet always feel on the edge of something startling.

We are very fond of Dev. He was an inspired casting choice for Sir Gawain in 2021's The Green Knight. This directorial debut probably indicates how he would most like to build on that role at this stage in his career, a creative calling card of sorts, into which he has poured many of his influences and ideas, plus his training in Taekwondo. And we're glad that the cinematic world has now received it, as the pandemic and injuries during shooting had portended a fatal stall.

Unlike others who in recent history have been given the opportunity — by either an indulgent studio or streaming giant — to realise a pet project with no holds barred (Duncan Jones...), any excess here has been contained and the misfires kept to a minimum.


Thursday, April 25, 2024

Understanding detached or vicarious zealotry...

The Antisemitism vs Anti-Zionism distinction might be a bit of a red herring, largely because both terms are subject to varied and partisan interpretation.

It may be more revealing to look at the issue this way...

The Middle East conflict feeds off interpretations, constructions even, of history.

In the case of both Jews and Arabs with a genuine connection to the disputed geography, an entirely disinterested approach to this process of analysis and communication is unlikely. And thus the spin is understandable on some levels, perhaps even forgivable.

But when it comes to individuals with little skin in the game, so to speak, it becomes legitimate to ask where the strident partiality, that insistence on largely counter-factual narratives, ultimately comes from.

Is it ignorance, disingenuity or is there something more sinister at work, like hatred. 



Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Dune Part Two

Back in 2021 I described the first of the new Dune films as "absolutely awesome". 

This time I struggled to get anywhere near that same level of teenage impressionability. In fact my patience was properly tried in places.

Of course it looks great, but the plotting is cumbersome and all the faux Middle-Eastern religious hokum also started to wear me down.

Many of the things that were very good about Dune have not carried forward here, like the performances of Rebecca Ferguson, Charlotte Rampling and Timothée Chalamet, perhaps because their character motivations now seem more opaque, with the effect that they are considerably less engaging.

Zendaya is the best thing about the sequel, albeit encumbered by a Luis Miguel-style suntan.

Bardem is basically channeling one of John Cleese's most memorable roles from The Life of Brian, but without the laughs.

Denis Villeneuve famously didn't know if he would be permitted to make this film when he concluded the first one, but now he has dotted the action with familiar faces which serve as placeholders for the conclusion of this trilogy. And there are others in under-developed roles in this film who have been largely left to play versions of themselves owing to a lack of better cues from the screenplay. 

In 2021 I promised myself I'd read the novel, and am now rather pleased that I failed to keep that one. 



An even more crucial law of history is don’t listen to the opinions of people who know nothing about history.

There’s absolutely no point in taking sides in history is also a handy rule of thumb. (The time for cheering on Coventry in last week's FA Cup semi-final has come and gone.)

Jeremy here clearly missed episode one of The Three Body Problem.

In fact the first chapter of Liu Cixin’s novel provides a far more detailed and interesting account of the Chinese Cultural Revolution than Netflix (obvs), but there are many other examples of student movements gone whacko.

One feature of this kind of insurrection is the targeting of people who are not the actual ruling class, but are perceived to be the de facto show-runners: bourgeoisie, Jews, metropolitan elites, Freemasons, the church etc. etc.

And for most of history in the western world, academia was in effect a sub-branch of the dominant theological authority in the land, in other words a body that came with ideological baggage and a natural tendency to strike out against educated dissent outside.

We’re on our way back there now.

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Fire Chicken

Turkeys, it ought to be noted, are kind of indigenous to Guatemala, or at least Mesoamerica…like avocados and chocolate, chiles and vanilla, tomatoes and corn. 

Byzantine Rooster. Love it. I think Constantinople had already fallen when a turkey first came across a European, possibly resulting in “fire chicken”.

Wrong and Wronger

As empires old in the tooth tottered and died, nation states started to spring up across the world during the nineteenth century. In many cases and in the Old World in particular, this process was accompanied by ethnic cleansing of an often unpleasant kind. 

The scale of this has frequently been much larger than anything that happened to both Jews and Arabs in the Middle East after World War Two. One only has to consider the likes of India and Pakistan, Greece, Turkey and Bulgaria and of course, Poland. 

Our present fixation with the conflicting national aspirations in the Middle East — typically still struggling to transcend multiple prior imperial projects, western and not so western — emerges out of three phenomena.

1) The undoubtedly bloated geopolitical significance of the region.

2) Antisemitism and other forms of twisted chauvinism.

3) Extremist ideology, particularly of the anti-western kind, which assumes both anti-capitalist and anti-liberal forms. 

Any opinions which appear to spout exclusively from an alternative source are, in my experience, often rather contrived. Or blinkered, either accidentally or on purpose. 

Arabs are from Arabia not Israel. Israelites are from Israel not Arabia. That was the starting point for post-imperial ethnic cleansing on both sides. 

The numbers were broadly similar, some 600,000 people displaced each way. Relatively small compared to the 10m Germans forced to abandon their homes in the east, but significant...just not as significant as everyone seems to need to believe today. 

Contrary to what the Pro-Pal marchers chant, Arabs have no fundamental historical business to be in Israel. They are colonial cultural leftovers like white Dutch-speaking people at the base of Africa.

This does not of course mean that they ought to be ethnically cleansed. Nationalism has to be inclusive and tolerant, not only of diversity, but also of the often strange twists of history that engendered it. 

Nevertheless, I generally struggle to sympathise with the Arabs' sense of injustice over what happened in Israel at the end of Ottoman rule, and this goes beyond any inability to plug into any of the three above-mentioned standard sources of opinion on the matter.

Instead, it all comes down to the fact that I cannot get over the way that they refused a perfectly good deal in 1947, an opportunity to coexist peacefully, sharing in the post-colonial, nationalist future. (Not all chose violence and genocide of course. 1 in 5 Israelis today is an Arab Muslim.)

The Jews had been willing to attempt to build a nation state made up initially of a quite a diverse range of citizens, 40% of whom were not Jewish. But the Arabs would not compromise. They wanted the whole territory and to impose their own political and cultural vision on it, and they duly attempted to do so, violently, and lost.

There is just no getting around this. Almost everything which has happened since is surely a consequence, and I find it tiresome to listen to people obstinately re-positioning any future re-conquest as 'freedom', as if there were no blame at all to be attributed to their own past attitudes and actions.

Even Amos Oz's famous remark that at the start of the conflict both sides were right and now they are both wrong, fails to acknowledge that in 1947 the side which chose war was emphatically wronger.

And the creeping wrongness of the ideological positions on both sides today undoubtedly stems from that wholesale introduction of ethnic animus into the equation which, as I said, has been all too familiar in the formation of nation states.

Chauvinsitic nationalism is like a river which along its course always picks up so much sediment that unpleasant murkiness is almost a natural consequence of the flow, but ultimately, the levels of toxicity are at least partially under human control, or so I would contend. 

To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, each nationalism has a heaven and a hell in it. 

Two Tiers of Public Protest

It always seemed clear to me that Gideon Falter and his group deliberately provoked the issue with the Met earlier this month, but that should not distract from the underlying issue, which should have long ago been recognised by the relevant authorities without the need for any public stunts.

This is not so much about so-called two tier policing as two very distinct tiers of mass demonstration within democracies, one which works within or at least alongside the norms, and another which refuses to. In fact the latter typically aims to menace civil society and its everyday political mechanisms.

There is a line, occasionally dotted, between protest and insurrection. It's not precise, but we usually know it when we see it. So, on January 6 at the US Capitol, that was not merely a peaceful democratic 'protest' against the perceived electoral irregularities, was it?

Here in Guatemala during the latter part of 2023 I witnessed first hand a series of almost entirely peaceful protests against election interference. The protest movement went beyond the call of duty to ensure that there was no imminent threat of actual violence to other well-defined minorities beyond the criminals entrenched within the state, and the latter were only being urged to resign forthwith and foxtrot oscar.

From the get go these pro-Pal marches in London have been more than a protest at Israel's response to the October 7 invasion from Gaza. This is hardly surprising, as the entire movement — from inception in the last century — could largely be characterised as the wolf of Islamism, Arab colonialism and antisemitism decked out in the sheep's clothing of thwarted national aspiration and other forms of contrived victimhood.

So, it is indeed hard for 'independent' authorities to take a stance without appearing carelessly partisan, particularly when the typical response from the mob is to shout slogans until everyone just cowers.

Many protest marches are driven by issues with no obvious points of confrontation with other sectors of society, or indeed with the state. In these cases the goal of the mass walkabout is, broadly speaking, 'awareness' and a show of strength of numbers and sentiment.

Nevertheless, and the obvious example here is Oswald Mosely’s attempt to march down Cable Street (or in my lifetime the National Front demonstrations), other mobilised multitudes are deliberately seeking trouble, looking for selected victims to insult and intimidate.

From the outset the Pro-Pal demos in London have featured a variety of very red-flaggy symbols and verbalisations (e.g. “Globalise the Intifada") which surely shunt them into the insurrectionist category. What Falter and the Iranian man with his "Hamas are terrorists" banner have shown us — purposefully — is that the Met knows this, but is determined not to recognise it formally.

In North America, specifically on elite campuses and on the streets of Ottowa in Canada, the situation has grown far worse, and this is likely to be partly the result of the authorities' cowardice or complicity.


Friday, April 19, 2024

The 'Right" of Return

 “The United Nations is about as useful as the Eurovision Song Contest and about as corrupt.” Ho Ho. Surely the basis of some common ground there. 

Anyway, there is no cognitive dissonance in what was said by Lipman in that clip, but the retweeter would possibly like to sow some.

Indeed there’s a fallacy being proposed here and it’s such a crucial one that it is worth unpicking in detail, as. it exposes how the pro-pal mindset and related propaganda messaging works.

The right of so-called Palestinian refugees to ‘return’ is enshrined in international law via a UN Resolution which was then attached to the foundational charter of UNRWA. It is not dependent on the prior signing of a conclusive peace agreement.

This is utterly unique. No other discreet displaced refugee group has ever enjoyed this right. The Arabs fought hard and rather deviously for it, so they need to be called out when they appear to want to have it both ways.
Also, when they fail to mention the in-built caveat that comes with this right, an associated obligation to live in peace with Israelis if they do go back there. (Para 11, Resolution 194.)

600,000 Jews were simultaneously displaced from around the Middle East, expelled in effect, as the 1947-8 war ended. Unlike the Palestinians they had not turned on the communities they had inhabited for centuries with violent, genocidal intentions, yet nobody ever granted them a ‘right of return’.

At the end of the war they also started and lost, 10m ethnic Germans were sent packing from eastern Europe. These refugees spent more than a decade demanding what they saw as an inalienable right to return to the Heimkehr, in effect insisting that whole areas of Poland east of the Oder-Neisse line should again be part of a ‘Greater Germany’.

But nobody granted it to them. Germany, naturally enough, had a grown up debate on this thorny matter even as lip service was often paid to the refugees’ demands. By the end of the fifties it was understood that turning the clocks back would only compound the apparent injustices, especially for Poles, and would allow an unpleasant geopolitical threat to fester.

So they chose to assimilate and economically rehabilitate the easterners, just as UNKRA did for North Koreans in the south. There are many other notable examples from a comparable period: China, Vietnam, India and Pakistan. And the UN has an agency, UNHCR, explicitly tasked with assisting refugees, but the Arabs made sure that the Palestinians alone were excluded from this remit, and it is important to understand why.

The other Arab nations have always had only a nominal humanitarian interest in the wellbeing of the people forced to leave their homes in 1948. The refugee issue and the ‘right of return’ has always been a strategic one, with the so-called Palestinians used as political pawns in a game that the Arabs long hoped would lead to a terminal undermining of the Jewish state. For many this continues to be the sole objective.

For they have always known that having to re-assimilate hundreds of thousands (now millions) of potential enemies, even if they promised to be on their very best behaviour, would place an almost insurmountable political and economic burden on Israel, not to mention significantly augmenting the existential threat that it has always faced.

UNRWA was founded in 1949 at a moment that the US and the wider international community were aiming at the tried and tested rehabilitation and resettlement approach following a report made to the American government by a man called Chapp. But the Arabs started twisting and diverting the mandate in order to perpetuate their own special sense of injustice, directed very specifically at the UN for the attempt at partition, and to secure a source of funding that would also continue ad infinitum as the problem remain unsolved - unsolvable in fact, given all the restrictions applied.

The original name was to have been NERWA but the Arabs wanted the UN’s initials in there, to emphasise how they believe the whole situation was the UN’s fault and not say, the consequence of rejecting the partition plan and starting an unnecessary war, which they duly lost.

And so this singular and perverse situation has gone on and it is entirely legitimate for anyone to question whether it should be allowed to.

Even in 1948 it was known that of the half a million or so original refugees, a proportion of them were a) not refugees and b) not Palestinians (The latter mostly seasonal workers from other parts of the Middle East that the Arabs refused to take back, because it boosted UNRWA’s numbers and the implied threat posed to Israel of the ‘right to return’)

Now the numbers have swelled to 5m, reflecting both the desire to overwhelm Israel with returnees and the financial scam at the heart of the UNRWA mandate. Western governments really ought not to have awaited suggestions of UNRWA complicity with Islamism, indoctrination and terror before halting or adjusting the funding.

Jews emigrating to Israel are rather obviously a different case entirely, not so vastly different to Indians from the global diaspora heading back to India after independence. Or say, US-born Guatemalans, deciding to go back to the motherland in order to escape the coming Trump dictatorship up north.

Even if they’d never been before or can barely speak Spanish it would hardly be appropriate to refer to them as colonists. That would only make sense in the case of Jews if they had a native motherland somewhere outside of Israel, and if there were no Jews at all living in Israel before 1947, something the Arabs love to suggest to the gullible, but which if of course untrue.

(PS: As for ‘Zionism’, it really ought not to be used a blanket rude word to describe every single thing the pro-pals hate about Jewish self-determination and any affinities non-Israeli Jews might have with it. )

Hobbesian Revivalism

Thomas Hobbes is creeping back, mulishly, into the contemporary mainstream discourse.

This has to be in part to do with the seeming success of the Chinese super state which embodies many of his central ideas, and perhaps also because of our own local Leviathan, Nayim Bukele, with his own oh-so-slightly mafioso state-level protection racket.

The funny thing about the state of nature is that the people who perhaps exist closest to the edge of it are those who have long lived within the most apparently ordered societies, as this clip from contemporary Cuba appears to illustrate.

In my formative experiences in this region (not so contiguous), nations like Costa Rica, Belize and Cuba appeared to have found ways of lifting themselves out of the morass.

The first two now number amongst the most violent in the hemisphere. As for Cuba I remember a rather painful experience at the end of my maiden visit. The moment I was back in Guatemala I felt profound existential pangs from what I had left behind: apparent social solidarity and an absence of some of the most toxic collective pathologies which prevail here, like envy and the self-defeating kinds of faux individualism.

Belize in the 80s was a former British crown colony with high levels of literacy and apparent social cohesion, “comfortably badly off”, I used to say without intent to cruelly patronise, but even then there were early signs of how the state of nature might eventually re-assert itself.

I vividly recall spotting a fairly primitive Mayan dwelling in the north where a family were gathered within viewing content delivered via the dish on their thatched roof. The superhighway and smartphones would perhaps finish the job.

Just being literate and relatively sophisticated in a place with material limitations easily revealed by insistent global media would never be enough. And so it has also been with Cuba, in spite of the desperate efforts of the state there to choke off access to all other imagined communities and resentments.

Immaculate (2024)


Lately there has been a spate of blood-soaked Nun films. (Spately?)

Initially this was more "here we go again" than "this is the one we have been waiting for", though the latter exclamation would have tied in nicely with the plot.

I guess Immaculate's USP is that it is far more likely to leave devout Catholics nunplussed. 
It also seemed to fit inside that odd Hollywood sub-genre within the Horror and Thriller categories (to which the likes of say Hostel and Taken clearly belong), that could be summarised as the Old World or Europe-phobic premise.