Four days after Israeli commandos stormed a humanitarian aid flotilla bound for the Gaza Strip, killing nine passengers and igniting an international firestorm, several hundred Palestinian demonstrators guided a nine-meter wooden model of the raided boat, the Mavi Marmara, on a march through the West Bank village of Bil’in. Adorned on both sides with the star and crescent of the Turkish flag, the patchwork vessel had been mounted on a car and steered toward the Israeli-built security fence, which cuts through the village and has since 2005 inspired regular protests there. After the procession pulled to a stop, two marchers dressed as pirates and armed with fake swords leapt aboard the deck and began assaulting the Palestinians standing on it. The performance stopped when Israeli soldiers flooded the area with tear gas and chased the demonstrators away.
It was a symbolic reenactment of the bloody confrontation that took place at sea a few days earlier. It was also a sign that, even as the “proximity talks” promoted by the Obama administration founder, some quieter but arguably more noteworthy developments have been taking place in the West Bank.
Can we make any sense of Israel’s policy toward Gaza? I think we can—a rather sinister sense—but only if we look beyond the mass of sometimes conflicting details that have emerged since the attack on the “Gaza Freedom Flotilla” on May 31. On the face of it, it’s hard to understand how any government could have decided to do anything so obviously self-defeating. At the very least Israel has handed Hamas a major propaganda victory, one that should easily have been foreseen. On the other hand, there is surely something about the whole foolish, deadly episode that is emblematic of Israeli’s current approach.
Despite the countless promises over the years by various governments in Belgrade that Ratko Mladic would be arrested shortly, and the many widely-publicized actions in which special police units were seen on television searching some building where he was supposed to be hiding, the man indicted on charges of genocide for organizing the July 1995 massacre of some 8000 Bosnian Muslim men in the Bosnian town of Srebrenic is still on the run.
Recently, I wrote a book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System, in which I took issue with a number of currently popular education strategies that I had once supported, and now, seeing their questionable outcomes, challenge. Since then, I have been traveling across the country and have made three dozen speeches. What started out as a conventional book tour—with stops only in Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco—turned into something else: a whistle-stop campaign to warn against some of the education “reforms” currently in vogue.
It may be that Latin America is the last great reservoir of innocent art. Or at least, one could happily arrive at that conclusion after watching a video on YouTube, “En tus tierras bailaré” (“In Your Lands Someday I’ll Dance”) that has gone way over the million-hit mark. It features three of the hottest video stars in the Andes: La Tigresa del Oriente (The Tigress of the East), Little Wendy Sulca, and Delfín Hasta el Fin, a name I declare myself incompetent to translate, though “All the Way with the Dauphin” is a start. La Tigresa, Little Wendy, and the Delfín were brought together virtually for this video, and among its many marvels is a joyful, if not proficient, use of technology.
Not long after the iPad went on sale in early April, the Ilinois Institute of Technology announced that it would be providing each member of next fall’s freshman class with one of the new Apple devices. School officials said that the iPad would allow students to take notes, check email, and read books. Which books they had in mind is not precisely clear except for this: they are not likely to be textbooks.
In Arizona we have racial profiling. Now, around the world, wherever the Catholic church holds sway, we have sexual profiling. In The New York Times, Paul Vitello reports on the new screening tests the church is implementing to weed out would-be seminarians who are gay or who are considered prone to pedophilia. In Arizona, police are meant to demand papers from anyone they sense could be an illegal alien. In the church Rev. David Toups, director of the secretariat of clergy for the United States Conference of Bishops, says of his own gaydar: “It’s more like one of those things where it’s hard to define, but I know it when I see it.”
A scorching summer heat is settling on Baghdad. The streets are calm and traffic flows, slowed only by the multiple checkpoints, especially near bridges and government buildings. Given that the policemen on duty cast only a cursory glance at vehicles and their passengers, it is perhaps surprising there haven’t been more frequent bombings in recent weeks. (The last series of bomb attacks across Iraq, on May 10, left at least a hundred dead.)
To security officials, the relative quiet suggests that many former insurgents and their supporters—including some Sunnis who in the past rejected the political process—have been biding their time. Having decided to participate in the March 7 parliamentary elections, they have been inclined to let the political uncertainty that has followed run its course in the hope that it might produce the change they desired.
The massacre of over 80 worshippers at two mosques in my hometown of Lahore by Pakistani Taliban militants has exposed, in the most extreme and brutal way, the half-heartedness of Pakistan’s military and civilian leadership in confronting homegrown terrorism and the failure of the country’s intelligentsia to recognize the seriousness of the crisis.
A still from Luchino Visconti’s film adaptation of The Leopard
Everything in Palermo is slow except the traffic, which is as confusing as a video game and just as fast. But otherwise things pour as slowly as honey from a spoon. My bag was lost for twenty-four hours until a high official of the arts festival I was attending took the matter in hand; then it was found instantly. It had been at the airport all along. I won a nice little literary prize, the Premio Mondello, but I received it only after enduring a two-hour press conference in the morning and a three-hour ceremony in the afternoon, complete with local violinists sawing their way through a Baroque concerto in the beautiful convent cloisters of Palermo’s Galleria D’Arte Moderno. At one point, ten high school students got up to vote for another prize; each delivered a long-winded discorso, a sort of high-tone book report and a preparation for a lifetime of prolixity. That evening there was a banquet for thirty at which every other Sicilian man seemed to be a prince.