Tuesday, October 21, 2014

21-Oct-14: Trivialization pursuits

Denmark's iconic Little Mermaid statue, draped in a hijab (background
is here via Al Arabiya)
The New York Metropolitan Opera, in a co-production with the English National Opera, began a run of John Adams' 1991 opera The Death of Klinghoffer last night in Manhattan with a standing ovation and mixed reviews. Death is an artistic interpretation of the actual murder of Leon Klinghoffer, an elderly Jew confined to a wheelchair, who took a cruise with his wife in 1985 on the Achille Lauro in celebration of their wedding anniversary. Armed Palestinian Arab terrorists in the service of the Palestine Liberation Organization hijacked the ship as it sailed between Alexandria and Port Said, Egypt. In pursuit of their Palestinian liberation, the Arabs shot the disabled Jew at point blank range in the forehead and in the chest. Then they hurled the body, along with the wheelchair, into the Mediterranean. Wikipedia  provides a useful summary of the opera's culturally-uplifting contents, its entertaining narrative and its so-delightful musical innovations.

Five years after Klinghoffer's murder, Mahmoud Abbas who succeeded Yasser Arafat as head of the PLO, explained that
the seizing of the cruise ship in 1985 was a mistake, and apologized for the killing of disabled U.S. passenger Klinghoffer. [CNN, April 24, 1996]
The US State Department immediately rejected the Abbas statement. The creators of the opera on the other hand neither apologized nor ever seemed to quite understand why so many people told them their theatrical event was a mistake.

An angry crowd, mainly of Jews, assembled outside the performance's opening last night at the Lincoln Center in New York City, holding placards and chanting messages reflecting fury at the glorification of terrorists and the trivialization of the murder of a helpless man. The late Mr Klinghoffer's children joined their voices to those of the protesters decrying the cruel and cynical exploitation of their father's murder.
The cruise ship Achille Lauro in 1987 [Image Source]

This surprised the man who wrote it who offered this rather disingenuous comment to an interviewer:
“I expected there would be some pushback,” Mr. Adams said by phone recently. “But to see posters saying the opera is pro-terrorist, it’s really kind of shocking.” ["An Opera Under Fire", New York Times, October 16, 2014]
So lots of shock to go round. But really he's not that shocked. The opera has attracted criticism from the outset, most particularly because of the way it normalizes terrorists and attempts to understand them better. Or in the words of Lisa and Ilsa Klinghoffer, the way its creator "rationalizes, romanticizes and legitimizes" their father's killing. The show runs, by the way, until November 15.

There's a great deal of silliness on display about the protests (from this twit, for instance), much of it revealing something we learned to our sorrow more than a decade ago: most people (by far) fail completely to comprehend (a) how terror differs from other forms of sociopathic behaviour and (b) how real the danger that it constitutes is to their own lives.

Outside the Met last night [Image Source]
We were going to offer some words of condemnation of the chain of decisions that led to the show going on. But they are already all over the web today. Instead, we want to point out how the trivialization of terror and terrorists works and where it takes us.

Sunday's edition of the Washington Post (and The Independent UK too) carries a stunning piece of reporting from Scandinavia, headlined "Denmark tries a soft-handed approach to returned Islamist fighters". Here's how it starts:
AARHUS, Denmark — The rush of morning shoppers parted to make way for Talha, a lanky 21-year-old in desert camouflage and a long, religious beard. He strode through the local mall with a fighter’s gait picked up on the battlefields of Syria. Streams of young Muslim men greeted him like a returning king. As-salamu alaykum. Wa alaikum assalaam. In other countries, Talha — one of hundreds of young jihadists from the West who has fought in Syria and Iraq — might be barred from return or thrown in jail. But in Denmark, a country that has spawned more foreign fighters per capita than almost anywhere else, the port city of Aarhus is taking a novel approach by rolling out a welcome mat. In Denmark, not one returned fighter has been locked up. Instead, taking the view that discrimination at home is as criminal as Islamic State recruiting, officials here are providing free psychological counseling while finding returnees jobs and spots in schools and universities. Officials credit a new effort to reach out to a radical mosque with stanching the flow of recruits. Some progressives say Aarhus should become a model for other communities in the United States and Europe that are trying to cope with the question of what to do when the jihad generation comes back to town... “I know how some people think. They are afraid of us, the ones coming back,” says Talha, a name he adopted to protect his identity because he never told his father he went to fight. “Look, we are really not dangerous”...
As we said, that's how it starts. How it ends is unlikely to be operatic or artistic.

There are no replacement moral compasses for those, like the town elders of Aarhus, who have lost theirs. When it's called discrimination to view jihadist savages as threats to the peace and lives of the public, and when that 'offence' is placed on the same level as the signing up of fresh foot soldiers for the killing fields of Syria and Iraq (at least), we are reaching the end of the show.

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