Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Americans are from Venus, the French are from Mars (or is it the other way around?)

Jogo turned me on to Garrison Keillor’s delightful review of Bernard-Henri Levy’s American Vertigo. Garrison Keillor offers up a superb piece of writing, and Jogo is rightly pleased the New York Times got him, a “happy normal man” to do the review, not “a morbid, Red Diaper/America-hating, terminally alienated creep like Tony Kushner”. Here’s a good slice of Keillor, which really should be read in context of the whole paragraph:
“You’ve lived all your life in America, never attended a megachurch or a brothel, don’t own guns, are non-Amish, and it dawns on you that this is a book about the French.” [blogrunner ref for those not registed with NYT]

I haven’t got the energy to check out BHL’s book or skim the Atlantic Monthly series it is based on, but I think it is important to let anti-anti-Americans know that BHL is on the side of the good guys, as you wouldn’t guess from Keillor’s review. Read BHL’s gentle and gracious riposte at the NY Sun. Here’s an interesting passage:
“Mr Levy’s regard for America – and his career as a successful writer – began 35 years ago when he answered Andre Malraux’s call to fight for freedom and democracy in Bangladesh, and flew to witness its bloody war of independence from Pakistan.
‘It was a terrible experience of human damnation,” Mr Levy said. ‘Imprinted on my mind were unforgettable images of butchery and horror. Bangladesh drove home to me the importance of free societies – and how the American experience of liberation from tyranny resonated around the world.’”
I quoted this passage for a couple of reasons. Bangladesh in 1970s – like Armenia in the 1900s, Biafra in the 1960s, Cambodia and Solidarnosc in 1980s, Bosnia and Kurdistan in the 1990s and Darfur today – was one of those not particularly fashionable causes that acted as a good test for a functioning moral compass. Some simply follow received wisdom and fashionable causes. Others have a worldview that only allows them to support the oppressed when they are darker skinned than their oppressors, or when the oppressed are Muslim and the oppressors are Christian or Jewish, or when the oppressors are allied with America. BHL, in contrast, is someone with a functioning moral compass, who supports causes because they are right, hence who has supported unfashionable causes like Bangladesh and Darfur and Israel.
Second, being reminded of Bangladesh’s struggle is poignant today, when so many of the children of those who fought against theocratic Pakistan for a secular, democratic Bangladesh are now waving placards that say things like “Behead those who insult Mohammed.” In the East End of London, one of the battlelines is between the Bangladeshi nationalist parents (who supported Oona King) and their children in Pakistan-linked Islamist groups (who supported George Galloway).
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One of the reasons many people who would support BHL’s anti-anti-American politics don’t like him is simply because he is a candy-ass French intellectual. Likewise, for people with completely different politics, on the Pat Buchanan-Lyndon LaRouche-Alexander Cockburn-Michael Moore continuum, hate the neo-conservatives is that there is something foreign, European, continental, i.e. Jewish, about them. Leo Strauss, candy-ass Central European intellectual, exemplifies this dark foreign-ness.
Jogo also turned me on to a nice piece by Robert Kagan (Mr Mars and Venus) called “I Am Not a Straussian. At least, I don’t think I am.” As Jogo says, the subtle dry wit that is mostly on the conservative side these days – read it!



Key words: Bernard Henri Levi, neo-con, Francophobia, nouv---eaux philosophes, Prairie Home Companion, Lake Wobegon, Garrison Keilor, Garrison Keiller, Bernard Henry Levy

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