Has American Culture Lost Touch with the Hebraic Political Tradition?

March 20 2017

In the unusual prologue to his film The Ten Commandments, Cecil B. DeMille tells the audience directly that the “theme of this picture is whether men ought to be ruled by God’s law or whether they are to be ruled by the whims of a dictator like Rameses. Are men the property of the state, or are they free souls under God?” Meir Soloveichik laments the absence today of similar references to the roots of the American political tradition in the Hebrew Bible:

Sixty years ago, the Hebraic foundation of the American idea was taken for granted by the culture. I live two blocks from a theater where Manhattan’s Orthodox Jews once went to see The Ten Commandments, but there is no picture like this that I can take my children to see in our time. This points to a larger problem facing those dedicated to political conservatism. The conservative movement has spent decades producing extraordinary institutions dedicated to policy and ideas, but it has done little to help produce a culture that reflects conservative ideas, values, and morals. . . .

The Ten Commandments was DeMille’s second bite at the Exodus apple. In 1923, he made a silent version. Among his extras, DeMille hired 250 Orthodox immigrants. These extras did not need to act. As one witness recounted, when filming the Exodus scene, “the Jews streamed out of the great gates with tears running down their cheeks, and then without prompting or rehearsal, they began singing in Hebrew the old chants of their race, which have been sung in synagogues for thousands of years.” . . .

Sixty-one years after The Ten Commandments was released and went on to become the sixth most successful movie ever made, I wonder whether we can ever again experience a culture where the American dream and my own heritage can converge—where the script that was known to Jewish hearts for 3,000 years can be an important part of our culture again. The future of our republic may rest on the answer.

Read more at Commentary

More about: American founding, American Jewry, Arts & Culture, Film, Hebrew Bible

Winning Islam’s War of Ideas, Saudi-Style

March 19 2018

Since September 11, 2001, U.S. policymakers have understood the need to confront jihadism not only militarily but also ideologically; yet, writes John Hannah, they have had little success. Now Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’ reformist crown prince, appears willing and able to take up the fight, and Hannah urges Washington to support his efforts:

By an order of magnitude, al-Qaeda in 2018 enjoys a larger presence in more countries across Africa, the Middle East, and Asia than it did the day the Twin Towers were felled. . . . What’s consistently been missing from America’s strategy have been powerful partners in the Muslim world who can reliably be counted on to speak out authoritatively on matters of Islamic theology in ways that the United States simply cannot. That’s where Saudi Arabia comes in. It’s the birthplace of Islam and host to the faith’s two holiest mosques. Combined with abundant oil wealth, these assets bestow on the Saudis a measure of soft-power influence unrivaled in the Muslim world. . . .

For months, the crown prince and his closest advisers have relentlessly hammered the theme that Saudi Arabia’s modernization requires an embrace of “moderate Islam.” He’s slammed the extremist ideology that the kingdom did so much to empower after the Iranian revolution and acknowledges that “the problem spread all over the world.” . . . At home, the powers of the kingdom’s notorious religious police have been scaled back. Prominent hardline clerics have been jailed. On the all-important issue of female empowerment, the pace of change has been breathtaking. . . .

Now the U.S. imperative should be pressing Mohammed bin Salman to take his campaign for moderate Islam on the road. . . . There should be multiple elements to such an effort, but some immediate tasks come to mind. First, school textbooks. The Saudis promised to eliminate the hate-filled passages a decade ago. Progress has slowly been made, but the job’s still not done. Mohammed bin Salman should order it finished—this year. Behind the scenes, U.S. experts should provide verification.

Second, working with trusted partners in indigenous communities known for their religious moderation, the Saudis should conduct a thorough audit of the global network of mosques, schools, and charitable organizations that they’ve backed with an eye toward weeding out radical staff and content. Third, [they should] initiate a worldwide buyback of Saudi-distributed mistranslations of the Quran and other religious materials notorious for propagating extremist narratives.

Read more at Foreign Policy

More about: Moderate Islam, Politics & Current Affairs, Radical Islam, Saudi Arabia, War on Terror