American Jewish Fiction Has a New Favorite Theme: the Jewish State

Sept. 25 2017

Four of the most prominent American Jewish novelists—all roughly the same age—have recently published books either set in Israel or in whose plot Israel and Israelis play a major role plot. Two others have published a collection of essays about Israel. To Matti Friedman, it seems that “something’s going on.”

The Israel of each of these novelists is different, of course, but there are similarities. Two recount watching an Israeli war on TV from America and the strong emotions this elicits; two make reference to King David; two have hamsa keychains; two have the Mossad; all have soldiers; and all use a little Hebrew. Perhaps most tellingly, two feature American characters with Israeli second cousins—at first, Jews in America and Israel were siblings divided by European wars, then they were first cousins, but now they’re only second cousins, a generational fact that might explain the fraying connection as much as anything else. None of these novels is fully at home in Israel—they’re more like Mars orbiters than rovers. They’re not permanently on the ground. . . .

In all four novels Israel is the scene of strange and exciting events, if not outright enchantment, but the idea that magic is possible [there] is most present in [Nicole] Krauss’s Forest Dark. (Home, on the other hand, is where the novels set jobs, divorces, affairs, and bar mitzvahs.) . . . Many of the characters in these novels turn to Israel to shore up American lives that feel short on meaning, even if we’re not meant to take that turn entirely seriously.

Jewish American writers of a few decades ago might have poked around the strange Jewish country in the Middle East, but they knew that the real literary action for them was back home. The novelists of 2017 don’t seem so sure. . . . If you’re not a recent arrival from the Soviet Union, you’re not likely to have funny mannerisms, an ethnic chip on your shoulder, or much interesting history of your own. [Shtetl] nostalgia is stale, and with everyone in the suburbs, there is no American Jewish street. The broader American culture seems to offer little cohesion for a writer to either embrace or rebel against. So where do you go?

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: American Jewish literature, Arts & Culture, Israel & Zionism, Israel and the Diaspora

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