Philip Johnson, Nazi Sympathizer and Synagogue Architect

Philip Johnson (1906-2005) was a major force in 20th-century American architecture, playing a pivotal role in the evolution of both the modern and postmodern styles and designing such celebrated Manhattan landmarks as Lincoln Center and the Seagram Building. While his Nazi sympathies during the 1930s have never been a secret, a new biography by Mark Lamster shows they were deeper and longer-lasting than previously assumed. Armin Rosen writes in his review:

Johnson had been enthralled by a Hitler Youth rally he attended in Potsdam in 1933 and wrote an article that same year lauding the Third Reich’s architecture; later he would witness two of the notorious annual Nuremberg rallies, in 1937 and 1938. Johnson [became] an adviser to Father Coughlin in the mid-1930s—the future architect designed the speaking platform, a menacingly stark white wall with disturbing similarities to his later building designs, that the pro-Nazi demagogue used during a September 1936 address in Chicago that drew 80,000 spectators. Johnson [also] consorted with German officials in Washington and New York. . . . [Lamster] marshals abundant evidence that Johnson was also an anti-Semite, at least for a time. . . .

Johnson . . . only broke with fascism in late 1940 when support for the Nazis became personally and professionally untenable. In a particularly lame bit of attempted t’shuvah, Johnson donated the princely sum of $100 to United Jewish Philanthropies in the fall of 1941. . . .

And then, a funny thing happened: the war ended and Johnson became kosher, even for Jews. Johnson quickly convinced everyone that he had changed. Robert Finkle, a young Jewish architecture student, began a long stint as Johnson’s protégé and lover in the mid-50s. Johnson designed the Kneses Tifereth Israel synagogue in Port Chester, New York. . . . In 1956, Johnson began designing the Norel Soreq nuclear research facility in the Israeli town of Reḥovot, which opened in 1960.

But is there any connection between Johnson’s early politics and his work itself? Rosen writes:

[It’s] hard to ignore the authoritarian characteristics of some of his more celebrated work. Many of Johnson’s greatest structures are both gigantic and strikingly blank, and they work because they hold the Olympian vision of the architect against a viewer’s relative smallness. Johnson’s aesthetic values have a deeply sinister glint to them in light of his personal history; worse still, it’s hard or maybe impossible to disentangle those values from the qualities that make his buildings so distinctive.

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Read more at Tablet

More about: Anti-Semitism, Architecture, Arts & Culture, Nazism

Salman Rushdie and the Western Apologists for Those Who Wish Him Dead

Aug. 17 2022

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder and supreme leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, issued a fatwa (religious ruling) in 1989 calling for believers to murder the novelist Salman Rushdie due to the content of his novel, The Satanic Verses. Over the years, two of the book’s translators have been stabbed—one fatally—and numerous others have been injured or killed in attempts to follow the ayatollah’s writ. Last week, an American Shiite Muslim came closer than his many predecessors to killing Rushdie, stabbing him multiple times and leaving him in critical condition. Graeme Wood comments on those intellectuals in the West who have exuded sympathy for the stabbers:

In 1989, the reaction to the fatwa was split three ways: some supported it; some opposed it; and some opposed it, to be sure, but still wanted everyone to know how bad Rushdie and his novel were. This last faction, Team To Be Sure, took the West to task for elevating this troublesome man and his insulting book, whose devilry could have been averted had others been more attuned to the sensibilities of the offended.

The fumes are still rising off of this last group. The former president Jimmy Carter was, at the time of the original fatwa, the most prominent American to suggest that the crime of murder should be balanced against Rushdie’s crime of blasphemy. The ayatollah’s death sentence “caused writers and public officials in Western nations to become almost exclusively preoccupied with the author’s rights,” Carter wrote in an op-ed for the New York Times. Well, yes. Carter did not only say that many Muslims were offended and wished violence on Rushdie; that was simply a matter of fact, reported frequently in the news pages. He took to the op-ed page to add his view that these fanatics had a point. “While Rushdie’s First Amendment freedoms are important,” he wrote, “we have tended to promote him and his book with little acknowledgment that it is a direct insult to those millions of Moslems whose sacred beliefs have been violated.” Never mind that millions of Muslims take no offense at all, and are insulted by the implication that they should.

Over the past two decades, our culture has been Carterized. We have conceded moral authority to howling mobs, and the louder the howls, the more we have agreed that the howls were worth heeding. The novelist Hanif Kureishi has said that “nobody would have the [courage]” to write The Satanic Verses today. More precisely, nobody would publish it, because sensitivity readers would notice the theological delicacy of the book’s title and plot. The ayatollahs have trained them well, and social-media disasters of recent years have reinforced the lesson: don’t publish books that get you criticized, either by semiliterate fanatics on the other side of the world or by semiliterate fanatics on this one.

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Read more at Atlantic

More about: Ayatollah Khomeini, Freedom of Speech, Iran, Islamism, Jimmy Carter