The Deracinated Jews of Guy Gavriel Kay’s Fantasy

Sept. 14 2022

Set in a fictional analogue of 16th-century Italy (on a planet with two moons), the Canadian novelist Guy Gavriel Kay’s All the Seas of the World gives much attention to religion. Or at least, it gives much attention to the relations among members of three predominant faiths, which correspond to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—except that the only substantive difference is which astronomical bodies the adherents revere. Michael Weingrad writes in his review:

Rather than religious civilizations engaged with fundamental human questions through theology and philosophy, mysticism and ethics, devotion and practice, we get a caricature of religion as a kind of team sport, where your mascot (sun, stars, or moon) determines whom you cheer for. There is nothing necessarily wrong with a fantasy writer imagining a world in which religions are silly contrivances. Yet Kay seems to want to engage real history, while this conceit makes the past into something merely unfortunate.

So extreme is this indifference to the substance of religious civilization that it extends even to the overtly supernatural elements in the novel. In two instances (that turn out to be largely unimportant to the plot), Kay’s characters encounter supernatural phenomena. . . . But neither phenomenon is referred by any character to their religious traditions; it’s just stuff that happens. When [the “Christian” heroine] Lenia says that she and [the Kindath, i.e., Jewish] Rafel don’t believe in miracles, she really means it—even when they happen to her

But Rafel’s Jewishness—Kindathness—most resembles a contemporary North American Jewish ethnic identity formed by a measure of family loyalty and guilt, and a degree of historical awareness, but nothing so thick as practice, belief, community. Rafel lives on the margins of Kindath community, but so do most all of Kay’s Kindath characters in these novels, at least in terms of culture and mentality.

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Read more at Investigations and Fantasies

More about: Fantasy, Israeli literature, Religion

UN Peacekeepers in Lebanon Risk Their Lives, but Still May Do More Harm Than Good

Jan. 27 2023

Last month an Irish member of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was killed by Hizballah guerrillas who opened fire on his vehicle. To David Schenker, it is likely the peacekeeper was “assassinated” to send “a clear message of Hizballah’s growing hostility toward UNIFIL.” The peacekeeping force has had a presence in south Lebanon since 1978, serving first to maintain calm between Israel and the PLO, and later between Israel and Hizballah. But, Schenker explains, it seems to be accomplishing little in that regard:

In its biannual reports to the Security Council, UNIFIL openly concedes its failure to interdict weapons destined for Hizballah. While the contingent acknowledges allegations of “arms transfers to non-state actors” in Lebanon, i.e., Hizballah, UNIFIL says it’s “not in a position to substantiate” them. Given how ubiquitous UN peacekeepers are in the Hizballah heartland, this perennial failure to observe—let alone appropriate—even a single weapons delivery is a fair measure of the utter failure of UNIFIL’s mission. Regardless, Washington continues to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into this failed enterprise, and its local partner, the Lebanese Armed Forces.

Since 2006, UNIFIL patrols have periodically been subjected to Hizballah roadside bombs in what quickly proved to be a successful effort to discourage the organization proactively from executing its charge. In recent years, though, UN peacekeepers have increasingly been targeted by the terror organization that runs Lebanon, and which tightly controls the region that UNIFIL was set up to secure. The latest UN reports tell a harrowing story of a spike in the pattern of harassment and assaults on the force. . . .

Four decades on, UNIFIL’s mission has clearly become untenable. Not only is the organization ineffective, its deployment serves as a key driver of the economy in south Lebanon, employing and sustaining Hizballah’s supporters and constituents. At $500 million a year—$125 million of which is paid by Washington—the deployment is also expensive. Already, the force is in harm’s way, and during the inevitable next war between Israel and Hizballah, this 10,000-strong contingent will provide the militia with an impressive human shield.

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Read more at Tablet

More about: Hizballah, Lebanon, Peacekeepers, U.S. Foreign policy