Leonard Cohen’s Frontline Experience of the Yom Kippur War

June 30 2022

When the Yom Kippur War erupted in 1973, the Canadian singer Leonard Cohen was living in Greece. He felt what Rich Cohen describes as an “irresistible impulse” to be with his fellow Jews, and headed for Tel Aviv. The musician’s wartime sojourn in Israel is the subject of a recent book:

Who By Fire: Leonard Cohen in the Sinai, by the journalist Matti Friedman, which chronicles the singing tour Leonard Cohen made of the front during the Yom Kippur War, does more to explain . . . why the Yom Kippur War devastated Israel in a way that is unjustified by simple numbers than any book I’ve ever read. On its surface, it’s a portrait of the Canadian-born poet and singer.

Cohen checked into a hotel when he arrived in Israel, then began hanging out in the sort of Tel Aviv cafes frequented by singers and artists—some of whom recognized him, including the great Israeli musician Matti Caspi—who had been performing at the front as part of their military service. Cohen tagged along. No records were kept of his performances. Friedman has reconstructed the tour through the memories of other performers and the soldiers who made up the audiences at bases in Israel, the Golan, and Sinai. In the last days of the war, Cohen played for small units across the Suez Canal in Egypt, a dangerous area known to soldiers simply as “Africa.”

This was no USO tour. Cohen wasn’t like Bob Hope climbing out of a Huey with a bevy of hangers-on and showgirls. He and his fellow performers lived rough, same as the soldiers. They borrowed beds for a few hours of rest, slept in tents or out in the open, under the missiles, fighter jets, and stars. To the soldiers who had never heard of Cohen—the majority—his appearance was strange and welcome. To those who had heard one of his songs on the radio, his appearance was another one of the surreal things that happened in October 1973. Everyone who saw one of these shows remembered and was changed by the experience, including Cohen.

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Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Israeli culture, Leonard Cohen, Music, Yom Kippur War

 

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