Updates, Live

Friday, May 28, 2010

Again Julie & Julia

I watched again Julie & Julia. It's so nice, like all Nora Ephron's movies. And great actors, again like in all Nora Ephron's.

I remember the Bœuf Bourguignon I was sometimes trying at Madeleine in Bethesda: good stuff, only I didn't know that you had to master the art of cooking to do it in style.

And speaking about Bethesda, if you go to the Levante's try a glass of Mukuzani: I keep it as one of the best in the world. One of the few places in DC area where you can have a nice cup of Turkish coffee. As for the food, well, I enjoy Turkish cuisine, no wonder everything seemed delicious to me. Most of the times I was just trying a seafood chowder (and the glass of Mukuzani, of course).


Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Jean Constantin

S-a dus astazi intr-o lume mai buna. Dumnezeu sa il odihneasca!


Some of the Finest Bookstores in the World

A column from Guardian left me dreaming. What if I were to visit all these cities and stroll through all these bookstores? Walking without haste in the old church in Maastricht, today a cathedral of books; or browsing the books in El Ateneo, the old theater in Buenos Aires; or taking the stairs in Livraria Lello, to see what's up there, Paradise maybe?

Or looking at the comic books in the Secret Headquarters in L.A., or spending time in la Cafebreria El Péndulo in Mexico City, enjoying the glorious vegetation in symbiosis with the bookshelves... Or in Brussels, at Posada... a friend of mine is there, a fascinating story... Hatchards in Picaddilly calls in mind a bookstore that's close to Harvard Square in Cambridge...

I would then go to the old Kyoto, to pay a visit to my friend Yoko, and invite her to go together to the Keibunsya; she would take a book there by chance and translate for me just a few lines...

And in the end I would remain in that small village in Derbyshire, spending evenings at the Scarthin's.

El Ateneo in Buenos Aires

Borders in Glasgow

Scarthin Books in the Peak District, Derbyshire

Posada in Brussels

Cafebreria El Péndulo in Ciudad de Mexico

Keibunsya in Kyoto

(A Life in Books)

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Moara cu Noroc

Omul sa fie multumit cu saracia sa, caci daca e vorba, nu bogatia, ci linistea colibei tale te face fericit
(Ioan Slavici, Moara cu Noroc)

Filmul (care a modificat foarte usor titlul nuvelei: La 'Moara cu Noroc') a fost realizat in 1955 de Victor Iliu. A fost un regizor de talie mondiala, mort prematur. A apucat sa isi dea masura geniului sau cu acest film, caruia i-a daruit respiratia unui western. Ne aflam in fata unei capodopere.

Moara cu Noroc: Part 1/11
(video by danpuric)

Moara cu Noroc: Part 2/11
(video by danpuric)

Moara cu Noroc: Part 3/11
(video by danpuric)

Moara cu Noroc: Part 4/11
(video by danpuric)

Moara cu Noroc: Part 5/11
(video by danpuric)

Moara cu Noroc: Part 6/11
(video by danpuric)

Moara cu Noroc: Part 7/11
(video by danpuric)

Moara cu Noroc: Part 8/11
(video by danpuric)

Moara cu Noroc: Part 9/11
(video by danpuric)

Moara cu Noroc: Part 10/11
(video by danpuric)

Moara cu Noroc: Part 11/11
(video by danpuric)


Either/Or: Compassion/Intolerance

Some of us are Christians, some Muslims, some Jews; some of us are Buddhists, some Hindus (of course, I am far from exhausting the picture). And some of us are Atheists. And some of us are not interested at all in all of these.

Each one is tempted to see its convictions as superior to all others'. Actually each faith only has its specifics and only defines an identity.

There are many faiths, there is one common danger: Intolerance. Religious intolerance and Atheist intolerance. Secularized Europe is intolerant with Muslim veils and minarets. The Middle East conflicts are inflamed by mutual hate. And so on, and so on.

And intolerance is much more dangerous today, because the world is more and more intertwined.

There are many faiths, there is one truth: Compassion. Openness toward the other; toward the identity of the other; toward the needs of the other. Love you neighbor as yourself. Assume the tragedies of the other as yours. Assume the Holocaust. Assume the Gulag. Assume the Red Khmer inferno. Assume the Armenian tragedy. Assume Naqba. Understand the other, understand the differences. respect each identity. Empathize with the identity of the other.

There is a text written by Dalai Lama in today's NY Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/25/opinion/25gyatso.html?th&emc=th#). It is worth reading.


Monday, May 24, 2010

Paris, je t'aime: More Than Words

Quais de Seine, Jardin des Plantes, Grande Mosquée de Paris - and the beginning of a love story.

Both of them are young students. He is a Christian. She is a Muslim. It's Paris, and it's love. More than words.

(Cinéma Français)


1969: Summertime in Stockholm (Janis Joplin, Live Gröna Lund)

This video (Janis Joplin live in Stockholm in 1969) is a favorite for Sabina Barbara, a youTube friend.


Saturday, May 22, 2010

Bashu, the Little Stranger

باشو غریبه کوچک / Bashu, Gharibeye Koochak (Bashu, the Little Stranger), an Iranian movie made in 1986 (and released in 1989) by Bahram Beizai. The Iranian movies continue to astonish me. Beside Kiarostami, the number of Iranian directors making great movies is overwhelming. It is one of the most important movie schools, and the most amazing is that each of their movies is so firmly implanted in the Iranian universe while speaking out universal values.

It was by chance that I watched Bashu today. I had found it on youTube, I had noted the address, to access it later. I decided this morning to see it, just to discover that my notice with the youTube address was lost! I gave a search on the web for Iranian movie with a boy who lost his family and I found it again!

A ten years boy looses all his family when the village is bombed during the Iran-Iraq war. He escapes jumping on a cargo truck where he falls asleep. When he wakes up, he is in an unknown place where the landscape is totally different from what the boy knows. Unknown people speak an unknown language and look very different from him. Impossible to understand anyone, impossible to be understood.

No wonder: the boy is from a province in the Southern part of Iran, near the Persian Gulf, and speaks Arabic, while the region where he has arrived is in the North, near the Caspian Sea, where people speak a very remote dialect of Farsi.

But this we'll know much later, probably after the end of the movie, when we start to look for comments and reviews. During the movie we are absorbed in a universe of fantastic that calls in mind the stories of Eliade.

What follows is a great story of love: maternal love and filial love. A woman with two kids of her own, initially reticent, will learn to love the boy like a mother, while the boy, initially just scared, will learn to love his new mother. And this unfolds despite the absolute barrier of language. Development of love, marked by moments when each of the two, the woman and the boy, just realize, with pain and joy, the intensity of the developing sentiment.

Apparently a simple story, actually told with great cinematic finesse. A story rendered with a perfect economy of means: there is a lot that happens there on the screen, while nothing is superfluous, while each scene comes exactly when need is, no earlier, no later. And all the time you feel that the director is in perfect control.

And above all, the great humanity that paces the movie, almost unbearable!

Bashu the Little Stranger: Part 1/12
(video by reverbnin)

Bashu the Little Stranger: Part 2/12
(video by reverbnin)

Bashu the Little Stranger: Part 3/12
(video by reverbnin)

Bashu the Little Stranger: Part 4/12
(video by reverbnin)

Bashu the Little Stranger: Part 5/12
(video by reverbnin)

Bashu the Little Stranger: Part 6/12
(video by reverbnin)

Bashu the Little Stranger: Part 7/12
(video by reverbnin)

Bashu the Little Stranger: Part 8/12
(video by reverbnin)

Bashu the Little Stranger: Part 9/12
(video by reverbnin)

Bashu the Little Stranger: Part 10/12
(video by reverbnin101)

Bashu the Little Stranger: Part 11/12
(video by reverbnin101)

Bashu the Little Stranger: Part 12/12
(video by reverbnin101)

(Iranian Film and Poetry)


It Takes a Crisis To Make a Continent

It takes a crisis to make a continent, says Gabor Steingart, the chief-editor of Handelsblatt. The continent is Europe and the crisis is in Greece. Is Mr. Steingart an optimistic? We could say so, nevertheless he has a point. All steps towards European concert came after periods of crisis. It was about wars before, it's about economy today. I think it depends not only on the facts as seen in Brussels (and Berlin); also on the facts on the ground in Greece. It could be the birthday of a real European Union; or the end of it.

But you should read Gabor Steingart's op-ed in today's NY Times.

(Zoon Politikon)

Friday, May 21, 2010

Roger Cohen: America Moves the Goalposts

Brazil President Lula da Silva makes last chance Iran visit - 16 May 2010
(video by sherlock72)

Further sanctions will not change Iran's nuclear behavior; negotiations might. The Brazilian-Turkish Iran deal is worth pursuing. Roger Cohen in NY Times:

John Limbert, once a U.S. hostage in Tehran, now charged with Iranian affairs at the State Department, has given a good description of the caricatures that bedevil American-Iranian non-relations.

Americans see Iranians as devious, mendacious, fanatical, violent and incomprehensible. Iranians, in turn, see Americans as belligerent, sanctimonious, Godless and immoral, materialistic, calculating, not to mention bullying and exploitive.

That’s Ground Zero in the most traumatized relationship on earth and the most tantalizing. Tantalizing because Iran and the United States are unnatural enemies with plenty they might agree on if they ever broke the ice. Limbert, a bridge-builder, has spent half a lifetime trying to deliver that message. It never flies. Poisonous history gets in the way. So do those that profit from poison.

If all the mistrust needed further illustration, it has just been provided by the Brazilian-Turkish deal on Iran’s low enriched uranium (LEU), the peevish U.S. reaction to it, and the apparent determination of the Great Powers, led by the Obama administration, to burrow deeper into failure.

I believed Obama was ready to think anew on Iran. It seems not. Presidents must lead on major foreign policy initiatives, not be bullied by domestic political considerations, in this case incandescent Iran ire on the Hill in an election year.

More on that later, but first let’s take a cold look at the Brazilian and Turkish leaders’ achievement in Tehran, how it relates to an earlier American near-deal, and what all this says about a world undergoing significant power shifts.

I’ll take the last point first. Brazil and Turkey represent the emergent post-Western world. It will continue to emerge; Secretary of State Hillary Clinton should therefore be less trigger-happy in killing with faint praise the sincere efforts of Brasilia and Ankara.

The West’s ability to impose solutions to global issues like Iran’s nuclear program has unraveled. America, engaged in two inconclusive wars in Muslim countries, cannot afford a third. The first decade of the 21st century has delineated the limits of U.S. power: It is great but no longer determinative.

Lots of Americans, including the Tea Party diehards busy baying at wolves, are angry about this. They will learn that facts are facts.

Speaking of facts, I must get a little technical here. Iran has been producing, under International Atomic Energy Agency inspection, LEU (enriched to about 5 percent). It is this LEU that would have to be turned into bomb-grade uranium (over 90 percent) if Iran were to produce a nuclear weapon. The idea behind the American deal in Geneva last October was to get a big chunk of LEU out of Iran to build confidence, create some negotiating space, and remove material that could get subverted. In exchange, Iran would later get fuel rods for a medical research reactor in Tehran.

Iran, doing the bazaar routine, said yes, maybe and no, infuriating Obama. Iran now wanted the LEU stored on Iranian soil under I.A.E.A. control, phased movement of the LEU to this location, and a simultaneous fuel rod exchange. Forget it, Obama said.

Well, Turkey and Brazil have now restored the core elements of the October deal: a single shipment of the 1,200 kilograms of LEU to a location (Turkey) outside Iran and a one-year gap — essential for broader negotiations to begin — between this Iranian deposit in escrow and the import of the fuel rods.

And what’s the U.S. response? To pursue strong sanctions (if no longer crippling) against Iran at the United Nations; and insist now on a prior suspension of enrichment that was not in the October deal (indeed this was a core Obama departure from Bush doctrine).

Obama could instead have said: Pressure works! Iran blinked on the eve of new U.N. sanctions. It’s come back to our offer. We need to be prudent, given past Iranian duplicity, but this is progress. Isolation serves Iranian hard-liners.

No wonder Ahmet Davutoğlu, the Turkish foreign minister, is angry. I believe him when he says Obama and U.S. officials encouraged Turkey earlier this year to revive the deal: What they wanted us to do was give the confidence to Iran to do the swap. We have done our duty.

Yes, Turkey has. I know, the 1,200 kilograms now represents a smaller proportion of Iran’s LEU than in October and it’s no longer clear that the fuel rods will come from the conversion of the LEU in escrow. But that’s small potatoes when you’re trying to build a tenuous bridge between mendacious Iranians and bullying Americans in the interests of global security.

The French and Chinese reactions — cautious support — made sense. The American made none, or did only in the light of the strong Congressional push for crushing sanctions. Further sanctions will not change Iran’s nuclear behavior; negotiations might. I can only hope the U.S. bristling was an opening gambit.

Last year, at the United Nations, Obama called for a new era of shared responsibilities. Together we must build new coalitions that bridge old divides, he declared. Turkey and Brazil responded — and got snubbed. Obama has just made his own enlightened words look empty.

(Zoon Politikon)


Five Masterpieces Stolen in Paris

Picasso, Léger, Modigliani, Matisse, Braque: five masterpieces were stolen from the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. It is a sad day for all modern art lovers, for all Paris lovers.

Le Pigeon aux Petit Pois (Pablo Picasso, 1911)

Nature Morte au Chandelier (Fernand Léger, 1922)

La Femme à l'Éventail (Amedeo Modigliani, 1919)

Pastorale, Nymphe et Faune (Henri Matisse, 1906)

L'Olivier près de l'Estaque (Georges Braque, 1906)


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Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Confession of a Honest Citizen

Strada Postavarului colt cu Strada Soldat Stelian Mihalea


James McGregor: Time to Rethink US-China Trade Relations

James McGregor is a journalist and businessman with a great expertise on Chinese realities (he used to be the chairman of American Chamber of Commerce in China) and has contributions in prestigious newspaper like Wall Street Journal and Washington Post. He is the author of One Billion Customers: Lessons From the Front Lines of Doing Business in China. Here is an op-ed by James McGregor that was published in Washington Post:

The U.S. government and the business community need to rethink our China strategy and retool our trade bureaucracy to face the tangled web of emerging Chinese policies. Otherwise, American technology companies could be coerced to plant the seeds of their destruction in the fertile China market.

With nearly half of his Cabinet heading to Beijing for the May 24-25 bilateral strategic and economic dialogue, President Obama should launch such a strategic economic dialogue among ourselves. The time has come for a White House-led, public-private, comprehensive examination of American competitiveness against a clear-eyed view of China's very smart and comprehensive industrial development policies and plans.

What technology do we protect? What do we share? What are our commercial strategic imperatives as a nation? How do we retool the U.S. government's inadequate and outdated trade bureaucracy to provide thoughtful strategic focus and interagency coordination? How do we overcome the fundamental disconnect between our system of scattered bureaucratic responsibilities and almost no national economic planning vs. China's top-down, disciplined and aggressive national economic development planning machine?

At issue is an array of Chinese policies and initiatives aimed at building national champion companies through subsidies and preferential policies while using China's market power to appropriate foreign technology, tweak it and create Chinese indigenous innovations that will come back at us globally.

China has long been a pay-to-play market for foreigners, with mandated joint ventures in key industries, local manufacturing requirements and forced technology transfers as the price of market admission. Its entry into the World Trade Organization in 2001 was supposed to do away with the bulk of those barriers -- and many were eliminated on paper.

But long gone are the days of China acting as a supplicant to gain access to foreign markets or obtain foreign investment. China now funds the U.S. budget deficit. Its rapidly developing domestic markets are expected to lead global growth for decades. The quarterly earnings of the world's biggest multinational companies increasingly depend on their China business.

Chinese leaders -- shrewd students of political and economic leverage -- are shifting their focus from global trade and investment principles to the creation of their own rules and a China model of economic development that is difficult to challenge in international courts. Chinese policymakers are masters of creative initiatives that slide through the loopholes of WTO and other international trade rules. Facing off against this are 30 lawyers in the U.S. trade representative's office of general counsel -- only one of whom can read Chinese. This small cadre handles all WTO cases and supports all our trade negotiations globally. Only a half-dozen people in the office focus on China.

As part of their China model, that country's leaders have decided that key sectors of the economy will remain state dominated, including automotive, chemical, construction, electronic information, equipment manufacturing, iron and steel, non-ferrous metals, and science and technology. Others will stay largely in state hands, including aviation, coal, defense, electric power and grid, oil and petrochemicals, shipping and telecommunications. State-owned companies in these industries are thriving in their protected home market. They have buckets of cash and easy access to state bank loans to carry out government directives to pursue overseas acquisitions and go global.

Most worrisome is the Chinese government mandate to replace core foreign technology in critical infrastructure -- such as chips, software and communications hardware -- with Chinese technology within a decade. The tools to accomplish this include a foreign-focused anti-monopoly law, mandatory technology transfers, compulsory technology licensing, rigged Chinese standards and testing rules, local content requirements, mandates to reveal encryption codes, excessive disclosure for scientific permits and technology patents, discriminatory government procurement policies, and the continued failure to adequately protect intellectual property rights. The poster child is the evolving indigenous innovation policy, which appears aimed at using China's market power to coerce foreign companies to transfer and license their latest technology for co-innovation and re-innovation by Chinese companies.

American business has to figure out how to balance out today's profits with tomorrow's threat. This dilemma is causing a split between U.S.-based chief executives who sing China's praises based on current growth and profits, and their China-based executives who see the self-destructive results of blindly following the new initiatives.

As the recent Wall Street scandals have made clear, we can't always depend on private industry and profit-driven executives to focus on doing what is best for the country. It is clear, however, that the Chinese government is very focused on doing what it believes is best for China.

(Zoon Politikon)


Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Directorul nostru

Directorul nostru, in regia lui Jean Georgescu, un film fermecator, realizat in 1955, cu o distributie extraordinara: Alexandru Giugaru, Grigore Vasiliu-Birlic, Radu Beligan, alaturi de ei in roluri de mai mare sau mai mica intindere Olga Tudorache, Angela Chiuaru, Dorina Done, Constantin Ramadan, Puiu Calinescu, Hristu Nicolaide, Ion Antonescu-Carabus, Paul Sava, Misu Fotino, Horia Serbanescu, Iurie Darie, Dem Savu, George Demetru, Arcadie Donos, Ion Vova - i-am citat voit la intamplare (si nu i-am citat pe toti), o garnitura de entuziasti. Imi amintesc cu emotie filmul, eram copil, aveam zece ani, juca si un vecin din blocul in care locuiam, baritonul Alexandru Alger, de la Opera Romana. Un film caracteristic perioadei de dezghet de dupa moartea lui Stalin, cand toti credeau in spiritul Genevei - nu a durat mult, iar filmul acesta a fost pe nedrept uitat.

Si unii dintre minunatii actori care jucau in film au fost uitati, si e pacat. Erau pe ecran mari maestri ai Nationalului, alaturi de actori tineri pe vremea aceea, erau vedete irezistobile ale Teatrului de Revista, erau actori cunoscuti dela Teatrul Radiofonic.

Directorul nostru: Part 1/8
(video by 1z2s3e4f5v)

Directorul nostru: Part 2/8
(video by 1z2s3e4f5v)

Directorul nostru: Part 3/8
(video by 1z2s3e4f5v)

Directorul nostru: Part 4/8
(video by 1z2s3e4f5v)

Directorul nostru: Part 5/8
(video by 1z2s3e4f5v)

Directorul nostru: Part 6/8
(video by 1z2s3e4f5v)

Directorul nostru: Part 7/8
(video by 1z2s3e4f5v)

Directorul nostru: Part 8/8
(video by 1z2s3e4f5v)


Beer and Checkpoints in the West Bank

Business comes back to the West Bank, and with it, hope. Roger Cohen in NY Times:

Few people vacation on the West Bank, but if they did they might head for Taybeh, a hilltop village clustered around a church whose charm trumps the Israeli checkpoints that have to be negotiated to get there. The air is good, the stones smooth, the light brilliant — and the beer excellent.

I was there last month visiting David Khoury, who, in 1995, mortgaged a house and sold property in Brookline, Massachusetts, in order to found the first microbrewery in nascent Palestine. That was a time of Oslo-induced optimism. But of course Palestine, to the world’s frustration and cost, is still waiting, 15 years later, to be born.

The Khoury family had done all right in Brookline running a liquor store called Foley’s in what was an Irish-American neighborhood. The store had been there for decades. They saw no reason to change its name. Who in the United States cares if a store with an Irish name is in fact run by Palestinian Christians from a state-in-waiting somewhere in the Middle East?

It’s not easy to trade that sort of buck-is-a-buck agnosticism for the ferocious identity politics of the Holy Land, where blood trumps money. But that’s what David and his master-brewer brother Nadim Khoury did to help a Palestinian state get on its feet. When brains and cash move in rather than out, they figured, good things start happening.

That was theory. Practice proved near disastrous. After a strong start — with their Taybeh beer selling well in Israel, ingredients coming in smoothly from Israel, sales growing in Gaza and a franchise established in Germany — their company almost fell victim to yet another sterile spasm of Israeli-Palestinian violence.

The second intifada of 2000 cut Taybeh staff from 15 to zero by 2002. Hops, yeast and barley no longer reached them from the port of Ashdod. Sales in Israel collapsed. Jordan, to the east, became inaccessible. Soon the Israeli wall-fence started going up, cutting off Jerusalem to the west. Hamas in Gaza meant an end to sales of alcohol there.

Not the sort of stuff that happens in Brookline.

Fortunately, we didn’t owe much to banks because they never thought investing in a beer company in a mainly Muslim environment made sense, David Khoury told me. We would not have survived.

Now the Taybeh beer company is coming back. There are things to celebrate again — weddings, homecomings, nonviolence. Some 70 percent of sales are made in the West Bank — nearly that much used to be in Israel — and profit has returned.

The company is not a bad barometer of the fast-growing West Bank economy and how, quietly, Prime Minister Salam Fayyad is building the elements and institutions of statehood. Khoury knows that, as he put it, We could wake up one day and all this will be under siege again, but he’s placing his faith in Fayyad’s wise leadership.

I asked Khoury what he would say to an Israeli general if he had the chance. I would tell him that Israel is a reality and the Palestinian people are ready to live in peace, he said. We are not terrorists but we have the right to resist occupation. I would say that you are greedy. You have to give up the West Bank and go back to the 1967 borders, for the sake of Israeli women and children and Palestinian women and children. Enough is enough.

There are Israeli settlements on either side of his village. Khoury sees one from his window. Gesturing toward it, he said of the 22 percent of British Mandate Palestine that are the West Bank and Gaza, You see, we want this land, not half of it.

That is also Fayyad’s position. Development is his means to get there. A road, a health care facility, a school — people are beginning to buy into it, Fayyad said. There is a sense of self-empowerment.

But for now, Palestinian development has to happen in whatever small space is accorded by Israel. If 6 percent economic growth is to continue, the West Bank must wean itself off massive international aid and become self-sustaining. But logistics remain a nightmare.

Because of checkpoints, it takes Khoury a day to get his beer into Israel, when Jerusalem is 20 minutes away. All the beer in kegs has to transit a single checkpoint near Hebron, nearly three hours away. Bottled beer takes a more direct route, but closures are frequent. The other day it was raining and the Israelis said their dogs couldn’t sniff and everything shut down, Khoury said.

If you complain, he continued, there’s just one word — security.

Peace is risk, no way around that. But Israel won’t do better than Fayyad. He’s a man worth taking risks for. And if you think the Holy Land could ever be a place where a Jew from Odessa drinks Arab beer in Tel Aviv made by Palestinian entrepreneurs with a joint called Foley’s in Brookline and a factory in a West Bank village with a church — and thinks nothing of it — then you should get behind Taybeh by paying it a visit.

It’s the right thing to do.

(Zoon Politikon)


Monday, May 17, 2010

Chinese Karaoke


(Chinese Cinema)


Sunday, May 16, 2010

Europe: Anti-Islamic Sentiments in Wake of Restrictions on Veils

Anxious times for Muslims seeking to define themselves in adopted European homes. Ed Cody in W. Post:

Since she started wearing a full Islamic veil six weeks ago, Selma said, she has been stared at, frowned at, muttered to, mocked as a ghost and forced by a policeman to lift her veil to show her face.

In Belgium, it is forbidden to carry your religious convictions to their logical conclusion, the 22-year-old Brussels woman said, speaking on the condition that her full name not be used to avoid trouble for her family.

These are uneasy times for the estimated 15 million Muslims of Western Europe, not only for fundamentalists such as Selma, but also for the vast majority who want to find their place as Muslims without confronting the Christian and secular traditions of the continent they have adopted as home.

Responding to a wave of resentment unfurling across European societies, several governments have begun to legislate restrictions on the most readily visible of Islamic ways, the full-face veil. Outside the gilded halls of parliaments and ministries, meanwhile, anti-Islamic sentiments have risen to the surface in a surge of Internet insults and physical attacks against Muslim symbols.

In Belgium, the Chamber of Representatives voted April 29 to impose a nationwide ban on full-face veils in public, making the country the first in Western Europe to pass such a measure. (The legislation, which needs Senate approval, has yet to take effect.) Some municipalities, including Brussels, have local anti-veil regulations. But legislators explained that they wanted to send a signal to fundamentalist Muslims and preserve the dignity and rights of women.

Citing the same goals, the National Assembly in neighboring France voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to declare full-face veils contrary to the values of the republic, which legislators described as the first step toward enacting legislation similar to Belgium's. President Nicolas Sarkozy's conservative government has vowed to pass a nationwide ban by fall. He has persisted in his resolve, despite two opinions from France's constitutional court that such a law would be unconstitutional and could run afoul of European Union human rights regulations.

The people of France, which with an estimated 5 million Muslims has the largest such population in Western Europe, by and large have expressed support for Sarkozy's move. Recent polls found two-thirds of those questioned want a full or partial ban against the full-face veil.

Public sentiment has gone further, though. In recent discussions about the ban and during a government-sponsored national identity debate, several French Internet sites closed down reader comment sections because of an outpouring of hate mail. A Muslim butcher shop and a mosque were sprayed with automatic-weapon fire in southern France last month, after Sarkozy decided to pursue a full ban, and vandals last week desecrated a graveyard for Muslim soldiers who died fighting in the French army.

Proposals for anti-veil legislation also have been introduced in the parliaments of Italy and the Netherlands, although passage is less certain. Some cities in those countries have imposed local bans; a Tunisian immigrant was fined $650 two weeks ago in Novara, in northern Italy, for walking down the street on the way to a mosque with her face covered.

In Switzerland, where construction of minarets was banned in November, Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf said this week that the government plans to use similar administrative powers to forbid full-face veils. But the rules, she noted, will exempt Persian Gulf tourists, who spend lavishly in Swiss hotels and luxury shops.

Selma, the Brussels woman, who like many women who wear the full veil in Europe is a recent convert to Islam, vowed to continue covering her face in public despite the opprobrium it brings. She cited respect for my creator, my husband and my modesty.

The swell of concern over veils, she said, reflects fear of Islam. After the anti-veil legislation passed, a video was posted on the Internet warning of terrorist strikes against Belgium.

It's something that frightens them, Selma said in a telephone interview. And so, when they see a woman wearing a burqa . . . , she said, her voice trailing off.

Isabel Soumaya, vice president of the government-backed Association of Belgian Muslims, noted that only a few dozen women -- among the country's estimated 600,000 Muslims -- wear the full-face veil. Soumaya, who converted to Islam 20 years ago, wears the Islamic scarf, which covers her hair, but does not wear a full-face veil. In focusing on those who do, she said, Belgian legislators were preying on voters' fears. She added, It is racism and a form of Islamophobia.

The friction has grown more acute, Soumaya said, because the immigrants, many from North Africa, who came to Belgium in the 1960s and 1970s now have children and, sometimes, grandchildren who grew up here. The second- and third-generation Muslims, she said, have no intention of returning to North Africa and feel no need to keep their heads down, as their forebears did on arrival.

Fouad Lahssaini, a lawmaker who immigrated to Belgium from Morocco as a youth, said that most Muslims in Belgium do not favor women wearing the full-face veil and that passing a ban was tantamount to taking out a bazooka to kill a fly. He said that requiring women to identify themselves to police or expose their face for a driver's license photo makes sense, but that a ban seems little more than resentment over the high visibility of Muslims in Belgian society.

In the streets around the Midi Station this week, hundreds of Moroccan immigrants sat at coffee shops watching al-Jazeera, the pan-Arab all-news channel, and women shopped in full-length robes with their hair covered by scarves.

Those interviewed, who grew up in a country that practices a tolerant form of Islam, professed no desire to see women wear full veils. But they appeared uncomfortable with the new legislation, saying it singles out Muslims and could be the first step toward other problems.

I'm against the full veil, said Faridh Boughdan, a 35-year-old pastry chef. That is not required by Islam. I studied Islam back in Morocco. I read the Koran, and there is nothing in there about that. On the other hand, he said, women must wear scarves to cover their hair whenever they go out into the street.

This, he said, is laid down in the Koran.


Saturday, May 15, 2010

Biserica Iubirii

In biserica iubirii,
Peste inima saraca
Dumnezeu din cer apleaca
Raiul vesnic viu.

Sub o candela subtire
El ingrijorat asteapta
Sa venim la intalnire
Oricat de tarziu.

Inima de-ti este franta
Vesnic mirele te-asteapta
In camara cea de nunta
Sa-ti dea darul asteptat
Veacul cel neinserat.

O biserica in lume
Este jertfa de-nviere
Dumnezeu in ea coboara
Bland si luminos.

Cei raniti si fara nume
Vin aici spre mangaiere
Sa nu moara, sa primeasca
Viata in Hristos.

Prin biserica iubirii
Au trecut mereu parintii
Si mai raii si cumintii
Cautand spre cer.

Veacuri multe de durere
Si de multa rugaciune
Au sapat in lemnul tare
Flori de sfant mister.

Ziduri sfinte de biserici
Stau mereu in priveghere
Inima sa ti-o desfereci
Din tristetea lumii grea
Mirele sa vina-n ea.

(Icon and Orthodoxy)


Roger Cohen: Good Morning and Good Luck

Speaking about the City of London, there are two new guys in town. For better or for worse. Good morning and good luck, that's what Roger Cohen has to say in NY Times:

Good sense has prevailed, the winners have taken office, and there’s a bit of rainbow-nation buoyancy to Britain that seems impervious, for now, to Greek hangovers. Let’s face it: After a season of furrowed brows youth is a tonic.

At 43, David Cameron and Nick Clegg have that. They’re new in every sense, at the head of the first coalition government since Churchill called Britain to arms seven decades ago. Today, the blitz is economic.

The one clear message written into the election’s inconclusive numbers was that Britain demanded change. Collapsing banks, expense scandals, a fierce recession and spiraling personal debt have angered people. It was not that Gordon Brown was a bad guy; he was just a tired guy at the head of a weary Labour Party and a man with a tragic streak.

Politics is about timing and Brown, too long in Tony Blair’s shadow, missed his moment. History will record — an onerous legacy — that he led the country but never had its people’s mandate.

Thank you and goodbye, he said at the end of a gracious valedictory speech that could not quite hide the bitterness in that terse finale. It was not quite Edward R. Murrow’s Good night, and good luck, but almost.

What now? I think Cameron was right to follow Obama and weave the word responsibility into his every post-electoral statement. Like Obama in 2009, he’s taking over a battered, baffled nation. After seeing the tab for the past decade, learning of Icelandic illusions and digesting just how crazy the City’s antics and their own representatives’ spending had become, the British are ready for a dose of transparency and accountability. At least they think they are.

The rapid coalition-building was certainly an exercise in responsibility. It can’t have been easy for Clegg — with his strong European bent, Spanish wife and sons named Antonio, Alberto and Miguel — to agree to wording freighted with visceral Tory suspicion of the European Union, a body full of funny names to which there should be no further transfer of sovereignty or powers over the course of the next Parliament.

It can’t have been easy, either, for Cameron to accept a referendum on electoral reform that could hurt his Conservative party; tax breaks for low-income earners rather than his wealthy classmates; and an awkward compromise on nuclear power that reflects the lentils-and-sandals, touchy-feely streak among Clegg’s Liberal Democrats, a party long free to dream because it did not have to govern.

Still, they got to agreement fast, with the best part devoted to civil liberties — scrapping Labour’s ID card scheme and promising to rein in the rampant camera surveillance that threatens to put Britain back in the U.S.S.R.

Now each leader has to deliver or succumb to the inevitable jibes, from the right in the case of Cameron, the left in the case of Clegg. Effectiveness can be their only answer to charges of opportunism and selling out. That should focus minds.

I like the balance in the cabinet, particularly the presence of the blunt Liberal Democrat Vince Cable overseeing business and banks. Youth is good, but Cable, two decades older than Clegg and Cameron, brings a dose of hard-nosed wisdom. It was he who, seven years ago, asked Brown if consumer spending pinned against record levels of personal debt, was not a recipe for economic disaster — and was ignored.

Cable and the Tory chancellor of the exchequer, George Osborne, face an enormous challenge. The agreement commits the coalition to an emergency deficit-reducing budget within 50 days even as it acknowledges the fragility of economic recovery: That’s a tough balancing act. It also calls for robust action to tackle unacceptable bonuses in the financial services sector, and raises the possibility of separating retail and investment banking — measures the City will resist, and Britain depends more than America on its huge financial sector.

Britain’s numbers don’t look a whole lot better than Greece’s, with the budget deficit at 11.5 percent of national output, compared to 13.6 percent in Athens. But Britain has more flexibility, being outside the euro, and has already allowed sterling to depreciate sharply to regain competitiveness. Its debt maturities are also longer. And, well, the United Kingdom is not Greece.

Still, Cameron and Clegg are going to have to steer the country through very rough times. Europe, like it or not, is where Britain sits, as Churchill knew. Britain will not be immune to the south European blues. At home, interest rates will rise and the end to the current mortgage holiday for millions will cause anger.

But government is not just about numbers. When he took office 13 years ago, Blair lifted Britain from its navel-gazing. Cameron has the same energetic gifts, is a better listener and more instinctive seeker of middle ground. In a best case, he and Clegg will complement each other. Europe can’t afford a Britain of Tory prejudice. The world can’t afford a Britain of Liberal Democratic wobbliness.

So, here’s to renewal in the spirit of the Downing Street fertility clinic, preparing to usher another Cameron into the unpredictable British fray.

(Zoon Politikon)