Amsterdam

We’ve been in Amsterdam two days, and will spend our third day in the country surrounding the city. The days have been long, hence my silence. Even now, I don’t have time to write a full post, so I’ll just give a few snapshots:

The heat wave we experienced throughout this trip followed us to Amsterdam. Apparently yesterday’s temperatures were in the 90s — it certainly felt that way. After two hit summer vacations (Mediterranean and Japan), I was hoping for some cooler climes. So it goes, I guess.

Today is the Gay Pride parade. Amsterdam is even more welcoming than San Francisco, with rainbow flags festooning everything. The city is packed, but the museums have been empty. My only bit of pique is that the rainbow image has been co-opted to become the symbol of a single special interest group. I think rainbows should belong to everyone.

The Rijksmuseum is a great museum — and well-organized too. While the Hermitage was a bit of a disappointment (too much shlock, which is unsurprising when you think about the kitschy palaces), the Rijksmuseum was just fine.

If you’re in Holland, visit the Rembrandt House, where you can see a meticulous recreation of his home in the building he occupied for almost 20 years after Saskia died.

Anne Frank’s house has become a thriving industry since I saw it in 1980. The remodel is splendid in that it channels traffic skillfully so that every visitor gets a chance to walk through the Secret Annex. (Buy tickets online if you go there. The crowds waiting to get in are horrific.) The museum around the house focuses in tightly on Ann, her family, and her friends. It makes the Holocaust very personal but, by doing so, fails utterly to educate people about the Holocaust or fascism.

At the end if the museum, there’s a room with very short videos, many of which are about special interest demands against a greater European culture that is not bowing to their dressing, immigration, or marriage requirements. The videos begin by focusing on a fictional young person with needs, and then, having personalized that need, gives a brief, shallow, fairly even-handed look at the issue, whether it’s veils in schools, forcing Christian civil servants to perform gay marriages, or allowing people to serve in the military while wearing religious garb.

Having started each video with the personalization, everyone knows what they’re supposed to think. None of the videos delves into the deeper issues. For example, are the veil-wearing girls embracing Dutch culture, or undermining it? (E.g., are they fifth columnists, like Maj. Hasan, or multicultural patriots?) If the veil is a symbol of religious faith, that’s one thing. If it represents the thin edge if the wedge for sharia, it’s another. By simplifying and personalizing the matter, the Anne Frank museum manages to say that a country’s desire to protect certain laudable institutions against a self-professed form of religious fascism is tantamount to Nazis killing Anne Frank.

I watched about ten or twelve videos, and the only nod to antisemitism was in the video about Holocaust Denial on YouTube.

I’m homesick. My idea of a good trip is about two weeks. Being gone for 27 days drains me. Even a good trip — and this was good — can go on too long.

False parallels

A TV movie remake of The Diary of Anne Frank can be a very good thing.  What sent shivers of fear up my spine about the latest version is the organization making the remake:  the BBC.  That can’t be a good thing can it?

Most of the article about the upcoming show makes it sound as if people with normal minds have been in charge of the production.  Instead of presenting Anne as a saint, which she was not, the show is going to present a high-spirited, “stroppy” teenager — which is very much the personality that comes through the pages, especially if you read the unexpurgated version of Anne’s diary.  Anne was a real girl, and her sufferings, both in the sensory deprivation of the attic and in the horrors of Auschwitz and Bergen Belsen, happened to a real human being, not a plaster teen saint.

Given the generally positive tone about the production, why am I still worried?  I’m worried because a novelist named Deborah Moggach wrote the current adaption, and her comments show a morally equivalent world view that is frightening in its ignorance and implications:

Moggach believes the time is ripe for a new TV adaptation of the diary. “It’s now more timely than ever, not just because of rising anti-Semitism in eastern Europe, but because of growing prejudice throughout the world. [As it happens, there's surprisingly little antisemitism in Eastern Europe given its past. The real rise of antisemitism is in England, Europe and the Middle East, but perhaps Moggach's fails to mention the latter is explained by her next comment.] Anne could be a young girl in Gaza or Iraq today.  [Did you get that?  Gazan girls are raised to believe that Jews should be wiped off the face of the earth.  They live in a culture that encourages the rape and murder of Jewish women.  Gazans elected a government that has devoted itself to killing Jews.  After the Gazan government spent a year sponsoring thousands of missile attacks on Jews, Israel finally responded with carefully targeted attacks aimed at munitions locations and at spots in which militants can be found.  To the extent a Gazan girl was threatened, it was because her own government saw fit to place its munitions and fighters in her residential neighborhood precisely in order to ensure that the Gazan girl would be injured or killed for propaganda value.  For Moggach to compare a Gazan girl to Anne Frank and her situation is an insult and idiocy beyond belief.] Of course, she’d be writing it as a blog now.”

After reading that stupidity, it is somehow unsurprising to learn that Moggach at one time lived in Pakistan.  I suspect that, between England and Pakistan, her values system has been so perverted that she can no longer distinguish between good and evil.  Moggach seems to live in a morally equivalent world that sees only bombs and victims.  She lacks the ability to understand that sometimes good guys fire bombs and that sometimes bad guys are victims — and vice versa — and that you cannot equate people merely because each has had blood spilled.

Reading Moggach’s self-written bio, she sounds like a charming woman, and one who tries to be open-minded.  I just suspect that she’s so open-minded her brains might have fallen out.

Judge not lest you be judged

A few days ago, I posted about the rise in antisemitism around the world. One of my readers, who I know is a good and kind woman, decried this trend, but then said something interesting: “And now many Jews insist that we hate Muslims to support them. [snip.] [E]very anti-Islamic article posted makes it that much harder to side with the Jews. No one should be forced to side with one ethnicity over another.” In other words, if I understand her correctly, by bad-mouthing Muslims, Jews are making themselves look bad and are therefore less sympathetic.

(This statement is not unique to this reader, and I don’t want any of you to pick on her. She’s part of a larger trend, and this trend definitely deserves consideration. Indeed, I am grateful to her for being honest so that we can discuss this matter. Any personal attacks against her are strictly off limits and I will delete them as soon as I can.)

The view my reader expressed seems to be a variation on two Biblical principles: “Judge not lest you be judged” and “turn the other cheek.” I’ve always understood these doctrines to apply to the individual, not to the state, and to mean that, within a civilized society, people have to avoid the sins of hypocrisy and should strive to get along with their neighbors. Multiculturalism, however, elevates these Biblical precepts to national policies that insist that victims of threats or aggression may not defend themselves. As one commentator said, in many circles, it is now worse to judge evil than to do evil. (I’d like to give attribution to that speaker, but I can’t find his name anywhere. He’s a British lecturer, if that helps any of you come up with his name.)

I’m actually happy to judge evil — because I know, with certainty, that I am not evil. That is, I don’t have to worry that, in judging others as evil, I might in turn be judged. I can cast rhetorical stones because, while I have my petty sins (I’m lazy, a bit hot-tempered, and I’m greedy when it comes to chocolate), I am not evil. The same holds true for Jews. As a group, they have the same foibles as the average run of citizens, but they are not, collectively, evil. They do not aim their guns intentionally at children, they do not use children to hide their own guns, and they do not revel in the deaths of children. Jews can judge those Muslims who got what they asked for (Gaza) and then launched more than 5,000 rockets into Israel, with the intent to kill civilians. Jews can judge those Muslims who have as their religious doctrine the requirement that the desired end of days be triggered, in part, by the slaughter of Jews. We are allowed to judge when we see evil.

I actually attribute this naive belief that all people are innately good — a belief that, in the modern era alone, should have given way in the face of the Nazi death camps, in Pol Pots killing fields, in Mao’s Great Leap Forward, in the Soviet Union’s lengthy auto-genocide — to a surprising source: Anne Frank. Since the 1950s, every single reasonably educated American has read Anne Frank’s luminous diary. And most American teachers — certainly mine, when I was in junior high school — spent an inordinate amount of time reiterating to us Anne’s most famous words, written on July 15, 1944, exactly two years after she and her family went into hiding to escape the Nazis:

It’s a wonder I haven’t abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart. It’s utterly impossible for me to build my life on a foundation of chaos, suffering and death. I see the world being slowly transformed into a wilderness, I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too, I feel the suffering of millions. And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better, that this cruelty too shall end, that peace and tranquility will return once more. [Emphasis mine.]

Thanks to those words, just about every Western school child learns that “people are truly good at heart.” I think it was that sweet sentiment that my reader had in the back of her mind when she left her comment. In that world view, if everyone is good, it does indeed lessen the virtue of one group of people if they imply that another group of people may not, in fact, be “truly good at heart.” The problem is that Anne Frank was completely and totally wrong.

Before I get into the global wrongness of Anne’s position, it’s useful to understand the context in which Anne wrote those words, as well as to remember what happened to Anne within days of writing them. As Anne freely admited in the next sentence following her famous thought, she wrote those words because she needed to give meaning to a life spent in hiding and a world that had devolved into sadistic chaos.

Two weeks after writing her homage to human kind’s innate goodness, because of a tip from an informer, the Annex’s residents were rounded up by the Nazis and shipped off. Here’s what happened to them: Mr. Van Daan was gassed immediately on his arrival in Auschwitz. Mrs. Van Daan was shuffled from Auschwitz, to Bergen-Belsen, to Buchenwald, to Theresienstadt, and finally to another unknown camp where she apparently died shortly before war’s end. Peter van Daan survived a death march from Auschwitz to Mauthausen, only to die three days before the camp was liberated. Mr. Dussel, after having spent time in either Buchenwald or Sachenhausen, died in Neuengamme a few months after being arrested. Mrs. Frank died in Auschwitz from starvation and exhaustion. As for Anne and Margot:

Margot and Anne Frank were transported from Auschwitz at the end of October and brought to Bergen-Belsen concentrationton camp near Hanover (Germany). The typhus epidemic that broke out in the winter of 1944-1945, as a result of the horrendous hygienic conditions, killed thousands of prisoners, including Margot and, a few days later, Anne. She must have died in late February or early March. The bodies of both girls were probably dumped in Bergen-Belsen’s mass graves. (From the Afterward to The Diary of a Young Girl : The Definitive Edition, published by Anchor Books Doubleday in 1996)

Anne Frank did not die peacefully or gracefully. Instead, her last days on earth were a nightmare of cold, hunger, loneliness and fear:

Anne was briefly reunited with two friends, Hanneli Goslar (named “Lies” in the diary) and Nanette Blitz, who both survived the war. They said that Anne, naked but for a piece of blanket, explained she was infested with lice and had thrown her clothes away. They described her as bald, emaciated and shivering but although ill herself, she told them that she was more concerned about Margot, whose illness seemed to be more severe. Goslar and Blitz did not see Margot who remained in her bunk, too weak to walk. Anne said they were alone as both of their parents were dead.

Why am I emphasizing all this? Because I want to make it clear that Anne Frank was wrong. People are not innately good. Her words were whistling in the dark, written to give herself faith and courage under terrible circumstances. They cannot and should not be used as a yardstick for measuring human being’s natural state. And for Liberals to cling to this “ideology” moves beyond optimism into self-destruction.

Anyone who has children knows that, while they have a tremendous capacity for love, and have within them the seeds for reason and kindness, their innate state is more Lord of the Flies than anything else. Children are naturally violent, greedy and jealous. What tempers children is a society’s externally imposed value system. And these value systems don’t spring out of whole cloth. They are the results of centuries of give and take, violence, refining, and thought.

In a chauvinistic way that I’m not even going to bother to defend, I think our modern Judeo-Christian value system is one of the best ever created — and it’s not innate, it’s learned. I’ll go even further here: I don’t like the current fundamentalist Islamic value system, with its denigration of women, Jews, and non-Muslims, and its obsession with visiting extreme physical violence (and I include beheading and other slaughters) on those so denigrated.

I don’t think we in the West are innately good, or that those in the fundamentalist Islamic Middle East are inherently bad. I do think, however, that we have the better value system, and that it’s terribly dangerous for people to put their faith in Anne Frank’s touching but misguided words about humans’ innate goodness. Worse, this is not merely the misguided approach of a single good and kind person. Instead, a vast portion of the American population has bought into a teenage girls’ “whistling in the dark” musings and now tries to impose this naive view on American (and Israeli) foreign policy, hampering those countries’ ability to protect themselves against those whose value system calls for its enemies subjugation and death.