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Certain moments of change represent phase shifts, from one state of existence to another. Ariel Sharon, upon his arrival on the world stage played a major role in the phase shift for the state of Israel and for the Jewish people around the world. We are witnessing another phase shift now in the Middle East with his departure, though it is impossible to know what will emerge from his loss. Ariel Sharon, even to his enemies, had come to represent an almost mythical creature, who by the force of his character left his imprint in the Middle East. In the last few years he has acted as if he recognized how fleeting the moment can be while at the same time ignoring the personal dimension of time's passage. Part of his greatness was the recognition that the traditional Jewish way, of passively fitting in and trying not to "make waves", was an approach that was incompatible with the survival of the Jews and their Jewish state. He was one of the 20% who left Egypt in the exodus and in a later incarnation, fought in the Warsaw Ghetto, rather than one of the 80% who passively accepted their fate.
It is a measure of our ambivalent relationship to time that we still do not have a very good definition for the concept and still do not know why it seems to travel in only one direction. Freud said that there is no sense of time in the unconscious and I would add that most of us live our lives as if the passage of time is alternately of immediate import and non-existent; sometimes the two ideas exist in a simultaneous contradiction. We must live conscious of the passing of time, yet we often resist recognizing that constant change is an absolute correlate of time's passage. In human affairs, we assume that the current moment will extend indefinitely even while knowing that change is coming. The "now" is all there is yet the future will be upon in an instant. The refusal to acknowledge the passage of time is an important part of many psychological disorders and the metaphoric and symbolic meanings of time in our unconscious lives is profound yet poorly understood.
With Sharon's passing from the stage, at such a crucial time in the Middle East, it is likely that time, rather than standing still, will become compressed. Those who stand still while time passes may be dead already without even knowing it.
In 1971, the great Italian film maker, Vittorio De Sica directed The Garden of the Finzi-Continis, which won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film, and won the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival that same year. The movie was a character study of a wealthy Italian Jewish family in the town Ferrara in 1938. The Finzi-Contini family is already destroyed but do not realize it yet. The fascist government of Mussolini was not particularly energetic in their persecution of Jews but their much more powerful ally demanded that Italy at least make some attempts to aid in the "final solution." The scourge of anti-Semitism which had been in abeyance for many years in Italy was slowly gaining force and depth in 1938. The movie is a fascinating, elegiac look at wealthy, narcissistic young people who, like insects with one wing trapped in amber, do not perceive that their world is about to end.
I have written before (in "Good Muslims" and "Good Germans" and again, in A Ticking Clock) that in our war on Islamic fascism, we are in the late 1930's. We can stop Hitler/al Qaeda/Islamic fascism/Iran now at some indeterminate, possibly terrible cost, or stop them later, at horrific cost.
Of The Garden of the Finzi-Continis, Roger Ebert describes the family and its reaction to the approaching storm:
Giorgio's father says of the Finzi-Continis: "They're different. They don't even seem to be Jewish." They're different because wealth and privilege and generations of intellectual and social position have bred them into a family as proud as it is vulnerable. The other Jews in the town react to Mussolini's edicts in various ways: Giorgio is enraged; his father is philosophical. But the Finzi-Continis hardly seem to know, or care, what is happening. They are above mere edicts; they chose to live behind their walls long before the Fascists said they must.
The Finzi-Continis were insulated by their wealth from the realities of the world that was crashing down around them; it seems today that our liberal elites, equally insulated from the world by their wealth and success, believe if they continue to behave as if time has stopped, then they need do nothing to prevent the coming disaster. However, we are clearly approaching a pivotal moment. Sigmund, Carl, and Alfred (in a post that should be read more widely) asks some questions that need to be addressed:
The civilized world is on trial today.
It is a simple matter, really. How we respond to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's remarks denying the Holocaust and excoriating Jews will say a lot more about us that it will about him.
What lessons have we learned from the past? What morality have we integrated into our very being as the result of the Holocaust, directed against the Jews, by design? What morality have we integrated into ourselves as a result of that wider holocaust, the one that left 50 million dead in the span of six years?
The Palestinians have only slowed their genocidal attacks in order to turn their rage on themselves, for now, yet once the Iranians have their bomb, Israel's existence will be at risk both from the air (Iranian missiles) and from the land (Palestinian suicide bombers). Al Qaeda has taken up residence in Gaza to facilitate the mass death and destruction they hope to rain upon the hated Jews.
How will the world respond? One answer is here:
Norway's Finance Minister Kristin Halvorsen is backing a planned consumer boycott of Israeli goods, contradicting the coalition government's policy.
Ms Halvorsen voiced support for a campaign of solidarity with the Palestinians, due to be launched by her Socialist Left party this month.
Some on the left, especially in Europe but with fellow travelers in the United States, will hope to "feed the crocodile so as to be eaten last." Others will resort to the failed policy of using "soft power" to somehow convince Iran's mad mullahs to "play nice":
Iran nuclear research troubles EU
European nations have called on Iran to reverse its decision on Tuesday to resume nuclear fuel research, part of its controversial nuclear programme.
Austin Bay is pessimistic that military action can successfully destroy the Iranian nuclear program:
Ahmandinejad and his clique may believe a nuke will help restore their "balance of prestige" vis a vis Baghdad.
With a fanatic like Ahmadinejad in charge, Iran will ultimately go nuclear.
In 1981, Israeli air attacks destroyed Saddam's Osirak nuclear reactor, and everyone in the Middle East (including Iran) sighed with relief. The "hard power" of U.S. and Israeli military capabilities has always been the big stick behind EU and U.N. anti-proliferation diplomacy. However, the rumor mill says Iran has hardened and dispersed its nuclear sites. As it is, airstrikes and special forces attacks are never "sure things."
The real solution is regime change in Tehran. The EU and the United States have talked about supporting the mullahs' political opponents, but they have not walked that walk with sufficient financial aid, political support, media support and -- yes, it may be necessary -- weapons. Iran's tyrants believe they can finesse diplomatic discourse and ride out a military strike. They fear they cannot quell a popular, pro-democracy rebellion.
It is always easier and more comforting to imagine that the present will continue indefinitely; it is behind much of the isolationist impulse in this country, both on the left and the right. It is always easier in the short run to live like the Finzi-Continis, especially when one has comfort and wealth which would be put at risk by taking action.
Time is short and Israel's future may depend on whether or not their next leader can become like Sharon, one of the 20%, or like so much of Europe and the isolationists here at home, the Finzi-Continis reborn whose own well being and continued existence may well depend on what the Israelis (and perhaps the Americans) do in the next few months.
Update: Kobayashi Maru is on the same wavelength with me on this; the crisis with Iran has just worsened. In Fasten Your Seatbelts: Sharon, Israel, Iran, and... he notes:
The seriousness of Ariel Sharon's health crisis - including the likelihood that he will not make a full recovery - is even bigger news than it might at first appear. My first thought on hearing the news?: Oh no. Now what about the ongoing U.S. and Israeli planning to deal with the imminent Iranian nuclear threat?
As David Horowitz writes in the Jerusalem Post, Sharon has become an almost mythical figure in Israel. Not only will he be difficult to replace, but his absence will mean certain change in, and great uncertainty about Israel's strategy and policy.
In the waters Israel swims in (and which effectively Western Civilization itself swims in with the spread of global Islamofascist terror), uncertainty is definitely not a good thing. Remember Bush I and April Gillespie vs. Saddam Hussein on the issue of Kuwait? One ambiguous conversation and the fate of the Middle East changed fifteen years ago. The perception of opportunity on the part of Israel's enemies (a category which it could be argued, includes some of Israel's more radically left-leaning politicos) is simply inevitable. Some will act in the confusion and leadership vacuum that's been created.
It seems unlikely that scheduled March elections will put an end to the uncertainty that's been created literally overnight and the danger that goes with it. That scheduled Israeli elections happen to roughly coincide with the expected fulfillment of Iran's nuclear ambitions (March) should get the entire planet's attention. Whatever the rhetoric of Iran et al, and whatever the reality in actual Israeli policy changes (or lack thereof), Sharon's decline invites the wolves to circle closer. Wolves don't sit in salons and write essays and sip lattes and debate. They act. It doesn't matter whether or not we think that's civilized. It's just the way it is.
Read the whole thing.
Update II: Dr. Sanity weighs in with some words of worry, DIPLOMATIC DEAD END:
With Sharon out of the current picture, the Iranians must be chortling with glee and hoping that their way is clear to proceed--without even having to worry about Israel's response. Look for a lot of new posturing and an escalation of their psychopathic behavior .
I think they are mistaken about Israel's will to deal with the issue now that diplomacy has reached a dead end -- even if the international community is not so willing.
I am hoping they are also woefully misunderestimating the U.S.
Update III: Pamela points out that the Iranian psychopathic behavior has aready escalated:
On the same day Larijani made those remarks, the Islamic Republic authorities sent an official letter to the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, announcing their intention to resume enrichment activities at a variety of nuclear sites across Iran on January 9.
The resumption of enrichment activities, which could give Iran the special nuclear material needed to make nuclear weapons, has long been sited by Israel as the “red line” they would not allow Iran to cross.
Iran now appears ready and willing to cross that red line. And with Mr. Sharon sidelined from Israeli politics, Israeli military leaders are unlikely to bet on a prayer and a chance that Iran just might be bluffing.