In a review of Show Me A Story: Why Picture Books Matter (WSJ 5/12/12), Meghan Cox Gurdon quotes from some of the interviewees who are subjects in Leonard Marcus’ anthology of famous illustrators. Maurice Sendak, probably the most admired children’s book author since Dr. Seuss had this to say about the grotesque (Gurdon’s word) aunts and uncles who visited his family when he was a child, “God knows most of the people who came there were pigs.” He then goes on to explain that the day of his own Bar-Mitzvah was also the day his father collapsed with the news that other members of his family had been killed in the holocaust: “I remember my father falling down, and me in my little suit all ready to go, and the rage that was stirred in me by these dead Jews who constantly infiltrated our lives and made us miserable.” We’re reading the words of an adult recapturing the emotion not of a 5 year old Little Lord Fauntleroy, but of a 13 year old adolescent son of hard-working, devastated Jews . It’s hard not to remember that he was the same age as another teenager who penned her own emotional reaction to far more serious deprivation in the posthumously published Diary of Anne Frank.

In Sendak’s recent obituary in the NYTimes, Margalit Fox described him as the man “who wrenched the picture book out of the safe, sanitized world of the nursery and plunged it into the dark, terrifying and hauntingly beautiful recesses of the human psyche.” I’m not sure what Ms. Fox considered the works of the Brothers Grimm to be but for all of us whose favorite children’s stories were fairy tales, it’s puzzling to wonder whether anything Sendak wrote was as terrifying as Hansel and Gretel or Snow White, folktales anthologized by the brothers in the early 19th century, or Little Red Riding Hood, first written in 1697 by Charles Perrault. Yes, Pierre does get eaten by the lion but the rhyme takes away the sting of the deed and even very young children smile at that part, understanding the subtle humor of the lion uttering Pierre’s refrain: They pulled the lion by the hair They hit him with the folding chair His mother asked – Where is Pierre? The lion answered – I dont care His father said – Pierre’s in there!


Yiddish, a Bisle of History

Yiddish words and expressions are so common now in daily talk….mench, shlep, kvetch and nudge….and how about “I have you in the bathtub”???? There is a rich legacy of music, theater. poetry and fiction in Yiddish and even the Bard was translated….when I was a child my father took me to see “King Lear and His Bad Daughters” in Yiddish…..rsk

Once upon a time, nearly a thousand years ago, there were people with no country of their own. From the eleventh through the fifteenth centuries, they were expelled from whatever European land they had settled. At times, they were unable to take all of their physical possessions with them, however they always took what was most important — their religious beliefs and their language. The people were the Jews, their religion was Judaism, and their language was Yiddish.

When Yiddish began

In the tenth century, Jews from France and Italy migrated to the German Rhine Valley, and Yiddish began in an Ashkenazi culture. The name came from the medieval Hebrew designation for the territory and Ashkenazim or Ashkenazi Jews were literally “German Jews.”

The term “Yiddish” comes from the German word for Jewish — Judisch — and to Germans; a Jew was “ein Yid.” Yiddish developed as a blend of German dialects with Hebrew, Aramaic, Slavic languages and traces of Romance languages. It was the lingua franca of Ashkenazi Jews.

By the late 1200s, Jews had created a language rooted in Jewish history that they used in their daily lives and when they conducted business among themselves. When they did business with Gentiles, Jews spoke the language of their countrymen.

ANDREW BOSTOM: THE VATICAN AND ISLAM: HAS DHIMMITUDE PREVAILED?  The Vatican and Islam: Has Dhimmitude Prevailed? Professor Sergio Itzhak Minerbi was a senior lecturer at the Institute of Contemporary Jewry at Hebrew University and Professor in the Department of Political Science at Haifa University. His scholarly research has focused upon the relations between the Catholic Church and the Jews. He also served as […]


Losing an unwise war, refugees wear their predicament as a badge of honor

Thus, naqba commemorations inform us that the conflict is about Israel’s existence, not about territory, borders, holy places, refugees or any other bill of particulars.

Today, Palestinians and their supporters, as they have done increasingly over the years, mark what they call the “naqba” (Arabic for catastrophe) day. But commemoration is only one aspect of the day. The clue to the real meaning of the naqba lies on the previous day, May 14, the day Israel declared independence upon the termination of British rule.

On the actual day in 1948 now commemorated as the naqba,neighboring Arab armies and internal Palestinian militias responded to Israel’s declaration of independence with full-scale hostilities. Tel Aviv was bombed from the air, and the head of Israel’s provisional government, David Ben-Gurion, delivered his first radio address to the nation from an air-raid shelter.

Israel successfully resisted invasion and dismemberment – the universally affirmed objective of the Arab belligerents – and Palestinians came off worst of all from the whole venture. At the war’s end, more than 600,000 Palestinians were living as refugees under neighboring Arab regimes.


Will Islam Self-Destruct? — on The Glazov Gang by Jamie Glazov Fireworks set off when leftist film producer Tommi Trudeau confronts Evan Sayet and Rob Nelson on Frontpage’s television show.


Please Join Me For The Nakba Day Festivities…
by Gerald A. Honigman
May 14th, 1948 was the day that Israel officially declared its independence. It was immediately attacked by a half dozen Arab armies, and as a result of the war which the Arabs themselves initiated, two sets of refugees were created–Arabs fleeing the fighting in that small portion of the original 1920 Mandate of Palestine which would become Israel and a greater number of Jewish refugees fleeing their ancient homes in the so-called “Arab” world.

To date, Arabs have almost two dozen states, including one created on almost 80% of the original 1920 Mandate of Palestine…Jordan.

In 1947, Arabs were offered a second state for themselves in about half of the roughly 20% of the land remaining after the creation of Arab Transjordan. They rejected this offer–which would have netted Arab nationalism, in its various stripes, almost 90% of the total territory.

Jews have one minuscule, resurrected state which they never ceased to call home for over three thousand years of history. It sits on less than one half of one percent of the territory of the region.

Regardless, each May 15th Arabs protest and demonstrate about their catastrophe–Israel’s rebirth–because in their attempt at completing Hitler’s genocide in 1948, their efforts backfired on themselves.

WES PRUDEN: NOT QUITE WHAT THE EVOLVER IN CHIEF EXPECTED This is not what Barack Obama expected for a coming-out party. The “historic” revelation that he is now fully evolved, as from tadpole to frog, and now grooves on same-sex marriage, was meant to be marked with quiet ceremony. No music, no flowers, no kiss, no dancing, not even a cupcake. Rage and outrage […]

ISLAM ARRIVES IN THE BASQUE COUNTRY: SOEREN KERN Muslim parents are now pressuring local educational authorities to begin teaching Arabic in public schools. The Islamic Council of the Basque Country says Basques should view the speread of Islam in their region “not as a problem, but as an opportunity.” The Basque regional government in northern Spain is drafting a controversial new Law […]

JED BABBIN: OBAMA’S MEDIA CONTRIVED COURAGE We know who’s side the media are on — but does Mitt Romney? If you want to gauge how the presidential campaign is going, all you need to do is strap sphygmomanometers to the arms of a fewNew York Times editorial writers, Washington Postreporters, and MSNBC hosts. The higher their average blood pressure, the […]


The Poetry of Al Qaeda and the Taliban

READERS going through the cache of letters that were released early this month from Osama bin Laden’s hideaway in Abbottabad, Pakistan, may have been taken aback by a reference — in the midst of discussions of tactics, regional politics and exchange rates for ransom money — to poetry.

One letter written by Bin Laden and perhaps an associate went from criticizing the news media’s coverage of Al Qaeda to commenting on a pre-Islamic tradition of satirical poetry called hija, which Arab tribes once used to mock their enemies. It’s easy to imagine that counterterrorism analysts wondered how to interpret that one.In fact, poetry has long been a part of Muslim radicalism; the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran, for example, was the author of a large collection of verse. Today, the Taliban’s Web site features poems written by the group’s members and sympathizers, both men and women. Recitations are frequently recorded and stored on cellphones and transferred from one person to another by way of Bluetooth technology.

Many Afghan and Al Qaeda poems — which come from distinct but hybrid literary traditions — are, as might be expected, political. In a statement broadcast on Al Jazeera in December 2001, Osama bin Laden quoted the following verses from one of his favorite contemporary poets, Yusuf Abu Hilala, changing the last line and replacing the word “castles” in the original with “towers,” as a reference to the destruction of the World Trade Center:

Though the clothes of darkness enveloped us and the poisoned tooth bit us,

Though our homes overflowed with blood and the assailant desecrated our land,

Though from the squares the shining of swords and horses vanished,

And sound of drums was growing

The fighters’ winds blew, striking their towers and telling them:

We will not cease our raids until you leave our fields.

If Al Qaeda’s writers tend to be preoccupied with what they see as Islam’s long and global history of conflict with Christendom, from the Crusades to the war on terror, Taliban poets tend to refer to the literature produced in their part of the world by nationalist and socialist movements over the course of the 20th century. And if Al Qaeda poems are characterized by the swords, charging horses and fiery deserts of pre-Islamic lore, Taliban poets praise more recent warriors like Malalai, a 19th-century battlefield heroine. The chief examples of historical conflict in Taliban poetry are the Anglo-Afghan wars, of which today’s United States-led war in Afghanistan is seen as a pale reflection.

That conflict figures in a poem on clouds, ducks, turbans and the White House by a poet known as Janbaz, one of many contemporary writers whose works have been translated into English for “Poetry of the Taliban,” an anthology edited by Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn.

White clouds and white hills in the sky;

White, white dew had descended from there.

Sometimes, it came to our place;

It was the Kunar river’s white, white duck.

This became a martyr’s shroud in the Laili desert;

It was the Talib’s beautiful white, white turban

That survived this attack.

The cunning enemy’s palace was white, white.

Another, by a poet called Jawad, is more explicit:

Hot, hot trenches are full of joy;

Attacks on the enemy are full of joy.

Guns in our hands and magazine belts over my shoulders;

Grenades on my chest are full of joy.

However, violent ideological conflict is far from the sole, or even the most popular, subject of militant poetry. In fact, explicit political statements are a recent adaptation. They are absent from Ayatollah Khomeini’s more traditional work, in which mystical couplets portray God as an alluring woman and divine knowledge as intoxicating wine. Although the arid piety of cleric and mosque are rejected in these poems for the pleasures of the bedroom and tavern, they do not display a prurient interest in sin but rather an exercise in freedom, where even the most observant Muslim can adopt a critical distance from the regulations of his faith.

Most contemporary poets are as interested in pastoral landscapes and love as in revenge and war. Abdul Hai Mutmain, who has been a Taliban spokesman, writes of the wind in the trees:

It is late afternoon and the wind speeds up and then stops;

It brushes against the pine needles and makes a low noise….

The pine tree with its strong structure bows and straightens its head back;

It hangs its branches loose down its face, and dances while standing on one leg.

These poems are not merely propagandistic; they move beyond the hard politics of the Taliban to form a bridge to the world outside the movement. And the rest of the world would do well to pay attention, because their ideals are more likely than any Taliban communiqué to survive the insurgency and to play a role in the remaking of Afghanistan. These poets criticize the idea of human rights that coalition forces are supposedly fighting to protect in their country. Instead, they voice notions of humanity that are linked to private duties like generosity, compassion and, indeed, nonviolence. In the collection of Taliban poetry, Qari Yousuf Ahmadi has this to say about what he takes to be the hypocrisy of humanitarian intervention:

The cloaked magician wanders like a beggar,

Trying to find some more forces to kill me.

The green parrots of the United Nations are mute;

Those who talk of human rights have sealed their mouths shut.

And here is the poet Samiullah Khalid Sahak on the way the war has dehumanized all its participants, including the Taliban themselves:

We are not animals,

I say this with certainty.


Humanity has been forgotten by us,

And I don’t know when it will come back.

May Allah give it to us,

And decorate us with this jewelry.

By excluding the aesthetic dimension from our analyses of militant texts like those recovered from Osama bin Laden’s Pakistani lair, we miss a crucial opportunity to confront the humanity of their authors. As the poet Sadullah Saeed Zabuli put it in a recording made during the 1990s, comparing the desire for freedom to that of a famous literary lover for his mistress: “The beautiful Laila of freedom is shining in her beauty,/The Talib is half-drunk for her, approaching like Majnun.”

A fellow of St. Antony’s College, Oxford, and the author of the preface for the forthcoming anthology “Poetry of the Taliban.”