It’s not possible to play Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines too loud, or too many times. YUM.
Literature is an escape, a shared expression of humanity, a place where our thoughts go hiding and exploring, and where we find solace. Mankind wants a record of where we stood as individual beings and as societies.
At our beginning and end, we crave love. Love, in all its forms and in its absence, defines us. The sacrifices and choices we make shape our perceptions and capacity to give and receive love. Sometimes love walks into our life unexpectedly in an instant. The toughest and strongest among us have been struck by lightning, dropping our tidy briefcases and laughing as we gather everything that’s spilled out. Coffee turns into breakfast into lunch into dinner into love.
After the twin bombings at the Boston Marathon and the devastation and heroism that followed, that always follows a tragedy or acts of evil – not just in the United States but in every corner of the world, it is our compassion and love and empathy that gives us our individual identity.
Remember to love. Remember that not every love story has a beginning, middle, and end. Some love stories are just a chapter, a little respite in the storm. Others begin with lightning and burst into flames and consume us. A few sustain and enrich us, are like breathing oxygen.
If I knew that today would be the last time I’d see you, I would hug you tight and pray the Lord be the keeper of your soul. If I knew that this would be the last time you pass through this door, I’d embrace you, kiss you, and call you back for one more. If I knew that this would be the last time I would hear your voice, I’d take hold of each word to be able to hear it over and over again. If I knew this is the last time I see you, I’d tell you I love you, and would not just assume foolishly you know it already.” — Gabriel Garcia Marquez
The first warm and rainy night of an emerging Spring requires Milan Kundera.
Every love relationship rests on an unwritten agreement unthinkingly concluded by the lovers in the first weeks of their love. They are still in a kind of dream but at the same time, without knowing it, are drawing up, like uncompromising lawyers, the detailed clauses of their contract. O lovers!” — from The Book of Laughter and Forgetting
Yesterday, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) took to the floor of the United States Senate to stage a filibuster against President Obama’s nominee for the Director of Central Intelligence, John Brennan. He protested the president’s drone policies at home and abroad. He’s concerned about the targeting of American citizens on foreign and domestic soil. He spoke about his problems with targeting terrorists via “signature” or behavioral analysis, and without knowing the names of the targets.
Generally speaking terrorists don’t live on streets with their surnames hung on decorative door plaques on delightful homes with adorable yards bordered by white picket fences that house adorable puppies and bunnies and happy little families. Terrorists have aliases. They hide. They disappear. They reappear. They rarely advertise their location, identity, and intended targets and methods of destruction in advance.
I share concerns about executive power when it comes to the use of drones on American soil. I don’t like the idea of Joe Arpaio or some small-minded police captain having the power to send a drone out into any neighborhood to conduct surveillance or target American citizens. I am concerned about Posse Comitatus and extra-Constitutional, extra-Judicial acts. Serious matters require serious people, maturity, and an acknowledged desire to uphold the Constitution and honor the oath they took to serve the American people. Hysteria rarely advances thoughtful dialogue.
It wasn’t long before Paul’s “endless war” diatribe came, and Senator Dick Durbin stood firmly to Rand Paul’s political right. Paul proved he was his father’s son. If he wants to run for president in 2016, then he can expect to see many of the ignorant things he said last night on the floor reappear in ads during the Republican primary.
Republican primary. Hmmm. Conservatives are quick to shout at moderates, declaring they are Republicans In Name Only, RINOs. Translation: RINOs are not “conservative” enough. Here’s the thing, I am a Republican. I’ve never claimed to be a conservative. I am not. Conservative and Republican aren’t interchangeable, they are not synonyms. To those same folks, let me give you a hint: you are the ones embracing Jane Fonda-esque anti-war radicalism. You’re the RINOs. You’re the ones embracing people who called former President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney war criminals. You’re the ones embracing Code Pink – who harass and denigrate the service of our Armed Forces. You’re the ones breaking bread with anti-War, anti-military lunatics who don’t understand reality. You’re the ones who are chewing the Paulian Tin Foil.
You are the RINOs. And hypocrites to boot.
Leadership is about intellect, experience, courage, and a moral center. Not ignorance. It is terrific there was a debate. It would be better if the participants were informed about the issues and policies before taking to the floor of the United States Senate to complain about un-returned phone calls from the president and Attorney General. There are real issues with President Obama’s Executive style. Theatrics won’t solve them.
With the passing of Hugo Chavez, the media is reporting on the plight of celebrities who mourn him as a champion of the poor. The Hollywood Reporter has the requisite mournful cries of Sean Penn who offered them a statement: “Today the people of the United States lost a friend it [Sic] never knew it had. And poor people around the world lost a champion. I lost a friend I was blessed to have. My thoughts are with the family of President Chavez and the people of Venezuela.”
The Hollywood Reporter turned to director Oliver Stone for his take on the Venezuelan dictator’s passing. He obliged their request for a statement with a plaintive moan and predictably overwrought message: “I mourn a great hero to the majority of his people and those who struggle throughout the world for a place… Hated by the entrenched classes, Hugo Chavez will live forever in history.” Stone concluded with the true pretentiousness one might expect: “My friend, rest finally in a peace long earned.”
Like most dictators who oppress people, exploit mineral and resource wealth, and decimate what passes for a free press, Chavez was “a man of the people.” He sold Hollywood’s elite on the idea that he was dedicated to the poor and underprivileged. It was a farce, even by left-leaning Human Rights Watch’s standards. Their discussion of Chavez’s Authoritarian Legacy includes references to his assault on judicial independence, press freedoms, and blatant disregard for human rights scrutiny.
Hollywood’s fascination with celebrity activists and their perceived influence, or lack thereof, on policy makers is legendary. Few celebrities have truly garnered the respect of the public, activists, policy makers, and the press. Intellectual laziness combined with the traffic-driven nature of today’s web-based journalism has produced some truly ridiculous reporting. Dennis Rodman’s bizarre trip to watch basketball with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, followed by an even more bizarre appearance on ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos demonstrates this weird new reality rather clearly.
Some have defied this perception. George Clooney’s work to bring awareness and an end to the genocides in Sudan is meaningful. Numerous trips to the country and a personal investment in satellite technology to develop evidence against the indicted war criminal in power – President Omar al Bashir – is a break with Hollywood’s dictator-friendly reputation. Clooney is the real deal. Angelina Jolie’s work with refugees inspires many young women, including my own daughter, who sees Jolie’s transformation from Hollywood wild child to humanitarian and philanthropist (as well as wife and mother) as miraculous. It is. Few would deny the healing power of time, maturity, and finding a moral center to our life.
Unfortunately, there remains a third way. Javier Bardem is the poster child for this approach. Today, he is screening a film – Sons of the Clouds: The Last Colony – at the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights. He will appear alongside Aminatou Haidar, one of the RFK Center’s favorite activists. Not a dictator, just an activist made famous for a hunger strike and her outspoken opposition to ever so many things in the Western Sahara. Bardem and Haidar claim to want justice for the Sahrawi. But like Sean Penn and Oliver Stone, they are ignoring a serious problem.
The Sahrawi are held hostage, largely, in refugee camps on Algerian soil. The Polisario Front that “administers” life in the camps has ties to Al Qaeda in the Maghreb and other jihad-friendly affiliates. Morocco offers autonomy and self-determination, Algeria clamps down on negotiations. Given the failure of the Arab Spring to bring about democracy or even reformation inside radical governments and terrorist organizations, it’s absurd to assert a group with ties to terrorists currently fighting in Mali will bring about peace.
For years reports of trafficking and kidnapping have leaked out. Conservative commentator SE Cupp has documented it extensively. She recently noted:
New reports emerged this week from the Malian foreign minister Tiéman Coulibaly suggesting that Polisario fighters are among the terrorist groups to overtake northern Mali, where numerous Al Qaeda and Al Qaeda-related groups have gathered in an acknowledged effort to turn the territory into a Sharia state.
Bardem’s activism on this issue mystifies. He has lent his name, given of his time, and demonstrated considerable empathy to the women of the Democratic Republic of Congo where the rate of sexual violence is the highest in recorded human history. Why sully that here?
Eurozone politics, Spain versus France, Algeria versus the secular world, and jihadists against everything but evil, are all powerfully persuasive narratives. Who among us doesn’t want to make a difference?
The strife in Mali, and indeed much of Northern and Sub-Saharan Africa, requires a thoughtful approach devoid of partisan politics and moral relativism. Right and wrong should govern the path forward, not right and left. Hollywood meddling is almost as old as Hollywood itself. The celluloid reality isn’t real at all.
Bardem should ask deeper questions. He is a father, a husband, and a philanthropist with a decent track record. When you work on humanitarian causes, whether as an activist or as a missionary, there is always the potential difficulty in separating our empathy from the need for good policy.
Rocking a Che Guevara t-shirt, or professing concern for Fidel Castro’s health and praising the Cuban health system does not a humanitarian make. Michael Moore, the 9/11 truther and director, has made millions off of praising a dictator. It’s absurd. True equality is about the equality of opportunity, freedom, and access to justice.
The celluloid image cooked up by Sean Penn, or Oliver Stone, or the RFK Center should never be confused with the realities on the ground and the right way to influence policy makers.
This column originally appeared on RICOCHET.
[Dislosure: I'm the Managing Director of Global Advocacy at Just Consulting in Alexandria, Virginia. The firm is a registered foreign agent for the Kingdom of Morocco.]
Matters of love, of desire, of reconciliation and surrender exist with or without our consent. Venus in Furs by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch offers insight and observation, with a raw, ragged edge:
Certainly,” I said, “I have often told you that pain holds a peculiar attraction for me, and that nothing kindles my passion quite so much as tyranny, cruelty and above all unfaithfulness in a beautiful woman.
So noted, Leopold.