What to Do About ISIS?

Posted in On Foreign Affairs, On War and Peace in the Mid East! with tags , , on February 5, 2015 by playthell
 ISIS murder of JapaneseAdvertising the murder of Japanese Citizens

 They Must be No Longer at Ease

These days I find myself of one heart with the ancient Roman Senator Cato the Elder, who ended every speech with the declaration: “Carthage must be Destroyed!”   The rational for the Senator’s demand was that the North African nation’s very existence posed a danger to Rome.  After all, Carthage had been the staging ground for the invasion of Rome by the great general Hannibal, who surprised and amazed the Romans by crossing the Alps with elephants. Today a rag tag group of armed Islamic zealots pose a clear and present danger to the international order by carving out a fanatical Islamic Caliphate in the sands of Syria and Iraq that refuse to recognize the legitimacy of international law, or man-made laws of any kind, especially if they are the product of a democratic process.

In their view only Sharia is valid, the laws dictated by God/Allah to the Islamic prophet Muhammad.  If God has given you the law it is perfect, they argue, how can man improve upon it? They see blasphemy in the thought.  Calling their desert stronghold the Islamic State of Syria and Iraq aka ISIS, their supreme leader Caliph Ibrahim, an Islamic theologian with a PhD in Sharia Law, is so convinced that he is carrying out the will of God/Allah he routinely orders gruesome murders of captives – citizens of sovereign states big and small – and films them for display on the internet.  These shocking crimes have provoked a howl across the globe, with multinational voices chanting: “Isis Must Be Destroyed!”

Indeed ISIS has left the citizens of the world little choice.  The pacifist may cry out for negotiation but their pleas are destined to fall on deaf ears.  It is clear to anyone who have been paying attention to the murderous antics of ISIS that negotiating with them is a fool’s errand…a pipe dream induced by ideological opiates.

Alas, one cannot negotiate with people who are led by a religious potentate with a doctorate in Islamic Law, and is convinced that he alone holds the blueprint for constructing the perfect world.  When this belief is accompanied by the idea that the end justifies the means and mass murder is an acceptable process for bringing about the new world order, plus they are recruiting Jihadists from among your populace and training them for attacks on their home land, the international community is left no choice but to destroy the aggressive state or movement.

The belief that ISIS must be destroyed has been declared by no less an Islamic authority than the theologians at the University of Al Azhar in Egypt, the land that gave birth to the modern Jihad. (see: *Of All the Places in the Islamic World, Why Egypt?)  After watching the video of Jordanian pilot Mouath al-Kasaesbeh being burned alive by ISIS militants, Muslim Scholars at the 1000 year old University of al Azhar, the most revered authority on Islamic doctrine in the Sunni world, denounced the Sunni militants in ISIS.

Their statement expressed deep anger over the lowly terrorist act” and called ISIS “a Satanic terrorist group.”  And the Qatar based International Association of Muslim Scholars, led by the widely respected theologian Youssef al-Qaradawi, called the burning a crime and issued this statement: The Association asserts that this extremist organization does not represent Islam in any way and its actions always harm Islam.”

Upon first hearing of these statements I was surprised that the Scholors at al Azhad finally spoke out on the theology of ISIS, as they have repeatedly refused to comment on the authenticity of ISIS’ interpretation of Islam.  Hence I naturally assumed that the issuing of collective statements on behalf of institutions provided a smokescreen by which the scholars could mask their individual identities….and for good reason given the murderous proclivities of ISIS.  However many scholars have courageously stepped forward and issued critical statements in defense of their religion under their own name and authority which amount to scathing denunciations of ISIS; declaring their beliefs and actions “un-Islamic.

First among these is Ahmed al-Tayeb, The grand sheikh of Al-Azhar, who said the ISIS militants ought to be “killed, crucified or to have their limbs amputated.”  Salman al-Odah, a prominent Saudi Imam, called the incineration an abomination and declared: It is rejected whether it falls on an individual or a group or a people, only God tortures by fire.” Most compelling of the condemnations is that of Abu Sayaf, a Salafist Imam from Jordan whose nom de plume among the Jihadists in al Qaeda is Mohamed al Shalabi.

Sayaf is no stranger to militant Islamic activity, having served ten years in a Jordanian prison for organizing an attack on US soldiers, but he views the actions of ISIS as a misrepresentation of Islamic teaching that is destructive to the Islamist movement. Sayaf argues:

“This weakens the popularity of Islamic State because we look at Islam as a religion of mercy and tolerance, even in the heat of battle, a prisoner of war is given good treatment.  Even if the Islamic State says Muath had bombed, and burnt and killed us and we punished him in the way he did to us, we say, ok. But why film the video in this shocking way, the method has turned society against them,’’

The principle theme in all of the condemnations of this type is the vindication of Islam through the rejection of ISIS’ atrocities, which the militants justify through the application of Islamic law.  However they have a big problem: Since there is no central authority that the billion Muslims in the world can look to as the final authority on Islamic doctrine – like the Catholic Pope or the Mormon Prophets – the matter of doctrine is open to various interpretations.  Which allows Caliph Ibrahim, who is an authority on Islamic law, to dismiss his critics as ignoramuses and charlatans, even worse they can be declared apostates and have their heads lopped off with a scimitar.

Apparently anticipating a theological dustup about their public torching of a Sunni Muslim pilot, ISIS issued a Fatwa; a religiously inspired death penalty that can be ordered by a high ranking religious leader against anyone deemed to have profaned the Islamic faith.  The Fatwa placed on the Indian Muslim novelist Salman Rushdie by the Ayatollah Homeni, leader of the Islamic revolution in Iran, is the most poignant case of a condemned man under Fatwa; he is still in hiding and running for his life after two decades!

In the Fatwa issue by ISIS, the theological justification for burning the Jordanian pilot is argued with a scholarly rigor that sets forth chapter and verse.   In a February 2, 2015 analysis titled, Fatwa: How Islamic State Justifies Burning Pilot Alive, written by Raymond Ibrahim, a widely respected expert on militant Islam, we are told:

 “The brief fatwa argues that “the Hanafis and Shafi‘is [two of Sunni Islam’s four orthodox schools of jurisprudence] permit burning’ people.  Next the fatwa quotes the eminent Hafiz ibn al-Hajar (d. 1449) who comments that ‘the deeds of the companions [of Muhammad] evince the permissibility of burning, and the prophet put out the eyes of the men of Urayna with a heated iron [he also cut their hands and feet off], and Khalid bin al-Walid burned some of the people who apostatized’… None of this is surprising…every atrocity IS has committed—whether beheading, crucifying, raping, enslaving, or now immolating humans—has precedents in Islam, whether in the deeds of Muhammad, that most “perfect” and “moral” man (Koran 33:21, 68:4) or his revered companions.”

 No Shame in his Game: Caliph Ibrahim believes ISIS is following Sharia
ISIS Burns Pilot 
The fire this time!

 As we can see by comparing this exegesis on the theological foundation of ISIS’s Fatwa, which justifies the burning of the Jordanian pilot, with the denunciations of the Islamic scholars cited above, there is no agreement on what the correct teaching of Islam is on the critical issue of human immolation.  The obvious consequence of this ambiguity of interpretation is that the preachments of those scholars who oppose ISIS will fall on deaf ears.  And I suspect that after some of these are deemed apostates and murdered it will be harder to find oppositional theologians who are willing to go on record.  All of this leads to one conclusion: ISIS must be destroyed with military might…and the sooner the better!

But how is this to be accomplished when the US President has promised the American people that he will never, ever, ever, send American ground troops to fight ISIS? Whatever solution President Obama decides on it cannot involve American “boots on the ground!”  But even if he were willing to order troops to the area right now victory would not be easily won.

This is because fighting ISIS requires getting involved in a quagmire of conflicting religious and ethnic grievances whose roots lay deep in centuries of tortured Islamic history.  Tom Friedman, the three time Pulitzer Prize winning Foreign Affairs columnist for the New York Times, provides an insightful summation of the problem in a September 2, 2014 essay titled “Ready, Aim, Fire. Not Fire, Ready, Aim.

 To defeat ISIS you have to address the context out of which it emerged. And that is the three civil wars raging in the Arab world today: the civil war within Sunni Islam between radical jihadists and moderate mainstream Sunni Muslims and regimes; the civil war across the region between Sunnis funded by Saudi Arabia and Shiites funded by Iran; and the civil war between Sunni jihadists and all other minorities in the region — Yezidism, Turkmen, Kurds, Christians, Jews and Alawites. When you have a region beset by that many civil wars at once, it means there is no center, only sides. And when you intervene in the middle of a region with no center, you very quickly become a side.”

Yet, even so,  given the increasing dangers posed by ISIS to everybody that disagrees with them, American intelligence agencies should be tasked with finding the factions that will work in a coalition with the limited objective of defeating ISIS.  And since bitter experience has demonstrated that giving weapons to any “side” in this complicated conflict usually results in them ending up in the arsenals of the Jidadist, prudence dictates that we seek another strategy. Here is the ideal opportunity to finally take the historic step of removing the restrictions placed on Japan in the aftermath of World War II, which prohibits them from deploying armed forces beyond their borders to resolve international disputes.

Many members of the US Congress have called for the lifting of this prohibition – which was written into their post-war constitution under American direction as part of their “unconditional surrender” after being devastated by American atomic bombs during World War II. And regional Pacific powers such as Australia, feeling threatened by the growing might of China, are also calling for Japan to play a larger military role in international affairs.  It is no secret that this would be to the liking of the Japanese Prime Minister Abbo, who has made no secret of his desire to strengthen Japan’s military posture…even  acquiring nuclear weapons.  The Prime Minister has openly questioned the reliability of the American “Nuclear Umbrella” by raising the critical question of whether Americans whould risk nuclear war with China to defend Japan.  However in my view, any deal that would allow Japan to become a nuclear armed nation would be a dangerous Faustian Bargain and the Devil will one day claim our bodies and souls….it would be just a matter of time.

Hence what I have in mind is a far less grandiose plan.  Although if other nations that are less developed and technically competent than Japan such as India, Pakistan, Israel, South Korea, et al are allowed to build nuclear arsenals it is just a matter of time before Japan joins the Nuclear club….to think otherwise is self-deceptive folly.  But for the time being Japan could supply an affective armed force to confront ISIS on the ground. The brazen public murders of Japanese citizens on the internet while the Japanese government pleaded for their lives as they tried to work out a deal, has created public support for a Japanese invasion force to take the field against ISIS.

They have all he means to do the job and I think this could be their moment to renter the international arena as a military power.  No nation in the world has a longer history of military distinction than Japan, and some of their most influential thought leaders have made it plain that they do not like being known as  “a nation that produces beautiful flower arrangements.”   And they are anxious to remind the world that they are a great warrior nation.  I say let the remind us by taking the field against ISIS and removing them from the face of the earth….with the full backing of the rest of the world!  What to do about ISIS?  Therein lies your answer.

 

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Playthell The Elder
On the Road
February 4, 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Dream Deferred!

Posted in On Sports! with tags , , , on February 4, 2015 by playthell

Russell Wilson

The Little Big Man Leaves the Field: Beaten but Unbowed

 Reflections on the Super Bowl 2015

“I knew what was going to happen,” “I don’t know how I knew. I just knew. I just beat him to the point and caught the ball.” Says Malcolm Butler.

It was one of the most exciting Super Bowls I have witnessed….and I’ve seen them all.  It was a close game with grand competition and many great plays.  But because sports is what it is, a test of our physical and mental abilities on a level playing field where hard work and talent can’t be denied even by people who set up arbitrary standards for excellence, you can never predict with certainty how a game will end – who will emerge the victor or the vanquished. This is because sport has objective standards for performance and the competition to meet or exceed those standards are held in a public arena where anyone willing to pay the price of the ticket can witness it,  thus preventing foul play by corrupt cabals in back rooms who seek to fix outcomes.   In such an arena, where the pressure to win is unrelenting, greatness can arise from anywhere on the playing field.

This is clearly what happened on Sunday night in Super Bowl 2014, when two undrafted players on both sides of the ball performed on a level that might have won them co-MVP honors.  For instance, Chris Matthews, a 6’ 5” wide receiver who looks like a tight end is a compelling candidate.  Most football fans, including this writer, had never heard of Matthews before he recovered that onside kick which put Seattle in a position to win the game against Green Bay, the game that was the gateway to the Super Bowl.

A Star is Born!

USP NFL: SUPER BOWL XLIX-NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS VS S S FBN USA AZ

 A Saving Grace!
NFL: Super Bowl XLIX-New England Patriots vs Seattle Seahawks
Matthews kept the Hawks in the Game

Then Matthews,   who had never caught a pass in the NFL, came into the Super Bowl – the biggest arena in the world – and became a star right before our eyes.  Catching four passes for over a hundred yards and a touchdown, most of them spectacular, Matthews kept the Hawks in the game.   The way he was used in this game offers yet another example of the tremendous skill and football intelligence of quarterback Russell Wilson.

With his go to receivers Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse covered by the great cornerback tandem of Durelle Revis and Browner, Russell turned his attention to Matthews, providing him to opportunity to make some critical plays.  It was in keeping with Russell’s contention that he functions like a point guard in basketball, whose role is to distribute the ball to the players who are in the best position to make great plays.  Wilson threw the ball all over the field and his only interception was on the final play that cost them the game.

The defensive back that picked of the ball, Malcolm Butler, is another miraculous story.  Like Matthews, he was undrafted and unheralded.  I had never heard of him either.  But if you have ever watched the program “Undrafted” on the NFL Network, you will have some idea of the hellish experience such players go through on their rocky road to the NFL. And the performance of these two players demonstrate the excellent athletic gifts some of the also ran’s possess.  However Butler, a safety on the Patriots squad, thought his career was finished after he was burned on that fantastic catch by Jermaine Kearse that put the Hawks in the red zone.  Butler recalls “I just went up and deflected it. Nine times out of 10 it usually goes away from him but as I was looking, I saw him bobble it catch it. Which was devastating.”

Jermaine Kearse’s Magical Catch

Great superbowl catch by Jermaine Kearse

Kearse’s Circus Catch put Seattle in position to win!

Many Patriot fans began to get that doomsday feeling as they remembered the fantastic catch made against them by a receiver with the New York Giants in an earlier Super bowl that they lost.  However fate would soon present Butler with an opportunity for redemption and he made the play that won the game and ascended to instant superstar status whose name is now recognized around the globe!  He tells us how he came to make such a spectacular and consequential play: “I knew what was going to happen “I don’t know how I knew. I just knew. I just beat him to the point and caught the ball.”  And with that the intuitive Malcolm Butler enters into the realm of Super Bowl heroes whose deeds in that game will last as long as football is played.

                                                                  Malcolm   Butler’s critical interception
Butler Malcolm Super Bowl Hero     
The Safety who Saved the Patriots Season

For Russell Wilson the Super Bowl loss must be especially bitter, although he is taking it graciously despite the fact that some are blaming him for the loss.  Alas, nobody is more dedicated to winning than Russell.  Fans are also second guessing the coach and declaring his play calling “the dumbest play in Super Bowl history,” yet a close viewing of the video of the play reveals that it was a clever manuever against a defence that had stacked the box to stop Marshan Lynch, who every football fan in the world expected to get the ball. But the play was foiled by a ngreat dfensive play….which is how the game goes sometimes. Other malevolent trolls, racist and garden variety haters used Russell’s decision to throw the ball as proof that they have been right along: he just doesn’t have the right stuff to be a pro-quarterback.

Astonishingly, the haters repeat this mindless jibberish despite the fact that Russell played splendidly in this game, putting his team up by ten points in the fourth quarter and coming within a footstep from winning his second Super bowl in two years!  Had Russell made the goaline throw he would have secured an honored place in the pantheon of the game’s immortals and been well on the road to the Hall of Fame.  Once again we see that both success and failure are grand imposters that can switch places in the blink of an eye!  Alas, perhaps the Gods were not with Russell on this occasion….or maybe he is the victim of an incompetent coaching decision as multitudes believe.

Nevertheless Wilson has set exceedingly high standards and lofty goals for himself.  For after all is said and done, in the end he remains the winningest quarterback in NFL history over his first three years. And despite his graciousness in the face of defeat, he hates losing.  The fact that this game was in the pocket can only make defeat worse than it otherwise might have been.   But he kept his chin up, predicted victory next year with complete confidence, then exited the stage beaten but unbowed.

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See Malcolm Butler’s Interception
https://vine.co/v/OtEnVFt1eji 
See Chris Matthews Touchdown Catch
http://youtu.be/nc_SrdjqlO0

How Good is Russell Wilson?

Posted in On Sports! with tags , , , on February 1, 2015 by playthell
Russell-Wilson V
Launching the bomb with his Howitzer Arm

 They Call him Dangeruss!

Every time the question is raised regrding Russell Wilson’s standing among  today’s quarterbacks in the National Football League, whose  teams contain the greatest football players on earth, we get ambiguous prattle that damn him with faint praise like the following comment from football Sean Thomlinson of Bleacher Report: “

The human mind falls victim to recency bias far too easily, so foremost in our memories right now are Wilson’s two overtime throws that sealed an improbable comeback. It’s convenient to forget that until the 3:52 mark of the fourth quarter Wilson had eight completions, and he was the reason a series of miraculous events were needed to resuscitate title defense hopes.”

Sean offers this observation in an article titled “Russell Wilson’s Decision-Making Is a Concern Heading into Super Bowl,” where he also tells us “If Wilson’s decision-making and accuracy don’t reverse course swiftly, the Seahawks could have a repeat performance of the NFC Championship Game, just without the ending.” And to unambiguously demonstrate his point he reminds us that “Russell Wilson had a 0.0% accuracy rating under pressure in NFCCG. Just digest that. 0-of-6 with 5 sacks. Still won.” Wow!  Speak of damming with faint praise.  While the facts speak for themselves, what they actually mean depends upon how the observer interprets them; it’s the old bottle half empty or half full conundrum.

As for me, I think Thomlinson is emphasizing the wrong things.  I watched the game and what left the most lasting impression on me is the fact that Brady threw as many interceptions as Wilson when you consider the fact that two of the picks attributed to Wilson were dead on strikes but were dropped by the receivers.  And instead of overemphasizing the fact that Wilson had a bad first half, I am amazed by his poise under pressure; his never say die attitude; his ability to lift the morale of his players and inspire them to believe they can win, even as all the objective facts suggest that to continue to believe is a retreat into fantasy, and the consummate skills and superb judgment to overcome seemingly insurmountable odds and make the plays he needs to make while leading his team to victory!  That’s what left the lasting impression on me in the NFC championship game.

Russell Launches the bomb where only his reciever can get it……
Russell Wilson launching the bomb
………..And Kearse Cradles it for the Win!
Russell puts ball in Kerses arms to win
A Missile from Mr. Magic gets the W!

The more I watch young Russell Wilson the more I am convinced that he is capable of making any play the situation requires in order to win.  In an era of Fantasy Football which is obsessed with personal statistics Russell only cares about the win….which is the only statistic that matters to the entire team.  And, although many fans and commentators alike seem to forget it….winning is why you play the game!  If, as Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells points out, “you are what the numbers say you are,” Russ has got some very good numbers.

In terms of personal records, based on the length of time he has played in the NFL nobody can boast a better one.  For instance, he tied Peyton Manning’s all-time passing record for a rookie, and he set an all-time record by rushing for over a hundred yards and passing for over three hundred yards in a single game.  His quarterback efficiency record in playoff games was higher than Aaron Roger’s coming into the 2015 NFL Championship game; he is only quarterback in the history of the League to start in two Super Bowls during his first three years, and he is the winningest quarterback ever after playing his first three seasons in the NFL.

Despite this amazing record we still have people saying crazy things like he is “just a game manager,” or “he’s not that good a passer.”  Part of this reflects the desperation of disillusioned white guys who are suffering from an overload of black dominance in football.  Like me they have witnessed professional and major college football become increasingly dominated by black athletes.  However the quarterback position – which is equivalent to a Captain of a ship. Or the commander of a combat brigade in terms of his leadership responsibilities in running the operation – remained a white boy preserve long after the other positions were being masterfully and often spectacularly played by Afro-American athletes.

There was a mythology developed around the quarterback position that only Caucasian males had the right stuff – rapid decision making, accurate passing, poise and calm in the face of charging defensive lineman, etc.  – to effectively play the quarterback position.  Fran Tarkington, the Minnesota Vikings quarterback who lost four Super Bowls announced that he though guys with “blond hair and blue eyes” made the best quarterbacks.  He was of course blue eyed with blond hair.

However Dog Williams, a black man of “deepest dye” – as the 18th century Afro-American scientists Benjamin Banneker described himself to Thomas Jefferson in a letter calling Jefferson out about a racist remark he had made regarding Africans – murdered that myth when he humiliated John Elway in a crushing defeat of the Denver Bronco’s by the Washington Reskins in the Super Bowl.  The fact that the big blond blue eyed Elway looked like a Teutonic super hero, proved no advantage as Williams went on the set nine records in the championship game.

By the time Russell Wilson entered the NFL in 2012 black quarterbacks were no longer exotic figures, the lone exception that proved the rule, and rather than denouncing the athletic mobility that black quarterbacks bring to the game, they were being celebrated as “dual threat” quarterbacks – Randall Cunningham, .“Air” McNair, Donovan McNabb, Michael Vick, Colin Kapernick, RGIII, et al.   Ironically, in the contest between John Elway and Doug Williams it was Elway that was the “duel threat” and Williams was strictly a pocket passer who has said “I don’t believe in the quarterback running the ball.”

Yet, ironically, white quarterbacks have always been celebrated for their ability to “scramble” i.e. run away from the defensive players to avoid a sack should the pocket break down before they have an open receiver to throw to without fear of in interception.  Tarkington was famous for his scrambling ability, as was Elway and Roger Stauback aka “Roger the Dodger.”  In fact Bill Belichek, the great coach of the New England Patriots who will oppose Russell in the Super Bowl, and is tasked with stopping him, recently compared Russell to Staubach who is a first ballot Hall of Famer.

The hood wearing Belichek looks like the Grim Reaper in a bad mood and is notorious as a mumbler, a man of few words, who appears to be in pain each time he utters a word, yet he has been effusive in his praise of Wilson.  After studying Wilson on film Coach Belichek said the Seattle quarterback did everything well and “seemed to have a sixth sense about where the defensive men are” and this is what enable him to make spectacular running or throwing the ball.”  However draft “experts,” like the much celebrated Mel Kiper, denounced Coach Pete Carroll and the Seattle GM for drafting Russell Wilson, who they said was a good college quarterback but had about the same chance of surviving in the pros as a snowball in a pizza oven.

Watching video of Kiper and other wise guy naysayers at the time is an unending source of amusement for me.  Especially in view of the fact that some people saw Russell for the great player that he has always proven to be.  One of those who recognized his special gifts was his coach at the University of Wisconsin, Bret Bielema. Having graduated from North Carolina State University in three years, Russell was drafted by several baseball teams and spent a year on a Major League farm team before realizing that he would rather play professional football.  Since he had a year of college football eligibility left Wilson looked around for a team with a pro-style offense then applied to the University of Wisconsin to play his final year of college football.

Aside from their pass oriented pro-style offense Wilson was attracted by their huge offensive line whose shortest member was 6’ 5” and averaged over 320 pounds.  They would have been the fourth largest line in the NFL; hence Wilson would get a chance to show that he could throw the ball accurately behind the kind of huge offensive lineman he would encounter on the professional level.  And the person who had the best view of his performance that year was his head coach Bret Bielema, who had done such an impressive job at Wisconsin that he was being wooed by the Miami Dolphins for the head coaching job.

In a recent interview Bielema say he told the Dolphin management that he would guarantee them a Super bowl victory within five years if they took his quarterback Russell Wilson in the upcoming NFL draft.  The coach recollects what happened next: “

“They all looked at me like, ‘You can’t say that. That’s the difference between college and pro. He’s undersized. He can’t throw.’  I was like, ‘OK, all right,’ and I honestly, that day, kind of pulled myself out of it.”

Russell Wilson at Wisconsin
Russell wilson at wisconsin
Russell had no problem throwing the ball behind this massive line

Bielema was so certain that Russell Wilson was going to be a star in professional football that he turned the job down because he was convinced that they didn’t have the necessary vision to produce a championship team.  Well, history has proved him right.  The dolphins drafted Ryan Tannehill and have come nowhere the Super Bowl, whereas Russell will be starting in his second Super Bowl in three years!!!  One can only speculate about the fallout from the decision to take Tannehill over Russ, the proto- typical tall stiff white guy with a big arm over the smaller dual threat black guy, but I’d bet my bottom there are some hurt feelings and puzzlement over that decision…..and I would not be surprised to discover some heads have rolled.

While Russell Wilson is not the first, nor the most spectacular duel threat quarterback in terms of size or athletic prowess – see: “Is Colin Kapernick Transracial?” on this blog – he has been the most successful.  Wilson is the only duel threat quarterback yet to win a Super Bowl, and now he is poised to do it again. His record in games against the so called “elite” quarterbacks, most of whom have won at least one Super Bowl, is 10-0!  And he may well win the 2015 Super Bowl, which would make him the only quarterback to win two Super Bowls in his first three seasons in the NFL: Russell Wilson is a baaaad boy!  That’s why they call him “Dangeruss.”

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Highlights at the University of Wisconsin 2012
http://youtu.be/B8r7wLnb1xc
Highlighs from Pro Career
http://youtu.be/tdxvM2FySEg
Russell Dancing with Gransma Carroll
http://youtu.be/4SzLD983ovs
The throw that won the NFC Championship
http://youtu.be/MzvsIi7p2-0
Steven A: Damming Russ with faint praise
http://youtu.be/tJMdsoH_1HA

 

Playthell G. Benjamin
Feburary 1, 2014

Reaping What You Sow

Posted in On Foreign Affairs with tags on January 25, 2015 by playthell
Terrorists shootout in Paris
Islamic Jihadists firing assault rifles on Parisian Street

 Darkness in the City of Lights

If the terrorists attacks that struck Paris recently were not such tragic events, listening to the attempts by western journalists to explain the causes of the random slaughter of innocent patrons in a Kosher butcher shop and the planned assassinations of twelve workers at the Parisian magazine Charlie Hebdo that repeatedly published cartoons of Muhammad ibn Abdullah, the founding prophet of Islam – which millions of devout Muslims consider blasphemous – their vapid prattle would be funny.  More often than not their explanations boil down to the conclusion that it’s just some crazy Muslim terrorists who fell under the spell of mad mullahs that are jealous of the wealth and progress of western civilization, lost souls wilding on the streets of Paris with machine guns.

According to this narrative the shooters – native born French Muslims of Arab/African origin – are a murderous, misguided lot who are ungrateful to the French nation and people for graciously allowing their parents to settle in the affluent enlightened realm of French Civilization, rescuing them from the backwardness and poverty of their Arab homelands. Even Barack Hussein Obama, the son of an African Muslim, offered a paean to the superiority of French civilization and their “shared values” with American civilization – cherry picking the admirable ideals while conveniently forgetting the values that produced a history of oppression, slavery and genocide against people of color spanning centuries – helping to create the backward conditions in these countries. Viewed from the perspective of western commentators the terrorist actions are inexplicable; there is just no way to explain it logically.  This accounts for the endless stream of confusing prattle that masquerades as serious analysis from government officials and media talking heads.

However it is not ignorance alone that accounts for the low level of commentary, self-censorship is also at play.  For instance, President Obama is a brilliant man who is an astute observer of world affairs and knows this is self-serving BS, but he dare not admit that the Jihadists are motivated by any complaints that reasonable people can understand.  For to admit even the possibility of a rational motive would amount to challenging the master narrative that these terrorists are not inspired by any real grievance against western civilization but are driven to madness by a poisonous irrational Islamic theology.

The news anchors well understand that to admit the Jihadists have any legitimate complaint against domestic conditions in France, or the aggressive foreign policy of western nations against the Islamic world, could quickly end their careers.  Hence self-censorship is the rule…mum’s the word.  If it were not for the independent experts featured on these news shows we would have no understanding at all of what motivates the Paris assassins.

As I listen to the conversation I find myself reflecting on an encounter I had while strolling about the grounds of Notre Dame on a clear February morning during a visit to Paris in 1996, when the city was on high alert for terrorist attacks.  I had come to deliver a lecture on Wynton Marsalis at the Sorbonne.

The Gardens of Notre Dame
Notre Dame cover_image_492
Overlooking the Siene it is one of Paris’ grandest landmarks

As on previous trips I noticed the tentative somewhat downtrodden posture of black Parisians as they went about their business.  There was a kind of “hang dog” attitude that seemed to hover about them which was so different from the bold posture projected by black Americans as they strode about the streets of New York, exuding an attitude of confidence that the streets belonged to them as much as anyone. So when I happened upon a black man in the gardens of Notre Dame, and discovered that he had lived in the city for over twenty years, I pounced upon him with a barrage of questions about black life in Gay Paree.

Having been nurtured on tales about the French fascination with Black American music and dance; their racial tolerance, and the open cosmopolitan milieu of Paris that provided a safe haven for Afro-American artists and intellectuals – Josephine Baker, Sydney Bechet, Richard Wright, Chester Himes, et al. and produced the first black military aviator in the Ace fighter pilot Eugene Bulliard.  A people who cared so little about racial etiquette that the First lady of France had caused a major scandal in the US when she kissed the great Afro-American pugilist and elegant bon vivant “Sugar Ray” Robinson in the 1950’s.  I wondered how much of that racial good will remained.  It was hard to tell in the circles I was moving in because the only blacks I met were academics who dwelled in the rarified atmosphere of the academy.  So I put my questions about how the folk were faring to the brother in the garden.

Like Othello, he told “a round unvarnished tale.”  As it turned out his name was Trevor and he was of Jamaican origin.   He had migrated to Paris from London to pursue his profession as a thespian.  A triple threat actor, singer and dancer he initially found success and had a royal ball.  But then an anti-immigrant sentiment began to grow in France; the more that black Africans from Senegal, Guinea, Ivory Coast and Afro-Arabs from Algeria, Libya and Morocco poured into France the more intense anti-immigrant racism became.  He told me that the atmosphere had become so poisoned that he was moving to Berlin.  On the morning that I met him he was just walking about the city conjuring up fond memories before bidding the City of Lights adieu.

Trevor went on to explain that Paris was still a tale of two cities, only now it would have been more accurate to call it a “tale of three cities” because Charles Dickens’ reference in his classic novel was to the class divide; now the city was divided on the basis of class, race and religion.  He explained that you don’t see many blacks on the streets of Paris at night because they lived in the suburbs where the bulk of poor blacks and Arabs lived. They were out of sight and definitely out of mind.  Most had but little contact with the swells, the creme de la crème who dwelled in the city.  And what is worse, even Arabs and blacks who had acquired advanced university degrees in business and the professions often could not find employment commensurate with their training.  The situation sounded a lot what I had observed in London in 1981 (see: “On Being Black in London, ” posted on this blog, which is why Trevor had quit London for paris in the first place.

That same morning I noticed for the first time platoons of Africans in overalls and rubber boots washing down the streets and the monuments that adorn this sparkling squeaky clean city.  In such a social environment, where the life’s chances of young people are circumscribed by race and religion, there is bound to be a critical mass of alienated dispossessed youths seething with anger i.e. social dynamite.  Just nine years later, on October 27th 2005 these suburbs exploded and it took French authorities three weeks to quell the riots/rebellions.

The rioters, who were described as largely unemployed youths from the projects located over two hundred towns and villages ringing Paris, set fire to almost 10, 000 cars and many buildings of all sorts including daycare centers and schools.  Almost 30,000 people were arrested and over 100 policemen were injured.  A year later on October 1, 2006 in the same suburbs, and there have been violent flare ups as recent as 2013.  It is safe to say there will be more.  The poet Langston Hughes asked the essential question here: “What happens to a dream deferred….does it corrode or does it explode!”

What we are witnessing with the rise of home grown terrorists in France is an explosion of pent up anger and frustration whose causes lay not just in local conditions but in their identification with the wider world of Islam.  Hence their anger has taken on a sense of religious purpose which provided inspirational myths of a glorious past and a triumphant future through the establishment of a global Caliphate based on Sharia Law; which is the vision of Al Qaeda and ISIS.   The vehicle by which the New Islamic empire will be brought into being is the Jihad; it is a vision that limitless legions of young Muslim men are prepared to kill and die for.

 Wall Art in the Suburbs of Paris
Wall art in Paris Suburbs
An accurate reflection of the mood of many alienated Afro-Arab Youths

 Consider the statement of Boubakar al Hakim, a French Jihadists who fought American forces in Iraq, given to a French Radio station from the battle front in 2003 and reprinted in the New York Times on January 12, 2015.   “All of my friends…I tell them to come do the Jihad.  All of my brothers who are over there, come to defend Islam.  They are wimps, wimps and buffoons. The Americans aren’t anything.  I am ready to fight on the front line.  I am even ready to blow myself up, to put dynamite and Boom! Boom!  We will kill all of the Americans.  We are the Mujahedeen.  We want death.  We want paradise.”  We hear echoes of this declaration in the statements of the Kouachi brothers who attacked the offices of Charlie Hebdo and announced that they sought “Martyrdom.”  It proved to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

In a country with a Muslim population numbering in the millions there is obviously no easy solution to the problem of Jihadists.  The French President Francois Hollande has strongly denounced the terrorists and called for “moderate” Muslim clerics and scholars to repudiate the theology of the Jihadists, and for assimilated Muslims to engage with the youths to show them the error of Jihadist tactics.  Added to the police powers of the state these initiatives represent the core of government involvement with Muslim youths.  Central to their strategy is to vigorously deny that there is a “clash of civilizations” between Islam and the West; hence they must insist that the Jihadists are misrepresenting Islam.

The problem is that such a strategy has little chance of working with alienated youths fed up with the racism and economic discrimination heaped on them by white French society.  It is a policy that amounts to little more than a public relations offensive but offers no concrete solutions to the real problems faced by Africans and Arabs in France, which are exacerbated by the prolonged stagnation of the French economy and the rising racism expressed as anti-immigrant xenophobia fanned by the far right National Front Party headed by Marine Le Pen.

 Marine Le Pen
Marine Le Pen, National Front Leader
Is She the Next President of France?

During my 1996 visit to Paris I blundered into a demonstration by the National Front at which its founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, called “The Devil of the Republic” by his opponents, was the featured speaker.  It was a raucous affair and the hostility of the stares directed at me and my companion was palpable, because they had no way of distinguishing me from the hated Africans they wanted to drive out of the country.

A former intelligence officer and Paratrooper with battle decorations Le Pen witnessed the collapse of the French empire in Southeast Asia and North Africa symbolized by the French defeats in the battle of Diem Bien Phu and the Algerian War.  He is a ultra-right wing nationalist politician who champions the superiority of French culture and built a loyal political constituency among those who feel threatened by nonwhite immigrants.  Although he fought to preserve the French Colonial Empire he now demonizes their former colonial subjects who have immigrated to France.

 Jean-Marie Le Pen
Jean-Marie-Le-Pen
Purveyor of a racist xenophobic populist politics of rage

Back then they were a fringe party, now they are the largest party in France by some estimates.  Spurred by the Jihadist assault, a resurgent right wing political force is making their agenda crystal clear; there was no shame in their game.  Angered by not being invited to what many are saying was “the largest mass demonstration in French history,” Marine Le Pen sounded like Sarah Palin – the Alaskan Barbarian who almost became Vice President of the United States.

For instance, casting herself as an outsider, and her disparagement of Paris,  sounds quite familiar.  “Ms. Le Pen’s embrace of exclusion perfectly fits her politics.” Reports the New York Times.*  “Using old tropes of the far right in France, she took pride in avoiding the capital, Paris, which she and her supporters view as the center of political corruption an cynicism, for ‘La France Profounde,’ the ‘real France’ of genuine patriots tied to their land and their provinces.”

It is amazing how the right wing everywhere adopts these silly tropes of the virtuous provincials vs. the corrupt cosmopolites; sounds remarkable like the new Republican Senator from the hayfields of Iowa who delivered the Grand Obstructionist Party’s reply to President Obama – Columbia, Harvard, Chicago, the ultimate cosmopolite!  When coupled with her racist rants against the African and Arab population in France, Ms. Le Pen’s arguments echo Hitler’s appeal to the German Volk.  It’s just new wine in old bottles.

Alas this reactionary attitude will not, indeed cannot, bring peace and internal stability to France.  Confronted with clandestine Islamic Jihadist forces composed of soldiers who welcome death and thus are not deterred by the threat of dying, this is essentially a war of ideas….and Ms. Le Pen is propagating the wrong ideas.  It may make her followers feel good, just like Sarah Palin, but it won’t win the hearts and minds of the alienated Muslim youths of France who are joining the Jihad in increasing numbers.  In fact, should they take power in the next election, as many observers are predicting, Marie Le Pen and the National Front will make a powerful recruiting poster for ISIS.  And they shall reap what they sow.

******************

Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
Janurary 25, 2014

A Mugging in Jerry’s World!

Posted in On Sports! with tags , , on January 13, 2015 by playthell
Cardale Jones running
The Amazing Cardale Jones: A True Duel Threat Quarterback

 After winning a National Championship Cardale should Go Pro

It is not often that we are afforded an opportunity to witness history in the making; last night was an exception.  For in the National College Championship game played in the billion dollar Texas play pen euphemistically called “Jerry’s World” – because it was built by Dallas Cowboy’s owner Jerry Jones – we witnessed the making of history in the event itself and in athletic performance.  There has never been a game to determine the national championship for major college football, and there has never been a quarterback like Cardale Jones.

A month ago he was the third string quarterback sequestered in anonymity riding the pine on the Ohio State bench.  Tonight he became the winning quarterback in the First College championship game when Ohio State mugged Oregon State in full public view.  No quarterback began his college football career as the starter in the Big Ten Championship Game, and none before Cardale went on to beat the #1 team in college football, and then leading the team to victory in the Championship game.

Hence Cardale Jones should turn a deaf ear to all of those who are counseling him to stay in college.  I am amazed at some of the unsolicited advice from so-called football wise guys among sports commentators like Mike Golic, the co-host of the ESPN morning show Mike and Mike, even if they are former pro-players.  For despite their pretentions of prescience in football matters, we have too many examples of when they were wrong about the potential of players to succeed in professional football, and they are most often wrong about quarterbacks.

We need only look at the examples of Tom Brady, Joe Montana, Ryan Leaf, Jemarcus Russell, Todd Marinovitch, RGIII and Russell Wilson, et al.  Ryan Leaf was one of the most heralded college quarterbacks to enter the National Football League, everybody predicted that he would be a sensation, but he was a spectacular bust and is now serving time for having for having turned to a life of crime.  Jemarcus Russell was even more hyped and he too went bust.

In Command at the National Championship
Cardale Jones in championship Game
Cardale demonstrated that he is ready for the NFL

On the other hand Tom Brady barely made it into the league; he was drafted with the 177th pick.  He was not only unsung when he came out of Michigan but nobody expected him to get much beyond the practice squad.  Like Cardale at Ohio State, Brady was a third stringer with the New England Patriots and might never have gotten off the bench in a real game unless both the starting quarterback and the backup were sidelined due to injury, a very rare circumstance; one was just as likely to be struck by lightning.  But it did happen, Brady got a chance to play, and he didn’t lose a game…right up to the Super Bowl and a world Championship.  Cardale Jone’s college career has mirrored Brady’s experience in the pros.  One other notable example of a third stringer who has found even more spectacular success is Russell Wilson, quarterback with the reigning World Champion Seattle Seahawks.

Wilson, a great all-around athlete and outstanding young man who graduated from college in three years, was drafted by three professional baseball teams.  But after playing baseball for a year he decided that he liked football better and went back to college in order to play out his final year of eligibility. He systematically chose the University of Wisconsin because of the huge size of their offensive lineman, averaging 6’ 7” and weighting over 300 pounds.  Wilson’s intention was to answer a pressing question about his ability to perform on the professional level due to his height: the ideal pro-quarterback is 6’ 4” and above weighing at least 220 pounds.  Russell Wilson is around 5’ 11” 205 pounds.  Thus despite an impressive winning record in major college football he was drafted in the third round and destined to play on the practice squad.

However Russell was so impressive when he went to camp with the Seahawks he won the starting job in practice before the season began!   This was unprecedented in professional football, especially since they had just signed Mike Flynn as the starting quarterback for ten million dollars.  Over the last three seasons Russell Wilson has won more games than any quarterback in the history of the NFL over the same period of time.

He has also set some all-time records – such as passing for over 300 yards and rushing for over a hundred in a single game.  Yet many teams passed over him because of his size.  But John Gruden, the former Super Bowl winning coach and astute evaluator of quarterback talent as host of the television show Gruden’s Quarterback Camp, predicted that Russell would be great after working him out and interviewing him to assess his football skills physically and intellectually.  He also predicted that the teams that passed over him would live to regret it….and history has proven him right.

I am going to make a similar prediction about Cardale Jones: If he enters the draft he will be chosen, and when provided an opportunity to play he will emerge as a star in the National Football League.  My certainty on this question stands on firmer ground than that of the Supreme Court Justice who said although he couldn’t define pornography “I know it when I see it.”   In the case of Cardale Jones, I not only know that he is the real thing from just watching him play, I can also define the things that contribute to his greatness.

He is 6’ 5” and weighs between 250 – 260 pounds.  He has such a powerful throwing arm that his team mates nicknamed him “12 gage” because it reminds them of a shotgun.  Not only can he throw the ball 70 yards with the accuracy of a rifle with a flick of the wrist standing in the pocket or on the run.  Hence he is a true “dual threat” quarterback who can tuck the ball away and run with speed, power and elusiveness.  He obviously has a high football I.Q. based on the sound split second decisions he makes about when and where to throw the ball and when to run with it. And his poise in the pocket – i.e. grace under pressure – is worthy of an experienced NFL quarterback.  These are the tools of the trade that successful pro quarterbacks have employed.

Despite these obvious and indisputable assets, there is a chorus of naysayers who argue that Cardale should stay in college.  The reasons they give all sound like spurious nonsense to me.   The least convincing of these is that he should not enter the draft because we have not seen enough of his college play to get a solid sample of his abilities since he has only played in three games.  Here we have serious confusion between quality and quantity. When Professor Frederick Jackson Turner wrote his now famous treatise on the formation of American character “The Significance of the Frontier in American History,” the gravitas of his argument was such that nobody was willing to dismiss it because it expressed a game changing view of American society in a paper of only 13 pages rather than a book of a thousand.  Sometimes it does not require an extended view in order to recognize greatness.

When I look at Cardale Jones I think of my grandfather, who was an excellent tailor who learned his craft on London’s famous Saville Row, which is reputed to turn out the best tailors in the world.  He was so good at it that he was in charge of the entire coat making division for Botany 500, which produced the finest suit one could buy “off the rack” anywhere in America.  The fact that he had hundreds of white tailors working under him – whom he hired and fired – in a racist American society where a black tailor could hardly get a job on this level attests to his mastery of the tailor’s trade.   One day he was talking about how he assessed the quality of the tailors who applied for jobs.  “They all think that I make my decision based on how they cut the pattern,” Pop said, “but I can tell what quality of tailor they are by the way they balance the scissors.”

That’s how I feel about Cardale Jones, and talent scout worth his hire should be able to see his greatness on the three games he played in college; if the can’t tell what quality of professional quarterback he will make they should find another line of work.  To those who argue  that he lacks experience and thus is unprepared to lead an NFL team just now I say: so what?  For most of the history of the NFL young quarterbacks were expected to sit and observe a master at work for about three tears; it is only recently that rookies have been expected to start.

Quarerbacks were chosen on the basis of their talent and the potential it represente.  Most of the Hall of Fame quarterbacks did not start as rookies, and a prospect who promised a decade or more as a great starting quarterback is a damn good bet; the kind of pick that could make a coach and General Manager’s career.  Cordale Jones was pitted against this year’s Heisman winning quarterback Marcus Mariota – who was being discussed as possibly the #1 pick in the draft, over the sensational Florida State quarterback Jamis Winston, last year’s Heisman winner and quarterback of the national champions whom the Ducks blew out in the first round of the playoff competitions –   and he looked like a grown man competing with teenage boy.  I believe Jones is a superstar waiting in the wings; he is ready to perform on the big stage in prime time.  Despite what the so-called football wise guys say, I predict that Cardale Jones will be drafted in the first round should he enter the draft.

I am also convinced that he would be one of the biggest fools the Gods ever blew breath in should he return to Ohio State.  There is no upside to it, he has already declared in a tweet that he came to Ohio to play football and he has been here and done that splendidly.  There is nothing more to be gained by staying in college; he can get a degree when his pro football career is over, as he will still be a young man and rich enough to do whatever he wants in life.  Alas, football is a violent and dangerous game in which a career can be ended in a single hit; hence it is folly to play one more down of college football…let alone another season. And if I were Cordale I would throw my hat in the ring, kiss college goodbye – where he is making millions for the colleges and coaches – take the money and run!

 A True Duel Threat.

Cardale Jones - assing

He can sling the ball all over the field accurately
And he is a great runner…
Cardale Jones, Champion 
 That can run around you….or over you!

********************

Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
Janurary 13, 2014

Reflections on Abraham Lincoln and Slavery

Posted in Uncategorized on January 5, 2015 by playthell

 

Rappin with Robert Allen Jones, Janie Jones and Miss Barbra 002 The First Baptist Church of St. Augustine Florida

 A New Year’s Remembrance circa 2015

When I was a boy the black churches in Florida used to hold a “Watchman” service every New Year’s Eve. As I remember it we would gather in First Baptist Church around ten o’clock, and there would be singing and sermons and communal prayers. At some point the electric lights would be turned off and we would sit by candle light as the preacher would call out “Watchman what time it is!” And the Watchman would reply “It’s eleven o’clock” and so on at various intervals growing shorter as we got round bout midnight until the New Year dawned and the congregation rejoiced in jubilation. Then we would enjoy a delicious repast prepared by the sisters in the basement of the church.

Held in the shadow of the old slave market, whose iron and stone structure was still standing a few blocks away just as it was during ante-bellum times, the Watchman ceremony had real meaning to the people at First Baptist. For unlike today, when young black people talk so glibly about how “nothing has changed” and a New York Times sports writer who ought to know better titles his book about rich black professional athletes “Forty Million Dollar Slaves,” there were still people in our community who had been been born into slavery and they and their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren were among those huddled in the church waiting for the clock to strike midnight.

The Old Slave Market in Downtown St. Augustine

My Trip to florida with Makeda ETC 509

We viewed this as a sobering symbol of how far we had come

 I have no doubt that if these people who carried the memories of slavery in their hearts and minds could hear 21st century Afro-Americans, living in a time when a black family occupies the White House and many other black people doing everything they are good enough to do, comparing their problems to those of slaves they would surely have regarded such words as the mutterings of fools or a scandalous attempt to mock their ordeal in the hell of American slavery – one of the worse systems of human bondage ever devised by the minds of evil men. Harriet Tubman said it was “worse than hell” and Frederick Douglass told a white audience “One minute” as an American slave “was worse than centuries of that which your forefathers arose in armed revolt against.” Hence to anybody that actually experienced slavery – like my Aunts Gussie and Sally, who showed me the lash marks from the overseer’s whip – the casual equations of their conditions with the problems faced by present day Afro-Americans would be viewed as blasphemy.

They would also have looked upon the denigration of Abraham Lincoln’s role in ending their bondage and bringing about the Day of Jubilee, when the Emancipation Proclamation became law, as sacrilegious. The reverence with which President Lincoln was held by Afro-Americans in St. Augustine Florida is self-evident in the name they chose for their community, the oldest in the nation, which before the Civil War was known as “Little Africa,” but after Emancipation was renamed “Lincolnville.” Even Frederick Douglass – who famously spoke in the city after the Civil War put an end to slavery – and was quite candid in his criticism of Lincoln, had this to say about the assassinated president at the Washington dedication of the statue by Thomas Ball known as the “Freedman’s Memorial,” on April 14, 1876:

“We are here in the District of Columbia, here in the city of Washington, the most luminous point of American territory; a city recently transformed and made beautiful in its body and in its spirit; we are here in the place where the ablest and best men of the country are sent to devise the policy, enact the laws, and shape the destiny of the Republic; we are here, with the stately pillars and majestic dome of the Capitol of the nation looking down upon us; we are here, with the broad earth freshly adorned with the foliage and flowers of spring for our church, and all races, colors, and conditions of men for our congregation — in a word, we are here to express, as best we may, by appropriate forms and ceremonies, our grateful sense of the vast, high, and preeminent services rendered to ourselves, to our race, to our country, and to the whole world by Abraham Lincoln.”

Douglass would go on to say: “we, the colored people, newly emancipated and rejoicing in our blood-bought freedom, near the close of the first century in the life of this Republic, have now and here unveiled, set apart, and dedicated a monument of enduring granite and bronze, in every line, feature, and figure of which the men of this generation may read, and those of aftercoming generations may read, something of the exalted character and great works of Abraham Lincoln, the first martyr President of the United States.”

The Freedman’s Memorial

Freedman's Memorial II

A Commemoration by Former Slaves

Having begun by unambiguously enumerating Lincoln’s virtues, Douglass, the most incisive and thoughtful commentator on the great issues of his time, understood that in order to learn from history one had to first tell it like it was. Hence he made no attempt to mask Lincoln’s shortcomings. He told the august gathering:

We fully comprehend the relation of Abraham Lincoln both to ourselves and to the white people of the United States. Truth is proper and beautiful at all times and in all places, and it is never more proper and beautiful in any case than when speaking of a great public man whose example is likely to be commended for honor and imitation long after his departure to the solemn shades, the silent continents of eternity. It must be admitted, truth compels me to admit, even here in the presence of the monument we have erected to his memory, Abraham Lincoln was not, in the fullest sense of the word, either our man or our model. In his interests, in his associations, in his habits of thought, and in his prejudices, he was a white man.

He was preeminently the white man’s President, entirely devoted to the welfare of white men. He was ready and willing at any time during the first years of his administration to deny, postpone, and sacrifice the rights of humanity in the colored people to promote the welfare of the white people of this country. In all his education and feeling he was an American of the Americans. He came into the Presidential chair upon one principle alone, namely, opposition to the extension of slavery.

His arguments in furtherance of this policy had their motive and mainspring in his patriotic devotion to the interests of his own race. To protect, defend, and perpetuate slavery in the states where it existed Abraham Lincoln was not less ready than any other President to draw the sword of the nation. He was ready to execute all the supposed guarantees of the United States Constitution in favor of the slave system anywhere inside the slave states. He was willing to pursue, recapture, and send back the fugitive slave to his master, and to suppress a slave rising for liberty, though his guilty master were already in arms against the Government.

The race to which we belong were not the special objects of his consideration. Knowing this, I concede to you, my white fellow-citizens, a pre-eminence in this worship at once full and supreme. First, midst, and last, you and yours were the objects of his deepest affection and his most earnest solicitude. You are the children of Abraham Lincoln. We are at best only his step-children; children by adoption, children by forces of circumstances and necessity.”

Frederick Douglass

Frederick douglass III

The Wisest Voice in the Nation

Then with his characteristic eloquence and unfailing evenhanded approach to argument, he noted:

“When, therefore, it shall be asked what we have to do with the memory of Abraham Lincoln, or what Abraham Lincoln had to do with us, the answer is ready, full, and complete. Though he loved Caesar less than Rome, though the Union was more to him than our freedom or our future, under his wise and beneficent rule we saw ourselves gradually lifted from the depths of slavery to the heights of liberty and manhood; under his wise and beneficent rule, and by measures approved and vigorously pressed by him, we saw that the handwriting of ages, in the form of prejudice and proscription, was rapidly fading away from the face of our whole country; under his rule, and in due time, about as soon after all as the country could tolerate the strange spectacle, we saw our brave sons and brothers laying off the rags of bondage, and being clothed all over in the blue uniforms of the soldiers of the United States; under his rule we saw two hundred thousand of our dark and dusky people responding to the call of Abraham Lincoln, and with muskets on their shoulders, and eagles on their buttons, timing their high footsteps to liberty and union under the national flag; under his rule we saw the independence of the black republic of Haiti, the special object of slave-holding aversion and horror, fully recognized, and her minister, a colored gentleman, duly received here in the city of Washington; under his rule we saw the internal slave-trade, which so long disgraced the nation, abolished, and slavery abolished in the District of Columbia; under his rule we saw for the first time the law enforced against the foreign slave trade, and the first slave-trader hanged like any other pirate or murderer; under his rule, assisted by the greatest captain of our age, and his inspiration, we saw the Confederate States, based upon the idea that our race must be slaves, and slaves forever, battered to pieces and scattered to the four winds; under his rule, and in the fullness of time, we saw Abraham Lincoln, after giving the slave-holders three months’ grace in which to save their hateful slave system, penning the immortal paper, which, though special in its language, was general in its principles and effect, making slavery forever impossible in the United States. Though we waited long, we saw all this and more.”

The wise and candid Douglass, who had devoted his entire adult life to the struggle for the abolition of slavery, who had rejected the call to African emigration issued by the nationalist intellectuals who opted for “African Redemption,” a euphemism for Afro-American colonization of Africa supported by the white racist in the American Colonization Society, asked if free blacks left America: “who would speak for the millions in chains.” Having been a slave – unlike the African Redemptionist such as Reverend Alexander Crummell, Dr. Martin R. Delany, and Reverend Edward Wilmont Blyden -no one was more emotionally invested in the evolution of the Emancipation Proclamation in a land where the enslavement of Africans and their descendants was a life sentence.   And he provides us moving first hand testimony as to the mood of African Americans on the eve of the Emancipation…the first “Watch Night.”

Can any colored man, or any white man friendly to the freedom of all men, ever forget the night which followed the first day of January, 1863,” he asks, “when the world was to see if Abraham Lincoln would prove to be as good as his word? I shall never forget that memorable night, when in a distant city I waited and watched at a public meeting, with three thousand others not less anxious than myself, for the word of deliverance which we have heard read today. Nor shall I ever forget the outburst of joy and thanksgiving that rent the air when the lightning brought to us the emancipation proclamation. In that happy hour we forgot all delay, and forgot all tardiness, forgot that the President had bribed the rebels to lay down their arms by a promise to withhold the bolt which would smite the slave-system with destruction; and we were thenceforward willing to allow the President all the latitude of time, phraseology, and every honorable device that statesmanship might require for the achievement of a great and beneficent measure of liberty and progress.”

Black Folk at Watchman Ceremony

Watchman Service on New Year's Eve

A black southern church in the early 20th century

For anyone interested in a balanced assessment of Abraham Lincoln this speech by Frederick Douglass is a must read; the text can be easily found on Google. But for the purpose of this essay I shall offer but one other quote. It was selected for its clarity in stating a fact that few of Lincoln’s contemporary critics recognize: Politics is the art of the possible! Douglas, astute political analyst that he was, understood that Lincoln was not a king; that his power was checked by two other branches of government, and that powerful members of both branches vehemently opposed any attempt at emancipating black slaves. Given that reality he had to make deals, enter into compromises that offended moral purists. He did not always understand this and was wont to condemn these vacillations, but in the end Douglass saw the light.

I have said that President Lincoln was a white man, and shared the prejudices common to his countrymen towards the colored race. Looking back to his times and to the condition of his country, we are compelled to admit that this unfriendly feeling on his part may be safely set down as one element of his wonderful success in organizing the loyal American people for the tremendous conflict before them, and bringing them safely through that conflict. His great mission was to accomplish two things: first, to save his country from dismemberment and ruin; and, second, to free his country from the great crime of slavery. To do one or the other, or both, he must have the earnest sympathy and the powerful cooperation of his loyal fellow-countrymen. Without this primary and essential condition to success his efforts must have been vain and utterly fruitless. Had he put the abolition of slavery before the salvation of the Union, he would have inevitably driven from him a powerful class of the American people and rendered resistance to rebellion impossible. Viewed from the genuine abolition ground, Mr. Lincoln seemed tardy, cold, dull, and indifferent; but measuring him by the sentiment of his country, a sentiment he was bound as a statesman to consult, he was swift, zealous, radical, and determined.”

Alas, as the learned and insightful social/intellectual historian and thoughtful commentator on America politics and culture Harold Cruse has observed: Americans are anti-intellectual and anti-historical. Thus people who regard themselves as well educated enough to post their opinions about weighty historical matters on Facebook – that great unmediated forum of opinion – do not take the time to read what Frederick Douglass thought of President Lincoln, despite the fact that they were contemporaries and Douglass watched his every move because ending slavery was the grand crusade of his life. Instead they seek the opinion of popular historians and magazine writers and swear by them.

Indeed, the raison d’etre of this essay is just such an opinion posted on Facebook. The self-assured commentator is convinced that he has found out “the truth” about Lincoln he feels compelled to spread it with the conviction of a Jack legged preacher proclaiming “the good news,” and with no less conviction.

“Folks really need to read Lerone Bennett’s book on Lincoln, “Forced Into Glory.” the writer tells us, “People like Lyman Trumball, Wendell Phillips, Thaddeus Stevens, all more progressive than Lincoln on race. Lincoln used nigger more than Richard Pryor and refused to sign two of the Confiscation Acts which would have doomed slavery years before the Emancipation Proclamation. And the emancipation thing enslaved a half million black people when it was enacted and freed none. But yeah I get the popular mythology of Lincoln”

President Lincoln at Antietam Battlefield

Abraham Lincoln Antietam

The Civil War….and Lincoln’s prosecution of it is no myth

Like most polemics that prize passion over reason this argument misses the mark by a mile.  From the outset our self-styled savant is fatally handicapped by his ignorance of history.    Lyrone Bennet Jr, a friend and respected scribe with whom I shared the podium on several occasions, was a very compelling magazine feature writer, not a professional historian.  This is a distinction that laymen are not equipped to understand but is in a very real distinction nonetheless.

In a nutshell what it boils down to is that historians go to the original records and attempt to present objective arguments based on that evidence regardless of their personal feelings about the subject.  And the work they produce is subjected to rigorous peer review.  Stacking the evidence in order to make a polemical point is called “Special Pleading.”  In its worst manifestation it is called “popular mythology,” which is what magazine writers do.  It is an approach to historical writing that is universally rejected by professional historians, and for very good reason.

Lyrone Bennett was Senior Editor of Ebony Magazine, whose role as stated by its founder and longtime publisher, John Johnson, is to report positive news about black Americans and denounce racist discrimination.  It is a noble goal but it is not what professional historians are about.  The failure to understand this distinction is what led so many black writers to attack Dr. Manning Marable’s book on Malcolm X.  If you really want to understand something about the writing of modern scientific history read my essay “Is Dr. Marable’s Malcolm yet another Reinvention?” on this blog. ( And by the way, if you wish to know what qualifies me to present  this analysis read my resume on this site under “A thumbnail Sketch”)

For anyone to suggest that Abraham Lincoln was a passive figure in the emancipation of American slaves reveals an embarrassing ignorance.  The Emancipation Proclamation was a war time executive order, which ONLY a president could issue.  That way Lincoln could avoid the machinations of a contentious Congress, which would NEVER have voted to end slavery!  Furthermore Lincoln’s position on slavery evolved while he was in office.  When the South started the war he was a “Free Soiler” who mainly looked at slavery as an economic issue, although he personally abhorred the system he was a lawyer who recognized that it was LEGAL and thus had no intention of overthrowing it where it was already established, but he was opposed to its expansion onto “free soil” i.e. non slaveholding states.  However during the war he became a passionate abolitionist who believed that slavery was a mortal sin.

There is no better indication of the depth of his commitment to ending slavery everywhere in the US than his refusal to make a compromise with the Confederates to end the war by allowing them to retain their slaves.  To those that know but little of history this may not seem like a big deal.  However let me point out a couple of facts that should be considered in assessing Lincoln’s opposition to slavery on moral grounds. The US Civil War was the most destructive war in the history of the world at the time, because it was the first war that used modern methods of production, transportation and technology.

Before it began nobody could envision what a bloody affair it would become.  That’s why Lincoln was urged by his closet advisors to end the war by compromising with the Confederates and allowing them to retain their slaves but he refused their advice! This is a compromise that he would have readily made BEFORE the war, but during the travails of war Lincoln spent his evenings reading Shakespeare and the Bible; he came to believe that the horrors of the war was God’s punishment of America for the “sin” of slavery – just as the “Founding Father” Thomas Jefferson, a former president and slave holder had earlier confessed regarding slavery: “I shudder for my nation when I reflect upon the fact that God is just.”   And Lincoln believed: “The judgments of the Lord are always right and just.”

Like everybody that ever lived Lincoln had his contradictions, but for a white man of his time he was enlightened in his view of race, otherwise he would NEVER have invited Douglass to the Inaugural Ball – the first black American to attend that prestigious gathering of the nation’s power elite – and definitely not proclaim him “the most meritorious man in the nation.”  These were radical acts by 19th century standards and cannot be dismissed with simple minded, ahistorical rhetoric based on 21st century standards.  That kind of thinking is mindless propaganda designed to make points in contemporary polemics not scholarly history.

Such tampering with the historical record may help win political arguments but does little to help us understand our past. Of course, I do not expect the average person to understand these distinctions, and thus to recognize their value, but being a compulsive pedagogue who is genetically predisposed to combat ignorance wherever I find it – especially about things that really matter – I feel compelled to offer this explanation of the difference between history and propaganda….i.e. “popular mythology.”

I reiterate: the greatest justification for presenting history based on rigorous adherence to the evidence is that this is the only way for us to learn the lessons it can teach. For instance the criticism made of President Lincoln by our Facebook savant is strongly reminiscent of the criticisms made of his fellow Illinois native Barack Obama today.  When the Facebook savant argues:“People like Lyman Trumball, Wendell Phillips, Thaddeus Stevens, all more progressive than Lincoln on race. Lincoln used nigger more than Richard Pryor and refused to sign two of the Confiscation Acts which would have doomed slavery years before the Emancipation Proclamation. And the emancipation thing enslaved a half million black people when it was enacted and freed none.”

In this one passage we can discern the basic themes in the anti-Obama polemics endlessly reiterated by critics among black and white leftists and Black Nationalists, who have accused him of everything from being a tragic mulatto with divided racial loyalties, to “the brown face of American imperialism.” The comparison with Trumbull, Phillips and Stevens with no mention of the powerful opposition Lincoln faced, is echoed in Cornel West’s criticism of President Obama for not being like Dr. Martin Luther King and other “black prophetic voices” of the past. It is an absurd expectation, the product of a mind trained in theology and philosophy and appears to have no idea of the complexities of politics or the different roles philosophers and politicians must play in society – for a thoughtful discussion of this difference see “On Moral Preachment vs. Political Realities” on this blog.

Then there is the ever present problem of “presentism” when layman discusses historical figures.  The charge that Lincoln used nigger more than Richard Pryor “ is a classic case in point.  Our Facebook savant obviously did not take into account the fact that the use of “nigger” to describe black folks was au courant at the time and was used by a wide variety of people of varying political views, including abolitionists passionately fighting to end slavery.  It was certainly not the subject of near universal condemnation as it was when Richard Pryor was using it in his monologues like a stuck record.  Yet there is no one who believes that Pryor’s intention was to insult or injure black people.  Here the commentator does not appear to make any distinction between words and deeds in assessing the intentions of the speaker or taking the measure of a man, only the race of the speaker is considered….and he is totally indifferent to historical context.

Randall Kennedy, an Afro-American Professor of law at Harvard, has made such distinctions in a thoughtful and provocative discussion in his book titled “Nigger.”  Professor Kennedy selects two white American historical figures that made monumental contributions to the political and cultural advancement of Afro-Americans, and thus based on their deeds cannot reasonably be accused of seeking to injure or insult us despite their documented use of the word “nigger”: Carl Van Vechten and Lyndon B. Johnson.

Van Vechten is well known to students of the Afro-American cultural movement of the 1920’s known to history as the Harlem Renaissance,  because he was one on the men who helped make it happen by introducing the works of black writers to major white publishers, and arranging salons in his downtown digs so that black artists could meet and fraternize with the patrons and exhibiters in the downtown art world, etc.    Yet Professor Kennedy tells us “Carl Van Vetchen, for instance, wrote of ‘niggers’ in correspondence with his friend Langston Hughes and Hughes did not object…should he have objected?” asks Kennedy.  To wit he replies “No. Van Vecthen, a key supporter of the Harlem Renaissance, had shown time and time again that he abhorred racial prejudice, would do what he could to improve the fortunes of Afro-Americans, and treasured his black friends.”

We see this same  attitude about the use of “nigger” by whites who are considered friends in the position taken by black players on the Miami Dolphins football team during the dispute between the Afro-American tackle Johnathan Martin and the white defensive end Richie Icognito.  When Johnathan Martin accused Incognito of hurling racist epithets at him the black players said it was cool for Ritchie to call them “niggers” because he was “more of a brother” than Martin. While this all sounds crazy to me, because I am not down with any white folks calling me nigger under any circumstance, we can see that other black people view the use of the word by some whites differently.

For Professor Kennedy it is purely the intent of the speaker that matters.  In President Lyndon Johnson he provides another compelling example of a friend of Afro-Americans who used the word “nigger” liberally in private conversation; about as often as Abraham Lincoln is said to have used it.   He tells us “In 1967, President Lyndon Baines Johnson decided to appoint an African American to the Supreme Court for the first time in American history.  First on Johnson’s list of candidates was Thurgood Marshall – “Mr. Civil Rights” the hero of Brown v. Board of Education and, of course, the man he ended up putting on the Court.  But before he announced his selection, Johnson asked an assistant to identify some other possible candidates.  The aide mentioned A. Leon Higginbotham, whom Johnson had appointed to the federal trial bench.  Reportedly, the President dismissed the suggestion with the comment “The only two people who ever heard of Judge Higginbotham are you and his mamma.  When I appoint a nigger to the Supreme Court, I want everyone to know he is a nigger.”

It ought to be obvious to all thoughtful readers by now that it is folly to equate Abraham Lincoln’s use of the word nigger with a hatred for black people.  And it ought to be abundantly clear that all talk about President Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation having nothing to do with the abolition of slavery is nothing more than ignorant prattle that reveals an innocence of any knowledge of the history of the period, alas.

Those who care to read a biography of Abraham Lincoln that reveals this complex man in all of his virtues and flaws, a man of conviction who vacillated to accommodate the realities of politics, read With Malice Toward None by Dr. Steven Oates.  And for an excellent account of how Lincoln was viewed by the abolitionist movement read Black Abolitionists, by the pioneering black historian and first biographer of Frederick Douglas Dr. Benjamin Quarles.  And finally, whatever contemporary Afro—Americans may believe about Abraham Lincoln, to those who endured American slavery and witnessed the coming of freedom, the people who huddled with their descendants in black southern churches as the Watchman called out the hour of night…Abraham Lincoln was their deliverer. Of this the great Frederick Douglass left no doubt:

Had Abraham Lincoln died from any of the numerous ills to which flesh is heir; had he reached that good old age of which his vigorous constitution and his temperate habits gave promise; had he been permitted to see the end of his great work; had the solemn curtain of death come down but gradually — we should still have been smitten with a heavy grief, and treasured his name lovingly. But dying as he did die, by the red hand of violence, killed, assassinated, taken off without warning, not because of personal hate — for no man who knew Abraham Lincoln could hate him — but because of his fidelity to union and liberty, he is doubly dear to us, and his memory will be precious forever.

Fellow-citizens, I end, as I began, with congratulations. We have done a good work for our race today. In doing honor to the memory of our friend and liberator, we have been doing highest honors to ourselves and those who come after us; we have been fastening ourselves to a name and fame imperishable and immortal; we have also been defending ourselves from a blighting scandal. When now it shall be said that the colored man is soulless, that he has no appreciation of benefits or benefactors; when the foul reproach of ingratitude is hurled at us, and it is attempted to scourge us beyond the range of human brotherhood, we may calmly point to the monument we have this day erected to the memory of Abraham Lincoln

 

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Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
 January 4, 2015

The Day After….

Posted in Cultural Matters, On Foreign Affairs with tags , , on December 19, 2014 by playthell
che_and_fidel_castro El Commandante Fidel and Comrade Che Guevara

 Cuba beyond Castro!

As the Cuban Revolution neared its 50th anniversary, much speculation occurred regarding what course Cuban society will take once its aging leader Fidel Castro passes from the scene. Any conjecture on the direction of Cuban society in the post-Castro era begs the question of what will be the character of US/Cuban relations in the future. Internal policy in Cuba has long been shaped by American foreign policy toward that Spanish-speaking Caribbean island ninety miles from the shores of Florida—the largest and most richly endowed island in the region in terms of natural and human resources.

It is impossible to understand the character of Cuban society today and seriously contemplate its future without taking the realities of the 1959 revolution and the American reaction to it into account. Whether we consider the poverty that plagues the island, the repressive internal policies, the refugees who brave the Florida straits, the ignorance of many young Cuban Americans about the motivations of the revolution that transformed the island in 1959 and the man who led it, any review is incomplete without an understanding of US policy toward the island nation. This is because the revolution, which has shaped contemporary Cuba more than any other event in the twentieth century, was in reaction to a system of social and economic relations largely determined by US interests.

In extensive interviews with American journalists Frank Mankiewicz and Kirby Jones, some fifteen years after the revolution, Castro spoke candidly about the conditions that gave rise to the revolution:

“To understand this it is necessary to understand Cuba as it was before the revolution. We had for example, close to 600,000 unemployed men out of a population of 6,000,000…We had a 30 percent illiteracy rate, more than a million illiterates. We lacked sufficient schools; more than 50 percent of the children did not attend school. We had a very bad public health situation, a high infant mortality rate, and other very serious problems, such as prostitution—close to 100,000 women lived off prostitution. We had gambling and beggars on the streets. In today’s Cuba you do not find any of these problems. Unemployment among the male population has disappeared and close to half a million women have joined the work force in addition to those already employed. Prostitution, begging, gambling, were eradicated. Illiteracy was overcome.”

Later, when Ballantine published these interviews as With Fidel, Arthur Schlesinger, a historian and former advisor to President Kennedy who had once supported aggressive policies toward Cuba remarked that “the time has come to rethink our policy toward Cuba.” His words ring true a quarter of a century later as the Bush Administration, driven by the local politics of the Miami based Cuban exile community, has returned to the aggressive policies Schlesinger rejected.

Saul Landau, American journalist and filmmaker, and professor emeritus at California State Polytechnic University,  has documented Castro in four separate films, corroborates the charismatic leader’s sentiments. “Infant mortality rate is equivalent to that of the U.S. and is certainly better than Washington D.C.; their life expectancy is the same as in the U.S. When the Cubans wash ashore, the “desperate” refugees have no cavities. [They] don’t suffer from diseases that people in the Third World tend to suffer from.” Literacy and infant mortality rates indicate how a society invests its resources, and the latter specifically correlate to the general health of the population. So in comparison to Brazil, the largest nation in Latin America that had five times more infant mortality—140 per thousand births vs. 27.4 per thousand—the stunning achievements of Castro’s regime in the area of developing human capital become evident.

 Sao Paulo: A Tale of Two Cities
Brazil's Darwinian class divide A Portrait of Brazil’s Darwinian Class Divide

Socialist order, people-oriented economic priorities, hard work, and discipline are the mainstays of Cuba’s achievements, but without Russian subsidization of their sugar production not nearly as much could have been accomplished. Russia’s economic support effectively shielded Cuba from the drastic fluctuations of the world market and the misguided protracted American economic embargo.

The collapse of the Soviet Union and the loss of those subsidies, along with an American embargo which was reinvigorated under the Bush administration, are at the root of the present economic crisis in Cuba. As a result, Cuba has placed renewed effort on promoting the tourist industry, which was de-emphasized during the early years of the revolution – as the Jamaicans say: “Empty belly mek dog lick sore foot.”

The Cuban revolution began as a democratic nationalist movement. It was a struggle against economic exploitation of the laboring classes and the police-state tactics of the rich, corrupt Cuban oligarchy and their armed agents who were prepared to use as much force as necessary to maintain the status quo. In his book The Mafia in Cuba, award-winning Cuban historian Enrique Cirules documented the underworld’s involvement in Cuban life as going far beyond the influence of whores, gambling, cocaine, or even control of the major nightclubs, hotels and casinos.

The Mob also became a major force in politics and economics. Less than two years before the revolution, Cirules wrote that “the US press assured readers that Congress was accumulating evidence to imprison the principal Mafia leaders on home soil. In Cuba, however…they ran a network of untouchable businesses, in which semi-legal control merged with gang-style law…because the Mafia’s contacts reached everywhere, even to the presidential office.”   The American government was more than familiar with the Mafia presence in Cuba and there is irrefutable evidence that the CIA turned to heavyweight Mafia Don Sam Giancana to try and assassinate Castro, in an attempt to promote counterrevolution.

 Fulgencia Batista: Cuban Dictator and American Puppet
Cuban Dictator Batista His Corruption and Ruthless Oppression Sparked the Revolution!

 Added to the injuries suffered by the poor in Cuba was the outrage felt by those principled middle class nationalist intellectuals—like Fidel and his comrades, who became the theorists and organizers of the revolution  – about the pervasiveness of crime and corruption in their society.  Under Batista the Mob had free reign in Cuba. Indeed, they were major factors in Castro’s radicalization. Few Americans who criticize contemporary Cuban society and its suspicion of American intentions understand the powerful role of organized crime in pre-revolutionary Cuba.  Furthermore, “legitimate” American businessmen often conducted themselves little differently, making it a distinction without a difference for the Cuban people.

 Meyer Lansky: Notorious American Jewish Gangster

Meyer Lansky

 He was a very big man in pre-revolutionary Cuba

Castro was a bourgeois lawyer with a social conscience and a belief in democratic reform until General Batista overthrew the government and set up a military dictatorship in 1952, which led a disillusioned Castro to conclude that democratic reform in Cuba was impossible. This realization drove him to become a revolutionary, and sixteen months later, he led the attack on the Moncada Barracks that launched a years-long Cuban Revolution which would force Batista into exile and bring Castro to power on New Years Day in 1959.

Reflecting on her youth in the 1920’s, when the white Cuban upper class experienced a wave of prosperity due to the high price of sugar post-WWI, Fichu Menocal, the daughter of a banker and granddaughter of Mario G. Menocal, the US-backed president of Cuba from 1912 to 1920, paints a poignant picture of the corruption and decadence of the deeply racist white Cuban elite that was wiped away by the Revolution.

 The Precincts of Wealthy White Cubans
Cuba's San Souchi Hotel
The San Souci Hotel and Club

Fichu recalls that among the island’s wealthy families “…there was a rivalry—who was going to have the most fantastic party; Parties that could cost $50,000. At that time that was an incredible amount. I went to practically all those parties. And we forgot absolutely what was below. We drifted so high on that cloud of golden prosperity…everybody just went to Paris and bought their frocks. Summer frocks, winter things.” But their taste for French finery hardly stopped there. “Everybody, they either had a Florentine chateau, or a Versailles-like chateau and everybody was rolling in millions…when I look back on that display of wealth, who could think at the time that anybody in Cuba could be miserable.”

Her remembrances of those halcyon days for the clueless Cuban elite reminds me of the entries in the diary of Louis XVI of France on the morning before the revolutionary Jacobins stormed Versailles palace, took he and Marie Antionette prisoner, shipped them off to Paris and beheaded them in the Place de la Concord before a cheering crowd. When Fichu’s reveries of white upper class life in pre-revolutionary Cuba are contrasted with the remembrances of Nicholas Guillen, an Afro-Cuban and poet laureate of the nation, it is easy to see why there was a revolution. Guillen sums up the situation for the masses of working class Cubans, urban and rural, and black Cubans in particular, in his epic poem I Have: “I, John-only-yesterday-with-Nothing, and John-with-everything-today, with everything today, I glance around, I look and see / and touch myself and wonder / how it could have happened?”

 How The Poorest Blacks Lived in Pre-revolutionary Cuba
Afro-Cuban Poverty- HavanaSlums 1954 This is why Afro-Cubans Defended the Revolution!
 Yet Even Back in the Day, the Solid Working And Middle Classes

Afro-Cubans Dancing at an Afrocuban social club

 Gave elegant affairs at the Buena Vista Social Club

Still other white Cubans hearken back fondly to the days before Castro’s revolution. Mariano Molina, president and owner of a mechanical engineering firm in the U.S., left Cuba in 1959 to study at North Carolina State College in Raleigh. He describes his initial experience in the college town as “a big surprise to me. North Carolina in the 1960s [was] completely segregated; blacks and whites would not be together. I thought the south was very culturally primitive in terms of racial issues.” His memories of the culture he left behind are of “Cuban people [who] were really happy with the way things were, for the most part. Obviously, the wealthy ones were really happy.”

Alas, to my black American ears this sound like the white folks I  interviewed in Florida during 1988 about the 1950’s, they speak fondly of the civility of race relations and mourn the passage of “The Beloved Southern Negro after Dr. Martin Luther King came to town.”   However having grown up in Florida in the 1950’s I know that’s a fiction of silly deluded southern WASPS.  And Molina’s memories of a “really happy” Cuban people belong to the same class of fairy tale.

Those “Beloved Southern Negroes” Led Astray by Dr. King

Civil rights revolt on the Beach

Were did they Go?

I have interviewed many Afro-Cubans over the years who tell a very different tale.  And all of them who grew up in Senor Molina’s Cuba fervently supported the Revolution.  The blacks who deny this should be viewed through the same lens as Michael Steele, the black hustler who is the front man for a racist Republican Party that tries to convince the world that the racist elitist Republicans are friends of Afro-Americans.

I Heard About White Cuban Racism first Hand
 Me and dorothy
 From My Afro-Cuban Wife and her Family
And my Good friend, the Afro-Cuban master percusionist/composer/bandleader

img.411

Mongo Santamaria, who was a fierce defender of the revolution

Critics of the revolution often overlook areas of Cuba’s contemporary infrastructure that parallel or surpass the standards of more developed nations. This is particularly true for Cuba’s education system, which is without question one of the most advanced and resourceful in the world! Castro’s government approaches learning as a lifelong process and treats quality education,  like adequate health care, as the birthright of each Cuban citizen.

From pre-school care to educational programs for parents, citizens of all ages benefit from the demanding expectations and highly trained teachers that are the hallmark of Cuban learning. In fact,  an estimated 30,000 senior citizens will have graduated from Cuban universities as a result of the program for older adults initiated in 2000. And over 630,000 Cubans have received a free university education under Castro.

Cuba budgets nearly twice as much of its GDP for educational spending, more than any other Latin American nation, and its secondary schools consistently rank among the highest in the world in math and science performance. Likewise the island’s 48 universities are among the most highly respected in the Western hemisphere. More than 76,000 international students from 123 countries (including the U.S.) have received free educations from Cuban universities, and 6,000 will be granted scholarships next year alone. Cuba’s medical schools and the health care system they support are so highly regarded that each year over 100,000 foreign patients travel to Cuba for treatment. Moreover, Cuban ophthalmologists are universally considered to be among the finest in the discipline—all of this despite the island’s crippling economic crisis.

At the same time, Castro’s focus on cultivating a highly educated society created a potential thorn in his side.  “When you have an educated population of leaders and thinkers, you cannot expect them to be submissive,” notes Alejandro de la Fuente, author of A Nation for All: Race, Inequality, and Politics in 20th Century Cuba. “You cannot educate people and tell them—as they told us—‘Now you are educated can you please shut up.’ We wanted to say things. We want to debate. We didn’t want violence.

“When perestroika was happening in the Soviet Union we hoped there was going to be space for a free and open debate about the future of the country. That hope was very much crushed, foreclosed, and never allowed to happen. I felt we had no voice, and couldn’t have any voice. Anything we said could be seen as an attack; once you are in that position, you either leave, go to jail, or you conform and lower your head and take it. I was too young and not ready to lower my head or go to jail so I left.”  De la Fuente, now a professor of Latin American/Cuban History at the University of Pittsburgh, took his leave of the island in 1992. He says:

“Power has its own logic. [The government] realized it was easier to not have to respond to an active, critical citizenry. They don’t care if you complain about a lack of food or electricity as long as you don’t criticize Fidel and don’t do anything about it. Again, it is a question of power. Once you open that door it is hard to close. The experience of the Soviet Union terrified them, and they wanted to keep that door shut because if people were allowed to demand explanations they would have a lot of explaining to do. So it was better to impose silence.”

Not only has Castro’s insistence on widespread educational opportunity yielded unpredictable results, but state-sponsored arts initiatives have also seen periods of bounty and scarcity. “In the 60s the Cuban Revolution obviously had a huge impact on Latin American film,” notes María Cristina Saavedra, assistant professor of Spanish and English at the University of Pittsburgh-Johnstown. “Film was really seen as an arm of the revolution and a way of fomenting revolution. After 1990 production went down incredibly; it was quite dramatic. The money just wasn’t there. This led to a lot of co-productions in many countries, one of those being Spain. That is one way people have gotten around the whole issue of a lack of funds.”

Lack of resources notwithstanding, Saavedra is impressed with what she calls a “much more committed cinema that stands in great opposition to the hegemony of Hollywood.” She directed the university’s recently aborted study abroad program in Cuba, which she had hoped would grow its relationship with the University of Havana, but she foresees little hope for the program’s revitalization given recent US governmental restrictions placed on study abroad programs in Cuba.

She points out that “filmmakers in Cuba have always tried to link the current social and cultural context of the revolution with the political processes on the island and revisionist view of colonial Cuba. In Suite Habana there is no dialogue; what you are hearing are the sounds of the city. It is a very stark view of the city and what daily life is like in Havana, sort of looking at things from a much more realistic and not ‘politically correct’ perspective.”

She also notes the 2001 award-winning film Video de Familia, which she says portrays “some of the issues that are confronting average Cubans in terms of the dynamics of family abroad. It is supposed to be set up as a family video to be sent to a family member in the States. In the context of the film family secrets come out…It’s a really fine work.”

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 Afro-Cubans have many festivals…..
Afro-Cubans -alacrantrumpets
That combine African and Spanish rituals
Afro-Cubans Are some of the World’s Greatest Musicians!
Afro-cuban Allstars II
The Afro-Cuban Allstars
Laura Lydia Gonzales
Afro-Cuban Bass Clarinetists Afro-Cuban Bass Clarinetists__Laura_Lydia_Gonzalez_and_Gilceria_Gonzalez
A virtuosso on the Bass Clarinet
Paying Homage to the World’s Greatest Pianist
Chucho and Me
Chucho Valdez: Ambassador of Afro-Cuban Music

That world-class art continues to spring from the small island is  incredibly surprising to many outsiders, especially the music and dance, which just as in the US is the gift of the neo-African culture of black Cubans. “You have got to keep one thing in mind: Cuba has been the cradle of salsa music. We could go back before Cuba and say we owe this to the Africans,” says Jesse Herrero, band leader and producer of Son Sublime, a Cuban charanga orchestra in the New York area

Herrero, who is a vice president at JP Morgan Chase, got his first instrument when he was nearly ten. “I lived under Fidel for five years, and things were rationed in a way that if you wanted something you had to get in line and sometimes you would sleep there and wait for a store opening. I was on line to buy a toy, but the people before me got everything. The only thing I could get was an accordion, which was probably better than any toy I could have gotten.”

Herrero’s passion for classic Cuban rhythms—Rumbadanzón, mámbo, chá-chá-chá, són, bolero, guaracha, and son montuno, all essential to the formhas brought him an appreciation of the work of contemporary Cuban artists like Los Orishas, a popular hip hop group whose style incorporates traditional Cuban rhythms, pays homage to the birthplace of hip hop in New York, and tackles themes familiar to Cubanos. “In one of their songs they did an arrangement that is wonderful, like chá-chá-chá. I think that rap is not easy to listen to, although it can be poetic.”

 Afro-Cuban Rappers

Afro-Cuban Rappers Los Orichas

 Cuban Hip hop voices address serious Afro-Cuban concerns

The legendary hip hop impresario Fab Five Freddy, who hosted the first rap show on MTV, Yo! MTV Raps was shocked by the rap scene he discovered in Cuba. “I met a brother there named Pablo Herrera who was the pivotal figure in the hip hop scene. Pablo was an incredibly knowledgeable cat who spoke English like he grew up in Brooklyn with me. And he knew the whole history of hip hop, all the old school stuff and everything. They even had tapes of my TV shows!”

Ariel Fernandez, founder and editor of Movimiento, a state-funded hip hop magazine, told me when I interiewed him on WBAI:

“Rap music is the voice of the Afro-Cuban in popular culture. It aggressively asserts our cultural identity as black people, which is not recognized in official government policy which asserts that ‘we are all Cubans.’ But we insist that we are culturally different from white Cubans in significant ways,  and this is based on our African heritage and centuries of historical experience with racism on the part of Hispanic Cubans. Although instititional racism has been outlawed, the ideology of white racism remains embedded in the culture. If you listen to Cuban hip hop you will see that the artists use rhythms from our Afro-Cuban musical culture.”

However this is not the first instance of cross-fertilization of Afro-Cuban and Afro-American musical forms.  During the first half of the 20th century, the virtuoso Afro-American trumpeter, bandleader and Jazz innovator John Berks “Dizzy” Gillespie collaborated with Mario Bauza, an Afro-Cuban multi-instrumentalist who was fluent in the language of European classical music, Jazz and the Afro-Cuban musical tradition. Together they produced a hybrid musical genre known as CuBop.

It was a blending of elements from the modern complex improvisational style invented by Gillespie and Saxophone genius Charlie “Yardbird” Parker, called BeBop, with the Son Montuno Afro-Cuban orchestral form.  CuBop is the basis for all “Latin Jazz.”  The Dizzy Gillespie Orchestra featuring the Afro-Cuban congero Chano Pozo became the signature American exponent of CuBop, while Machito and his Afro-Cubans became the Cuban vehicle for the new sound.  All Latin Jazz has its roots in CuBop, whether they know it or not.  It is a sound that continues to flourish.

I first heard Afro-Cuban music in 1959, the year the Cuban Revolution succeeded in overthrowing the fascist Batista military dictatorship. I was a student at the all-Black Florida A&M University and there were several Afro-Cuban students studying in the world-famous music school, which had produced the renowned saxophonists and trumpeter Julian “Cannonball” Adderley and his brother Nat.   The Afro-Cuban students would play Jazz with the Afro-American musicians, and on occasion they would get together and play the Son Montuno.

I fell in love with the music upon first hearing.  At the time I played the trap drums, but I would later ditch them and study the Conga drums, which led to my longtime friendship with the great Mongo Santamaria and my marriage to an Afro-Cuban woman.  I even became a good enough congero to substitute for Mongo himself with his great band – which featured the brilliant flautist Hubert Laws – in concert.  Mongo’s band created a new fusion of styles that combined  Afro-Cuban Music, Jazz, and Rhythm and Blues.  My love of playing the Conga drums remains undiminished after half a century; hence I am a living example of the power of Afro-Cuban culture and its influence on US culture.

 Sitting in For Mongo and playing his sequined Congas cica 1966

playing with mongo's band - Close Up Edit

 At Pep’s Show Bar in Philly: Hubert Laws is at Far right
 At Red’s Java Hut
Jamming with the functionaries 013
San Francisco  2009

************

In addition to a festering race problem, Cuba has failed to deal with the problem of rising expectations in an increasingly youthful population who do not remember the glory days of the revolution and are tired of the sacrifices it continues to demand. And considering the men who are most likely to succeed Fidel, this generation gap is bound to widen.

The Cuban Constitution decreed that the First Vice-President will succeed the President, which means that Fidel has been succeeded by his brother Raul, who as head of the party, military, and the state, thus controls all the instruments of power in the Cuban government. He can be expected to surround himself with the same kind of people who advised Fidel—people like Vice President Ricardo Alarcon, a foreign policy specialist who is committed to Castro’s vision for Cuba.

In the days following President Bush’s second inauguration, Alarcon was frank in an interview with Landau. “I think that there are discrepancies in his second inaugural address. He talked about carrying the fire of freedom throughout the world. Without sounding rude, I’d say this is, at the very least, an over-statement. He isn’t going to carry anything much further. He’s already having difficulty in maintaining this fire in Iraq. If he wants to do that around the world he will not succeed. Indeed, he’s not succeeding in Iraq.

“Cuba is one of the places mentioned, not by Bush but by [Secretary of State Condoleezza] Rice, the day before. I advise them not to try. It will cost a lot of lives if the Americans attack us, more than those dying in Iraq, because this is not a divided country or society that has been suffering under a dictatorial regime. The opposite is true. You will find here a free society, finally emancipated from half a century of oppression and corruption imposed by the US.

We attained our independence in 1959 from US domination. That is a fact of history. From an ethnic or cultural point of view we are a unified country, an island on which a common culture and common identity has evolved. We are prepared to make life impossible for an invader.”

The armed Cuban masses have always een Prepared to Defend Their Revolution
Afro-Cuban cuban soldiersistas
From Maids to Militants!

Castro has pointed to the sustained American embargo as the root cause of Cuba’s economic problems, while more and more of America’s allies are ignoring it. Most European and Latin American countries trade with Cuba, and Canada and New Zealand have publicly rejected the embargo policy as a violation of their national sovereignty. The decision of the Cuban government to relax its economic laws to encourage foreign investment has already resulted in hundreds of joint ventures with foreign companies that are reinvigorating the economy. Furthermore support for the embargo’s demise is growing in the American business community, Congress, and even among the younger generation of Miami’s Cuban-Americans. If sentiments continue to build in that direction, the embargo may well not continue after the Bush Administration.

“Everybody is waiting for the day Fidel dies and I think most people in and out of Cuba think that no significant changes are going to happen as long as Fidel stays in power,” says Professor de la Fuentes. “The big question is what happens afterwards. Most people believe there will be some sort of process of transition. For ordinary Cubans there are several important issues; first the social programs that have been established since the 1960s.

Cuba has fairly successful healthcare and education systems that by Third World standards are pretty good, and for people in the street, these are the things that matter. Then there is the issue of property; many people live in property that belonged to others in the 50s. What is going to happen to these people? There is also unemployment, which is fairly low in Cuba only because the public sector is inflated tremendously. Many people have jobs in public sector that would disappear under different conditions.”

“My hope is that when the change takes place it includes a combination of social and domestic policy freedoms with an emphasis on social programs, including care for the poor and disadvantaged in society. That is one thing that has kept Cuban socialism in power. Care for the poor and disadvantaged is not a bad thing.  My guess is committee government,” says Landau. “His brother will be the nominal president, and I am pretty sure there is no one else that will command consensus. Fidel said his brother will take over. They have been operating for 46 plus years; there is no reason to think there is much uncertainty. There is only one Fidel a century—for good or for ill. There is only one person who ‘when he walks into the room the wind does as well’. He is charismatic in the sense of going back to the root, meaning god-like attributes. He is not replaceable.”

 “I wanted with all my heart to paint the drama

of my country, but by thoroughly expressing

the Negro spirit, the beauty of the plastic arts of the blacks

In this way I could act as a Trojan horse that would spew forth

Hallucinating figures with the power to disturb,

The dreams of exploiters”

Wilfredo Lamb, Cuban artist
 An Evening At The Tropicana!!
At the Tropicana Club 
The Most Fabulous Night club in the World!
 **********************
Double Click to view  live show at the Tropicana
http://youtu.be/qzHFIu7WU_g
Double click on link to view Afro-Cuban Allstars

http://youtu.be/ayKsqYLvE0g

Double click to view Los Orichas Live!
http://youtu.be/nGReptnrN50
http://youtu.be/ZBoqCDSrWi8
Double Click to View Chucho Valdez
 http://youtu.be/VJi0KwXs6tE
Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
12/18/04
Originally published on 1o/26/09
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