On Tuesday we began covering the activist career of actress Susan Sarandon, who seems never to have met a murderer she didn’t love. One such figure, as we have seen, is Mumia Abu-Jamal, a cop-killer who, thanks to the efforts of Sarandon and others, became a worldwide cause celebre. Protests were held all over the planet. The city of Paris made Mumia an honorary citizen. Meanwhile, Maureen Faulkner, whose husband had been killed by Mumia, and had already had to live once through his trial, had to climb back on that horse – this time in an attempt to keep the killer in prison.
She had no stars on her side. She did it alone. In 1999, a journalist who’d interviewed Mumia years earlier let slip that Mumia, during their conversation, had actually admitted to murdering Faulkner’s husband – a fact that there had not, in any case, been any serious reason to doubt in the first place. Yet so committed were Sarandon and others to Mumia’s cause that this revelation did nothing to shake their faith in their hero. So it was that thanks to the puerile activism of Sarandon and company, Maureen Faulkner’s life was turned upside down not once but twice.
That wasn’t the last example of Sarandon’s soft spot for thugs. As a member of Actors and Artists United for the Freedom of the Cuban Five, she fought for the release from a U.S. prison of five spies for the Castro regime. Her confederates on that occasion included Ed Asner, Danny Glover, Elliott Gould, Pete Seeger, Martin Sheen, and Oliver Stone.
Now 72, she’s still at it. On June 28, she was one of 575 activists arrested in Washington, D.C., while protesting outside the Hart Senate Office Building against the Trump Administration’s detention of illegal aliens and reinforcement of the Mexican border. “What do we want? Free families!” they chanted. Some carried signs bearing the hashtag #FamiliesBelongTogether, a reference to the practice of temporarily separating adults caught entering the country illegally from the children they bring with them – a practice that is blamed by the far left on Donald Trump, even though it predates his presidency, and that, in fact, often ends up rescuing children from adults who, though pretending to be their parents, are in fact trafficking them into the U.S. for nefarious reasons.
A picture taken at this protest, by the way, shows Sarandon seemingly joined at the hip with fellow “feminist” Linda Sarsour – a woman who is always wearing hijab, who doesn’t hide her enthusiasm for sharia, who is a vocal supporter of the BDS movement against Israel, who said that her “Arab pride was hurt” when the child-murdering Saddam Hussein was captured by U.S. forces, who solicited contributions for Hamas-linked “charities,” who charged that al-Qaeda’s 2009 “underwear bomber” was actually a CIA operative, and who won an “American Muslim of the Year” award from terrorist-tied CAIR (whose executive director, Nihad Awad, she affectionately called “Uncle Nihad”).
This is the company Sarandon keeps. The fact that she seeks out this kind of ally, combined with her execrable record of standing up for the likes of Jack Henry Abbott, Mumia Abu-Jabal, and Castro’s spies, should be enough to discredit her in the eyes of any sensible observer, no matter whether that observer identifies with the left or the right. But memories are short, and all too many people who consider themselves liberals or leftists continue to view this foolish old woman as a voice of conscience.
This website has been around for quite a while, but somehow we’ve never given Susan Sarandon her due. Sarandon, the Oscar-winning star of such movies as Pretty Baby, Atlantic City, Bull Durham, Thelma and Louise, and Dead Man Walking has also, over the years, made a name for herself as a left-wing activist.
Come to think of it, “left-wing activist” is probably putting it too mildly. Sarandon has been an active participant in several Revolutionary Communist Party projects and front groups, including the anti-war organization Not in My Name and something called World Can’t Wait. She was a major booster of Occupy Wall Street and has collaborated with far-left New York mayor Bill de Blasio on plans for extensive wealth redistribution.
Sarandon and her longtime partner, Tim Robbins – who shares her extreme views, and whose own misguided hijinks we hope to get around to on this site before too long – are so far out there that they actually named one of their children Jack Henry, after Jack Henry Abbott, a Communist forger, bank robber, and murderer whom novelist Norman Mailer help spring from prison in 1981 and who, six weeks later, without provocation, stabbed to death 22-year-old writer and playwright Robert Adan. (It occurs to us, just now, that this reprehensible episode has so fully faded from historical memory, and is so representative an example of the dangers of sentimental limousine radicalism, that we should probably recount it, too, in a future post on this site.)
Abbott wasn’t the only murderer who drew Sarandon’s sympathy. She spent years as a leader of the nationwide campaign to release loathsome cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal from prison. Mumia, born Wesley Cook, was a former Black Panther who, thanks to the misguided support of Sarandon and others, became a poster boy for the fight against the death penalty – and, indeed, something a worldwide folk hero. Writing in Time Magazine in 1970, Steve Lopez told the tragic story of Maureen Faulkner, the widow of the Philadelphia police officer whom Mumia killed. Only 24 when her husband was murdered on duty in 1981, Faulkner left town and started her life over again in California – where, some years later, the weirdest thing started happening.
“Suddenly, everywhere she turned, she saw her husband’s killer,” wrote Lopez. “She saw him on T shirts, on posters, on book covers, on television. He’d become an international celebrity, called a hero by some, compared to Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr. by others.” Sarandon and other famous and powerful people – including fellow actors Paul Newman, Ed Asner, and Ossie Davis, authors Mailer, E.L. Doctorow, Gunther Grass, and Maya Angelou, the rock groups Rage against the Machine and the Beastie Boys, and no fewer than 22 members of the British Parliament – insisted that Mumia was innocent and demanded a new trial.
In our last couple of postings, we’ve been preoccupied with the transformation of the American Civil Liberties Union from an objective defender of free speech and civil liberties into yet another partisan tool for the left. The most prominent critic of this development has been Alan Dershowitz, the high-profile – and liberal – lawyer.
But Dershowitz hasn’t been alone. In a June article for the Wall Street Journal, Wendy Kaminer – who, like Dershowitz, is a former ACLU board member – cited a leaked memo about the ACLU’s current guidelines for taking on free-speech cases. Under those guidelines, the organization takes into account “the potential effect” of speech limits “on marginalized communities” and the “structural and power inequalities in the community in which the speech will occur.” Kaminer shook her head over all this, arguing that such thinking amounts to “a demotion of free speech in the ACLU’s hierarchy of values.”
That wasn’t all. On June 26, the Washington Post website ran a piece by Megan McArdle headlined “The ACLU’s divided heart.” McArdle began by paying tribute to the ACLU’s history: “Born out of the prosecutions of antiwar speech during World War I, the American Civil Liberties Union has spent the succeeding decades litigating and lobbying to protect speech rights for everyone, from communists to Nazis. Without the ACLU, Americans wouldn’t have some of the most robust civil liberties in the world.” McArdle also made a point that cannot be considered anything short of vital: “If the ACLU steps back from speech cases, no other organization is ready to pick up the torch, in part because the ACLU is so synonymous with free speech that it attracts much of the donor interest and legal talent in this area.” McArdle then summed up the problematic new guidelines that Kaminer had written about in the Journal.
One might have expected that the leaking of these guidelines to the public would have caused David Cole, the ACLU’s legal director, to miss his stride. But he didn’t. Absurdly, he insisted that these kinds of considerations had entered into decision-making at the ACLU ever since its founding. Nonsense. Nadine Strossen, a former head of the ACLU who has been especially strident lately in her pretense that it’s the same organization it always has been (see, for example, her recent turn on Dave Rubin’s podcast), also stood her ground. But Ira Glasser, Strossen’s predecessor, called B.S. on her: “To deny that this departure from free speech policy is a departure is intellectually dishonest, an Orwellian smokescreen thrown up to obscure what they are doing.” McArdle agreed: the ACLU’s politically drenched new criteria are “inimical to the very ideals the ACLU was founded to protect.” Yep.
As we saw last Thursday, the celebrated lawyer Alan Dershowitz, an old-style liberal and former ACLU board member, has charged that organization with no longer being what it used to be – namely, a politically neutral, thoroughly objective defender of freedom of speech. Instead, he maintains, the ACLU is more fixated on opposing Trump than on standing up for the First Amendment.
Predictably, ACLU officials dismissed Dershowitz’s claims. “I do not personally have any concern that our staff is acting in a partisan manner,” said ACLU president Susan Herman. “We have opposed partisan gerrymandering, for example, whether by Republicans in Wisconsin or Democrats in Maryland.” David Cole, the ACLU’s national legal director, defended the ACLU by going on the attack, accusing Dershowitz of focusing “virtually all of his energy on defending the asserted rights of the most powerful man in the U.S. and his personal lawyer.” Neither Herman nor Cole, however, had anything to say about their organization’s curious lack of involvement in one case after another involving the systematic repression of non-leftist speech on American college campuses.
Moreover, only weeks after Herman and Cole insisted that the ACLU’s mission remained unchanged, the New Yorker reported, in its issue of June 8, that the organization was, in fact, “getting involved in elections — and reinventing itself for the Trump era.” Having been “fastidiously nonpartisan” for almost a century, the ACLU was now planning “to spend more than 25 million dollars on races and ballot initiatives by Election Day, in November.”
This announcement could not be seen as anything other than proof that Dershowitz was right – and that Herman and Cole were trying to have their cake and eat it too. As Dershowitz wrote in a June 11 article, today’s ACLU “wears only one shoe, and it is on its left foot….The only dispute is whether it supports the progressive wing of the Democratic Party or its more centrist wing. There is little doubt that most board members today support the progressive wing, though some think that even that wing is not sufficiently left. There is no longer any room in the ACLU for true conservatives who are deeply committed to neutral civil liberties. The litmus test is support for hard-left policies.”
We’ve heard from the ACLU’s “president” and from its “national legal director.” It also has a “director.” The man’s name is Anthony Romero, and Dershowitz describes him as a “radical leftist” who “refers to those of us who favor the ACLU traditional mission as ‘the old guard.’” In his June 11 piece, Dershowitz cited another critic of the 2018 version of the ACLU, Ira Glasser, who served as the group’s director from 1978 to 2001 and who now says that the ACLU’s course change “has the capacity to destroy the organization as it has always existed.” That seems to be a mild way of putting it. Dershowitz notes Glasser’s concern that a left-leaning ACLU would ignore violation of civil liberties by fellow leftists – even though, as Dershowitz puts it, “some of the greatest violations of civil liberties throughout history” have come from that quarter, notably FDR’s wartime internment of over 100,000 Japanese-Americans.
As it happens, Dershowitz and Glasser aren’t alone in pointing out – and lamenting – the ACLU’s left turn. More on Thursday.
We used to admire the ACLU. Some of us are old enough to remember the Skokie affair of 1977. Many Western countries ban Mein Kampf and any symbols of Nazism. Not the U.S. In that year, the American Nazi Party planned a march in the village of Skokie, Illinois. The village successfully sued in Cook County court for the right to ban the event.
That’s when the American Civil Liberties Union entered the picture. Taking the Nazis’ side, they took the case to the state appellate court and then to the state Supreme Court. Both courts refused to overturn the county court’s decision. So the case went to the U.S. Supreme Court, which in a famous ruling ordered that the Nazis be allowed to march.
For some of us, that ruling – as well as the ACLU’s role in bringing it about – was the ultimate reflection of the greatest of America. Not, of course, because the ACLU sided with Nazis or because the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Nazis, but because both the ACLU and the Supreme Court stood up for the First Amendment.
By their actions, both the ACLU and the High Court made clear their recognition that the whole point of free-speech protections is that innocuous speech doesn’t need protection. What needs protection is the most extreme kind of speech. To refuse to defend the right of even the most offensive people to speak their minds is to start down the slippery slope toward banning any kind of speech that anybody, anywhere might consider inappropriate.
Times have changed, alas. Many of the most influential people in American society are would-be censors for whom political correctness is a higher value than freedom. The ACLU, unfortunately, has shifted its position accordingly. No less impressive a personage than Alan Dershowitz, the world-famous lawyer who identifies as a liberal and who used to be on the ACLU’s national board, said so in an April 12 article for The Hill. The headline: “For ACLU, getting Trump trumps civil liberties.” Dershowitz explained: “over the last several years [the ACLU] has turned from being a neutral civil liberties organization to a left wing, agenda-driven group that protects its contributors and constituents while ignoring the civil liberties of Americans with whom it disagrees.”
Now and then, admittedly, the organization still runs to the defense of “a Nazi or a Klansman as an easy, pretend show of its willingness to protect the free speech of the most despicable racists.” But when it comes to threats to free speech on college campuses, where far-left thugs have increasingly used violent means in an effort to silence speakers with whom they disagree, the ACLU has chosen to keep its dainty hands clean. In fact, in Dershowitz’s view, it’s gone even further, “becoming a cheerleader for the violation of the civil liberties of those on the other side of the political spectrum.”
When FBI agents “raided the law office and hotel room of Donald Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen,” and possibly “seized material protected by the lawyer-client privilege, including communications between President Trump and his attorney,” the ACLU sat on its hands. “[I]f a similar raid had been conducted on Hillary Clinton,” observed Dershowitz, “had she been elected and a special prosecutor appointed to investigate her emails, the ACLU would have been up in arms.” Instead David Cole, the ACLU’s legal director, actually described the raids as a “sign that the rule of law is alive.” Never mind the fact that, to quote Dershowitz, the raids were naked “violations of the Fourth and Sixth Amendments.”
Why this disgraceful about-face by the ACLU? Simple: “Virtually every contributor to the ACLU voted against Trump, as I did.” And for the ACLU today, “getting Trump, trumps civil liberties.”
The ACLU, naturally, rejects these charges. We’ll get to that on Tuesday.
She’s accused Israel of committing massacres of Palestinians. She’s called for the abolition of ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement), charging that it’s on its way to becoming a “paramilitary” organization. She’s a member of the Democratic Socialists of America and a former organizer of Bernie Sanders’ presidential run.
Her name is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, she’s 28 years old, and on June 26, in America’s biggest electoral upset since the 2016 presidential election itself, she won the Democratic primary in the race for New York State’s 14th Congressional district, defeating ten-term incumbent Rep. Joe Crowley, who is head of the House Democratic Caucus, who had not faced a primary challenge since 2004, who was widely expected to replace Nancy Pelosi next year as Minority Leader, and whose seat pretty much everybody thought was safe. Since the district is heavily Democratic, it’s expected that she will sail to victory in the general election in November, becoming the youngest woman ever to sit in Congress.
Calling her victory “stunning” – she won by 15 points, after having been 36 points behind in the polls only three weeks earlier – the editors of New York Post suggested that it might signal that “the Democratic Party in New York is moving hard left.” The editors noted that Cynthia Nixon, Sex and the City actress who is mounting a radical-left primary challenge to Governor Andrew Cuomo, has supported Ocasio-Cortez and “plans to use every opportunity to link their campaigns in the public eye.”
As for Ocasio-Cortez herself, she instantly became, in the words of John Cassidy in The New Yorker, “a national political sensation.” Never mind her radical views. Never mind that she’s in bed with the far-left group Move On and the deep-pink Working Families Party (which in turn is cozy with the Communist Party USA) and that she wants to impeach Trump. Never mind that during the campaign she sold herself as a working-class girl from the Bronx when, in fact, although born in that borough, she is the daughter of an architect and actually grew up, from age five onward, in the affluent Westchester community of Yorktown Heights.
No, in today’s mainstream American culture, far-left – and even borderline Communist – views have become normalized, while opinions (such as a belief in strong borders) that only a decade or two ago were taken for granted as reasonable on both sides of the aisle are now widely smeared as inhuman.
So it was that two days after her victory Ocasio-Cortez turned up on Stephen Colbert’s show, where the host – who, of course, makes a career of mocking everything the President says and does – slathered her with praise. Even before Colbert explained that she identifies as a “Democratic Socialist,” the audience responded to her account of her victory with several bouts of fervent, mindless applause, it appearently being enough for them, in these days when identity labels trump all else, that she was young, female, and Latina. (And pretty.)
But then, as noted, Colbert mentioned the “Democratic Socialist” label, and asked her what those words mean to her. She proceeded to answer the question with a Sanders-like laundry list of free stuff that everybody should get from the government, and with each new item, the audience rewarded her with yet another round of eager applause and cheers. Colbert told her that her list was a worthy one, and then proceeded to wax sarcastic – not about Ocasio-Cortez herself, heaven forbid, but about – who else? – President Trump, whose tweet about Crowley’s loss he read aloud. Trump’s take was that Crowley should have “been more respectful to his president.” Do you, Colbert asked Ocasio-Cortez, plan to be respectful to Trump? Her reply: “I don’t think he knows how to deal with a girl from the Bronx.” Lusty cheers all around. Welcome to 2018 America, where an ever-growing percentage of the population thinks socialism is just plain peachy keen.
Bjørn Kjos is one of the most prominent figures in Norway today, and has led one of contemporary Norway’s most colorful, versatile, and productive lives.
Following two years of training in the U.S., he served as a Cold War-era pilot in the Royal Norwegian Air Force. After studying law in Oslo, he became an attorney and then a judge. At one point he even performed seismological studies in the North Sea for oil companies.
But the accomplishment for which he is famous, rich, and justifiably honored is the founding and development of Norwegian Air Shuttle, a budget airline that has advanced from triumph to triumph. Since Kjos founded it in 1993 as a small regional carrier that transported passengers between obscure burgs up and down Norway’s mountainous west coast, it has grown steadily. First it expanded its operations to include Oslo and major Scandinavian destinations outside of Norway; then it introduced regular flights from Oslo to New York and Bangkok. Soon it was flying all over Europe – and, shortly thereafter, to places like Singapore, Mexico, and the Caribbean.
In short, it’s a spectacular capitalist success story. It’s created thousands of jobs, paid untold dividends to shareholders, and enabled travelers on modest incomes to fly to places they otherwise couldn’t afford.
Here’s the question, then: why, in the June number of its in-flight magazine, n, does Kjos’s airline choose to celebrate a Communist murderer who was, to the very end of his life, a bitter, brutal, and bloodthirsty enemy of capitalism, and a gleeful executor of the innocent?
The June number of n is billed as its “Argentina issue.” Produced, as are all issues of n, by a London-based firm called Ink (ink-live.com), and edited by one Sarah Warwick (who received a degree in development studies from the lefty University of London and a degree in anthropology from the arguably even more lefty London School of Economics), this issue includes articles about a range of Argentina-related topics: a new luxury hotel at Iguazú Falls; the Villa Crespo neighborhood of Buenos Aires; Patagonia.
So far, so good. But beginning on page 88, the reader – the captive passenger – is thrown a curve ball in the form of a tribute to Che Guevara.
Yes, Che Guevara. In large black letters centered on an all-white page – the presentation suggestive of a deeply respectful and thoughtful epitaph for a truly great man – we read the following:
Had he lived, Che Guevara would have been 90 this month. The guerrilla fighter, doctor, writer and idealist found fame as a hero of the Cuban revolution. Long before all that though, he was Ernesto Guevara – an Argentine youth who grew up in Rosario and Córdoba Province. In the month of his birthday, we go in search of the man and the legend.
Idealist? Hero? Legend? Keep those words in mind as we read on. For that preposterous paean on page 88 is only prelude to a full-bore profile – written by one Sam Harrison – that romanticizes Che in the most breathtakingly inexcusable fashion:
In a small side street in Buenos Aires’ old town, San Telmo, a worn image of Che Guevara stares out from a chipped and fading mural. His dark eyes gaze at passers-by from under painted black brows, and his wavy hair is topped with trademark beret….
Oh, those eyes! Those brows! That hair! And on it goes. Dreamily, Harrison quotes an Argentinian Che fan on Che’s “wild childhood, under the open sky.” He waxes poetic about Che’s youthful “love of reading.” He accuses the FBI of treating Che “condescendingly.” And he applauds Che’s “strong political conscience.”
All this about an evil monster, who, as we wrote here in 2016, “quickly ran the value of the Cuban peso into the ground” when he served as Castro’s Economics Minister; who, as warden of La Cabaña Fortress prison, made that lockup the Cuban equivalent of Stalin’s notorious Lubyanka; and who, acting as Fidel’s chief executioner, ordered at least several hundred (and more likely thousands) of “firing-squad executions of opponents and potential opponents.” The victims included men, women, and children. Some were eliminated for being gay; some were offed for being devout Christians; and some were done in for being soldiers in the army of Fulgencio Batista, whom Castro overthrew. (Even Hitler obeyed the Geneva accords on prisoners of war. Che did not.) As the distinguished Peruvian-Spanish writer Alvaro Vargas Llosa has written, Che’s victims included “proven enemies, suspected enemies, and those who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Che often committed the executions himself. Or, after others had done the killing, he would shoot an extra bullet into the corpse: he particularly enjoyed that part. To quote Vargas Llosa, “Guevara might have been enamored of his own death, but he was much more enamored of other people’s deaths.” That’s for sure. One priest who witnessed many of Che’s executions later remembered: “We called him ‘the butcher’ because he enjoyed giving the order to shoot. I pleaded many times with Che on behalf of prisoners. I remember especially the case of Ariel Lima, a young boy. Che did not budge.”
As we noted in 2016, killing a few hundred of Cuba’s seven million inhabitants back then “was equivalent to liquidating millions of Americans.” We also underscored that by obliterating so many people, Che was out “not just to exterminate the victims but to terrorize everyone else – to make it clear to all of Cuba that Castro & co. meant business and were not to be trifled with.”
Harrison mentions none of this. He doesn’t even hint at it. The closest he comes to acknowledging the true dimensions of Che’s iniquity is to say that Che’s legacy is “not entirely favourable” and to serve up the following masterpiece of euphemism and evasion: “a guerrilla fighter who dreamed of an egalitarian society, Guevara believed armed struggle was the only way to achieve his aims. For every person who sees him as a symbol of hope – even a secular saint – there’s one who sees a murderer who lost sight of his ideals.” Oh, and here’s one more feeble gesture by Harrison in the direction of reality: Che, he wrote, is “a polarising figure.”
Sorry, but no sale. Simply put, the piece on Che Guevara that’s served up in the current issue of n is a reprehensible whitewash of a cold-blooded butcher. In the year 2018, there is no excuse for such a sick tribute. There is simply too much indisputable evidence now of the demonic, homicidal reality of Che’s monstrous thuggery. To sentimentalize his memory in the pages of a glossy in-flight magazine, read by heaven knows how many impressionable travelers who don’t know the facts of the matter, is an act of profound intellectual mischief and moral irresponsibility.
And let’s not overlook the fact that a very significant part of the objective of the article is to sell airline tickets to Argentina so that readers can walk in this giant’s footsteps. Excuse us, Mr. Kjos, but may we ask: Exactly where does this obscenity stop?
To be sure, we suspect that Bjørn Kjos is too busy a man to pay close attention to what goes into the pages of his airline’s in-flight magazine. But the fact remains that n bears the name of his company. At the beginning of each issue is one of those “welcome aboard” pieces signed by Kjos himself. In short, he gives every issue his imprimatur. That being the case, he’s responsible for n magazine’s thoroughly despicable glorification of Che Guevara.
It seems to us that if Mr. Kjos sincerely wishes to make amends for his magazine’s action, nothing short of a thorough housecleaning is in order. Mr. Kjos, it amounts to this: cut off your deal with Ink. Fire Sarah Warwick. Find some other team to publish your magazine – a team that, when taking in the spectacle of a murdering Communist like Che and a job-creating capitalist like yourself, knows whom to celebrate and whom to execrate. Such people are really not that hard to find. Believe us.
Please do it – or, alternatively, let the millions of people who enjoy flying your airline think that you actually approve of the lionization of a child-killing savage like Che Guevara.
On Tuesday we contemplated Anthony Bourdain, whose recent self-slaughter inspired hundreds of heartfelt eulogies by foodies – and others – around the globe. The smart set had lost one of its own, and the mood of the day was one of profound mourning. What torments, everyone wondered, had plagued the culinary genius? There was endless hand-wringing about the psychological anguish he must have suffered. Interestingly, very few of his necrologists so much as mentioned his 11-year-old daughter, Ariane, let alone paused to contemplate the very special and profoundly destructive kind of psychic affliction it is for a child, especially one around 11 years old, to lose a parent to suicide.
But that’s neither here nor there. We were talking about Bourdain’s superior attitude toward fellow celebrity cooks who made money in ways of which he disapproved. Over the course of his lifetime he worked for any number of major corporations – but in his view that was different than the kind of deals that people like Paula Deen made with major corporations.
Of course, Bourdain’s professed contempt for capitalism was the purest hypocrisy. Few practiced capitalism more successfully than he did. If he enjoyed sneering at capitalism, it was because he knew that such B.S. would only enhance his image with his fan base.
Meanwhile, however, as Humberto Fontova reminded us the other day, Bourdain had no such qualms about promoting Communism. He did multiple shows from Cuba for CNN and the Travel Channel (capitalism, anyone?). On the Travel Channel website, he had a page headlined Tony Bourdain’s Guide to Cuba. He led “junkets” to Cuba. All these activities, of course, put hard currency in the pockets of the Castro regime, thus helping it to hang on to life – and to continue to harass, jail, beat, torture, and execute political “enemies,” gays, and others. As Fontova noted, Bourdain concluded one 2011 Cuba program by telling the audience: “Yes, Go to Cuba!”
In his CNN episode on Cuba, he described Havana, whose dilapidated ruins testify to the destructiveness of Communism, as “unspoiled.” He went further than that, saying that it was “one of the more beautiful cities I’ve ever seen.” He claimed to dislike Communism but the most critical thing he would say about Castro was that he had “decidedly mixed emotions” about him. He also regurgitated the usual Cuban propaganda about the country’s supposedly great schools and first-class medical care (yes, for the nomenklatura). “In Cuba the religion is baseball,” he said. No mention of the fact that for decades after the Cuban Revolution, actual religious practice was suppressed.
“If only Bourdain had demonstrated 1/100 of his vaunted ‘spunk’ and ‘feistiness’ against a regime that jailed political prisoners at a higher rate than Stalin during the Great Terror, murdered more Cubans than Hitler murdered Germans during the Night of Long Knives, and craved to nuke his homeland,” commented Fontova. Bingo.
When Anthony Bourdain chose to off himself on June 8, millions mourned. He was a member of that ever-growing tribe, the celebrity chefs – people who have used books and TV to turn themselves into superstars and millionaires, all the while introducing their fans to culinary experiences from around the world.
It all began with his bestselling 2000 book Kitchen Confidential, following not too long thereafter by the first of several TV series that combined food with travel. Well, actually, of course, it began before the book – with stints as top chef at several leading restaurants in New York City. His signature gig was at the Manhattan branch of Brasserie Les Halles, where he started working as executive chef in 1998 and with which he maintained a relationship until it closed its doors last year.
For some folks, that career would’ve been enough. But not Bourdain. He also wrote fiction. In 2011, Ecco Press gave him his own publishing line. He produced and starred in his own movie. To his admirers, he was not just one more globetrotting guy sampling exotic fare on camera – he was a “rock star,” a “culinary bad boy,” a – well, you get the idea.
But as Gore Vidal once said, “It is not enough to succeed. Others must fail.” Among the other celebrity chefs who felt the sharp edge of his carving knife was Guy Fieri. Bourdain dismissed Rachael Ray as a no-talent. He trashed Wolfgang Puck’s “shitty pizza restaurants.” We don’t even know who Sandra Lee is, but he called her “pure evil.” We do know who Alice Waters is – she runs the legendary Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley California, and made her name by promoting fresh, locally sources foods. Her crime, in Bourdain’s book? Her agenda isn’t PC enough – it doesn’t take into account either poor people or sustainability.
Bourdain’s take on Paula Deen was also partly rooted in PC considerations. Bourdain called Deen “the worst, most dangerous person to America.” Why? Well, one reason was that her recipes were too high-calorie. Another reason: “her food sucks.” Reason #3 – and here’s the PC part: “She revels in unholy connections with evil corporations…she’s unconscionable, cynical, and greedy.”
Then there’s this: “I will never eat in his [Donald Trump’s] restaurant. I have utter contempt for him, utter and complete contempt… I’m not going. I’m not going.” Last year, when asked what he would serve if asked to cater a peace summit between Trump and Kim Jong Un, Bourdain said: “Hemlock.” How courageous of Bourdain to express a political view that he had to know 99% of his fans would cheer.
A few years back, Waters came up with a terrific way of getting back at this pompous fool: she started a pseudonymous Twitter account under the name “Ruth Bourdain.” After the secret came out, she explained: “Well, Tony has always been something of an ass to me. So there’s that. But he also represents this tremendous dark-side of the human psyche. He is drugs, and sex, and rock music.”
He was also, as his comments on Deen makes clear, a world-class hypocrite – a man who got rich on capitalism but was quick to demonize others who dared to try to make a buck. Meanwhile, as Humberto Fontova pointed out after Bourdain’s suicide, this man who “wore his ‘anti-corporate hipness’ on his shirtsleeve, always smirking and snarking that ‘evil corporations’ and ‘crass commercialism’ repelled him,” was at the same time “a shameless tourism agent for the Castro-Family-and-Military Crony-Crime Syndicate, a thieving, murdering criminal-corporate empire that makes the Mafia look like Boy Scouts of America.”
In February of last year we wrote about Hamid Dabashi, a professor at Columbia University who had attained the distinction of being – in the eyes of students – one of the most anti-Israeli professors in the Department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures (MEALAC). He has accused Israel of committing “incremental genocide” of the Palestinians (in reality, the Palestinian population is steading climbing) and equated Gaza with Ausckwitz. He has called Israel a “miasmatic mutation of human soul into a subterranean mixture of vile and violence,” and after a visit to the country he wrote:
Half a century of systematic maiming and murdering of another people has left its deep marks on the faces of these people…the way they talk, walk, the way they greet each other….There is a vulgarity of character that is bone-deep and structural to the skeletal vertebrae of its culture. A subsumed militarism, a systemic mendacity with an ingrained violence constitutional to the very fusion of its fabric, has penetrated the deepest corners of what these people have to call their “soul.” No people can perpetrate what these people and their parents and grandparents have perpetrated on Palestinians and remain immune to the cruelty of their own deeds.
Just a few highlights from his professional history: in 2011, he condemned ex-Muslims like Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Ibn Warraq who have risked their lives to speak out about the lack of human rights in Islam. For Dabashi, however, these people are not heroes but traitors who “have demonized their own cultures and societies…to advance their careers.” In 2012, after Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmedinejad gave a lecture at Columbia University, Dabashi savaged university president Lee Bollinger – not for inviting the barbarian to speak at his college, but for including a few critical words in his introduction. (Bollinger’s remarks, wrote Dabashi, oozed “mind-numbing racism.”)
In 2015, Clemens Heni noted that Dabashi, as the result of a speaking tour of German universities, had “become the darling of German academe,” where his readiness to “defame Israel and downplay the crimes of the Holocaust” found a receptive audience. In 2016, after the terrorist attack on the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando drew attention to Islamic gay-hatred, Dabashi was quick to respond – namely, by equating “Islamophobia and homophobia,” by trying to blame the massacre on the U.S. government, and by arguing that other religions are antigay, too. (Of course, there is a slight difference between committing a massacre in a gay club and refusing to bake a same-sex wedding cake.)
During all this time, and despite all these outrages, Dabashi has kept his job at Columbia. There has not really ever been any question about him keeping his job, not even after he published those comments about Jews that might just as easily have been written by Goebbels. But he has continued to attract notice. On May 31, the Jewish Journal reported that Columbia was “facing pressure to discipline Professor Hamid Dabashi for referring to Zionists as ‘hyenas.” On May 8, Dabashi had written a post on Facebook that included the following statement: “Every dirty treacherous ugly and pernicious happening in the world just wait for a few days and the ugly name ‘Israel’ will pop up in the atrocities.” In the same post, he called critics of President Obama’s Iran deal “Fifth Column Zionists working against the best interest of Americans and for the best interests of Israelis.”
In response to this Facebook post, a group called Alums for Campus Fairness wrote to Bollinger asking him to do four things: “denounce Dabashi’s comments, make it clear that Jewish and pro-Israel students are welcome on campus, discuss how campus climate can be improved and not allow Dabashi to continue teaching at the school until he ceases his ‘anti-Semitic rhetoric.’” The letter was signed by several members of the Columbia faculty and staff, among others. At this writing, Bollinger has yet to respond to the letter. We will follow the story closely. We will not hold our breath, and we will not be betting any money that the despicable Dabashi will be disciplined, let alone fired.