The deadly stoogery of Baader-Meinhof

It was a blast from the past. And boy, did these people know about blasts.

“Three veteran members of the Baader-Meinhof Gang, Germany’s most notorious homegrown terrorist organisation,” reported Justin Huggler in the Telegraph last May, “may have emerged from years in hiding to execute a series of armed robberies.” These crooks, who walked off with several hundred thousands of dollars, were part of the gang’s “third generation,” which had been notorious for act of terrorism back in the 1980s and 90s.

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The RAF’s official logo

How to sum up the long, eventful story of the Baader-Meinhof Gang (a.k.a. Baader-Meinhof Group), whose large cast of characters dominated headlines in 1970s West Germany with their seemingly random and meaningless acts of violence? Known by the names of two of its founders, Andreas Baader and Ulrike Meinhof, it actually called itself the Red Army Faction (RAF). Its members, most of them university students or former university students who had grown up in the years immediately following World War II, were young and angry. And extremely confused. For them, the Bonn government was little more than a continuation of the Nazi regime, and a tool of America – which, in their view, had inherited the Nazis’ role as the major worldwide force of fascist imperialism.

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Andreas Baader

One might ask how they managed not to recognize the rather significant difference between Hitler’s Germany and the West Germany in which they lived. One might further ask how a group of people who lived right next door to the Soviet bloc were so fiercely exercised over America’s supposedly imperial actions in far-flung places like Vietnam and Chile while showing nothing but fondness for the Moscow regime that subjugated Eastern Europe, ran the Gulag, and had built the wall around West Berlin, where many of them lived and operated.

But then, any American who encountered political-minded West German university students in those days can attest to the fierce anti-establishment and anti-American attitudes that ran rampant among them. Not all of them sympathized with the USSR, but even those who did not seemed to view it almost as an implacable fact of nature and appeared to see no point in criticizing its philosophy and policies.

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Ulrike Meinhof

As writer Michael Burleigh has put it, they were a generation of “spoiled middle-class kids [who] revolted against parents who had arduously rebuilt the country from wartime rubble” – and the RAF was “the lethal face of [that] radical generation.” (Indeed, Stefan Aust noted in his 1985 history The Baader-Meinhof Complex that while violent New Left radicals such as the Weather Underground were never popular in the U.S., fully a quarter of West Germans under forty actually felt sympathy for the Baader-Meinhof Group, with one out of ten saying they’d hide a member of the group from the police.)

But if RAF were their generation’s “lethal face,” they were hardly disciplined. Far from being worthy of the name “army” – theoretically coherent, strategically focused, tactically organized – the first generation of RAF members differed from the majority of their West German agemates largely by being bigger slobs, bigger screw-ups, and bigger screwballs: they lived, in Burleigh’s account, “a life of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll amid overflowing ashtrays, posters and fetid sheets.”

**ARCHIV** Andreas Baader, links, und Gudrun Ensslin in der Anklagebank vor der Urteilsverkuendung im Brandstifter-Prozess in Frankfurt am 31. Oktober 1968. Die zwei Angeklagten erhielten je Drei Jahre Zuchthaus. Vor 40 Jahren - in der Nacht zum 3. April 1968 - zuendeten die spaeteren RAF-Terroristen Andreas Baader und Gudrun Ensslin ihre ersten Brandsaetze. Im Kaufhaus Schneider auf der Frankfurter Zeil setzte ein verstecktes Schwefel-Phosphor-Paeckchen eine altdeutsche Schrankwand und im benachbarten Kaufhof Betten und Spielwaren in Flammen. Was auch manche Zeitgenossen als Happening von Bekifften ansahen, war der Beginn einer beispiellosen Terrorwelle, der in den naechsten drei Jahrzehnten mehr als 30 Menschen zum Opfer fielen. Auch viele Mitglieder der Terrorgruppe kamen ums Leben, bis sie sich 1998 für aufgeloest erklärte. Zunaechst als Baader-Meinhof-Gruppe oder Baader-Meinhof-Bande bekannt, nannte sie sich selbst Rote-Armee-Fraktion. (AP-Photo/fls) Andreas Baader, left, is seen together with Gudrun Ensslin during the proclamation of their sentence in their department store arson trial in Frankfurt/Main, Western Germany, on October 31, 1968. Baader was later one of the founders of the Western German terrorist group RAF (Red Army Faction). (AP Photo/fls)
Gudrun Ensslin

RAF co-founder Gudrun Ensslin, notes Burleigh, was “a dope-smoking anti-nuclear protester with serial boyfriends who had given away an illegitimate child for adoption” and who “had already starred in a soft porn movie when she fell under the spell of Andreas Baader.” As for Baader, he’d “been thrown out of school and failed at a succession of jobs; he had eked out a living as a male model, supplemented by robbing customers in the lavatories of gay bars and stealing cars. Like Ensslin, he too had an illegitimate daughter – and was also a drug-fuelled fantasist.”

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Christopher Hitchens

More than one observer has dismissed them as “psychopaths.” Christopher Hitchens wrote in 2009 that he’d been convinced since the late 1970s “that the Baader Meinhof phenomenon actually was a form of psychosis.” A principal recruiting ground for the RAF, he noted, “was an institution at the University of Heidelberg called the Sozialistisches Patienten Kollektiv, or Socialist Patients Collective, an outfit that sought to persuade the pitifully insane that they needed no treatment save social revolution.” When the RAF ran low on members and needed to replenish its numbers, it proselytized at the SPK.

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Che: a role model

In any event, the RAF unequivocally admired the Communist world. If West Germany was the Third Reich’s successor state, East Germany preserved the ideals of the anti-fascist forces, led by Moscow, that had defeated it. They loved Mao. They identified with Che Guevara. Like many members of the New Left throughout Western Europe and North America, they were steeped in the writings of the Frankfurt school and other Marxists, devouring, and frequently consulting and quoting, writers like Italian Communist Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937) and German-American theoretician Herbert Marcuse (1989-1979).

But theory wasn’t enough for the RAF. Above all, they were devoted to translating theory into action. More about that action tomorrow.

Sally Kohn teaches you about sharia

The tweet appeared on August 16:

Hey @realDonaldTrump, many *progressive Muslims* — the ones we should support in ideological fight against extremism — believe in Sharia!!

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Sally Kohn

The purpose of this tweet was clear. Trump had publicly criticized sharia; Sally Kohn was out to defend it. Yes, the Jewish lesbian CNN commentator was speaking up for a legal system that subordinates women to men, subjects Jews to Muslims, permits men to beat (and even kill) their wives and daughters, punishes rape victims, orders the execution of gays, and much else.

One of her Twitter followers asked: “@sallykohn would you like to live under Sharia law? Please. I’m waiting….” Kohn replied: “Well since NONE of the 40 Muslim majority nations in the UN have instituted ‘sharia law’ where exactly do you mean?”

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Trump on the stump

On the contrary, there’s an entire Wikipedia page about the application of sharia law in today’s Muslim countries. In Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Sudan, and Mauritania, “sharia applies in full.” In several other countries, including most of the Maghreb, Levant, and east Africa, “sharia applies in personal status issues (such as marriage, divorce, inheritance, and child custody).”

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Sharia in the Muslim world. Green: no sharia. Yellow: marriage, divorce, inheritance, child custody, etc., governed by sharia. Purple: sharia applies in full. Orange: regional variations

Another Twitter follower asked Kohn: “When exactly did you become an expert in Islam @sallykohn?” Kohn replied: “Uh, I’m not. But I’ve taken time to understand what sharia really is – not just swallow right wing fear mongering.” In response to another challenge, Kohn insisted: “You do realize there are gay feminist Muslims who BELIEVE IN SHARIA?!????? Really.” She also tweeted a photo of two men kissing at a gay event and commented: “FYI these Muslims celebrating gay pride ALSO believe in sharia.”

sally7Now, it may be that Kohn has been at the receiving end of a whole lot of taqiyya – in other words, Islamically sanctioned lying. There are, indeed, innocuous aspects of sharia, and when Muslims who wish to mislead ignorant left-wing infidels go about “explaining” sharia to them, they focus exclusively on those aspects, omitting all the ugly stuff. So maybe Kohn was just breathtakingly misinformed. Or else she knew better and was just plain lying. In either case, given the massive human-rights violations that have occurred around the world in recent years owing to sharia law, Kohn’s effort to whitewash it, whether out of ignorance or deceit, was inexcusable. Naturally, some of Kohn’s followers tried to correct her misperceptions (or misrepresentations):

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Some of Kohn’s fellow admirers of sharia

@sallykohn As a lesbian, you would be put to death under Sharia. Why would you support such an ideology.

Liberal Muslim intellectuals focused on religious reform have been executed under Shari’a regimes. But whatevs. [sic]

Meanwhile, others served up some well-deserved mockery:

Apparently @sallykohn thinks Sharia is a progressive and forward thinking ideology. Great hire there, @CNN

I’m convinced now @sallykohn doesn’t believe what she tweets at this point because it’s so ridiculous.

burakHow did Kohn respond to those who tried to set her straight about Islamic law? By employing a familiar left-wing dodge. She switched the topic from sharia to right-wing American homophobia:  

All the right wingers freaking out about how all Muslims supposedly oppose LGBT rights have an underdeveloped sense of irony.

No, Ms. Kohn: you have an underdeveloped knowledge of history, geography, international affairs, and much else. As for Islam, whether you’re as appallingly ignorant of it as you seem to be, or are simply, like many others on the left, dedicated to covering up the horrific truth about it – and, in effect, spitting on the corpses of all the gays, Jews, women, and others who have been murdered in its name – isn’t entirely clear. But one thing’s for sure: you’re a rising star in the constellation of contemporary useful stooges.  

The staggering ignorance of Sally Kohn

We’ve been talking this week about Sally Kohn, a grassroots community organizer turned CNN commentator who, as we’ve seen, could use a little less ideology and a little more historical perspective – plus (not to be too cruel about it) the kind of general knowledge that you need to get at least one or two $100 questions right on Jeopardy.

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Sally Kohn

Yesterday we mentioned an article Kohn recently wrote after her first-ever visit to the Netherlands. As we noted, she interviewed Tofik Dibi, whom she identified as “one of the country’s leading Muslim political figures.” She quoted Dibi as telling her that Dutch tolerance is a myth, a lie, an illusion, and that he spends every day in the Netherlands feeling as if he’s the object of suspicion just because of his religion.

As it turns out, Kohn left out a few tiny details about Dibi. For one thing, he’s apparently a Muslim only by heritage. He wasn’t brought up in a religious home. His parents divorced when he was a child. He attended a Catholic school, not a madrass. As a young man, he joined the Green Party, which gave him such a great welcome that, within a very short time, his name was placed near the very top of its list of parliamentary candidates, essentially guaranteeing his election. In 2007, at age 26, he entered parliament, where he remained until 2012.

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Dibi in parliament

During those years in parliament, Dibi was considered a major Dutch politician – and a major leader of the Dutch Muslim community. Last year, however, after leaving politics, he wrote a memoir in which he came out as gay, explaining that he hadn’t come out earlier because he knew that Dutch Muslims would never have considered a gay man to be a legitimate Muslim leader.

In short, Dibi, who skyrocketed to political power thanks to the support of non-Muslim Dutch politicians and voters, has little apparent reason to complain about Dutch “Islamophobia.” What he has suffered from, beyond question, is Islamic hostility toward gay people.

sally11Now, there’s no way of knowing whether he told Kohn any of this during their conversation. But the simple fact is that every major detail of his political career is publicly available information. We can only assume either that Kohn didn’t take the trouble to look up even the most basic facts about her interviewee, or that she chose to edit the story of his career – and, perhaps, trim his personal testimony – in such a manner as to ensure that it fitted her narrative. For the unfortunate reality is that Kohn, like so many useful gay stooges on today’s left, prefers not to acknowledge the brutal reality of Islamic gay-hatred – although she’s perfectly happy, of course, to proffer the ugly lie of Dutch “Islamophobia.”

How did Kohn conclude her Amsterdam piece? “In the United States,” she wrote, “I’d come to think of tolerance as a linear progression….Here in Amsterdam, things were spun around. Or maybe just round. Openly gay politicians were rabidly anti-Muslim.…Amsterdam was neither enlightened nor close-minded but constantly shifting, not progressing along a line but simultaneously occupying multiple points on a circle. Like a wheel of cheese. Or maybe spokes on a bike. Constantly turning.”

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A part of Amsterdam that Kohn apparently didn’t visit

We submit that the only spinning was going on inside Ms. Kohn’s head. A bit of unsolicited advice for Ms. Kohn: first, close your left-wing ideological prayer book and open your mind to the facts, whether you like them or not. Read up on Islamic history, theology, and law. Face up to the harsh reality of jihad, going back to the very founding of the faith and the Islamic attempts over the centuries to conquer Europe. Learn about the ways in which the current wave of Islamic immigration has replicated those efforts – and has transformed Europe in ways that threaten the very liberalism for which you claim to stand. Struggle to understand that if “very liberal” and openly gay Dutch people are exercised over Islam, it’s precisely because they’ve lived at close quarters with it long enough to know that it is, at its very roots, the very opposite of liberal, especially when it comes to gays.

Which brings us, at last, to the August tweet with which we kicked off this week. We’ll look at it tomorrow.

Silly Sally

sally9Longtime left-wing activist Sally Kohn, now a CNN commentator, is married to a woman named Sarah Hansen. It should be no surprise to anyone familiar with Kohn’s politically and culturally claustrophobic personal history that Hansen, too, is a left-wing activist who for several years was head of something called the Environmental Grantmakers Association and that these two gals met (what could be more romantic?) at the 2003 World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil. Together they have one child, a daughter who would today be about seven or eight years old. In February of last year, that child was the subject, or pretext, of an op-ed published by Kohn in the Washington Post. 

sally-kohn-familyIts headline: “I’m gay. And I want my kid to be gay, too.”

Yes, the headline was deliberately provocative. And just plain silly. In the piece itself, Kohn reassured readers that she’d never actually try to force gayness on her daughter. “[N]o matter what,” she maintained, “I’d want my child to be herself.” Immediately after making this claim, she offered the following example: “If I lived in, say, North Carolina, with an adopted son from Morocco, I’d like to think I would encourage him to be Muslim, if that’s what he chose. I’d do this even though his life would probably be easier if he didn’t.”

Stop and roll that around in your mind for a minute or two. Not that Kohn seems to have done so. No, it doesn’t appear to have occurred to her that if she had a son who became a devout Muslim, it might well be her life, and her spouse’s – not his – that would be made considerably more difficult, if not downright endangered, by that development. It’s hardly a public secret – although Kohn seems blissfully ignorant of it – that most young men who decide to convert to Islam, or to begin to take their Islamic faith more seriously, tend to pursue courses of study that, shall we say, inculcate in them attitudes toward homosexuality, toward Jews, and toward independent-minded women that would not make a mother like Sally Kohn feel exceedingly comfortable.

sharia5aThis brings us back to Kohn’s piece about Amsterdam, which we mentioned yesterday. You’ll recall that it came as news to her that Amsterdam is located in the Netherlands. Obviously she knew zilch about the Dutch. So who best to lecture us about them? In her piece, entitled “Is Amsterdam Really as Tolerant as it Seems?”, she started off by telling us that during her visit to Amsterdam, the Dutch kept telling her how tolerant they are. And yet – gasp! – a “very liberal and enlightened” person with whom she had coffee ended up “verbally bashing Muslims.”

Kohn was, needless to say, shocked.

Since she doesn’t quote her interlocutor, it’s not clear what Kohn means by “verbally bashing Muslims.” One strongly suspects that rather than “bashing Muslims” as individuals, her “very liberal” acquaintance was offering honest criticism of Islam as an ideology, a culture, a phenomenon.

islamnethNow, you might think that someone in Kohn’s position would know enough about recent European developments to at least not be shocked by the spectacle of a “very liberal” Dutch person criticizing Islam. As we’ve seen, however, Kohn can’t be counted on to be up on anything outside her own extremely narrow sphere of contemporary political commentary and ideological analysis within a U.S. context.

But you might at least expect that she’d have enough intellectual curiosity to want to understand why a “very liberal” Dutch person would have a problem with Islam. Alas, no. Kohn doesn’t think that way. Indeed, the more one reads her and listens to her, the more one suspects that, strictly speaking, she doesn’t do much thinking at all.

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Tofik Dibi

How did she respond, then, to the trauma of hearing a “very liberal” Dutch person criticize Islam? She reached out to Tofik Dibi, whom she described as “one of the country’s leading Muslim political figures.” Dibi gave her an earful. He told her that Dutch tolerance is “an illusion. Or a delusion. The Netherlands is not actually that tolerant.” He charged the Dutch with having become more “Islamophobic” since 9/11 and the 2004 butchery of journalist Theo van Gogh on an Amsterdam street by a Dutch-born jihadist. “Tofik,” Kohn wrote, “described feeling like a dark cloud of suspicion was always hovering above his head.”

What Kohn omitted to tell the reader about Dibi was that he’s hardly a typical “Muslim political figure.” Meaning what? Tune in tomorrow.

Amsterwhat?

“When I first found out I was going to Amsterdam, I thought I had been there before, even though I hadn’t, because I’m not very good at geography, and I thought Amsterdam was in Belgium. It’s not. It’s in the Netherlands.”

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Sally Kohn

That’s a direct quote from an article that jejune CNN pundit Sally Kohn wrote last year for a travel website. Her honesty about her ignorance is almost charming. But the ignorance itself is so staggering, on the part of somebody in her position, that it totally cancels out the charm.

This is, after all, as we saw yesterday, a commentator who’s been described as one of “the 100 most influential pundits on television” and as “the 35th most influential LGBT person in the media.” Her professional background, as we further observed yesterday, has been entirely in activism and political commentary. As far as we can tell from her CV, she has spent little or no time studying such topics as history or (as she herself admitted in that travel article) geography.

nethThe thing is this: if Kohn didn’t know that Amsterdam is in the Netherlands, imagine how much else she doesn’t know. It’s one thing not to be able to explain the difference between Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, or between Guinea and Guinea-Bissau. But Amsterdam and the Netherlands play a central role in modern history, in Western history, and – indeed – in American history. If she didn’t know that Amsterdam is in the Netherlands, that means that there’s a whole swath of basic Western historical fact that must be a total mystery to her.

sally8Put it this way: if you don’t know that Amsterdam is in the Netherlands, then you can’t possibly have even a vague awareness of the crucial role of the Netherlands in the settling of the New World and the founding of the United States. You can’t possibly be aware of the place of the Dutch Republic in the rise of modern freedom, modern capitalism, and modern commerce – at least not aware enough to deserve a job spouting opinions on CNN. Because if you want to even start to try to understand how the world works today, and why some parts of it work so much better than others, and how things came to be this way, you need to know enough history to be aware, at the very least, that Amsterdam is, in fact, in the Netherlands.

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Belgium?

This is not to suggest that Kohn is alone at the top in her woeful ignorance. All too many young (and not so young) reporters and pundits nowadays seem to know remarkably little about what happened in history before they were, say, in high school. (Kohn’s CNN colleague Wolf Blitzer, for example, is a certified buffoon who put in one of the most humiliating performances ever on a dumbed-down celebrity edition of Jeopardy.) But even in this crowd, Kohn seems to be a special kind of ignorant. In July, she tweeted angrily about “white guys with AK-15s conducting mass shootings.” When some of her followers pointed out that there’s no such thing as an AK-15, she insisted it was a typo and doubled down on the ranting.

In May, Kohn wrote an article for Time complaining about what she called the “Bernie Bros” – in other words, male Bernie Sanders enthusiasts who were being unruly at public events. She couldn’t figure out why Bernie boosters, most of whom by definition, in her view, have “a deep commitment to non-violence,” should be conducting themselves in such a barbaric fashion. After all, she argued, it’s the Donald Trump camp that is “not entirely but definitely largely based on implicitly violent denigration of Mexicans and Muslims.”

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Kohn tweeted this picture in April when she endorsed Sanders’ White House bid

How can a person in her position be so historically unaware? Before the Sanders campaign fizzled out, Kohn was an all-out supporter of the senator from Vermont – a dyed-in-the-wool socialist who’s repeatedly praised the Castro regime in Cuba, who’s hailed the Chávez and Maduro governments (and refused to comment on their utter destruction of the Venezuelan economy), and who, so deep was his faith, even honeymooned in the Soviet Union. The nature of Sanders’s convictions is, and has been throughout his political journey, crystal clear. But instead of recognizing the simple fact that the tenets of Sanders’s ideology have always been utterly inextricable from the most monstrous kind of violence, Kohn embraced in her Time article the absurd claim – which that ideology has always made for itself – that it is ardently anti-violence.

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One of the “Bernie Bros” being arrested

So ideology-bound is Kohn, in other words, that in her piece for Time she simply couldn’t put leftism and violence together and make it compute. So what did she do? She reached for the closest ideologically acceptable explanation for the violence of the “Bernie Bros,” and attributed it to that comfortable bogeyman, “white male anger.”

Here’s how she put it: “in the past and present of America it is impossible to disentangle white male anger from gender and racial bias and resentment.”

Ah, there we go. How sweet, to feel that tension dissipate! How easy, when you consistently place ideology above reality, to be able to sweep away the plain and simple facts with the same old comforting, reassuring lies!

But we’ve only begun to plumb the depths of Sally Kohn’s superficiality. More tomorrow.

Marinated in ideology: Sally Kohn

sally4She’s one of America’s most prominent commentators, and in late August she lit the Twitterverse on fire with what at least one website called “the dumbest tweet ever.” The tweet in question was directed at Donald Trump, and it slammed him for criticizing sharia law. Yes, she actually defended sharia law – a system of jurisprudence under which she, a Jewish lesbian, would be subject to the death penalty for any number of reasons.

kohnnnnThis was, to be sure, scarcely the first time Sally Kohn, now age 39, revealed her colossal ignorance of something that she, as a regular pundit on CNN, should know more about. But we’ll get around to those episodes – and, of course, to the sharia fracas itself – in good time.

First, let’s look at who this woman is – and where she came from.

Kohn’s climb up the media ladder has been swift. Born in Allentown, Pennsylvania, she studied psychology at George Washington University, then got a joint Master of Public Administration and JD at NYU. During her student years she was also (in turn) an intern at the Gay and Lesbian Alliance against Defamation (GLAAD), a “Vaid Fellow” (named for radical lesbian activist Urvashi Vaid) at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF), an intern (briefly) at the Legal Aid Society, and director (again briefly) of something called the Third Wave Foundation, which she apparently founded herself (and of which we haven’t been able to find any trace on the Internet).

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Kohn on Fox News

Kohn went on to work at the Ford Foundation, the Center for Community Change (a “progressive community organizing group”), and the Movement Vision Lab (which, according to its website, “makes the world safe for radical ideas”). At these jobs, according to her own LinkedIn page, Kohn spent her time building “the capacity of grassroots organizations…to articulate their ideas and build creative strategies to advance their agendas,” leading “a grassroots think tank to articulate and enliven a bold, progressive vision,” and the like.

Five years ago she entered the public eye as a political commentator for Fox News and a contributor to the Daily Beast. Two years ago she moved from Fox to CNN. Meanwhile she’s become a sought-after speaker at colleges and elsewhere and (apparently) a successful “media and public speaking consultant.” As her website brags, the gay newsmagazine The Advocate has called her “the 35th most influential LGBT person in the media.” Mediaite named her “one of the 100 most influential pundits on television,” and in 2014 she made its list of the “Top 9 Rising Stars of Cable News.”

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Kohn on CNN

She is, indeed, a star – and, yes, a remarkably influential one. Which raises a couple of questions. First, what qualifies her to occupy such a powerful position? Second, what is the nature of the views she spouts to her ever-widening audience?

In addressing the first question, what one notices, upon looking through her résumé, is that her experience has been almost entirely with hands-on social activism. She’s never pursued a remotely serious study of, well, anything, other than law. (Do we really want to count undergraduate psychology?) She’s certainly never seriously studied any kind of history – cultural history, political history, social history, whatever. She’s clearly innocent of economics. She’s never been a reporter. She’s never clerked for a judge. Perhaps most important, until she went into the pundit business, she never held anything remotely resembling a real job in a profit-making enterprise.

In short, she doesn’t have an especially clear idea of how the real world works.

sally8No, whatever special wisdom she may have to offer is derived almost exclusively from years and years of living in a small, claustrophobic bubble of left-wing activism – years, that is, of being entirely devoted to the building of “creative strategies,” the advancing of dynamic agendas, and the articulating of “bold, progressive vision[s]” on behalf of various community groups, victim groups, interest groups, and the like.

kkkkkkAdmittedly, there are certain skills and certain kinds of knowledge that one can develop as a result of being wholly immersed in such activities. But we’re not talking here about the sort of background that’s designed to deepen an individual’s historical knowledge or enrich her cultural perspective. On the contrary, it seems fair to say that Kohn has spent her adult life doing one thing: marinating in ideology – and learning, above all, how best to package it, promote it, and market it. As far as we can tell, she’s involved herself in absolutely nothing – zilch, zero, nada – that might have had the effect of (horrors!) challenging her ideology. For a dyed-in-the-wool ideologue like Kohn, a fact that causes one to re-examine one’s ideology isn’t something to mull over, take into account, and learn from; it’s something to ignore, reject, repel, conceal, distort. 

As for the nature of her views – well, tune in tomorrow. There’s lots more to come.

Happy birthday, Fidel!

FILE - In this July 26, 2006 file photo, Cuba's President Fidel Castro pauses as addresses a crowd of Latin American students gathered in Pedernales, in Holguin province, Cuba, for the anniversary of the attack on the Moncada barracks. As Fidel Castro gets ready to celebrate his 90th birthday on Aug. 13, 2016, many Cubans today openly describe themselves as capitalists, and say time has proven that Castro’s economic ideas do not work. (AP Photo/ Javier Galeano, File)
Fidel Castro, in a photo accompanying the Atlantic Monthly’s report on his 90th birthday

When Fidel Castro turned 90 on August 13, some of the leading news organs in the English-speaking world took the opportunity to commemorate the occasion. How? By recalling his decades of tyranny, torture, and terror? Nope. Mostly, they chose to portray Fidel as “the great survivor” – which, as it happens, was the title of Will Grant‘s piece for BBC News, for which Grant journeyed to Fidel’s hometown to collect cozy stories about the Great Man’s childhood.

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This heroic image accompanied the New Yorker’s 90th birthday tribute

It was dismaying, but hardly surprising, to witness the readiness of one major news organization after another to whitewash Fidel’s brutality and to pretend that he’s actually accomplished anything positive for his freedom-deprived people. Take CBS News, whose Portia Siegelbaum provided us with the adorable information that Fidel spends most of his birthdays “sharing a cake with young children.” Cuban TV, she noted, had recently been broadcasting “a massive class in Cuban history” every night; it seemed not to have occurred to her that this offering by the state-run media might be less history than propaganda.

Siegelbaum also told us that “most Cubans feel Fidel Castro has earned the right to celebrate reaching 90.” What was her evidence for this claim? She didn’t say. How do you perform a scientific survey of such questions in a country where the people risk being imprisoned and tortured if they whisper a single word in criticism of their leaders? (One thing’s for sure: very few of the 1.5 million Cubans who’ve fled their island prison to live in the U.S. feel the nonagenarian dictator “has earned the right to celebrate reaching 90.” Not to mention the opinions of the long-dead victims of Che’s firing squads and those who perished in Fidel’s prisons.)

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Fidel with Che Guevara, in a photograph for the New York Times – his revolution’s #1 international propaganda tool

Concluding her piece, in what was apparently meant as some sort of affectionate salute to Fidel’s enduring influence, Siegelbaum actually called him “the man who for more than five decades set the political discourse on what life should be like on the largest of the Caribbean islands.”

Um, yeah, Portia – that’s called dictatorship.

Then there was Jon Lee Anderson‘s Fidel piece for the New Yorker, in which the word dictator appeared exactly twice – not to label Fidel, but to describe, first, the Dominican Republic’s Rafael Trujillo and, second, Fidel’s predecessor, Fulgencio Batista. Anderson summed up the purported highlights of Fidel’s rule – the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the hundreds of alleged CIA attempts to kill Fidel – but there was no mention of the soul-crushing, economy-destroying Communist system itself, or of Fidel’s mass incarceration, torture, and murder of thousands of his own subjects.

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The Guardian, in illustrating its Fidel-turns-90 piece, went with this touching shot

Calling Fidel an “elder statesman” in “the twilight of his life,” Anderson reflected that the ongoing changes in Cuba “must be deeply poignant” for the old man, accepted with credulity the claim that Fidel’s chief concerns nowadays are with “the risks posed by arms proliferation, global warming, and food scarcities,” and stated, in a sentimental concluding flourish, that Fidel, at the most recent Party Congress, “reaffirmed his faith in Communism, in the future of Cuba, and the legacy that he believed Cuba’s Communists had forged.” As if this “legacy” were anything other than pure, unadulterated evil.

CNN’s Patrick Oppmann made one of the most curious choices of all, putting front and center the hundreds of supposed murder attempts that Fidel supposedly survived over the decades. Fidel, Oppmann wrote, “has lived much of his long life in the spotlight – and much of it in the crosshairs – surviving a half century of assassination plots.” (It seemed highly likely that the authors of several of these birthday pieces were working from the same official Havana press release.) No mention, naturally, of the number of people Fidel managed to bump off during that half century. Oppmann cited Fidel’s “reputation as a cheater of death” – never mind, again, his longtime career as a dealer of death.

castro1Instead of acknowledging, moreover, that the overwhelming majority of those who wanted Fidel dead were freedom-loving Cubans, many of whom had been tortured by Castro’s henchmen and forced to flee their beloved homeland, Oppmann painted Fidel as the victim in a struggle against (who else?) the Mob: “Few had as much reason to want Castro dead as the American mafia.”

In short, a shameful showing by the Western media. But of course we should have expected that the 90th birthday of Cuba’s vile old despot would bring the useful hack-journalist stooges crawling out of their ratholes.