Father and daughter: the Maoist Michelets

Jon Michelet

When Jon Michelet died on April 14 at the age of 73, it made the front page of the major Norwegian newspapers and led off the TV news reports. Michelet published books in a wide range of genres, but was perhaps most famous for his bestselling crime novels. His death, the media told us, was mourned by Norway’s entire literary community – and, in fact, by the Norwegian reading public. The obituaries were full of praise for his work and his collegiality. His death was called “a great loss for Norwegian literature.”

Michelet at a 2014 book-signing

What wasn’t mentioned prominently – or at all – in the reports of his death was Michelet’s politics. He was, as it happens, a key figure in Norway’s Marxist-Leninist movement. From 1972 to 1976, he worked at the Oktober publishing house, which was run by a Maoist party called the Arbeidernes kommunistparti (AKP). During his last couple of years at Oktober, he ran the place. Later, police surveillance would result in the conclusion that he was, in fact, one of the leaders of AKP.

Stalin

Later, for a time, Michelet was also on the board of the Rød Valgallianse, another Norwegian Communist party which would subsequently merge with AKP and another Communist party to form the current Communist party, Rødt, or Red. (The history of Communist parties in postwar Norway is a field of study in itself.)

In 1987, he told Aftenposten that he wished that Norway, during his lifetime, would admit a million immigrants. (Norway has a population of five million.) This, he explained, would result in “total social upheaval” of a kind that Rødt Valgallianse would welcome.

It gives something of an idea of Michelet’s personality that after leaving Oktober, in an effort at “self-proletarianization,” he got a job at a brewery.

In recent years, Michelet made millions on a series of books about Norwegian naval heroes. But although he was rich, he told a reporter in 2014 that “I still consider myself a Communist. Money can change people, but not me!” Indeed, after his death, Ingeri Engelstad, the current editor-in-chief at Oktober, praised him for his “solidarity” and “political engagement.”

Jon and Marte

In addition to his shelfful of books, Michelet bequeathed another gift to Norway: a daughter, Marte Michelet. The other day, in a memorial article about her father, she wrote: “Thank you for everything you gave us, everything you fought for, everything you taught us and inspired us to do.”

What did he give her, what did he teach her, what did he fight for? The answer is simple: Mao, Stalin, Communist totalitarianism. And Marte learned it all. She shares her father’s far-left politics to the hilt. After being a leader of the Communist youth group Rød Ungdom, she went on to become a newspaper columnist. In that role, she has used every dirty Stalinist trick in the book against her ideological opponents – routinely misrepresenting their views and calling them liars and racists. That’s what Daddy taught her: in the struggle for Communist utopia, no instrument is too low.  

Marte Michelet

So it is that Marte is routinely quick to describe ideological opponents as liars and racists. Instead of replying to logical arguments with her own logical arguments, she coins words like “burkaphobia.” As Human Rights Service put it in 2008, Marte seems to do her best “to destroy any possibility of factual debate about immigration.” In 2009, Hege Storhaug reported on Marte’s efforts at “character assassination” in response to writers whose politics she disagreed with. When writer Steinar Lem questioned Norway’s immigration policies, Marte didn’t engage with his actual assertions; instead, she charged that he “viewed Muslim children as foreign weeds.” As Rita Karlsen wrote in response to this reprehensible mudslinging: “Quite simply, Marte Michelet should be sent to a course in manners.” Alas, good manners and devout Communism make a really, really bad fit. 

Louis Farrakhan: The music man

Louis Farrakhan

As we noted last week, Louis Farrakhan, the longtime head of the Nation of Islam and one of the most notorious white-haters and anti-Semites in America during the last few decades, began his career as a calypso musician. He quit music on orders from Nation of Islam founder Elijah Muhammed, but decades later he returned to it, reportedly after being encouraged to do so by yet another one of his high-placed and apparently shame-free friends – Sylvia Olden Lee, a vocal coach who was the first African-American employee of the Metropolitan Opera and who performed at the White House for the first inauguration of Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Farrakan gave the first performance in his newly resumed career as part of a three-day Winston-Salem, North Carolina, event devoted to black musicians and classical music. It was reviewed in the New York Times on April 9, 1993, by Bernard Holland, who wrote:

He plays the violin.

Can Louis Farrakhan play the violin? God bless us, he can. He makes a lot of mistakes, not surprising for a man who had virtually abandoned the instrument for 40 years and has only owned one since 1974. Yet Mr. Farrakhan’s sound is that of the authentic player. It is wide, deep and full of the energy that makes the violin gleam. His thrusting sense of phrase has musical power to it….

“God bless us”? Holy cow.

That was only the beginning. In February 2002, in Cerritos, California, Farrakhan gave a violin recital entitled “A Night of Beethoven.” The years went by. Every now and then, when he wasn’t busy delivering venomous sermons or hanging out with the likes of Barack Obama and Keith Ellison, Farrakhan would return to the musical stage, apparently to the great enjoyment of many, who either shared his vile views or who were somehow willing to overlook them.

Snoop Dogg

Now his career as a performing artist has reached a new chapter. On March 15, both Haaretz and the Jewish Daily Forward reported that he’d just dropped a new seven-CD set. Artists like Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, and Barbra Streisand have had big hits with albums of duets on which they perform with other big-name stars. Farrakhan’s new release, Let’s Change the World, follows the same formula. Among the entertainers who appear with him on the set, which sells for $260 and “features 45 songs in a variety of genres, including classical, gospel, jazz, folk, opera, rap, reggae and calypso,” are Stevie Wonder, Snoop Dogg, Chaka Khan, Rick Ross, Damian Marley, Stephanie Mills, and Common. Snoop Dogg, as it happens, is not only a musical collaborator of Farrakhan’s but a sometime member of the Nation of Islam, which he joined in 2009.

Well, as they say, music is the universal language. It transcends place and time and culture. And, sometimes, simple moral decency.

Farrakhan: the left’s favorite anti-Semite?

Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad you came.

On Tuesday we saw that Louis Farrakhan, the longtime head of the Nation of Islam, has, over the course of his career, has been a consistent hater of Jews and whites, an admirer of Hitler, and a friend of such admirable types as Muammar Qaddafi, Saddam Hussein, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Farrakhan was chummy with somebody else too – Barack Obama. In 1995, Obama, along with Al Sharpton, Jeremiah Wright, and others, helped Farrakhan organize the so-called “Million Man March.” 

Askia Muhammed on Fox News

The two men were all smiles in a snapshot that was taken at a 2005 meeting of the Congressional Black Caucus, but that was kept out of the public eye until this year. (Upon finally releasing the picture, the photographer, Askia Muhammad, who at the time had been working for the Nation of Islam, explained that he had held it back for all these years because he realized that it could have seriously damaged Obama’s political career.)

Farrakhan and Castro

During the 2008 presidential campaign, Farrakhan hailed Obama as “a herald of the messiah.” According to Farrakhan, the Nation of Islam donated money to Obama’s 1996 campaign for the Illinois Senate; a former Farrakhan aid later said that during Obama’s time in the state legislature, the two men were in frequent and direct touch.

Keith Ellison of Minnesota, the first Muslim member of the U.S. House of Representatives, is a former Nation of Islam member (he once wrote under the Nation of Islam name “Keith X Ellison”) who has repeatedly defended Farrakhan’s anti-semitic and anti-white rhetoric.  

Tamara Mallory with Farrakhan, aka “The Greatest of All Time”

Cut to February 2018. Tamika Mallory, an organizer of the Women’s March, was spotted at a Farrakhan speech in which he spoke of “Satanic Jews,” said that “when you want something in this world, the Jew holds the door,” declared that “the powerful Jews are my enemy” and predicted that “white folks are going down.” He even “gave Mallory a personal shoutout,” according to the ADL. The event drew attention to Mallory’s longtime support for Farrakhan. (She once posted on Instagram a picture of herself with him, captioned “GOAT” – short for Greatest of All Time.) Under pressure to disavow Farrakhan, she refused, tweeting: “I won’t go back, I won’t redraw the lines of division. I want a new way.”

Linda Sarsour

As it happens, Mallory’s fellow Women’s March leaders,  Carmen Perez and Linda Sarsour, also have ties to Farrakhan–and also refuse to cut him loose. In an official Women’s March statement, they said that they had chosen to remain silent about Farrakhan because they had been discussing the matter with “queer, trans, Jewish and Black” activists and were seeking to “break the cycles that pit our communities against each other.” When a black minister defended Farrakhan on Twitter, Sarsour wrote to him: “you are too blessed to be stressed. You are a man walking the path towards justice & standing up for the most marginalized. Stay strong and stay focused.”

You stay focused, too. Back on Tuesday with a few last words on Farrakhan. 

Farrakhan: from “Calypso Gene” to Saddam crony

Louis Farrakhan

We’ve devoted a lot of our attention on this website to famous Western entertainers – from Hilary Swank and Sharon Stone to Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn – who’ve performed for various Asian or African dictators in exchange for hefty paychecks. Pretty sleazy stuff, of course, especially given that the entertainers in question were hardly strapped for cash. No, it’s called selling out. 

There are, of course, other ways for celebrities to sell out.

An album of Farrakhan’s calypso cuts

Born in Roxbury, Massachusetts, in 1933, Louis Eugene Walcott began his career as a calypso singer and violinist, using the stage names “The Charmer” and “Calypso Gene.” But apparently music wasn’t doing it for him. He needed more. In 1955 he attended a Nation of Islam event at a mosque in Chicago. It changed his life. Not long after, he joined the Nation of Islam and became Louis X, the use of “X” in place of a last name being a Nation of Islam practice based on the premise that black Americans’ last names were slave names and that their original African names were unknown. Later, Elijah Muhammed, the Nation of Islam leader, gave Louis the Arabic last name of Farrakhan, which means “The Criterion.”

Malcolm X (left) and Louis Farrakhan (right) at a Harlem rally

It was not long before Farrakhan was named a minister, serving first as the assistant to Malcolm X in Boston, then becoming head minister there. But Farrakhan proved himself to be a more loyal member of the cult than even Malcolm X. When the famous activist, who for most white Americans was the very face of the Nation of Islam, called out the cult’s leader, Elijah Muhammed, for sexually abusing teenage girls, Farrakhan publicly defended Elijah Muhammed to the hilt and declared Malcolm X to be “worthy of death.” A few weeks later, Malcolm X was murdered by three men with links to the Nation of Islam.

Warith Al-Deen Mohammed

After Elijah Muhammed died, Farrakhan served as a Sunni imam under the late leader’s son, Warith Al-Deen Mohammed,who gave him the name Abdul-Haleem. Leaving Mohammed’s movement in 1978, Farrakhan established a new Nation of Islam. At its head, he routinely made headlines by calling caucasians “white devils,” calling Jews “bloodsuckers” and Judaism “a gutter religion,” and calling Hitler “very great.” Speaking of the Jews in a 1985 speech at Madison Square Garden, Farrakhan exclaimed: “Don’t you forget, when it’s God who puts you in the ovens, it’s forever!” Repeatedly, Farrkahan proclaimed that God had decreed the death of America, which he described as the most evil nation in human history. He pinned 9/11 on “the Jews.”

Farrakhan with Qaddafi

He was friendly with Muammar Qaddafi, who donated a billion dollars to Farrakhan’s political work, and who, speaking at a Nation of Islam convention in Chicago, said that he hoped to fund a black revolution in America. Farrakhan, for his part, called Qaddafi his “friend” and “brother.” He also befriended the leaders of Iran, Iraq, and other countries listed by the U.S. as state sponsors of terrorism.

He exchanged letters of support with Saddam Hussein, whom he praised as a “visionary.” Years later, he met with Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

A pretty appalling record. And yet it hasn’t kept a number of high-profile showbiz  figures from gladly collaborating with him. More on Thursday.

Lindy West, intersectional victim

We saw on Tuesday that New York Times contributor Lindy West is preoccupied with her status as a woman – and thus a member of a certified victim group. We’ve seen her beat up on male comics for daring to tell jokes that (she claims) hurt her feelings as a woman.

Lindy West

But she also belongs to another victim group. In a May 2016 piece for the Guardian she writes about being fat. Just as she doesn’t like the way men treat women, she doesn’t like the way non-fat people treat fat folks. Fat people are “infantilise[d]” and “desexualise[d].” They are viewed as “helpless babies enslaved by their most capricious cravings.” They “don’t know what’s best for them.” They “need to be guided and scolded like children.”

But of course fat women have it worse than fat men. Intersectionality, you see. Society, she argues, has a “monomaniacal fixation on female thinness.” Having started off talking about being fat, she takes a detour into the topic of being female:

Women matter. Women are half of us. When you raise women to believe that we are insignificant, that we are broken, that we are sick, that the only cure is starvation and restraint and smallness; when you pit women against one another, keep us shackled by shame and hunger, obsessing over our flaws, rather than our power and potential; when you leverage all of that to sap our money and our time – that moves the rudder of the world. It steers humanity toward conservatism and walls and the narrow interests of men….

And so on. This sort of thing, of course, writes itself. There is nothing new here. West seems to think she is some kind of oracle, but in fact she is nothing more than a fount of cliches on the subject of group victimhood.

James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano

Anyway, she then returns to the subject of being fat. She’s been fat all her life. She doesn’t see it as a health issue, or a matter of self-control. No, it’s all about prejudice and the male gaze.

“The ‘perfect body’ is a lie,” she writes. “As a kid,” she complains, “I never saw anyone remotely like myself on TV….There simply were no young, funny, capable, strong, good fat girls. A fat man can be Tony Soprano, he can be Dan from Roseanne [a character played by John Goodman]….But fat women were sexless mothers, pathetic punch lines or gruesome villains.”

What? What about Roseanne herself? She’s not all that heavy now, but back when her sitcom was first on TV, she was at least as big as Dan. And her character was the very definition of funny, capable, strong, and good. 

Roseanne, in her own overweight days

West proceeds to carry out a rather jejune survey of fat females in popular culture. It’s not worth going into here. The point is that when West writes about being fat, it’s entirely about being a victim.

As one reader comment on her piece put it: “We need to find ways of curing the obesity epidemic…instead of going on about fat being beautiful and obesity not being an issue at all.”

Aziz Ansari

Lindy West writes a lot, but pretty much everything she’s written is a version of the couple of pieces we’ve discussed here. For example, we’ve already seen West slam male comics for sexism; on January 1 of this year, the New York Times ran an item by West in which she called out stand-up comedian Aziz Ansari for a recently reported date-gone-wrong episode in which he had behaved in a tasteless, immature manner, although his conduct fell far short of rape. We’ve seen her go on about being fat; well, in July 2015, the Guardian ran a piece by her headlined “My wedding was perfect – and I was fat as hell the whole time.” Subhead: “As a fat woman, you are told to disguise, shrink or flatter your body. But I wasn’t going to hide at my wedding – the older I get, the harder it is to depoliticise simple acts.” Like most of her work, that essay went on forever, even though everything she had to say was in the headline and subhead.

Ricky Gervais

It goes on. Want more about sexism? Writing in the Times this year on the day before the Academy Awards ceremony, West complained about the depiction of women in Hollywood films and cheered the #metoo movement. Want more about how nasty male comics are? On March 28 she resumed whining about members of that profession, this time singling out Ricky Gervais. Headline: “The World Is Evolving and Ricky Gervais Isn’t.” Evolving in what way? Well, in the sense that more and more white men are taking orders from scolds like Lindy West. West sneered at those who worry about politically correct censorship on campus, who use the word “snowflake” to label people like herself who are constantly calling out supposed acts of verbal oppression, and who claim to be defending free speech. “What they’re actually reacting to,” West insisted, “is the message deep at the heart of the March for Our Lives, of Black Lives Matter, of the Women’s March: The world is bigger than you, and it belongs to us too.”

Mao Zedong

Needless to say, this is stupid stuff – pure ideological claptrap. Empty calories. But its stupidity doesn’t keep it from also being scary stuff. Idiots like Lindy West, who are incapable of thinking past these trendy categories, slogans, and buzzwords, are little more than would-be Thought Police, the contemporary heirs of the engineers of Mao’s Cultural Revolution. Thanks to people like West, more and more first-class comedians are deciding not to perform at colleges, because they know that any joke that isn’t tame and PC will be greeted with groans, protests, or much worse. Thanks to people like West, more and more high-school boys are deciding against going on to college, because the atmosphere at American colleges has become toxically anti-male. And the poison that has already infected campuses is quickly spreading, thanks to the likes of West, into the general culture – making the free exchange of ideas very difficult indeed, and turning real humor into a crime.

Lindy West: the Zeitgeist personified

Lindy West

It’s a mark of how far the New York Times has fallen that one of its “contributing opinion writers” – since July of last year – is a silly gal named Lindy West. She’s the author of a 2016 essay collection entitled Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman. The title, of course, places the book in a genre, or subgenre, that one might call “proudly obnoxious feminist” books, such as Elizabeth Wurtzel’s Bitch: In Praise of Difficult Women (1998) and Laurie Penny’s Bitch Doctrine: Essays for Dissenting Adults (2017). For many third-wave feminists, being proud of being obnoxious is, shall we say, a thing.

For a proudly obnoxious feminist, West’s career path has been pretty standard: a stint at Seattle’s alternative weekly The Stranger, a staff job at the feminist site Jezebel. And so on. Her Wikipedia page claims that she “has changed more minds…than you could count” using her humor, and lists several pieces of hers that have supposedly “helped shift mainstream attitudes about body image, comedy and online harassment over the past several years.” Not to question the veracity of Wikipedia, but we don’t know anyone whose opinions have been changed by her, and after reading her purported “greatest” works we not only can’t imagine any intelligent person being persuaded by them – we also can’t see why they’re considered humorous. West is not remotely funny, unless you think it’s funny to be, as she puts it, shrill. (And to use the F word in nearly every sentence.) 

Dave Attell, one of the comedians who would doubtless disappear in Lindy West’s perfect world

One of her supposed classics is a 2013 piece for Jezebel entitled “An Open Letter to White Male Comedians.” Her argument is that “comedy has a serious gender problem, and I really can’t stop complaining about it until it’s f***ing fixed. Comedy clubs are an overtly hostile space for women. Even just presuming we can talk about comedy gets women ripped to shreds by territorial dudes desperate to defend their authority over what’s funny.” Note how she uses the word “authority.” The fact here, as West goes on to make clear, is that she doesn’t like certain jokes about women, and she thinks women should have the right to tell men which jokes are out of bounds and to be listened to. In other words, she thinks female comics should be granted the authority to censor male comics.

Male comics, quite reasonably, reject this audacious proposal. And by doing so, in her cockeyed view, they’re the ones exercising authority. No, they’re exercising freedom. But in this “Open Letter,” as elsewhere, West makes it clear that she doesn’t have much respect for the concept of freedom – in particular, for freedom of speech.

Mel Brooks

Because speech, she claims, hurts.

In her “Open Letter,” she claims that “being a woman is a bitch,” that it “can be scary,” that “there’s always a small awareness that we are vulnerable simply because we are women,” that jokes “about domestic violence and rape…feed that aura of feeling unsafe and unwelcome.”

West doesn’t seem to realize that not just being a woman, but being human, can be scary, that we’re all vulnerable in certain ways, that life is tough for virtually all of us for a wide range of reasons, and is ultimately tragic for every last one of us, and that the whole point of truly great humor is to try to grapple with that. So it is that some of the very greatest humor goes into the very darkest of places. Just ask Mel Brooks.

But no, scratch that. West doesn’t want to hear from people like Mel Brooks – because he’s a straight white male, and is thus incapable of understanding any of this unless, perhaps, he reads West’s “Open Letter.” As she explains: “If you’re an able-bodied straight white male, you are by definition a member of the least number of systemically oppressed groups. It takes an entire blog post for me to make you feel diminished and misunderstood (my bad)—but you could do that to me or a gay person or a trans person or a person of color or a disabled person with just a word.”

This is what it comes down to with West – the claim that, because she is a member of an allegedly oppressed group, a single word can make her “feel diminished,” and that it’s therefore a noble act for her to hector and harass – at 3000 words’ length! – members of what she sees as non-oppressed groups about their use of words. Simply put, she’s the Zeitgeist personified. 

More on Thursday.

Stephen Hawking: ALS wasn’t his only affliction

Stephen Hawking

On Tuesday, we looked briefly at the long and extraordinary career of the British physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking, who may have done more than any other individual since Einstein to expand human understanding of the nature of the universe – and to try to spread that understanding, through books, television programs, and lectures, to the ordinary citizen.

And he did all this, as we noted, while bravely enduring the daily destruction caused by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), the cruel wasting disease that he contracted as a very young man and, against all odds, managed to live with for half a century.

Jacob Bekenstein

But ALS was not Hawking’s only affliction. As we pointed out on Tuesday, Hawking, who usually exhibited a high degree of respect for his fellowman, had one very large blind spot when it came to his fellowman. It had to do with Israel, and with Jews. He was, alas, hostile to Israel, and, many would argue, to the Jewish people generally. 

It was not a lifelong affliction. In early and mid career, Hawking visited Israel several times. On one occasion he was a guest of honor at a reception held by the Israel Academy of Sciences and the Humanities; on another, he traveled to the Jewish state to accept the Wolf Prize in Physics, which is awarded by an Israeli foundation. Most notably, he studied black-hole entropy and developed the theory of Bekenstein-Hawking radiation in collaboration with Jacob Bekenstein, a theoretical physicist at Hebrew University.

Noam Chomsky

More recently, however, Hawking fell under the baleful influence of Noam Chomsky, the world-class linguist turned massively influential far-left political commentator who is a notorious Israel-hater and fan of Palestine. According to Judy Siegel-Itzkovich, it was Chomsky who persuaded Hawking to turn down an invitation to a May 2013 conference in Jerusalem hosted by the then Israeli president, Shimon Peres. In a Guardian article that appeared shortly thereafter, however, Hilary and Steven Rose maintained that Hawking boycotted the conference at the behest of Palestinian academics.

With Pope Benedict XVI

This claim is supported by the letter Hawking wrote to the conference organizers, in which he warned that the “policy of the present Israeli government is likely to lead to disaster,” said that he had accepted their invitation so that he could “express my opinion on the prospects for a peace settlement” and “lecture on the West Bank,” and stated that he was withdrawing in accordance with the advice of “Palestinian academics,” who “are unanimous that I should respect the boycott.” This fracas did not mark the end of Hawking’s engagement with the Palestinians: last year, according to Al Jazeera, “he asked his millions of Facebook followers to contribute financially to the Palestinian Advanced Physics School – a physics lecture series for masters students in the occupied West Bank.”

Hawking at Intel with Lama Nachman, an Intel engineer

For all his scientific brilliance, Hawking’s palpable contempt for the only democracy in the Middle East cannot be described as anything other than sheer foolishness. Add to this foolishness a considerable dose of hypocrisy: as Jean Patrick Grumberg wrote after his death, Hawking professed to be observing the boycott of Israel promoted by the so-called BDS movement; in fact, however, the computer system that allowed him to communicate after the loss of his voice was a product of Israeli technology – specifically, of the Israeli branch of Intel. Hawking had been using the system since 1997, and by using it he was clearly violating the boycott. The moral inconsistency here, in short, is stark. To quote Grumberg’s summing-up: “It was through an Israeli communication system that Professor Hawking was able to announce a boycott of Israeli science and Jewish scientists.”