BABARA AMIEL January 23 2006


BABARA AMIEL January 23 2006


'I wasn't offended by Munich's moral relativism. I just got sick of the stupidity. Jonas's article, by contrast, was fabulous.'

The spirit of Vengeance

I have just read the article on the film Munich (“The Spielberg massacre,” Cover, Jan. 9) and I must completely agree with George Jonas’s analysis that Steven Spielberg’s interpretation is a “fable of moral equivalence.” Having read Vengeance, Jonas’s book about the slaughter of 11 Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympic village in 1972 and the subsequent murder of terrorist organizers in Europe, seen the original movie based on the book, and having now seen Munich, I must agree that the latter is a great movie but a poor interpretation of the actual events. Save us from the moralizing peaceniks. The tragedy of the terrorists’ murder of the Israeli athletes called for an extraordinary effort to punish them and Israel carried out what had to be done. Israel was and still is at war with terrorists and is fighting for its survival. Let us not forget this. Terrorism then and now must be met with strength, courage and determination. Acquiescing to terrorism will only lead to the end of civil society. Spielberg’s Munich, as good theatre as it is, is an apologia for Spielberg’s view that what Israel had to do and what the Black September terrorists did was equivalent. They were not and never will be. Ian C.D. Moffat, Nepean, Ont.

George Jonas’s article is one of the best written and most enjoyable pieces I have had the pleasure of reading, whether in your magazine or elsewhere. Jonas has every right to be upset about the neutralizing of the story—after all, murdering athletes is, in fact, very different from murdering murderers, is it not? Still, Jonas is not at all surprised at the Hollywood version, but is understanding, bemused, and, in turn, very amusing. He owes nothing to Spielberg in the entertainment department. Robert Levin, Kelowna, B.C.

All killing of human beings is immoral. The trap is not in debating the morality of resisting terrorism versus the morality of not resisting terrorism. The trap is in trying to justify the killing on a moral basis. When it comes to killing people, what you do is determina-

tive of your moral status. The why of it belongs to conscience, not to any universal or objective sense of morality. Perhaps the debate is a distraction that keeps us from dealing with a harder problem—the hypocrisy of our effort to obtain a moral high ground on the use of murder as a political weapon, and how we use that hypocrisy to avoid dealing with the Sierra Leone-like economic and political realities foisted on the Palestinian population by an indifferent Western elite.

Phil Thompson, Richmond Hill, Ont.

I loved this article! I noticed it on the newsstand just a couple of days after seeing the movie (or most of it, since I left before the end). I wasn’t offended by the movie’s moral relativism. I’d only been after some brief diversion and entertainment. I just got sick of the stupidity. The article, by contrast, was fabulous-interesting, snappy, intelligent, and witty. Uriel Wittenberg, Toronto

In Jonas’s story, I came across the following passage: “Within 41 days of the murder of the Israeli athletes, some Arabs living in Europe, described as terrorist organizers, start meeting violent deaths. The first to be shot, in the lobby of his apartment building in Rome, is a man named Wael Zwaiter, one of Yasser Arafat’s cousins. The poet Zwaiter is the author—or so Israel’s security service, the Mossad, holds—not only of a modern translation of A Thousand and One Nights but also of an August 1972 attempt to blow up an El Al jet.” Anyone who does any research on the Mossad, which I thought Jonas ought to have done, would know that the Mossad is the intelligence service (the spying and spy-hiring group), while the security service (the spyand terrorist-catching group) is called the Shin Bet. Splitting hairs? Maybe. But which group is Jonas talking about, the Mossad, or the security service? Enquiring minds want to know. David Askew, Oakville, Ont.

The leaky ship of state

I was delighted by your editorial about Finance Minister Ralph Goodale (“Send him packing, too,” Jan.9); it reassured me that my understanding was correct, that a minister is responsible for what goes on in his or her department, and should resign in a situation such as the income trust leak. The minister’s own integrity would not be impugned by his resignation, but his sense of personal responsibility would be established. By not resign-

'The real issue in the Middle East is the subjugation of women. Give them their freedom and the right to vote and militant groups would cease to exist.'

ing, Goodale demonstrates that he is not worthy of his post. In the event of a Liberal return to power, I think he has forfeited any right to be considered for cabinet, which would be a loss, because prior to this debacle, he appeared to be one of the most effective ministers. Douglas Millar, Campbell River, B.C.

Your editorial is a model essay on the principles of ministerial responsibility. The one thing you failed to mention is that this is an election period. What is the constitutional rule or convention when Parliament has been dissolved and is not there for a minister to answer to? A principle you might consider is whether a campaigning political party has a constitutional duty to shoot itself in the foot when any accusation is made. Suppose an agitator baselessly laid a criminal charge against an opposition party leader, and the police commenced investigation. Would the leader have an ethical duty to step aside temporarily during the campaign, pending his being cleared, and so lend public credence to the charge? Would the leader have an ethical duty to his supporters to continue campaigning? Denis How arth, Coquitlam, B.C.

Maclean’s is bland no more

I just did something I never thought possible: I bought an issue of Maclean’s. That’s quite an achievement. I once considered it the dullest magazine this side of the Suez.

Craig Brett, Vancouver

I have thoroughly enjoyed the last few issues of Maclean’s. There has been a significant transformation in layout and content from long-standing blandness to you now being vibrant and informative. Yesterday, for the first time ever, I picked up my Maclean’s instead of the Time magazine on my desk. I have asked my colleagues to start reading their Maclean’s before leaving them in the waiting rooms. Kudos to your team.

Dr. Patrick M. Liao, Mississauga, Ont.

Hypocrisy in the sisterhood

I agree wholeheartedly with Mark Steyn— the real issue in the Middle East is the subjugation of women (“The war on terror is the real women’s issue,” Books, Jan. 9). Give women in the Middle East their freedom and the right to vote and very soon militant groups would cease to exist. I truly do not understand how Western women can oppose the war on terror

in Iraq. Women in the Middle East have been living in fear all their lives and we here in the West dismiss the human rights abuses against them as cultural. I would like to know where the hell the UN is on the issue of abuse against women in Muslim countries. Why has it not taken up the mantle to eliminate atrocities that happen on a daily basis? But then again, the UN is governed by a bunch of misogynists and Third World despots who hunger for power. Patricia Paradoski, Lockport, Man.

Thank you for publishing Steyn’s article regarding the strange silence of feminists on Islam. I’m a feminist and I have been unnerved by radical Islam for years. Bottom line, human rights supercede culture and, from sharia to genital mutilation, the human rights abuses of women under Islam are as numerous as they are horrendous.

Michelle Rivers, Houston

By suggesting that feminists in the West have very little left to fight for, Steyn makes a mockery of the anti-violence work to which many women devote themselves. His dismissal of young feminists as “kooky” and older ones as “squaresville” is a perfect example of how feminism is maligned. The characterization of Gloria Steinem’s politics as the figurative equivalent of a saggy, wrinkled old woman, and gracious admittance that she is still “fabulously hot” only serve to imbue the article with a double dose of sexism. Women aren’t offended by compliments, but by the fact that they continue to be objectified. This culture of objectification still exists, and it fuels the violent rape and sexual abuse of women and children, who are seen as chattels to be used. Steyn’s myopic attitude is dangerous because denying the existence of gender-based violence makes it more covert and acceptable. Oh, and one more thing-it was my boyfriend who suggested I write this letter. Neutered post-feminist wimp, or supportive and secure man? You choose.

Caitlin Coidl, Public Education Coordinator, Sexual Assault Centre, Kingston, Ont.

The only good fascist...

I don’t quite get it. Why devote a whole page of Maclean’s to the late Julio Iglesias Puga (“The end,” Jan. 9)? His life was interesting enough, but not remarkable enough to warrant so much valuable space. I suppose it’s always good news when you hear another

fascist is dead, but apart from that, who cares? George Patrick, Oakville, Ont.

In stating that he was captured by “the communist Republicans,” the obituary for Iglesias presents fascist propaganda. The Republican forces in the Spanish Civil War were those of the legitimate, democratically elected government of Spain, who defended democracy against the military coup led by General Francisco Franco. The Nationalist rebels were fascists in the most literal sense, allied with Hider’s Nazis and Mussolini’s Fascists. It is true that the Republican side included the Commu-

nists, but the government that Franco overthrew was not Communist; the Communists were but one of the left-wing and centrist parties that opposed the fascists and monarchists. Willia?n J. Poser, Prince George, B.C.

That’s it. No more. End “The end” page right now. I have reluctantly suffered with the new last page—where was the magazine going with these obits? What was the relevance to Canadians?-until I began to see that it lacked a soul, a loyalty or a patriotism. With the death of Julio Iglesias’s father, the line was really crossed. What does that man’s death have to do with us? Worse, was the focus of the article the father or the more famous son? Was it an obit or a cheer for an aged Donjuán? Maybe some articles do not have to have a point. Maybe some do not have to have a focus. But now, with all due respect to the man, the obit on American bowler Edward Lorenz (Jan. 16) was a strikeout, rather than a strike.

Richard Szpin, Pickering, Ont.

The other Irving Layton


The chattering classes’ dirty little secret about Irving Layton remained neatly out of sight to the end. His obituaries were fulsome if not comprehensive. Leonard Cohen’s off-quoted re-

The CBC ran clips of interviews with Layton that reminded me how much I miss Peter Gzowski, though Mary Lou Finlay’s encounter with the great man was hilarious. She was either cruelly edited or bored stiff by him. Their chemistry was sub-arctic.

The Globe and Mail’s Sandra Martin was most informative, as far as she went. I liked the quote she chose from Northrop Frye who said, “one can get as tired of buttocks in Mr. Layton as buttercups in Canadian Poetry Magazine.”

I never realized Layton didn’t marry Aviva Layton (who changed her name to his). She was the only one of his partners I encountered—a warm, intelligent woman. Most of Layton’s generation of poets had, minimally, one long-suffering wife and then a succession of “others.” Layton, being larger than life, had more of both.

Only critic Philip Marchand touched on the missing part of Layton when he wrote that “late in his life he grew to despise communism and scandalized Canadian literati by his support of the American war in Vietnam.” Well, yes, but that was only the half of it.

Layton’s life is an almost perfect example of how a reputation is made or rejected according to the spirit of the times. In the sixties, a revolution against what was described as the inhibited White Anglo-Saxon Protestant culture began, together with an enthusiastic embrace of the sexual revolution. Layton’s being coincided with both notions perfectly. He had a genuine belief in the full-blooded and honest sexuality of the earthy Jew. He denounced the pinched WASP with his self-suppressed culture. Most of it was arrant nonsense but the belief inspired Layton to write some wonderful (as well as some awful) poetry.

Layton was a publicity hound and loved the limelight. He joked about the public need to see him in the “role” of a poet, long-haired and sexually avaricious. But Layton didn’t play at being the sexual revolution’s pacesetter for headlines alone; the role found an authentic echo in him.

His life coincided with that brief moment

mark, “I taught him how to dress, he taught me how to live forever,” surfaced again. The aphorism was probably true—until Cohen became sexier than his master.

when poetry had real relevance in Canada. Small presses sprung up helped by government grants. “Poets indeed have never had it so good,” wrote Layton in 1969. But while he was lionized for his poems, which fitted the times so perfectly, Layton’s political thought was always off-course.

Fashionable Canadian shibboleths were trashed by Layton. He contemptuously wrote off the “Canadian Identity business” as he called it. Of one raging Canadian nationalist he said: “though hidden under a maple leaf, an asshole is still an asshole.” He celebrated America and was a passionate supporter of Israel. He understood the value of the superpowers’ “balance of terror” and anticipated the reunification of Germany in the context of a Russia that recognized itself as a European power rather than an Asiatic one.

He hated all totalitarianism and had no truck with moral equivalence. He was not certain that going into Vietnam was a good idea but he knew that pulling out would be—as it was—a very bad idea indeed. He argued well

The obits made a big deal of all the sex. But, hey, that was fashionable. Unlike his politics.

and his essays and “ruminations,” as he called them, hold up, unlike the writing of most contemporaneous Canadian commentators on the Soviet Union and the Middle East.

If we lived in different times, Layton would have been recognized both then and now as an important public intellectual as well as a fine poet. But his political writings are denied by CanLit with the blatancy of a Holocaust denier. In 1977, he published his collected social and political writings in Taking Sides. His views may have evolved differently later in his life, but the book stands on its owninsightful and serious.

Still, Taking Sides might as well be in samizdat for all the public attention it gets. The literati genuflected to a narcissistic Canadian nationalism defined by strong anti-Americanism and nurtured in left-wing clichés. Layton’s essays were buried, never to be disinterred even for his obits.

A view from the 21st century makes one wonder though if, minimally, Layton’s achievement is not equal or even higher in those forbidden areas. I wouldn’t be too surprised if future scholars assess him as more important as a polemicist than as a lyric poet. Layton had his own view of his importance: “I feel I’ve made a contribution even to Canadian unity. Along with anti-Americanism, I’m the greatest force keeping this country together.” M