Monday, 28 July 2014

Neighborhood Bully: Deconstructing the Lyrics of Bob Dylan in the light of the Gaza Crisis

The ongoing assault conducted by the armed forces of the state of Israel on the Palestinian enclave of Gaza has, yet again, brought stark images to the world of the devastating capabilities of the awesome military machinery at the disposal of the 66-year old Jewish state.

As occurred in Lebanon back in 1982 and more recently in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead of 2009, Israel, while insisting that it is acting in justifiable self-defence and for the preservation of the safety of its citizens, has mounted a military response which has wrought quite devastating consequences.

Bombs and missiles unleashed from the ground, the skies and the sea have reigned in on Gaza destroying swathes of buildings, wiping out whole families and permanently scarring the overwhelmingly non-combatant victims.

Images of decapitated babies, horrendously deformed children, and the look of sheer terror in the eyes of a dishevelled and disconsolate civilian population have pervaded the media.

It is a situation unlike that of the past when Israel fought against the standing armies of surrounding nation states each of whom it routed in the wars of 1948, 1967 and in 1973.

The Palestinian population of Gaza, hemmed into a blockaded strip of land that is subject to the constant scrutiny of the Israeli security apparatus, are effectively a defenceless people in possession of no tanks, no jet aircraft or naval vessels. 

They are themselves the refugees and the descendants of refugees who were forcibly removed or who fled from their homes at the time of the war which led to the creation of Israel.

The outrage felt by much of the world centres on what many consider to be the infliction of a disproportionate level of violence on the Palestinian population under the pretence that the measures are targeted and that any collateral damage -to use the cruel euphemism- is the fault of Hamas, which callously uses its own people as human shields.

John Kerry, the secretary of state of the United States and himself of Jewish origin, was heard to mutter off-camera that Israel was conducting what he termed “a hell of a pin-point operation”.

Nonetheless, the leaders of the United States, Britain and France have remained largely muted and have insisted that Israel reserves the right to act in self-defence against Hamas.

In the belief of the Israeli chiefs of state and the majority of its citizenry, Israel is justified, and is not, to utilise a useful term, a ‘neighbourhood bully’.

Israel as a ‘bully’ is a theme which was once explored through the musical lens of Bob Dylan. And condensed in its lyrical expressions are a rationale based on the historical experiences of the Jewish people; riddled as it is with numerous persecutions, the afflictions of perpetual insecurity and the enduring dream of Zion.

The Minnesota-born singer-songwriter, an acknowledged genius and a confirmed legend when barely into his twenties, has been the purveyor of lyrics which have consistently provoked debate and detailed analysis among his fans and the music critics.

Deconstructing the labyrinth of words and phrases typically employed by Dylan has over the years become something of a sport.

Yet few, if any, have succeeded in pinning down a universally accepted explanation of many of the meanings in regard to which the author has tended to maintain either a studied silence or to offer a series of bland and imprecise ruminations during interviews.

Like the decoding of ancient esoteric texts, they remain a mystery to the masses.

But if interpreting Dylan’s lyrics have been laborious exercises which have frequently failed to penetrate the enduring enigma, the words to the song Neighborhood Bully presented a statement which is largely spared the opacity that is the typical fare of Dylan lyrics.

The song forms part of the album named Infidels which was released in October of 1983 on Columbia Records. The record came after years of discussion about his apparent conversion to the Christian faith and the gospel inflected albums which had preceded it including Slow Train Coming (1979) and Saved (1980).

Infidels was seen as a return to a ‘secular’ album with references to love and loss, the environment, and the United States economy as a battlefield between opposing union and corporate interests.

Nonetheless, Dylan’s penchant for the use of religious reference points persisted. The album’s introductory song, Jokerman, dense with biblical imagery and pregnant with moral analysis appeared to some to be about Jesus; the lines “Standing on the water casting your bread” in that song as well as “news of you has come down the line” and “in your father’s house there’s many mansions” from Sweetheart Like You giving some credence to this line of interpretation.

Long before the series of albums which celebrated Christian themes, Dylan had apparently found in Jesus a figure of inspiration.  The line from All Along the Watchtower, a stand out song from the seminal album John Wesley Harding, “There must be some kind of way outta here, said the joker to the thief” is claimed to allude to Christ on the cross alongside the two convicted criminals as they bleed to death on Mount Calvary.

Infidels represented a drift from his excursions into Christian spirituality. And if not an outright renunciation of Christianity, it did present him as been back among the fold of the Jewish tribe, as the inner jacket features him crouched and in contemplation while wearing a yarmulke on Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives.

The song Man of Peace with the line “you know that sometimes Satan comes as a man of peace” was interpreted as a backslap directed at the evangelists who had converted him and the words “Took a stranger to teach me to look into justice’s beautiful face, And to see an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” from I and I seemingly confirmed the breach.

Dylan the apostate Jew did not sit well with many Jews whose ancestors for centuries suffered persecutions visited on them by European Christian communities. Indeed, one Washington-based rabbi felt compelled to ‘excommunicate’ Dylan from his record collection.

Traditional Christian doctrine of course held the Jews and their descendants to be responsible for the execution of Christ, and this antipathy is held out as the rationale for the numerous incidents of group libels, pogroms and expulsions.

But the ancient antagonism between Judaism and Christianity was not birthed in medieval Christian Europe. Nor was it one-sided.

Jesus, although tutored and practised in the rites of ancient Judaism, was considered a heretical preacher and according to Talmudic scripture, a sorcerer and self-idolator who after death, was conjured to life by Jewish priests in order to face four different executions and as a punishment for his heresies is boiling for eternity in a cauldron of human faeces.

Later, credit would be given to the Chasidic scholar Rabbi Manis Freidman for steering Dylan back to his Judaic origins.  He was reported as attending study meetings with the Lubavitch Hasidim in Brooklyn.

But although Dylan had claimed in 1985 to still believe in the Book of Revelations, the following decade, in an interview with Newsweek magazine, he would claim “I don’t adhere to rabbis, preachers, evangelists, all of that.”

Dylan had long supported the cause of Israel and this support may have played a part in his break with the political Left in the 1960s. He is said to have reproved the ‘Black Panther’ Revolutionary Huey Newton for his opposition to Israel, and his famous ‘comeback tour’ of 1974 was rumoured to have substantially contributed to the coffers of the Israel Emergency Fund.

Played in a rockabilly mode and sang with heavy irony, Dylan sets out Israel’s case amid the accusations of its iron-fisted dealings with its Arab neighbours. It is a song which is said to be particularly popular with the Likudniks as an after-party conference boogie-down number, and, according to the Jerusalem Post, “a favourite among Dylan-loving residents of the (Israeli-occupied) territories”.

The year before the release of Infidels, tired of border incursions and other acts of terror directed at settlements on its northern border, Israel had invaded Lebanon in an attempt to destroy the Palestinian militias who were based in that country.

A grand slaughter of thousands ensued as the Israeli Defence Force advanced through the country and bombs reigned in on the capital city of Beirut where Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Liberation Organisation eventually became besieged.

The city was itself reduced to heaps of rubble and became for all intents and purposes a wasteland. After a negotiated agreement which provided that the P.L.O. be allowed to depart by ship to Tunis, Palestinian families based at the Shabra and Shatilla camps on the outskirts of Beirut were massacred by Christian militias with the connivance of  the Israeli military who were under the direction of the ruling Likud Party’s defence minister, former General Ariel Sharon.

Under more valorous circumstances, the Israeli Air force had demonstrated its professional acumen in destroying a high proportion of its Syrian counterpart in just a few hours fighting over the Bekaa Valley.

But the cost of the Lebanese mission in terms of the destruction of human life and property inspired widespread revulsion and the opprobrium of many from around the world.

Israel, the ‘small’ nation which had valiantly defeated combined Arab armies in the Six Day War of 1967 and whose special forces had contrived an audacious rescue of hostages at Entebbe Airport in 1976, had fallen markedly in the esteem of wide sections of world public opinion.

It had in the eyes of many become a ‘neighbourhood bully’.

It was in this context with the reputation and moral authority enjoyed by Israel being at an all-time nadir since its creation that Dylan wrote the song.

The song begins by stating two key precepts underscoring the Zionist world view.

The first that the enemies of Israel “claim he’s on their land” serves as a rebuke to those who deny the legitimacy of the historic claim to the land of Israel by the Jewish people insisted on by Zionist ideology.

The second, that he is “outnumbered by a million to one” posits the frequently alluded to representation of Israel as the underdog; a small state surrounded by hostile nations whose sheer vastness in numbers continually present a threat to its existence.

The second phase of the song underlines the ages-long reason for the creation of a Jewish state:

Being driven out of every land
He’s wandered the earth an exiled man
Seen his family scattered, people hounded and torn
He’s always on trial for just being born

The Jew is portrayed as a perpetual victim in regard to who, according to Dylan, a “license to kill him given out to every manic”.

But there is pride in his survival instinct as “every empire that enslaved him is gone: Egypt and Rome even the great Babylon”.

Given this background, Dylan ruminates with heavy irony that he is “not supposed to fight back and have thick skin, supposed to lay down and die when his door is kicked in”; this a reference not only to wars fought with Arab armies and incursions made by Palestinian guerrillas into Israeli territory but also the gnawing feeling among Jews of the passive submission to a bestial fate which is suggestive of the Holocaust imagery of Jews being herded into gas chambers without fighting back.

Thus, with biting humour, Dylan decries the supposition that “he’s surrounded by pacifists who all want peace” and recounts how “when he knocked out a lynch-mob, old women condemned him; said he should apologize”.

In the earlier decades of the 20th Century, Ze’ev (nee Vladimir) Jabotinsky, the man acknowledged as the founding father of the Israeli Defence Force, had sought to create a new species of man; namely that of the “fighting Jew”.

And for Dylan the survival of Israel is impliedly predicated on such species of person who can be directed to neutralise all threats to its existence. The song’s reference to the destroying of a “bomb factory” alluded to the destruction in 1981 of the Osirak nuclear reactor being built by the regime of Saddam Hussein.

Criticism of Israel’s right to exist and its ‘counter-measures’ appear to him to be predicated on anti-Semitism, the basis of which, according to Dylan’s words, is both inexplicable and irrational: “Does he (meaning the Jew) change the course of rivers, does he pollute the moving stars?” he asks.

The Jew after all, he sings, has contributed so much to civilization and special mention is made of the scientific advances which have been made by people of Jewish origin via the lines: “took sickness and disease and turned them into health”.

And of the achievement of Israel, “he’s made a garden and a paradise in the desert sand”.

The following lines are an instructive indication of the Jewish-Zionist mindset:

He got no allies to really speak of
What he gets he must pay for
He don’t get it out of love

What Dylan appears to be saying is that what the Jewish state acquires is as a result of hard-bargaining. Israel is ultimately alone and must be self-reliant.

The advances made towards the establishment and later the sustenance of the Jewish state have materialised through hard-nosed negotiations as well as the formation of some bizarre and unusual alliances, a number of which have been temporary.

The Balfour Declaration issued by the British in 1917, a 67-word text in which the war-time foreign minister, James Arthur Balfour viewed with favour the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people, was as Winston Churchill later observed not a “mere act of crusading enthusiasm or quixotic philanthropy”.

It was issued he continued “with the object of promoting the general victory of the Allies, for which we expected and received valued and important assistance”.

Such help and assistance included mobilizing influential Jewish-American figures in media, industry and politics to bring the United States into the war on the side of the allies who were facing defeat by Germany in the latter part of 1917.

For Balfour, a self-acknowledged anti-Semite who recoiled from the idea that Britain should accept more Jewish immigrants, a Jewish homeland meant perfect sense. Affecting his view was also the fact that he was what came to be termed a Christian Zionist.

The modern alliance between Jewish-Israeli interests and Christian Zionism has played a major part in fortifying support within the United States for the state of Israel.

A fundamental plank of Christian Zionist-Dispensationalist thinking is that following the creation of the modern state of Israel, the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem must form a necessary precursor to the end days during which Christ’s chosen will be secretly raptured.

American evangelical support for Israel is unconditional, and over the years their members have given millions of dollars to groups in Israel which are opposed to any form of concessions to the Palestinians.

But the support granted by John Hagee, chairman of Christians United for Israel, and the likes of Pat Robertson and the late Jerry Falwell, is not predicated on a “love” for the Jews.

Their eschatological doctrine is premised on the belief that the Jews, who rejected Jesus, will be given a final opportunity to accept Christ and will be put to the sword if they refuse.

Yet this bizarre, evidently mutually beneficial, alliance persists with the willing cooperation of both Diaspora Jews and Israelis. The Christian Zionists according to a quote attributed to the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu function in the final analysis as “useful idiots”.

The “he don’t get it out of love” sentiment has a basis when reference is made to the later discovery that prominent non-Jewish supporters of Israel and Jewish interests have harboured deep resentments about Jews.

President Harry Truman, during whose tenure the state of Israel received United States recognition, noted in a 1947 diary entry discovered in 2003 that he found Jews to be “very, very selfish”.

“When they have power”, he continued, “Physical, financial or political, neither Hitler nor Stalin has anything on them for cruelty or mistreatment to the underdog.”

Similarly, the discovery of tape recordings between Richard Nixon and Billy Graham; the former whose presidency staunchly favoured Israel and the latter, the world famous evangelist whose ministry was pro-Israeli, in which both criticized the policies of Israel and expressed negative views about the influence of Jews on American culture documented a scenario in which a gentile supporter of Israel had an unflattering privately held view.

The line that “He got no allies to really speak of” may ostensibly be pooh-poohed by simply recounting the special relationship between Israel and the United States. It is a relationship which is underscored by the power and leverage exercised by Israel-Jewish lobby groups in particular that of the America-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

Although America is seen as the great ally and benefactor of the Israeli state; demonstrated through its vetoing of resolutions against it in the United Nations and giving it military aid to the tune of billions of dollars every year, such an alliance is not necessarily presumed to be an everlasting one.

There is much truth to the thesis that America has coldly considered Israel to be a useful asset in the Middle East during the Cold War-era and beyond; as Vice President Joe Biden said in a speech before AIPAC, “If there weren’t an Israel, we’d have to invent one.”

The nagging suspicion is that as has occurred over the ages with the alliances forged between Jewish communities and powerful figures and nations, the Israel-America relationship will one day expire.

The assertion by Moshe Dayan that Israel “must be like a ‘mad dog’, too dangerous to bother’ was based not only on the presumptive ‘Samson Option’ which means Israel would utilise its nuclear arsenal to take down the region and beyond if it was in danger of being defeated, but also spoke to a scenario in which it would no longer be able to count on the United States.

A key point of note is that by not specifically once mentioning the terms ‘Jew’ and ‘Israeli’ or ‘Judaism’ and ‘Zionism’, Dylan inextricably binds all together. His proposition is that Jewishness cannot be separated from Zionist sentiment and aspiration.

Eretz Israel is the promised homeland for a rootless nation of people –any and all who have a right to live there- and the overwhelming majority of Jewry supports it.

But Zionism was not always the natural counterpart of Judaism; indeed the strict teachings of Judaism disavow the man-made recreation of Israel, considering such an enterprise to be an abomination. Israel, the scriptures provide, can only be created by the act of God. It had few adherents at the beginning of the 20th century.

Henry Morgenthau Sr, a former US ambassador to Turkey portrayed it as “the most stupendous fallacy in Jewish history”. He felt it to be “fanatical in its politics” and “sterile in its spiritual ideas”.

The Jewish English politician, Edwin Samuel Montagu who served in the coalition government during the First World War was as scathing, describing it as a “mischievous political creed” which he opposed because he foresaw the trouble what be believed to be a chauvinist ideology would cause in Palestine with the indigenous population and also that accusations of dual loyalty would be made against Jews who lived in other states.

It was, he believed, a project which would unleash the beast of anti-Semitism. 

Once upon a time a distinction could be made between ‘Spiritual’ Zionism as espoused by Ahad Ha’am on the one hand and Theodore Herzl’s ‘Political’ Zionism on the other.

Herzl’s creed would eventually carry the day; and although it once, to paraphrase Churchill, contended with Bolshevism for the soul of the Jewish people, ‘Political’ Zionism became the universal doctrine for world Jewry after the Shoah.

For the likes of Morgenthau and Montagu, Zionism served as a rejection of the Haskala, the 18th Century Jewish Enlightenment movement which posited the solution to anti-Semitism as being the assimilation of Jewry into Western secular culture.

The contention by Jews who opposed it was on the premise that Zionism represented a weary, doom-laden, pessimistic philosophy that Jews can never be assimilated into ‘foreign’ societies and need to live apart in a nation of their own.

It accepts the inevitability of anti-Semitism among all non-Jews. Ideally, all the world’s Jews should live in the state of Israel, although the reality is that most of them do not. In fact, there are more Jews in America than there are in Israel.

The line “He’s got no place to escape to” is not correct since there have been periods when more Jews have left Israel than have settled in it.

But it does represent the belief among many Jews that Israel is a home which would serve as a last refuge from the persecutions which have dogged its people throughout history.

It would be remiss to fail to mention the influence of the Revisionist Zionism as espoused by Jabotinsky on the formation of Israel as well as on the doctrines and policies of contemporary Israel which gives insight into the manner in which it deals with the occupied territory of the West Bank and the besieged Gaza Strip.

In his book The Iron Wall, Jabotinsky called on Zionists to drop all pretence about reaching an accommodation with the Arab population of Palestine, insisting that in attaining the goal of transforming Palestine “from an Arab country to a country with a Jewish majority” a militaristic policy of colonisation must be pursued.

In his words:

Zionism is a colonizing adventure and therefore it stands or it falls by the question of armed force

He was aware that there would have to be opposition from Palestinian Arabs:

Each people will struggle against colonizers until the last spark of hope that they can avoid the dangers of colonization and conquest is extinguished. The Palestinians will struggle in this way until there is hardly a spark of hope

This reality has underlain Israeli policy whatever the spin given to the purportedly defensive wars fought in 1948 and 1967. The heirs to Jabotinsky are the founders of the ruling Likud Party through which its hardliner leader, Menachem Begin –a mentee of Jabotinsky- first came to power in the 1970s.

Begin often referred to the occupied West Bank as historically Jewish, namely the regions of Judea and Samaria. The father of the current Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, served for a time as Jabotinsky’s secretary.

Likud and other parties simply will not accept any form of Palestinian statehood which would have the semblance of an independent country.

While the Israeli government continues to permit the building of settlements on the West Bank in contravention of international law, Gaza is effectively blockaded by land and sea and cannot conduct business relations with the outside world in a conventional manner.

The importation of items ranging from certain forms of concrete to crayon are banned and whatever is allowed through by Israel is subject to a tax payable to the Israeli state. It is deprived of clean water while at the same time in the West Bank access to natural water springs is the preserve of illegal settlers.

The line “Does he change the course of rivers” has some resonance although not in the way Dylan intended.

One often understated reason for the war of 1967 relates to the acquisition of water resources. And under the auspices of the conquered territory, Israel utilises over 70% of the aquifers. The Palestinian population use less than 20% while the Israeli settlers, always growing, but proportionally far less than the Palestinians use more than 10%.

To much of the world, the Palestinians hold out; valiantly refusing to succumb to what they perceive to be the crumbs offered by Zionism while the Israelis insist that a failure on the part of Palestinian leadership has been the impediment to achieving a two-state solution.

While Israel continues to argue that it acts in self-preservation in actions vastly disproportionate to the damage caused by mainly home-made Palestinian rockets, much of the world community sees it as aggression posed as self-defence, and that the historical accounts of victimhood are cynically utilized in order to camouflage the contemporary reality of the Jewish state as an oppressor.

The actions of Hamas in firing a largely non-descript collection of projectiles which are referred to as ‘missiles’ most of which by the Israeli army estimates penetrated the so-called Iron Dome are the actions of desperate people.

The projectiles are largely ineffectual and only give Israel the excuse it needs to mete out a collective form of punishment with its large array of sophisticated and highly deadly arsenal.

If it need be reminded, all peoples are entitled under international law to resist occupation, and the designations of ‘terrorist’ and ‘terrorism’ are used by Israel without a trace of irony given the nature of its creation by the terror actions of the Irgun and Stern gang as well as the legacy of ethnic cleansing notably by the massacre perpetrated at the Palestinian village of Deir Yassin – the site of which stands ironically approximately 2000 feet from the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum.

When Begin formed the Herut Party, the precursor of Likud, in 1948 Jewish luminaries including Albert Einstein and Hannah Arendt wrote an open letter to the New York Times describing it as an ominous portent; that Israel would head down a path which legitimized “ultra-nationalism, religious mysticism and racial superiority”.

In the Israel of today, a mainstream politician can advocate the killing of Palestinian women on the basis that they give birth to “little snakes” while a university professor seriously suggests the use of rape as a weapon of war against Palestinian sisters and mothers; positing the culture of the Middle East as the justification.

Under state policy Ethiopian Jewish women have been surreptitiously sterilised, and Sudanese and Eritrean refugees are referred to as ‘infiltrators’ and are casually vilified. Edicts are issued banning the sale or renting of apartments and homes to non-Jews.

Israel is a racially exclusive state where immigration is subject to DNA testing and where a non-Jew cannot legally marry a Jew.

The linkage of Judaism with Zionism is one which creates uneasiness in an increasing number of Jews and non-Jews. The bombs which kill and maim scores of innocents, the policies which constrict the everyday lives of millions and which condone the theft of Palestinian land are done in the name of the Jewish state.

David Goldberg, a London-based rabbi once wrote that the time may have come for “Judaism and Zionism to go their separate ways”. But this would be a difficult task to achieve given the aforementioned philosophical shift which took place among world Jewry over the course of the 20th century.

Further, rabbis in Israel have given religious sanction to the idea of inflicting terror on the Palestinians. The recently deceased Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, once the chief rabbi for Israel’s Sephardic community and when the spiritual leader of the ultra-orthodox  Shas party which over the years has formed coalition alliances with Netanyahu’s Likud, called for the annihilation of Arabs during a Passover sermon delivered in 2001.

It is forbidden to be merciful to them. You must send missiles to them and annihilate them. They are evil and damnable...waste their seed and exterminate them and vanish them from this world.

And during the present crisis, the Jerusalem Post reported a rabbi’s claim that Jewish law permits the destruction of Gaza in order to bring safety to Israel.

It echoes an uncompromisingly brutal counsel from Rabbi Friedman, the charismatic Chabad figure who redirected Dylan towards Judaism, in response to a question posed in Moment magazine’s “Ask the Rabbis” feature.

The only way to fight a moral war is the Jewish way: Destroy their holy sites. Kill men, women and children (and cattle).

Yet, Israel seems largely impervious to criticism; wrapped up in what it views as a justified self-righteous mentality.

It is a mindset which some have compared to those of Afrikaner settlers in Apartheid South Africa and the European settlers in Algeria: The outside world simply does not understand. The methods employed may seem harsh and bullying but they are done in the name of self-preservation.

What the Zionist mindset cannot demonstrate as being moral it has nonetheless imposed through force and given the history of suffering by the Jewish people it has been a case of Zionism ‘right or wrong’ so far as its lobbying agents are concerned.

As things stand, the two-state solution has for years been an all but dead proposition, and a one state solution would negate Zionist aspirations and equate to national suicide.

The resilience of the Israelis, their tenacity and ferocious resolution to hold on to the state which they have carved out is evident in Dylan’s final verse.

Neighborhood bully
Standing on the hill
Running out the clock
Time standing still

It is an explicit statement that Zionist Israel is determined to outlast its enemies and its critics and intends to persevere literally until the end of time.

(c) Adeyinka Makinde (2014)

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Imitating Lipton: When Emulation Falls Short of Flattery

Ron Lipton

The role of the referee in any sport is to function as the neutral arbiter of the rules and regulations of the relevant game that they are overseeing. Be it at the amateur or professional level, the rule of thumb is that they remain firmly in the background of the action being played out while keeping control of events which unfold in the demarcated field of play.

This line of thinking applies also to the world of professional boxing. Most, if not all, would subscribe to the point of view that managers, trainers, cornermen and hangers on, while servicing the physical and psychological needs of the fighter, should never deign to hold themselves out as equals to the boxers in so far as which party is the centrepiece of the show.

This is also certainly the case for those who state athletic commissions or boards of control appoint to officiate at the contests which they sanction; this notwithstanding the high level of visibility a referee may potentially command within the relatively small confines of the squared ring.

It is a line of thinking that still holds true despite the theatrical aspects which, over the course of time, have become attached to the fight game. Fighters embark on a ring trek often decked out in fineries to the accompaniment of raucous music and the not too infrequent displays of pyrotechnical prowess.

But of course, the element of celebrity manages to extend to other ‘stage’ actors. The ring announcer Michael Buffer’s pre-fight exhortation to “Let’s get ready to rumble” has achieved for Buffer an iconic status as well as the privilege of registering the phrase as a trademark which has bequeathed him a fortune.

Such is not expected to be the case with those charged with the duty of ensuring fair play and the safety of fighters in the ring.

Yet, it has in recent times become almost de rigueur for referees ranging from the highly competent to the mediocre to invent signature phrases in an attempt to forge a kind of a ring personality.

Mills Lane, the Nevada-based ex-marine and judge, solidified his reputation for adopting a no nonsense approach to officiating by ending his ring instructions with the phrase “Let’s get it on!”

Whether Lane’s now famous call to arms provided the spark which has inspired a multitude of referees to adopt a rash of sometimes tediously manufactured phrases remains a bone of contention.

But there is a case to proffer that in contemporary times, talent and hard work at whatever vocation or occupation being pursued is not enough.

One needs to operate within a working environment with a personalised brand.

If the aura of a laboured attempt at self-promotion was found in the catchphrase “I’m fair but I’m firm”, coined by Joe Cortez, as well as in the rhyming approach favoured in Kenny Bayless’s “What I say, you must obey”, there are nonetheless exemplars provided by a number of referees whose pre-fight instructions convey the appropriate level of detachment and sense of dedicated professionalism required of the third man in the ring.

Since the 1990s, Ron Lipton’s sober instructions in the centre of the ring to the likes of Evander Holyfield, Roy Jones and Oscar De La Hoya testify to the belief that a referee can calibrate his words in a personally distinctive, yet professional manner, which need not traverse the boundaries of decorum and enter into the realm of the hyperbole and doggerel suggestive of a flea circus announcer:

I have given you my instructions. I remind you now, obey my commands. Respect each other and let’s keep this strictly professional

For around 23 years, Lipton’s advice to the fighters to maintain their actions and attitudes in the ring on a “strictly professional” footing remained to the best of his knowledge a unique expression among those in the fraternity of referees.

When while taking charge of the Luis Collazo-Victor Ortiz bout on January 30th of this year the referee Benjy Esteves used the words “Let’s keep it strictly professional”, some fight fans were stirred to comment on what appeared to be the appropriation of a fellow referee’s turn of words.

Happenstance perhaps? Well, not really. On May 8th of 2014, on a bill at New York’s Turning Stone Casino, similar instructions, albeit modified, were issued to the contestants by Esteves.

Lipton was inundated with a barrage of e-mails from fight aficionados who again had been struck by the same referee issuing mid-ring instructions which included Lipton’s enduring phrase of keeping things professional.

While Lipton contented himself by stating that he felt that it was “an honest mistake”, some fans reacted with outrage even asserting that his colleague’s actions had amounted to a brazen form of plagiarism.

Lipton, who had worked with Esteves at Resorts World Casino in Queens on 20th December 2013, played this down by insisting that Esteves was a friend and that he considered it to be a compliment.

It was Charles Caleb, a 19th Century-era English writer and cleric, who issued the famous saying that “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”. The addendum offered by George Bernard Shaw that imitation was not merely flattery but in fact the “sincerest form of learning”, appears to be apt in the circumstances of a younger man purloining the words of an older and vastly more experienced colleague.

Polite rationales aside, if the aforementioned development by which professional referees through the words they contrive during their mid-ring instructions is widely accepted as a legitimate tool aimed at carving out their distinctive professional identities, then what Esteves has done can be persuasively argued to have breached the standards of professional etiquette.

It is conduct which certainly amounts to a species of plagiarism for which he should take responsibility by issuing an apology and refraining from using the words which have become associated with Ron Lipton.

A sense of basic decency demands that he do no less.

(c) Adeyinka Makinde (2014)

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England. He is the author of Jersey Boy: The Life and Mob Slaying of Frankie DePaula and Dick Tiger: The Life and Times of a Boxing Immortal.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Dick Tiger Biography - Essential Reading on University Course

With  Michael Gennaro. Michael is a Canadian doctoral candidate at the University of Florida who is researching into Nigerian boxing from 1920 to 1970. One of the courses which he teaches is the history of African sport and my book, Dick Tiger: The Life and Times of a Boxing Immortal is essential reading because of its social, political and historical contexts.

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Dick Tiger versus Rubin Carter

Rubin Carter felled by Dick Tiger | May 20th 1965, Madison Square Garden, New York City

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Collaborating with the Devil – Reflections on Bandera, the Nazis and other Unholy Alliances

Stepan Bandera, Spiritus Rector of the Maidan Protests

The often quoted Arab adage that the ‘enemy of my enemy is my friend’, is surely far from being a mindset that is peculiar only to Arabs. Indeed, the art of the ‘unholy alliance’; that unlikely meeting of minds between two sets of nations or interests which may ostensibly be set against each other is as old as history itself.

While the description may also be attributed to alliances encompassing agreements between groups with like-minded interests which may be scorned by the majority, it is the consensus reached between apparent diametric opposites in philosophies that have arguably tended to catch the eye.

The infamous Nazi-Soviet Pact of 1939 wherein Hitler and Stalin reached an agreement to carve up Poland and other parts of Eastern Europe under the pretext of an assurance of peaceful co-existence comes to mind.

But in such alliances we see man’s incurable capacity for pursuing the course of expediency; the end quite frequently is viewed as justifying the means utilised in attaining it.

For example, it was Stalin’s predecessor as Soviet Vohzd, Vladimir Lenin, the quintessential exponent of this philosophic creed, who claimed that he would ally with the devil himself if the devil was opposed to British imperialism; the same Lenin who during the First World War claimed while ‘stranded’ in Zurich that he would make a deal with the devil to get back to Russia.

There are of course moral implications involved when pursuing such courses of action to their logical conclusions. If, for instance, the goal of a people is to attain their emancipation from colonial servitude, can seeking the assistance of or reaching an accommodation with a party who may be considered a force of evil be a justified means for attaining the goal of independence?

What also to make of the nation which in the quest of purportedly freeing other nations from the grip of tyranny itself utilises forces which will themselves likely impose their own brand of tyranny?

The difficulties in assessing the moral correctness of such policies are apparent; regardless of whether such appraisal is undertaken from either consequentialist or deontological standpoints.

It can be argued that the goal, if attained, may be enduringly tarnished. The bargain may often leave the party compromised in the judgement of history.

The prompting of these ruminations emanate from events currently taking place in the eastern part of Europe where the time-forgotten figure of Stepan Bandera has seemingly been resurrected so far as the rest of the world is concerned.

The image of the Ukrainian nationalist leader who was apparently assassinated by a Soviet agent in 1959 adorned Maidan Square, scene of the protests which eventually led to the deposing of the elected president, Viktor Yanukovych back in February.

These protests were presented by much of the Western media as mass gatherings of a democratically-minded people wanting to break free from the dictates of the Russian state to which the media attributes the qualities of that of an overbearing, neo-colonial overlord.

But this narrative is one that is capable of been subjected to stern, if not devastating criticism. It is not merely the case that a great deal of evidence already in the public domain points to the Maidan protests and the subsequent putsch as having been the handiwork of Western governments acting covertly to prise the Ukraine away from the Russian sphere of influence, other disturbing factors abound.

Central among these are the character and philosophy of Bandera himself and the very nature of Ukrainian nationalism as represented by those at the heart of the agitations at Maidan for which Bandera served as spiritus rector.

Bandera poses a problem because the historical record shows him to have been a collaborator with the Nazis; albeit that the justification given for this by his supporters was that such association was predicated on the ultimate goal of freeing the Ukrainian people from the yoke of Bolshevik domination.

Yet, such is the odour that seemingly irresistibly attaches to those who are seen to have officially or unofficially cooperated with the Third Reich that Bandera’s action in declaring for the second time in history a Ukrainian state and in soliciting an alliance with the Nazi state as the Wehrmacht advanced into the Soviet Union after the commencement of Fall Barbarossa, irreparably damages him as one who could meaningfully serve as the figurehead for a movement espousing democratic values.

Hans Frank’s famous words before he met his fate at the gallows that “a thousand years will pass and the guilt of Germany will still not have been erased”, still resonate. They underscore the taint that accrues to those who entered or sought to enter into deals with Hitler’s government.

The policy of accommodation with the Nazi regime which was pursued by key Western European states in the prelude to the outbreak of the Second World War, of which the Munich Agreement of 1939 stands out, is now derided as a fruitless quest for ‘appeasement’.

Also disparaged is the Reich Concordant reached between the Catholic Church and the Hitlerian state in 1933 wherein the Church foreswore to withdraw from political life in return for the imposition of the Code of Canon Law and freedom in running Catholic education institutions.

This agreement is held out as the device through which the Church effectively neutralised its capability of challenging the immoral policies that would later be pursued by the newly formed Nazi government.

This stands in stark contrast to the robust methods of opposition employed by the Church as it resisted anti-Church edicts imposed by the KulturKampf during the era of Bismarck.

The coming of the Second World War provided the means through which some political groups seeking independence from the British Empire would solicit the assistance of the German Reich.

Subhas Chandra Bose, an Indian nationalist contemporary of Mahatma Gandhi was one. In contrast to Gandhi’s creed of passive resistance, Chandra Bose had advocated a pathway to independence based on a violent revolution.

He escaped from British house arrest and made a circuitous journey to Berlin where he made nightly anti-British speeches on the airwaves; hoping to stir up a revolt in his homeland.

Additional to the establishment of Free India Radio, he created the Free India Legion which was made up of 3,000 Indians who had been captured by Rommel’s Afrika Korps. The intention was that they would assist in the hoped for German invasion of India.

But the ambivalent nature of the support which he received from Hitler and the turning of the tide losses suffered by the Wehrmacht in 1943 convinced him to travel to the Far East theatre of war where under the auspices of his Japanese hosts, he formed the Azad Hind Fauj or Indian National Army.

The Indian National Army was a 50,000-strong force composed of Indian soldiers serving in the British Empire Army who had been captured by Japanese forces in 1942.

They aided the Japanese attack on India but this was halted and its members suffered huge casualties. Chandra Bose is officially claimed to have died from burns suffered in a plane crash in August of 1945 when leaving Taiwan and embarked on another circuitous journey which is believed would have taken him to the Soviet Union.

A twin objective of achieving an independent state of Palestine and an end to continued Jewish immigration to Palestine formed the basis of Muhammad Amin al-Husayni’s wartime collaboration with Nazi Germany. In employing the “enemy of my enemy is my friend” logic, Husayni, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, is said to have assured Hitler that the Arabs were Germany’s natural allies because they had the same enemies: the English, the Jews and the Communists.

He pinned his hopes on a realignment of world power in which victories by German and Italian armies in North Africa and the Middle East would displace the British and the French.

During the war, he made radio broadcasts in Germany directed towards the Arab lands and also helped form a Waffen-SS unit composed of Bosnian Muslims.

It is however pertinent to note that factions within the community most often identified as the preeminent victims of the race-based Nazi policy of murder and cruelty were not without a record of having reached an accord with or sought to secure an accord with the Nazi state.

In the overriding quest to create a homeland in Palestine for the Jewish Diaspora, elements within the Zionist movement would in the 1930s enter into what was termed the Transfer Agreement with Nazi Germany.

The basis of the agreement may not in one sense be as preposterous as it sounds given the Nationalist Socialists intended policy of removing the Jews from the midst of their ‘Aryan hosts’ and the Zionist aim of persuading the Jews to leave.  Indeed, the SS leader Reinhard Heydrich was wont to remark to intimates what he perceived to be an inexorable logic:

As a National Socialist, I am a Zionist.

Designed with the express purpose of facilitating the emigration of German Jewry to Palestine, this pact which came to be known as the Ha’avara Agreement broadly observed the following modus operandi: A German Jew would deposit money into a specific account in a German bank. The money would then be used to buy German goods for export usually to Palestine. The Jewish émigrés to Palestine would then receive payment for the goods which they had previously purchased after their final sale.

While the majority of world Jewry embarked upon a trade boycott against the Nazi regime on its assumption of power, the Zionist-Nazi trade agreement arguably served to undermine the economic sanctions.

It has to be said that the Transfer Agreement was vehemently opposed by others in the Zionist movement and in the generality of world Jewry so much so that one of its key instigators, Chaim Arlosoroff, was in 1933 assassinated on his return to Tel Aviv from negotiations in Germany.

But there is much to be said about the early constructions of the Zionist mentality as being one which subscribed to the futility of assimilation, the inevitability of anti-Semitism and a resignation to a perception that it could not be challenged. The solution had to be a Jewish state, an end to which they were prepared to go to almost any means to achieve.

Theodor Hertzl, the acknowledged founding father of modern Zionism, himself parlayed with Vyacheslav von Plevhe the Tsarist minister of the interior who is said to have been the brainchild behind the pogrom at Kishenev in Bessarabia during the Easter of 1903. 

Hertzl wanted to convince Russia’s influential ministers to use the taxes collected from Jews to fund emigration to Palestine and to finance any forms of negotiation with the Ottoman Empire over the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine.

He even sought an expansion of the Pale of Settlement, the large land mass to which most of the Jews of the Russian Empire were restricted, and use whatever influence he had in curtailing agitation among Jewish radicals and malcontents residing in the empire.

The use of Bandera as an icon of modern Ukrainian nationalism is of particular concern given the historical fate of the Jews at the hands of Ukrainian nationalists in the two initial instances of the creation of Ukrainian states.

Jews were massacred in 1941 by Bandera’s followers both as a gesture of solidarity towards the German Reich as well as to serve to remove a group largely perceived as been pro-Bolshevik.

Moreover, the streak of xenophobia, a prominent feature in many nationalist creeds, was and still remains a crucial feature of Ukrainian nationalism which has consistently maintained a severe animus toward Russians, Poles and Jews.

In 1919, anti-Jewish pogroms occurred under the regime of Symon Petlura after the nascent Ukrainian state suffered a first defeat at the hands of the Bolsheviks. Yet, one of the key figures in Zionist history, Vladimir (Ze’ev) Jabotinsky was prepared to enter into an agreement with Petlura.

Jabotinsky’s Ukrainian Pact of 1921 involved him meeting Maxim Slavinsky, the ambassador of the pogromist Petlura in Prague. Petlura’s Ukrainian state, created via the indispensible efforts of the German High Command headed by Field Marshall von Hindenburg and General Ludendorff, was fast disintegrating due to the military incursions made by Polish and Bolshevik forces.

The deal was that Jabotinsky, the founder of the Haganah – the precursor of the Israeli Defence Force- would organise a Zionist police force which would guard the Jewish populations found in territories the Ukrainian nationalists could manage to reclaim after counter-attacks.

As for the Ukrainian side, an incentive for entering into such bargain was that it would to serve as evidence that they had changed their ways. It was an agreement which brought the disapprobation from other members of the World Zionist Organisation.

However, an unrepentant Jabotinsky pooh-poohed his critics, declaring that he would have made a similar deal with the Bolshevik’s if they had asked him. He told them that they could write as his epitaph:

This was the man who made the pact with Petluira.

Another Zionist leader who became mired in proposing alliances with the enemies of Jewry was Avharam ‘Yair’ Stern. He was the leader of the terror group known as Lohamei Herut Yisrael meaning ‘Fighters for the Freedom of Israel’; although it is better known today by the British designation ‘The Stern Gang’.

He formed the group after his release from British custody in 1940 having broken from the main Zionist terror group in Palestine, the Irgun. While Jabotinsky suspended operations against the British for the duration of the war against Nazi Germany, Stern refused to do this unless the British recognised the claim for a Jewish state on both sides of the River Jordan; this a policy derived from the biblical reference in Genesis 15:18 which promises the Israelites a land extending “from the brook of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates.”

For Stern, only the defeat of the British in the Middle East by an outside power would bring about a Jewish state. To this end, he sought a pact first with fascist Italy, and after being rebuffed he pinned his hopes on forming an alliance with Nazi Germany.

He was contemptuous of liberal democracy and imbued with a volkish-like racism. The proposed pact with Nazi Germany referred to the “establishment of the historical Jewish state on a national and totalitarian basis” in a new order in which there could be cooperation between the new Germany and a renewed Volkish-national Hebrium.

The 1941 document which was discovered among files in the German Embassy in Ankara, offered to “actively take part in the war on Germany’s side.”

If Bandera’s present day apologists do not use any of the aforementioned episodes in an attempt to exculpate him from having committed the sin of Nazi collaboration, some will nonetheless postulate the thesis that he operated like any other guerrilla leader who employed ruthlessness and was pragmatic about shifting allegiances and modifying policies to meet the requirements of each developing situation.

It has even been averred that he was a mixture of the likes of Michael Collins, Menachem Begin and Yassir Arafat. 
But the sins of Bandera are not limited to specific terrorist outrages. They span the gamut from providing military and law enforcement services to Nazi occupiers to the execution of mass killings.

Banderites were members of specially composed Ukrainian Waffen-SS units such as the Galician, Nichtengall and Roland Divisions. They ethnically cleansed areas of Polish and Jewish communities by using civilians referred to as ‘Self Defence Groups’.

The deeds of Bandera and his followers as well as those of his predecessor of sorts, Symon Petlura, arguably present an irreparable stain on Ukrainian nationalism which venerates a cast of characters whose exploits provide the basis of a veritable bestiary.

The unholy alliance in the events which have transpired in the Ukraine is surely the use by the West of the ideological heirs of Bandera in the illegal seizure of power.

Preeminent among them are the Svoboda (Freedom) Party and Pravy Sektor (Right Sector). The former are well represented in the current interim government while the latter served as the muscle behind the core rent-a-crowd protesters who agitated for months in Kiev’s premier square.

These parties are essentially neo-Nazi in their outlook.

The policies pursued over the decades by the United States have not precluded alliances with extremists. Whether recruiting fascists in the service of ‘Gladio’ secret army units during the Cold War, or in sponsoring Islamist extremists in the Lebanon, Libya and Syria, the Americans have consistently lived up to the ‘enemy of my enemy maxim’.

However, the costs in terms of the loss of innocent lives in outrages perpetrated by Right-wing terrorists seeking to discredit the Left are incalculable, while the creation of unstable states in Iraq, Libya and Syria leave the possibility that while it is removing or weakening the leaders of the non-compliant secular Arab world, it is fomenting trouble in the future for itself and its allies by potentially creating an Islamist bastion around the Mediterranean Sea.

In the same way, the tacit approval of neo-fascists enjoying political power in Ukraine is disturbing. For all that is the known record of fascist regimes which assumed power in various parts of the European continent, the wisdom handed down by experience is that it should be strangled in the cradle.

And it is not only Western support for the avowedly Banderite fascist parties which should give cause for concern, but also the peculiar species of nationalism which is the inheritance of Ukraine.

Many of the politicians such as Yulia Tymoshenko and Arseniy Yatsenyuk who are presented to the outside world as mainstream politicians are steeped in the hatreds and prejudices of the past.

Tymoshenko, whose tenure in power was marked by terrible corruption, was caught on a wiretap offhandedly suggesting that nuclear weapons should be used to wipe out 8 million Russian speakers in the eastern part of the country.

For the United States, the aim of marginalising Russia in a modern ‘Great Game’ which threatens the peace of the world one hundred years after the outbreak of the Great War is, in the final analysis, not a justifiable risk worth taking.   

(C) Adeyinka Makinde (2014)

Adeyinka Makinde is a lecturer in law with research interests in intelligence and security issues. He is based in London, England.