Tablet is a daily online magazine of Jewish news, ideas, and culture. Launched in June 2009, it’s a project of the not-for-profit Nextbook Inc., which also produces the Nextbook Press Jewish Encounters book series. Our archive holds all the articles and features that originally appeared on the website Nextbook.org.
A large number of Islamic manuscripts were brought to New York from the National Library of Israel to star in an exhibition titled Romance and Reason: Islamic transformations of the classical past. Featuring more than 70 manuscripts24 of which came from the Library of Israelthe exhibit, located at the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World on Manhattans Upper East Side, opened this week and is set to run through May.
The works are divided into two rooms: The first, Romance, shows poetic retellings of the stories on Alexander the Great; the other one, Reason, focuses on a series of Islamic thinkers writings on science and medicine. Both rooms convey the idea that medieval Islamic intellectuals were deeply inspired by the classical world. What they did, however, was not a mere translation of the classics into Arabic, Persian, and Turkish, but rather a complex, at times critical, elaboration of the ancient texts into a new tradition of poetry and scientific research.
If moral depravity had an official logo, it would be that two-tone iconic image of Che Guevara. In one stroke of good graphic design, the mass murderer was reborn as a Marxist saint. There’s no room on the t-shirts and the posters featuring El Che’s beatific smile for the fact that he boasted to the UN, in a 1964 speech, that “yes, we have executed, we are executing, we will continue to execute,” nor does anyone sport swag celebrating Eutimio Guerra, a Cuban peasant Che bragged about shooting “with a .32 caliber pistol, in the right side of his brain. Who cares about the 11 million people still living under the despotic regime Guevara helped erect; the image shines bright, a virtue-signaling beacon for the young, unintelligent, and depraved.
Is it any wonder, then, that the man who created this iconic image has now turned his attention to another dubious advocate of violence, the Palestinian provocateur Ahed Tamimi?
Today, February 16, 2018, is the 40th anniversary of the launch of the first computer bulletin board system: Ward & Randy’s CBBS. The launch story: Ward Christiansen and Randy Seuss, Chicago-area nerds, were trapped by the Great Blizzard of 1978 and given the gift of time to work on their pet project: A computerized message center. The goal was to allow members of their club, the Chicago Area Computer Hobbyists Exchange (CACHE), to call each others modems and alert each other about forthcoming meetings and interesting newsletter articles. (At the time, the club used an actual bulletin board, with thumbtacks.) In an online history, Ward recalled, Began writing the real bulletin board program (Called CE.C by Randyegotistically, the Computer Elite’s project CCommunications). Randy put together the hardware. Very early in Feb, started testing. No one believed it could be written in 2 weeks of spare time so we called it one month and to this day declare Feb 16 as the birthday. (Randy, incidentally, went on to create the worlds first public-access Unix system, and CBBS evolved into Chinet, which still exists today.)
Upon reading about this momentous anniversary, I realized that I too have a BBS anniversary. Twenty-five years ago, I reported a story for Sassy Magazinea snarky, funny, politically progressive publication for teenagerscalled Hi Girlz, See You in Cyberspace! about the mysterious hidden world of BBSes. Since Sassy was constantly being accused of popularizing cool underground things for popular consumption, I noted in my story, Whee, another culture to co-opt!
The story of Mennel Ibstissem is the kind of drama only we French can produce. Since it began earlier this month, the country has been awash in op-eds and blog posts, has seen TV hosts crying and storming off the set, even death threats. But what it reveals about life in France under the shadow of terrorism and the troubled relationship between the country at large and its Muslim population is utterly depressing.
But let us start at the beginning. Mennel Ibstissem is a beautiful 22 year old Muslim girl, born in Besançon to Syrian and Moroccan parents. She became an overnight sensation when she appeared on the French version of the television show The Voice, wearing a hijab and singing a gorgeous English and Arabic language version of Leonard Cohens Hallelujah. For a moment, she was the sweetheart everyone loved to love. Then, a website unearthed her tweets from July 2016. Writing in the aftermath of the truck attack in Nice that killed 86 people and wounded over 400, she seemed to suggest that the attacks were a false flag operation and that the government was the real terrorist. Also, in 2016 and 2017, Ibstissem retweeted the anti-Semitic comedian Dieudonné MBala MBala, claimed her admiration for Tariq Ramadancurrently in custody and charged with raping two womenand communicated with the Baracka City association, an ultra-conservative Muslim association with a reputation of sending jihadists to Syria. In addition, she shared a video of a speech by the French preacher Hassan Iquioussen, infamous for making anti-Semitic comments and endorsing politicians on the French far right. In the video, Iquioussen spends a half hour raging against the minority of people who will spread division and misery across the world until the end of time, a people that Christianity fought for 2000 years before to lose the war, making Islam the sole remnant shield of human dignity. Can you guess who these people are?
Its comforting, now that Americas present is a sideshow of sound and fury and its future an uncertain spiral of fear and loathing, to lean longingly on the nations storied past and praise the people and the ideas that made America great to begin with. Anyone in the mood for such a journey should look no further than Rabbi Meir Soloveichiks eight-lecture course Jewish Ideas and the American Founders, which is now available online.
Produced by the Tikvah Fund, Rabbi Soloveichiks lectures, each clocking in at about an hour, may very well be the cure for the crassness corroding all talk of politics these days, and a reassurance, if one is still needed, that our common enterprise is about more than the trifles served up on cable TV and social media. Beginning with Jonas Phillipsa German Jew who arrived in America in 1756 as an indentured servant, earned his freedom, advocated for religious liberty, and founded one of the countrys earliest synagoguesSoloveichik tells a riveting tale of Jews being both the ger and the toshav, the stranger and the neighbor, distinct and yet profoundly at home in America.