Speaking truth to terror

In the wake of the acts of assassination and terror directed by Islamic extremists against the editor and cartoonists at the French magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris, a number of media news outlets, including CNN, Fox Cable, the Associated Press, MSNBC, ABC, the British-based Jewish Chronicle and The New York Times, have elected not to show or republish the satirical images of Muhammad and other Muslims that appear to have prompted the violence.  Many of the overlords of these outlets have based their decisions on the need to protect their news personnel from retaliation on the part of extremists. There is another way to describe these decisions: appeasement.  

When reporters, editors and media bosses praise the courage of those who were killed for drawing and printing the cartoons in Charlie Hebdo but simultaneously buckle under to the terrorism that prompted the Paris massacre, they are hedging their bets, sacrificing solidarity with the principle of freedom of expression for the sake of their own safety. They have not hesitated — and rightly so — to broadcast and print the recent spate of cartoons drawn in tribute to the murdered staff of Charlie Hebdo, etchings that movingly attest to the motto of free people that “the pen is mightier than the sword.”  At the same time, however, the appeasers in charge of many of the major media outlets have chosen to fear the sword more than stand by the pen in their going dark regarding the satirical cartoons published in Charlie Hebdo. I am not an artist, but if I were, I would immediately draw a cartoon that illustrates the hypocrisy of much of media.

Some of the controversial covers from Charlie Hebdo.

That the satire of Islam, and indeed other religions, depicted in the cartoons of Charlie Hebdo are offensive to some people of faith is frankly beside the point.  What is on point is the principle that terrorism and all forms of violent intimidation of the press are never justified, regardless of the content of what is printed or broadcast by the news media. Like many Zionists and Jews, I am offended on an almost daily basis by what I consider biased reporting on Israel.  I apply my anger to the writing of op-eds, letters to the editor, Facebook and Twitter posts, and speeches to protest what I believe are bad journalism and stupid commentary. I also take a lot of antacids. What I never do, what I would never do, is use or advocate violence as a means of chilling free expression. In a democracy built and defended by brave men and women committed to unfettered freedom, there is no excuse for appeasing those who espouse limited liberty and censorship of the press. Being offended is part of being alive. What matters is how, once offended, a person responds. For those who are very well paid to report and comment on the news, cowardice is not a justifiable option.  Such cowardice dishonors the memory of those murdered in Paris.

What I never do, what I would never do, is use or advocate violence as a means of chilling free expression.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), with which I have been proudly affiliated for over 20 years, routinely publishes a collection of the vilest anti-Semitic cartoons that appear in the media, especially in Europe and the Middle East. These cartoons, which tend to justify terrorism against Jews, Israel and its supporters, are hurtful to me, ADL, many other Jews and decent people of all faiths. Nevertheless, ADL reprints these cartoons in an effort to educate the public about the evils of anti-Semitism and religious bigotry. ADL understands that publishing truth to terror, however painful, is the best way to accurately depict those whose intolerance often breeds violence. ADL’s wisdom and courage should serve to shame those media sources that have chosen to appease those who react to freedom of expression with homicidal rage. (These views are mine.  I do not write on behalf of ADL or any other group.)

Some news outlets, like the Huffington Post, the Washington Post and the Daily Beast, have reprinted the relevant, satirical cartoons from Charlie Hebdo. They deserve high praise for their courage. As for myself, I am proud to have written this piece and have my name affixed to it. I am an American, a Jew, a Zionist and a resident of Los Angeles. To those who would respond to my op-ed with violence, I say: Come get me, you bastards.

Bruce J. Einhorn is a former federal judge, an adjunct professor of law at Pepperdine University, and a Jewish communal and human rights activist.

Film Strips Glamour Off Wartime Deeds

Each nation has to come to terms with its past. For the Germans, it’s the Holocaust, and for the French, it’s their collaboration with the Nazi and Vichy regimes.

I remember when my infantry company landed in southern France in 1944, my mind was full of heroic newspaper and movie images of patriotic Frenchmen, all of them battling the hated Boche to the stirring background strains of the “La Marseillaise.”

So when I met a French girl (we’ll discuss that at another time), I expressed my admiration for her countrymen’s fearless resistance.

She looked at me pityingly and said something like, “What resistance? A few crazy Communists and Jews. Everyone else just tried to get along.”

I’ve been conflicted about the question of human courage and cowardice ever since. No one who has not lived under a brutal dictatorship, where the wrong word might mean loss of life or livelihood, is in a position of judgment or superior virtue.

After all, most Americans caved in quietly during the McCarthy period, when the most they risked were loss of a job or their neighbors’ opprobrium. Pretty much everyone, everywhere, just wants to get along and stay out of trouble.

And yet, was France more craven than other countries under the Nazi heel?

These musings were triggered by watching “Army of Shadows,” a 1969 film about the French underground, which has taken almost 40 years to reach the United States.

Its director-screenwriter was Jean-Pierre Melville, a French Jew born Jean-Pierre Grumbach, who expressed his admiration for the author of “Moby Dick” by changing his last name.

Melville, who fought in the underground and died in 1973, remains somewhat of an icon among cineastes, remembered for his reportorial-style gangster pictures, his strong influence on the French New Wave movies and the masterful, sparse creation of his pictures’ atmosphere. The latter talent is quite in evidence in “Shadows,” whose characters are not afraid of long silences or performing an action in real time.

In one striking scene, resistance leader Philippe Gerbier (Lino Ventura) has just escaped from the Nazis and runs endlessly down a darkened street. He sees an open barbershop and tells the monosyllabic proprietor that he wants a shave.

For the next five minutes, the barber goes through the minutiae of his craft, stroke by stroke, never exchanging a word with his customer. Yet, the scene holds immense tension. Does the barber realize that his client is a fugitive? Will he slit his throat or call the police?

For a movie pitting patriots against collaborators and occupiers, there is surprisingly little action. No blown bridges, sabotaged railroads or pitched gun battles.

Granted, there are indications that the resistance group is rescuing downed Allied pilots, and we see the disfigured faces of Nazi torture victims. But most of the time, Gerbier and his small band is busy simply surviving, escaping from SS pursuit, finding safe houses and trying to rescue comrades from German prisons.

Clearly, the coolest and smartest among the underground fighters is Mathilde, a middle-aged woman, memorably portrayed by onetime sex bomb Simone Signoret. But even Mathilde has a weakness — she cannot bear to discard a photo of her 17-year-old daughter — and the one slip proves fatal.

In its slow, methodical way, the Melville film strips the glamour and derring-do from his depiction of wartime resistance, surely a more honest portrayal than Hollywood’s triumphant wartime epics.

“Army of Shadows” opens May 12 at Laemmle’s Royal Theatre in West Los Angeles and Playhouse 7 in Pasadena. For more information, go to www.laemmle.com and www.rialtopictures.com.