Bernard Lewis, the doyen of Middle East historians, celebrated his 90th birthday last week with a roster of friends who are full of ideas. The World Affairs Council of Philadelphia hosted a conference, co-sponsored by the Pew Charitable Trusts and The Glenmede Trust Company, in Philadelphia to honor this Princeton professor and noted scholar of Islam.
Among the notables was one attendee from the White House. Vice President Cheney spoke of his trip to Vilnius, Kazakhstan, and Croatia: "All in all, we're looking at a journey of more than 13,000 miles - the kind of thing Henry Kissinger does in a weekend."
The former host of CNN's "Inside Politics," Judy Woodruff,interviewed Dutch parliament member Ayaan Hirsi Ali. She had made a film with Theo van Gogh, who was subsequently murdered in Holland. Ms. Hirsi Ali spoke of the importance of separating government and religion. She spoke of the importance of freedom of conscience and acceptance of secular law. These values, she said, are self-evident for the West but "have to be fought for within Islam."
She also spoke of Muslim girls, a number of whom are married off at age 13 or 14, such that they do not get much of a formal education. But change will have to come in the right way. "Re forming Islam must come from within," she said in her interview with Ms. Woodruff.
Later, Mr. Kissinger gave a speech in which he said that immigrants from war-torn Europe, such as himself, develop a very special feeling about the importance of America to the world, having experienced how societies can collapse.
"It's been a commonplace to say that September 11 changed history for America," he said. It also changed it for the rest of the world.
Whatever one's views of the decision to enter Iraq or the strategy with which the war has been conducted, he said, "we must be clear" about the disastrous consequences of leaving a failed state behind. He went on to say "the phenomenon of radical Islam is more than the sum of individual terrorist attacks."
"I have been a professor and I have been a policymaker," Mr. Kissinger said. The difference is a professor can pick the subjects he wishes to work on and has the privilege of changing his mind, while a policymaker does not.
Walter Russell Mead, the Henry A. Kissinger Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, spoke on the panel following Mr. Kissinger's remarks. The audience laughed when Mr. Mead said that to go from Dr. Kissinger to the Kissinger fellow is, to quote Mark Twain, like the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.
Francis Fukuyama,a critic of the war, compared the present situation in Iraq to a broken television; he further likened governmental response to a mallet being taken out and hitting the television on the side in hope that it will fix it. Mr. Fukuyama later cited Bismarck who noted: "You can do everything with a bayonet except sit on it."
American University professor Akbar Ahmed spoke of a 10-week tour he took visiting countries such as Pakistan, Jordan, Turkey, and Qatar. His trip included a mosque in Damascus. He spoke of the need of Americans to get out and talk to ordinary citizens; he said he has heard Muslims say,"No one has come to talk to us." He also stressed that "the Muslim world is not the Arab world," explaining that Arabs comprise 18% of the Muslim world.
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PEOPLE'S POETRY The CUNY Graduate Center this weekend hosted the People's Poetry Gathering, where the Knickerbocker spoke with John Willard Tomlinson. He had posted up his poem that began "I am the 26th Street 'Armory,' the much-neglected 'Cinderella' sister of area Armories..."
On three bulletin boards hung various epic poems about New York. Bob Hershon, whose literary magazine Hanging Loose celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, wrote this poem on one board:
I am the accumulated memory and waistline
of the dead restaurants of New York and the
dishes that will never be set before us again, the snow pea
leaves in garlic at the Ocean Palace, the blini and caviar at
thee Russian Tea Room, the osso buco at the New York Alba,
the kasha varnishkes at the Second Avenue Del, the veal
ragout at C'ent Anni...
A midnight reading of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven" took place on Friday in the New York City Marble Cemetery. The reader was Mark Abley, author of "Spoken Here: Travels Among Threatened Languages."
Impresario Bob Holman announced that Mr.Abley would have the honor of reading the final verse of "The Raven." When Mr. Abley was in 11th grade in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, his teacher had everyone in the class read a poem aloud. As Mr. Abley recalled, many in the class settled on the shortest poem they could find in the anthology: "Fog" by Carl Sandburg. He had chosen Poe's classic instead.