THE THREE A'S At the Goethe Institute on Manhattan's Upper East Side, French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy, Weekly Standard editor William Kristol, and German author Peter Schneider held a dialogue on "the three A's": namely anti-Americanism, anti-Europeanism, and anti-Semitism. Roger Cohen of the New York Times moderated.
Mr. Cohen introduced Mr. Schneider by describing him as a "subtle explorer of the German soul" and as someone who plays "a mean tennis game." In his opening remarks, Mr. Schneider said he was shocked by the results of the presidential election and said the current administration engaged in a "campaign of fear" that was "in a frightening way, efficient." He said those who lived in New York near the attack of September 11, 2001, voted for Senator Kerry but those who live in Iowa in "pickup trucks" voted differently. Mr. Kristol rejoined that Bush's vote increased by 7% in New York from the previous election and said those in Iowa in pickup trucks were not "buffoons."
Mr. Levy was introduced by Mr. Cohen as "a gadfly with gravitas" and one who, like Alexis de Tocqueville before him, has been spending time in America in preparation for writing a book. Mr. Levy said that in Europe there is huge anti-Americanism that exceeds dislike for the Bush administration.
When asked if he was worried by President Bush's invocation of God, Mr. Levy replied that Americans and Europeans hold differing notions of the relationship between freedom and religion. In Europe less religion generally means more freedom, he said, adding that de Tocqueville was prescient in observing that in America the two travel on the same road.
Mr. Kristol asked how many mosques had been burned in America after the events of September 11, 2001. "America has behaved pretty well," he said, when compared with wrongly interning Japanese Americans in the wake of Pearl Harbor.
Mr. Schneider said historical progress over slavery and other ills had been made in the face of opposition from the church and religion.
Mr. Kristol countered by mentioning "empirical" examples of William Wilberforce and the abolition of slavery, and Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement. "I'm not saying," Mr. Kristol added, "that religion has always been good."
On the subject of anti-Semitism, Mr. Levy said that it had two roots in France. First, there was fundamentalist Islam in some French neighborhoods; but second, the other was commonplace in French culture. Mr. Levy said he did not know if anti-Semitism has increased lately: "I am not a thermometer," he said.
On the subject of European misunderstanding of America, Mr. Kristol said there had been during the first Bush term a "failure of public diplomacy" in senior American officials not coming and speaking in Berlin, for example, publicly to argue the case for the American position. Mr. Kristol said at forums, he would be greeted by people telling him they disagreed with his position, "but at least you came."
LUNCH BREAK At an all-day Columbia University "Human Rights and Democracy in Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus" conference dedicated to the memory of Nobel Peace laureate Andrei Sakharov (1921-1989), Michael Scammell spoke. A historian, writer, and one of the conference's moderators, Mr. Scammell recounted a literary anecdote that gave some definition to the ineffable Russian character.
As his session was about to break for lunch, he reminded his listeners of a 19th-century mealtime with metaphysical implications. In Paris, writer Gustave Flaubert and the brothers Goncourt were disputing the existence of God with distinguished Russian novelist Ivan Turgenev when the dinner bell rang.
The Frenchmen rose to their feet and began to make their way to the dining room. To their consternation, Turgenev, ever the restless Russian soul, protested vehemently that the meal could not proceed while the all-important question of God's existence still hung in the air. Therein, Michael Scammell insisted, lies the philosophical difference between East and West.
WRITTEN IN THE STARS "Look at identity as a constellation," writes Anna Deavere Smith, "each of us has inside of ourselves many fragments." Ms. Smith makes this suggestion in an essay that is part of a collaboration with Lyle Ashton Harris. Mr. Harris portrays himself in guises such as Billie Holiday and Josephine Baker in a collection of Polaroid self-portraits.
Ms. Smith read the essay at the Studio Museum in Harlem. In her remarks, she also described how Mr. Harris grapples with questions of maleness and femaleness and the quest for authority.
In the audience were photographer Carrie Mae Weems, dancer Bill T. Jones, painter Julian Lethbridge, Anne Bass, and Mr. Harris.
JOB JUMBLE James Frey will be among the readers at a benefit December 17 for Washington Square, the biannual literary journal published by New York University's Graduate Creative Writing Program. He wrote the book "A Million Little Pieces," but his other credits are just as interesting: "A former film writer, he has also worked as a skateboard salesman, a camp counselor, a picture-framer, a bouncer at a bar, a film director, a film producer, a busboy, a hotel security guard, and as both Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny at a major department store."