These are all the Blogs posted on Friday, 13, 2012.
Friday, 13 January 2012
US warns of Bangkok terrorist threat - Lebanese Hezbollah suspect arrested
From AFP BANGKOK — The United States warned Friday of a terrorist threat against foreign tourists in Thailand, which said it was tracking two suspects who had entered the kingdom.
"Foreign terrorists may be currently looking to conduct attacks against tourist areas in Bangkok in the near future," the US embassy in Bangkok said in an emergency message posted on its website. "US citizens are urged to exercise caution when visiting public areas where large groups of Western tourists gather in Bangkok."
The Thai government said that it had been informed by the United States that a pair of suspected Muslim "terrorists" had arrived in the kingdom. "The US contacted us last night about two terrorists who entered Thailand and plan terrorist activities," Thai Defence Minister General Yutthasak Sasiprapha told AFP. "Our intelligence officials are working closely with the US and following the terrorists' movements closely. I believe we will arrest them tonight."
Update from The Telegraph Thai authorities arrested a Lebanese Hezbollah suspect.
An eight-year-old shadowy insurgency continues to plague the country's Muslim-majority deep south, but the rebels have never been known to attack outside of the region. The insurgents are not thought to be part of a global jihad movement (that's a matter of opinion!) but rather are rebelling against a long history of perceived discrimination against ethnic Malay Muslims by governments in the Buddhist-majority country.
Posted on 01/13/2012 5:15 AM by Esmerelda Weatherwax
Friday, 13 January 2012
Dore Gold: Who Are The Alawis?
The following introduction to the Alawis could be supplemented by other important observations -- such as that the syncretistic nature of Alawi beliefs, unremarkable given that Christians remained, held on, far longer in Syria-Lebanon, including the reverence for Mary which can be seen in the pictures displayed in every Alawite village, and the obviously syncretistic nature of Alawi beliefs ---and does not go into details about the "Troupes Speciales" created by the French, who when they ran Syria deliberately chose to create military units staffed by the Armenians, the Druse, and the Alawites, who could be relied on as the Sunni Arabs could not. Nor is there any mention of the Alevis of Turkey. But not everything can always be included. This is still a useful explanation of whom the Alawites are. And it provokes this thought: I did not know that Imam Musa Sadr was the one who first declared that the Alawis should be considered not heretics but true Muslims. And if that is true, then perhaps that was the main reason Imam Musa Sadr never returned from his trip to Libya, and hasn't been heard from since.
From Israel Hayom:
by Dore Gold
Assad's Alawi allies
The Saudi-owned Arabic daily Asharq Alawsat published an analysis by a Jordanian commentator last week that asked an important question: How has Bashar Assad continued to stay in power for nearly a year since the revolt against his regime began, while the Tunisian and Egyptian leaders were overthrown in just a few weeks? True, Moammar Gadhafi fell from power because of external intervention, but his regime collapsed in a relatively short period of time. According to the Asharq Alawsat article, the difference between these cases and the revolt against the Syrian regime is the Syrian Army, whose officer class has a large contingent of Alawis belonging to the same religious minority as the Assad family. It makes sense that these officers understand they are fighting not only for Assad's political survival, but for the Alawis' very future in Syria.
Who are the Alawis and why might they be at risk if Assad falls? The Alawis are a relatively small minority in Syria, making up at most 12 percent of the population. In comparison, Sunni Muslims are roughly 75% of the Syrian population. Their faith provides a special role for the fourth caliph of Islam, Ali, and because of their name Alawis – or followers of Ali – are often thought to constitute a legitimate branch of Islam. But aside from their use of the Koran, Alawis rely on their own holy book that is not recognized by other Muslims. Their religious faith is based on revering a trinity of three individuals as divine manifestations: Muhammad, Ali, and a third individual named, Salman al-Farisi, a Persian Christian who became a Muslim and knew Muhammad in Medina. Their actual religious rituals are kept secret. They do not build mosques. Yet, in the 1970s, Lebanese Shiite leader Imam Musa Sadr issued a proclamation that the Alawis were legitimate Muslims.
Unlike Imam Musa Sadr, Sunni religious clerics have viewed the Alawis over the centuries as heretics who are not part of the Islamic world. They were not even defined as "people of the book," like Jews and Christians under the Ottoman Empire. They sought to isolate themselves in the Nusayriya mountains in western Syria, above the city of Latakia. When Ottoman rule over Syria was replaced with French rule, the Alawis had an opportunity to improve their standing. They backed the French mandatory authorities and as a result were recruited into the Syrian military in disproportional numbers along with other minorities, like the Druze and the Ismailis. After Syria's independence, the Alawis were attracted to the military because it provided them with a vehicle for upward social mobility to escape poverty. The Alawi officers launched massive recruitment drives of fellow Alawis, whom they could trust. In the meantime, the Alawis were attracted to the secular orientation of the Ba'ath party in Syria, which first came to power in 1963, since in a secular state, religious sectarianism would be expected to matter far less. Between the Syrian Army and the Ba'ath party, the Alawis had a firm grip over Syria, despite their small numbers.
The rise of the Muslim Brotherhood across the Middle East during the recent insurrections undoubtedly must influence Alawi calculations to defeat the revolt against Assad at all costs. Over the last 30 years, Saudi Arabia has been promoting Wahhabi Islam in the Sunni Muslim world, by many times employing Muslim Brotherhood networks. The Salafi movements that have arisen as a result of these efforts take an even more hostile view of the Alawis than traditional Sunni Islam. The Saudis' Wahhabi religious leaders have seen their role as one of cleansing Islam from any traces of polytheism, like saint worship, by giving them nearly divine status. Saudi Arabia's grand mufti in the 1990s used to call the Alawi-dominated Ba'ath party, Hizb al-Shaitan, meaning "party of the devil."
The Muslim Brotherhood is less visible in the Syrian opposition today compared with its role in insurrections in Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt. The Syrian Muslim Brotherhood is stronger outside of Syria than inside. This might be explained, in part, by their having been decimated in February 1982 by Hafez al-Assad, in the city of al-Hamma, where the Syrian Army massacred more than 20,000 civilians. Whatever the reason for the lower profile of the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria, Bashar Assad's Alawi officers have to assume that should they be defeated, leading the Sunni majority to take over Syria, a bloodbath would ensue against the Alawis.
Despite the war of the Assads against the Muslim Brotherhood, other Islamists have managed to penetrate Syria over the last decade, who could magnify traditional antipathy to the Alawis. Because Syria served as a rear base for Sunni volunteers entering Iraq to fight the U.S., many extremist religious groups took root in the Syrian countryside. For example, back in 2007, the Syrian army already had to use helicopter gunships against al-Qaida affiliates that were attacking its units, like Jund al-Sham.
In recent months, Alawis were reminded of how Sunni clerics from Islamist circles view them. Sheik Yusuf Qaradawi, the spiritual leader of the Global Muslim Brotherhood, called the Assad government "a heretical regime." Sheik Adnan al-Arour a Syrian Sunni religious leader appeared on a Saudi television network in June and addressed his words specifically to the Alawis who were opposing the Syrian uprising: "I swear by God we will mince them in grinders and feed their flesh to the dogs."
Given the prevalence of these sentiments, the revolt in Syria has all the trappings of an existential war for the Alawi minority, which explains, but hardly justifies, the reprehensible policies their army has adopted. Moreover, the ultimate consequences of the Syrian civil war have not been lost on the Israel Defense Forces. They also could explain why Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz told the Knesset Foreign and Defense Committee this week that Israel must prepare for a wave of Alawi refugees who might seek refuge in Israel as the conflict continues in Syria.
Posted on 01/13/2012 6:33 AM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Friday, 13 January 2012
Lee Smith: Hezbollah Fissures
Hassan Nasrallah, secretary general of Hezbollah, wants out. Things have gotten so tense for Hezbollah, says Lokman Slim, an independent Lebanese Shiite activist, that according to well-sourced accounts of a meeting two weeks ago, Nasrallah “complained he no longer wanted the job.”
It’s hard to blame him. A figure once revered by Arabs for his (relative) success against Israel, Nasrallah is now tainted in the Sunni-majority Middle East by his association with a Syrian regime that has been slaughtering its Sunni opponents. More to the point, it is becoming increasingly unlikely that Hezbollah’s patron in Damascus will survive the uprising. Some Lebanese observers are even wondering if the clerical regime in Iran, Hezbollah’s main sponsor, will survive. With mounting pressure in the form of U.S. and EU sanctions, a devalued currency, a secret war waged, it seems, by the Americans, Israelis, and perhaps internal adversaries, the Iranians are reduced to making threats—like closing the Strait of Hormuz—that if acted upon could spell the regime’s demise.
If Hezbollah’s regional partners are in trouble, the domestic arena presents even more daunting challenges for the party of God. Hezbollah’s control over Lebanon’s Shiite community seems to be unraveling. There’s crime and social unrest in Shiite areas that the party is incapable of curtailing. It has had to ask the Lebanese state for assistance in policing Hezbollah’s own areas.
“After the 2006 war,” says Slim, “the Iranians handed out cash and everyone became accustomed to a certain standard of living. The party kept telling the Shiites that they were the best and most virtuous of people. So even the car thieves and drug dealers were the most virtuous of people. Now they can’t control it.”
Perhaps the most telling sign of a fragmented resistance is the news that Hezbollah has been infiltrated by foreign intelligence services. The party can’t get a fix on how to package the revelations. If they boast about uncovering CIA assets in their midst, they admit that the American clandestine service was able to penetrate an organization whose prestige rests on a reputation for tight security and lockstep discipline.
Like any totalitarian institution, Hezbollah is paranoid. Accordingly, the worse things get for Hezbollah, the more the party sees itself surrounded by enemies, real or imagined. Worst of all is when Hezbollah feels pressure on the most vulnerable part of its structure, its religious foundations. Which may be why the party is seeking the death penalty for one of its former top clerics.
Last October, a Lebanese military court, supervised by a judge close to Hezbollah, charged Sheikh Hassan Mchaymech with collaborating with Israel. “The message is not just for Hassan Mchaymech,” says his eldest son, Reda. “It is for the other Shiite clerics working outside the radius of Hezbollah. The message is that anyone who is against Hezbollah is a collaborator.”
Last week I met with Reda, a 27-year-old who as family spokesman has taken on more than he ever might have expected—not only working to secure his father’s release but also facing down Hezbollah.
“When they came to show us my father’s so-called confession,” Reda says, “we hadn’t seen him or heard from him in nine months.” The elder members of the Mchaymech clan, a large family in the southern town of Kfar Seer, had gathered to meet with Hezbollah officials. “The Hezbollah people put on a CD of my father confessing,” says Reda. “He wasn’t the same man. He had lost 20 kilos, and was nodding like he was drugged or something. There were subtitles because his voice was inaudible. I said, there might be some people around this table willing to believe this, but not me.”
Two decades ago, Hassan Mchay-mech was a central figure in Hezbollah’s power structure. As first assistant to the party’s original secretary general, Sobhi Tufayli, Mchay-mech was responsible for the organization’s clerics. When Tufayli left the party in 1992, replaced first by Abbas Mussawi and then, after his assassination, Hassan Nasrallah, Mchaymech’s time with Hezbollah was running out.
“My father said that Nasrallah came straight from Iran to run Hezbollah,” says Reda. “Tufayli could take positions different from the Hezbollah security apparatus, but not Nasrallah. He can’t make decisions independent of Iran.”
In 1998, Nasrallah and the now freelance Tufayli butted heads, and Nasrallah was angry that Mchaymech seemed to side with his rival. “Nasrallah’s deputy summoned my father,” says Reda. The party was also concerned that Mchaymech no longer believed in Hezbollah’s foundational concept, wilayet al-faqih, or guardianship of the jurist.
That idea, first formulated by Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini, stipulates that the religious leader also directs the political realm. For Hezbollah, it justifies sending Lebanese Shiites to die on behalf of Tehran’s strategic interests—if the religious leader orders it, they have no choice.
“My father turned against wilayet al-faqih when he saw it had become an idea that had expanded to take control of everything and all decisions,” says Reda. “My father was impressed by Western culture. In his travels in Switzerland, Germany, and France, he came to believe that our society was backward in our ideas and we needed to catch up.”
Hassan Mchaymech explained his intellectual conversion in an article published in June 2010, a month before his arrest:
My divorce from Hezbollah occurred in 1998 when I ceased believing in wilayet al-faqih and any authority that purports to enjoy a divine delegation or a divine source. I believe today that the legitimacy of any authority represents the fruit born of agreements made between reasonable adults within a society. Furthermore, I believe the way to achieve power is through free elections that appoint someone to serve for a specific period of time and fulfill specific duties and tasks. A mandate without a given term or well-defined duties is a recipe for corruption, even if the person selected to exercise authority enjoys sacred respect—unless he is a Prophet or an Imam.
Mchaymech’s 1998 book, Big Holes in Islamic Theories, displeased the party. “They tried to kidnap him,” says Reda. Mchaymech left for France but returned after securing Hezbollah’s approval. In 2005 he met a Shiite convert visiting from Europe, Mahmoud al-Nimsawi (“the Austrian”), who professed to share Mchaymech’s dream of opening a religious school in Europe. Nimsawi invited him to Germany to discuss the proposal with a man called Abu Ali who soon identified himself as a German counterterrorism officer.
“Abu Ali tried to get my father to speak about Hezbollah security issues,” says Reda. The Germans wanted to know about figures like Imad Mughniyeh, Hezbollah’s notorious terrorist mastermind, and Mustafa Badreddine, named by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon as one of the plotters in the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri. “My father told them his expertise was not in security matters. He knew Mughniyeh and Badreddine, but my father is not a tough guy. He’s strong with the pen, but that’s it.”
Reda explains that the German security officer told his father that if he had no information on Hezbollah’s security apparatus, he’d have to leave Germany immediately. Concerned about the effect these meetings might have should word of them get back to Hezbollah, on his return to Lebanon Mchaymech approached a friend and former colleague, Ali Damoush, head of Hezbollah’s external relations, to debrief him on his itinerary, including an accurate account of his contacts with Nimsawi and Abu Ali.
The matter seemed to rest there until the summer of 2010 when Mchaymech was crossing into Syria on a pilgrimage to Mecca. At the border he was kidnapped by Syrian security. After two months of no contact, the family read in a pro-Syria and pro-Hezbollah Lebanese newspaper, Al-Akhbar, that he had been arrested for collaborating with Israeli intelligence.
It was clear from the outset that Hezbollah, rather than Syria, was responsible for the arrest and accusation. “The Syrian investigation comes from the folder my father gave them after his return from Germany. It’s obvious that Hezbollah gave that to the Syrians. They handed this issue off to the Syrians to keep their hands clean. But they kept telling us, this is Syria’s opinion, we don’t know.”
Nonetheless, the family moved carefully. “My father was in Syria and anything could happen there. He could disappear for nothing. . . . We signaled to them that we’re not going to shut up.” Reda started to write in the press. “I wrote about Hezbollah’s silence in this affair. When Nasrallah’s deputy Nabil Qaouk came to show us the CD of my father’s confession, he said to me, ‘If you want to write about Hezbollah, go ahead, there are 100 articles about Hezbollah everyday, let there be 101. But if you want your father back, you have to stop writing.’ ”
Reda agreed to keep quiet on two conditions, that the family be allowed to visit him and that he be moved to Lebanon. “Anything could happen to him in Syria,” says Reda. Within a few days, Mchaymech’s wife and another son visited him where he was being held in Syria. “There were two Syrian security people there the whole time monitoring what he said,” Reda explains. “My father said, ‘The first three months they hit me, but now it’s different.’ ”
Lokman Slim, who has worked with the Mchaymech family on their father’s case, believes that the Lebanese military court due to reconvene for sentencing on January 26 will not give Mchaymech the death penalty. “It will be a stiff sentence, but the family is already getting accustomed to visiting and phone calls.”
Hassan Mchaymech has also started writing letters to his eldest son. “In one letter, my father says, ‘Nasrallah says all you need is honor. As long as we have honor, we don’t need bridges or cars or streets.’ My father writes, ‘How can you have honor if you don’t have streets and cars and bridges? They’re trying to set us back 300 years.’ ”
That is to say, it’s not just Hassan Mchaymech who is paying a price for resistance, but Lebanon’s entire Shiite community. “We need to focus on developing our society, our economy rather than getting into internal and external battles and bloody conflicts. Finally,” says Reda, “this is my father’s message.”
Hassan Mchaymech knew he was expendable from the moment he first challenged Hezbollah’s theoretical foundations, back in 1998. Perhaps his June 2010 article reminded the party’s leadership that it might still be useful to punish him and thereby send a message to the Shiite community, especially its clerical class: You are all expendable.
Posted on 01/13/2012 6:58 AM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Friday, 13 January 2012
Not For Speaking French Badly, But For Speaking It At All
Posted on 01/13/2012 7:34 AM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Friday, 13 January 2012
The Huguenot Society Of South Carolina Open To New Members
Posted on 01/13/2012 7:37 AM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Friday, 13 January 2012
What About Charles "Pug" Ravenel? What About DuBose Heyward?
Abstract, Descendents of early French Huguenots, the Ravenel and related DuBose families of South Carolina ranked among the most prominent members of ...
DuBose, as in "Dubose Heyward," the man who wrote Porgy and Bess.
Ravenel, as in Charles Ravenel, a Harvard football star and then a businessman, and finally, an important figure in South Carolinian politics?
What would South Carolina be like, without its French connection?
And Gingrich calls himself an "historian."
Posted on 01/13/2012 7:39 AM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Friday, 13 January 2012
The Best Version Of Multiculturalism
Posted on 01/13/2012 7:48 AM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Friday, 13 January 2012
A Literary Interlude: Du Bellay Begs To Differ With Gingrich, And Sends His Regrets
France, mère des arts, des armes et des lois,
Tu m'as nourri longtemps du lait de ta mamelle :
Ores, comme un agneau qui sa nourrice appelle,
Je remplis de ton nom les antres et les bois.
Si tu m'as pour enfant avoué quelquefois,
Que ne me réponds-tu maintenant, ô cruelle ?
France, France, réponds à ma triste querelle.
Mais nul, sinon Écho, ne répond à ma voix.
Entre les loups cruels j'erre parmi la plaine,
Je sens venir l'hiver, de qui la froide haleine
D'une tremblante horreur fait hérisser ma peau.
Las, tes autres agneaux n'ont faute de pâture,
Ils ne craignent le loup, le vent ni la froidure :
Si ne suis-je pourtant le pire du troupeau.
From "Les Regrets" of Joachim Du Bellay
Posted on 01/13/2012 7:57 AM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Friday, 13 January 2012
Why are the EDL in Barking tomorrow?
For those who may not be fully aware of the background of tomorrow's demo in Barking this is a brief precis of the recent history. It began long before June 2010, but that’s a good place to start. On the 15th June 2010 the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham welcomed home our local regiment who were exercising their Freedom of the Borough. Soldiers of the First Battalion the Royal Anglian regiment marched through the town centre. As well as friends, family, neighbours and well -wishers they were greeted by a phalanx of Muslims,(who go by many names, Muslims Against Crusades, Sharia 4UK, United Ummah are a few) screaming insults and brandishing offensive banners, just as they had been allowed to in Luton when the Royal Anglians paraded the previous year.
“Queen and Country go to Hell” they chanted through their loudspeaker.
“British Soldiers Cowards” said one placard; “Shame on the Anglian regiment” said another.
The police had been ordered to protect them in an enclosure set back from the crowd of angry local people. Elderly women reported to the police that the placards had offended them and that they felt themselves to be under attack as victims of hate but the police told the women to move along, as if we were doing the wrong. At the end of the Anglian’s march the Muslims were escorted under police protection onto a train back to their HQ in Whitechapel. No charges of offensive behaviour, or behaviour likely to cause a breach of the peace were ever brought against them.
Embolden by lack of any action against them by those in authority, indeed the police and Local Government officials had facilitated their ‘protest’, the group went on to further events. In November that year they burnt poppies and disrupted a two minutes silence on Armistice Day. The following year they marched through neighbouring Leyton declaring that borough to be a ‘Sharia controlled zone.’ They were allowed to burn the US flag and more outside the US Embassy during a memorial service on the 10th anniversary of the Terrorist attacks against the US, all within sight and earshot of the Royal Family, the Prime Minister, the American Ambassador and other dignitaries. Again they were protected by the police and no attempt was made to restrain their expressions of hatred.
Meanwhile, in the Dagenham side of the Borough another group of Muslims have been less overt and more clandestine with their plans for the town. The Becontree Heath Islamic Society had been using the shop at 4 Rowallen Parade, Green Lane Dagenham as a mosque, for men only, without publicity or benefit of planning permission. Their request for planning permission and further permission to extend their operation was refused in April 2010. Undaunted the Society began negotiations to buy a site further down the road containing four traditional English businesses and drew up plans for a much bigger mosque (aka ‘Community Centre’) for which they again applied for permission. By this time after the election of May 2010 all opposition on the Borough Council had been eradicated. The unpopular Labour MP Margaret Hodge had been re-elected, to the surprise of many, and all the borough’s councillors were of the Labour party.
The council ignored the protests of the local population and went against the advice of their own Planning Department to grant planning permission for Mosque with Community Centre. At two public meetings Lady Hodge demonstrated complete contempt for her constituents. No debate or protest was allowed in her presence; all she wanted was co-operation to facilitate the opening of the Mosque. Residents of 70+ years were sneered at and treated with contempt.
The trust of the community in and around Green Lane Dagenham was broken. Local people were misled, kept in the dark and marginalised.
At that meeting members of the Islamic Society admitted openly that they were bringing Islam into Barking and Dagenham from Tower Hamlets and that their purpose was to support its spread into Essex.
They took over the premises on the corner of Burnside and Green Lane giving short notice to quit to the remaining trader.
The English Defence League, with comrades from other patriotic groups including March for England, mounted three peaceful and well supported demonstrations last year in support of the local people who object to both the Mosque and the deterioration of the facilities in their neighbourhood attendant upon it. 1; 2; 3;
Car parking during busy prayer time is a problem. Green Lane has changed in the last five years from a bustling shopping centre with everything one could wish to two rows of halal foodstuff sellers, halal fast food takeaways and restaurants, cheap international phone call merchants and Asia travel agents. The Christian bookshop closed in the period between the first and second demos and only the Co-op and Greggs the bakers remain to provide the sort of foodstuffs the long-time inhabitants require.
The Mosque is leasing the premises while they raise the money to complete the sale. They charge parents for the children’s evening madrassah to educate them in Islam and Islamic values every evening for two hours after their daytime mainstream schooling. They have less than half the purchase price needed and their provisional planning permission expires later this month.
The EDL demonstration in Barking on 14th January is to remind the council of several things.
First: That the failure to check the hate directed at the Royal Anglian regiment in June 2010 lead to the further abuses of 11th November 2010 and 11th September 2011 and the group responsible, whatever their current name, remains unchecked.
Second: That the council should take notice of the petition of local people who do not want this mosque in their midst when considering whether to extend planning permission for a longer period. That they should consider that the Becontree Heath Islamic Society cannot afford to purchase the property and that the operation they are running there is not the ‘community centre’ for the whole neighbourhood that was promised before Lady Hodge at those public meetings.
At the time I drafted that sentence the petition was to be delivered to the Town Hall shortly. On attending the Town Hall the local residents were told that the planning permission was definitive and no review is pending. Their efforts were therefore made under a misapprehension. I consider it very suspicious that accurate information was not given to the public last year when planning permission was first made public.
Third: That the company which bought the former Farm House pub in Dagenham to run as a Muslim Wedding venue have erected a pavilion without permission on green belt land which is part of a nature reserve and community forest. Planning permission should NOT be granted to them retrospectively either.
Finally: That the EDL and all patriots will oppose the creep of sharia law and all those types of jihad that threaten our free way of life.
Posted on 01/13/2012 2:03 PM by Esmerelda Weatherwax
Friday, 13 January 2012
A Musical Interlude: Body And Soul (Wal-Berg And His Orch., voc. LÃ©o Marjane)
Listen, with the called-for mental reservations, to Léo Marjane here
Posted on 01/13/2012 6:42 PM by Hugh Fitzgerald
Friday, 13 January 2012
That Awful Movie About Thatcher
An 'Iron Lady,' In A Portrait With No Brass At All
The Iron Lady
December 29, 2011
Even those hardy souls who endured Mamma Mia! — and who therefore have reason to fear director Phyllida Lloyd's magnificent incompetence — are likely to be shocked by the sheer awfulness of The Iron Lady. While the film's publicity machine does its best to distract us with extravagant praise for yet another of Meryl Streep's accent-uber-alles performances, this demeaning biopic of Margaret Thatcher reduces one of the 20th century's most important political figures to a bossy, intractable scold.
That's when it's not reducing her to a fragile, dementia-addled shell living entirely in the past. In the interest of full disclosure, I was still living in Britain during Thatcher's first of three terms as prime minister (1979-83), and I vehemently opposed her policies. But there's a reason Conservative members of Parliament recently called for a House of Commons debate on the film, specifically citing its lack of "respect, good manners and good taste." Whichever side of the aisle you inhabit, you will leave The Iron Lady feeling disgusted; you will also feel cheated — of information, insight or even an identifiable point of view.
This last is all the more egregious, considering that Thatcher herself held nothing but contempt for wafflers and placaters. But Lloyd and her scriptwriter, Abi Morgan, get nothing right: not the tone (more farce than biography) nor the focus (mental decline over Oxford-educated reasoning) nor even the breadth and magnitude of the woman's accomplishments.
Instead we get a whistle-stop tour of career highlights that squishes every major event into a thoughtless montage, devoid of context or import. From the time young Margaret (played by an excellent Alexandra Roach) enters Parliament in 1959, to her eventual resignation as prime minister over the poll-tax riots in 1990, this soulless chronicle gives no hint of the forces that shaped her.
Worst of all is the film's repetitive and degrading framing device, in which a nightgown-clad Thatcher, who has suffered from Alzheimer's since 2000, dodders around her home having imaginary conversations with her dead husband, Denis (a puckish Jim Broadbent). Streep, as expected, nails the impersonation — as do the hair and makeup wizards, with plenty of Oscar-baiting close-ups — and even adds sensitivity and subtlety to a screenplay not much concerned with either.
But everything about the film feels designed to diminish: whether whining petulantly about the price of milk or the nanny state, this Thatcher is more pitiable than admirable. The sexism is horrifying: A biopic of Ronald Reagan that fixated on his mental disintegration and dependence on Nancy would be unthinkable.
Thatcher may have been reviled — Elvis Costello famously envisioned dancing on her grave — but she is also the only woman ever to hold the post of prime minister, and she held it longer than anyone before or since. She stared down IRA hunger strikers and held the National Union of Mineworkers at bay for a year; started the Falklands War with virtually no party support; privatized national industries and fought to protect Britain's currency from the jaws of the EU. When today's political candidates can scarcely maintain a position from one speech to the next, Thatcher's principled rigidity seems particularly remarkable, yet none of these conflicts warrant more than a few seconds of lazy newsreel footage.
Maudlin and ham-fisted — when the young Thatcher asserts "I cannot die washing up a teacup," we know that's exactly what she'll be doing as the curtain falls — The Iron Lady is cinematic scrap metal. Watching it, you would never know she was a strong-willed beacon for many young British women who aspired to more than housekeeping and child-rearing: Even when we loathed her policies, we could not help but long for her spine.
Posted on 01/13/2012 9:35 PM by Hugh Fitzgerald