by Mary Jackson (December 2009)
I have never really seen the point of nuance. If something is good, why not say it’s good? The same goes for bad. And if it’s a mixture of good and bad, then say it’s a mixture of good and bad. Say so clearly, indicating the approximate proportions of good and bad in the mixture. But leave nuance out of it – it clouds the issue. Nobody listens to me, though. Nuance is all the rage, nothing is clear cut, and there must always be two sides to every story.
You might think the nuance-mongers would make an exception for a man of forty-four who drugged and raped a child. Let’s be specific about the details, and if the details offend, so they should. Kate Harding:
Roman Polanski gave a 13-year-old girl a Quaalude and champagne, then raped her…. [A]ccording to the victim’s grand jury testimony, Roman Polanski instructed her to get into a jacuzzi naked, refused to take her home when she begged to go, began kissing her even though she said no and asked him to stop; performed cunnilingus on her as she said no and asked him to stop; put his penis in her vagina as she said no and asked him to stop; asked if he could penetrate her anally, to which she replied, “No,” then went ahead and did it anyway, until he had an orgasm.
Ms. Harding leaves one detail out: according to the grand jury testimony, on which Polanski was convicted, he asked her if she was on the pill, and only sodomized her when she said she wasn’t. How inconvenient it would have been for this great artist if his victim had got pregnant, and how thoughtful of him to ensure that she didn’t.
His thoughtfulness did not impress the Californian legal system. Polanksi was arrested in 1977, and a philistine Grand Jury, with scant regard for nuance, charged him with rape by use of drugs, perversion, sodomy, lewd and lascivious act upon a child under fourteen, and furnishing a controlled substance to a minor. To preserve the victim’s anonymity, her lawyer urged a plea bargain, and Polanski pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor. Fearing that the judge might “renege” on this plea bargain – in fact a judge is not bound by such an arrangement – he did what any transgressive artist would do, and transgressed over to France. There he has lived ever since, protected by from extradition by his French citizenship. Life has not been easy, as Washington Post’s Anne Applebaum points out. Read this and weep:
Polanski, who panicked and fled the U.S. during that trial, has been pursued by this case for 30 years, during which time he has never returned to America, has never returned to the United Kingdom., has avoided many other countries, and has never been convicted of anything else. He did commit a crime, but he has paid for the crime in many, many ways: In notoriety, in lawyers’ fees, in professional stigma. He could not return to Los Angeles to receive his recent Oscar. He cannot visit Hollywood to direct or cast a film.
Your common or garden child rapist, segregated from other prisoners “for his own protection”, or fearful of what awaits him in the shower, might be happy to trade his prison sentence for a one of notoriety, lawyers’ fees and professional stigma. But Polanski isn’t your common or garden child rapist. And his reflections on the matter, in an interview with Martin Amis, are not common or garden remorse:
“If I had killed somebody, it wouldn’t have had so much appeal to the press, you see? But… f—ing, you see, and the young girls. Judges want to f— young girls. Juries want to f— young girls. Everyone wants to f— young girls!”
Perhaps young girls, children to be precise, don’t want to be f —d. But what do they matter? Most are not artists and few understand nuance.
The brutality of Polanski’s crime, the callous, calculating manner of its execution (drugging his victim, checking whether she was on the pill), his cowardly flight from justice and his utter lack of remorse, should put this man beyond the pale. So when he was arrested in Zurich in September 2009, and detained pending a formal extradition request, you would expect liberals and feminists to be delighted that justice might at long last be done. You would expect them to be disappointed that he was released on bail in November 2009, and to hope he is soon behind bars. You would expect them to take the side of the pleading victim, rather than the man forcing himself on her. You would be wrong. The victim has been pushed out of the way in the stampede to forgive him.
Take Anne Applebaum, who feels Polanski’s pain at not being able to collect the Oscar. I thought Applebaum, author of Gulag, was a good egg. I also thought she was a feminist, but perhaps she is one of those feminists who swoon over any man perceived to be in some way anti-American. Here is the rest of her special pleading:
Here are some of the facts: Polanski’s crime — statutory rape of a 13-year-old girl — was committed in 1977. The girl, now 45, has said more than once that she forgives him, that she can live with the memory, that she does not want him to be put back in court or in jail, and that a new trial will hurt her husband and children. There is evidence of judicial misconduct in the original trial.
He can be blamed, it is true, for his original, panicky decision to flee. But for this decision I see mitigating circumstances, not least an understandable fear of irrational punishment. Polanski’s mother died in Auschwitz. His father survived Mauthausen. He himself survived the Krakow ghetto, and later emigrated from communist Poland. His pregnant wife, Sharon Tate, was murdered in 1969 by the followers of Charles Manson, though for a time Polanski himself was a suspect.
I am certain there are many who will harrumph that, following this arrest, justice was done at last. But Polanski is 76. To put him on trial or keep him in jail does not serve society in general or his victim in particular. Nor does it prove the doggedness and earnestness of the American legal system. If he weren’t famous, I bet no one would bother with him at all.
It is difficult to know where to begin dissecting this nonsense. First, “statutory rape” (unlawful sexual intercourse) was the plea bargain. Polanski’s actual crime was to drug and rape a child, who pleaded with him to stop. His age, the time elapsed since the crime, his traumatic experiences and his alleged genius are completely irrelevant. In particular, it is a grave insult to Holocaust survivors to suggest that child rape is an understandable, forgivable response.
As to the claim, made much of in the media, that the victim has “forgiven” Polanski, two points. First, rape victims need to let go, or they will spend their lives consumed with hate. She wants to put her ordeal behind her, which is understandable. But that doesn’t make it any less of a crime. Second, hers is not the only voice that matters. Rape is an offence against society – in legal terms “The People”, or “the Crown” in the UK – and not just against the victim. A victim of burglary may feel that the burglar should be hanged. Should her feelings have legal effect? No, the law should be impersonal, and forgiveness, like “notoriety” and “stigma” should have no place in the sentencing.
That the crime took place in 1977 is said to mitigate it. 1977 is so long ago, Applebaum argues, that the girl is now forty-five. Yes, and it is also so long ago that she was thirteen when it happened. It is hardly ancient history, especially to the victim. Writing in the London Times, philosophy professor A. C. Grayling makes short work of the idea that time erases the crime:
Should the law still seek and prosecute people for crimes committed a long time ago? Let us first clarify one thing about the case of Roman Polanski: the film director was convicted of a crime, and skipped the jurisdiction before he could be made to pay the penalty for it. His is not a case where it is still moot whether he committed a crime or not: he pleaded guilty. Nor therefore is it a case where a “statute of limitations” might apply, that is, a statute saying that a prosecution can only be brought against a person within a certain period after a crime occurred.
In any case, statutes of limitations generally only apply to lesser crimes, called “misdemeanours” or summary offences, as opposed to more serious “felonies” or indictable offences. Polanski pleaded guilty to a felony, namely, the statutory rape of a 13-year-old girl. He is, in effect, an escaped prisoner who has not paid the penalty for a serious crime.
Rape, murder, child abuse, genocide and crimes against humanity are too serious to allow the mere passage of time to weaken a society’s stand against them.
Neither fame nor wealth, neither time nor distance, should render anyone immune to laws protecting against serious crimes against other human beings.
That the crime took place over thirty years ago is a reasonable defence, even if wrong, and Grayling provides a reasonable response. Other arguments should not be thus dignified. Joan Z. Shore, swooning over Polanski’s “sobriety and intelligence” in the Huffington Post, writes:
“The 13-year old model ‘seduced’ by Polanski had been thrust onto him by her mother, who wanted her in the movies.”
And so he just had to do some thrusting of his own. Besides, is rape any less of a crime if the victim’s mother pimps her?
In case you think Shore’s is the most ridiculous argument a Polanski defender can come up with, read this, from Taki Theodoracopulos. Taki, the blot on the Spectator landscape, wins first prize for the most egregious Israel-related non sequitur I have seen in a long time:
[W]hat in Heaven’s name has happened to compassion? Polanski has been on the run for 32 years, has never come close to repeating his crime, and has rehabilitated himself in spades. What kind of society are we that in order to further the political career of an obscure California district attorney we use the full power of two states to punish a man who was born punished. First by the Nazis and then by the Manson gang. No wonder poor Roman feels hard done by.
What has this got to do with Israel? By what circuitous route will Israel, presently not even on the horizon, find its way into Taki’s argument? Where there’s a will, there’s a way; in fact he gets there in the next paragraph:
And speaking of forgiveness, I don’t remember Menachem Begin, a ferocious terrorist, ever apologising for murdering 91 people when he blew up the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, 28 of whom were British. He didn’t even apologise for that while receiving the Nobel Peace Prize. Yet the world forgave and forgot once Israel became a big-time player thanks to Uncle Sam.
The phrase “quantum leap” is overused and abused to mean “abrupt change”. Yet there is a stunning discontinuity, to the normal brain – a gap that “and speaking of” fails to bridge – which justifies the metaphor on this occasion. Speaking of quantum leaps, it may be possible to get from one side of Taki’s brain to the other without any sense of transition.
Taki’s Jew hatred is well known, at least to Spectator readers, and only a Jew hater could make such a direct connection where none exists. Yet there may be an indirect connection between a readiness to excuse Polanski and hatred of, or muddled thinking on Israel, and by extension on Islam. A case in point is the argument that because Polanski’s victim has forgiven him, the crime should be forgotten. To a Westerner, who believes in the rule of law, forgiveness has no place in a legal system. The idea that it should, like the idea that we should be lenient with child rapists, is more than a little Islamic. It might be interesting to see if the apologists for Polanski are also apologists for Islam, enemies of Israel, or both. The following examples are illustrative, rather than conclusive.
First, consider Gore Vidal, who, in an interview with The Atlantic, said of the child rape victim:
“The media can’t get anything straight … The idea that this girl was in her communion dress, a little angel all in white, being raped by this awful Jew, ‘Polacko’ – that’s what people were calling him – well, the story is totally different now from what it was then … Anti-Semitism got poor Polanski.”
So what has this brave defender of Jews – Jewish child rapists, that is, – to say about Israel, their homeland:
In order to get Treasury money for Israel (last year $5 billion), pro-Israel lobbyists must see to it that America’s “the Russians are coming” squads are in place so that they can continue to frighten the American people into spending enormous sums for “defense,” which also means the support of Israel in its never-ending wars against just about everyone.
There is a religion that demands that its adherents make war on “just about everyone”, but it is not Judaism.
Another defender of Polanski is Woody Allen. Cynics have said this is unsurprising, given his inclinations towards very young girls; however, there is a world of difference between a dirty old man and a child rapist. (Polanski’s subsequent relationship with the then fifteen-year-old Natassja Kinski falls into the former category; the crime for which he is pursued is definitely in the latter.) And Woody Allen’s views on Israel? Here he is “taking a public stance” on the Intifada:
“I am appalled beyond measure by the treatment of the rioting Palestinians by the Jews… Perhaps for all of us who are rooting for Israel to continue to exist and prosper, the obligation is to speak out and use every method of pressure moral, financial and political to bring this wrongheaded approach to a halt.”
It is good of Allen to allow Israel to exist – provided, of course, that she doesn’t defend herself.
A third supporter of Polanski is filmmaker David Lynch, who believes that the lesser Jihad against Israel – or “black clouds of negativity” as he calls it – can be cured by meditation:
The 61-year-old director, who has received Oscar nominations for “The Elephant Man,” “Blue Velvet” and “Mullholland Drive,” is visiting Israel to encourage transcendental meditation as a new approach to eliminating violence in schools and creating a peaceful world.
Real peace is not just the absence of war, but the absence of all suffering, all negativity,” Lynch said at the Sam Spiegel Film and Television School in Jerusalem. “Change comes from within. From the first meditation, boom, you’re there.”
“Boom” is the operative word. Perhaps Polanski’s victim should also have meditated to dispel the black clouds of rape-induced negativity.
Taki, Gore Vidal, Woody Allen and David Lynch vary in the extent of their hostility to Israel, but what they have in common is that they mistake sentimentality for compassion. It is not compassionate to take the side of the aggressor. Islam has always been the aggressor, and the “Palestinians” are no exception. Their genocidal urges are constrained only by their incompetence, and they kill children in cold blood, not by accident as Israel does. Yet their “plight” moves artists to tears – the easy tears of sentimentality, of misplaced pity for a man who lives in a “tiny” apartment with his twelve children, in a “refugee camp”. (The accommodation in those “camps” is luxurious compared to that of my grandparents, is often equipped with satellite TV, and would be quite spacious were the inhabitants to exercise some control over their fertility.) Idle, except in Jihad, unproductive, unless of suicide bombers, cruel and savage, even to their own women and children, the “Palestinians” move to tears, while the stoical Israelis are held to an impossible standard and condemned for every infringement.
Compassion is pity for the Jews, persecuted for thousands of years and defending their homeland. Sentimentality is weeping over the “plight” of the “Palestinians”. Likewise, compassion is rightly directed at a thirteen-year-old child, drugged and brutally raped. To feel sorry for her rapist because he is a “great artist” is sentimentality.
Sentimentality, wrote Wallace Stevens, is a failure of feeling. In Polanski’s case, it is also a failure of sense. Lock him up.
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