I thought I'd share these thoughts with you (Books and Writers). Would love to hear your thoughts on the creation of historical characters.
Geoffrey Fox • After reading all (or most of) this discusson about reconciling fiction and history, I'm wondering what others think of Thomas Pynchon's handling of this issue, in all his novels but I'm thinking especially of Mason & Dixon (though Gravity's Rainbow also had me digging into the archives to find out the true stories of the Herreros and the V-2 rockets). He clearly has a keen grasp on all the documented historical events, but feels completely free to invent slapstick (George Washington's slave is no slave but a vaudeville comedian, for example, and his comic handling of Benjamin Franklin's dealings with the torpedo — i.e., electric ray fish — go well beyond what we know of the real Franklin). It all works, for me and many readers, and the great puzzle is figuring out how much is pure invention and how much very close to real, but odd and little-known, events.
1 Batya Casper • Geoffrey,
The issue of fictionalizing historical characters out of history, so to speak, is an important one for me. Thomas Pynchon's treatment of Benjamin Franklin "going way beyond the real Franklin" is of concern to us both as writers and readers. Perhaps Pynchon could allow himself that liberty because we know Benjamin Franklin so well. We know him to the extent that changing his personality is tantamount to emphasizing it, to pointing an arrow at it, to inviting the reader to protest . "No, that can't be," we say, "we know this guy" - and then we sit back and enjoy the joke.
Such treatment, I think, would be less successful with lesser known historical characters.
Of more interest for me though, as a modern writer, is the creation of fictional characters within a historical context. For me, it is essential that such characters be what I call, "virtually correct," i.e. some kind of condensation or conglomerate, some representation of people who actually lived in my chosen time period. Many of the actions my characters take, in Israela, for example, are amalgamations of historical actions - borrowed and fictionalized in the details. I believe it is as important for the fictional characters to be true to their historical time, as actual historical figures. Otherwise, what would be the point?
Israel Bombarded by Rockets, Human Rights Watch Nowhere in Sight by Arsen Ostrovsky
November 14, 2012 at 4:45 am
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While Israel is being bombarded by rockets from Palestinian terrorists in Gaza, placing more than one million civilians in danger, Human Rights Watch (HRW) is nowhere in sight. Apparently the human rights of Israelis are just not a concern to them. This is just another example of how HRW has not just lost its moral compass, but how the anchor has been thrown overboard as well.
In 2012 alone, Palestinian terrorists in Hamas-controlled Gaza have fired at least 850 rockets and mortars on southern Israel, however you would be hard pressed to find even a syllable of condemnation of the attacks from HRW.
Although the mission statement of HRW might begin with their pledge to be "... protecting the human rights of people around the world," when it comes to the human rights of Israelis, HRW is nowhere in sight.
In the 48 hours from November 10-12, towns in southern Israel have been bombarded by over 160 rockets from Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip, who have sent over a million Israelis running for bomb shelters. That is more than three rockets an hour.
To put things in context: one million Israelis amounts to roughly 13% of the population. The American equivalent – 13% of the U.S. population – would amount to about 40 million people, or five times the population of New York City.
One Israeli resident, Moshik Levy, remarked "every time my [3 yr old] son hears a 'Code Red' [rocket siren] it takes years off my life," while another recently said "we just lie on top of our children and try to protect them with our bodies."
So, one might be forgiven for thinking that HRW would speak up to condemn the indiscriminate firing of rockets by Palestinians on Israeli civilians for the blatant war crime and breach of international humanitarian law that it is. But nope. Nothing. Not a word.
During the most recent rocket bombardment from Gaza a few weeks ago, in which Palestinian terrorists also fired over 100 rockets at Israel in the space of several days, HRW was also nowhere in sight.
In what can only be described as Orwellian, HRW instead used that opportunity to fire a few salvos of their own – at Israel – condemning everything from 'settlements', to Israel's policy on asylum seekers and even Israel's entirely legal decision to detain Abdullatif Ghaitha, a Palestinian accused of committing offences which threatened Israel's national security.
HRW's anti-Israel bias and pathological obsession with the Jewish state -- while neglecting or whitewashing more grievous crimes committed by Arab regimes in the Middle East -- has been abundantly documented in the past.
That double standard was primarily what led HRW's founder, Robert Bernstein, to turn on the organization he create in 1978, when he stated that HRW had lost its "critical perspective." In a scathing New York Times op-ed in October 2009, Bernstein wrote that despite being the "repeated victim of aggression," Israel still faces the brunt of HRW's criticism, notwithstanding that the "region is populated by authoritarian regimes with appalling human rights records."
NGO Monitor, an independent think-tank devoted to monitoring non-government organizations (NGOs) active in the field of human rights, has noted that "[f]or the past decade, HRW has played a major role in the destruction of the moral and universal foundations of human rights and the exploitation of these principles for ideological objectives."
One need only look at a brief sample of HRW's recent track record.
In 2011, HRW appointed Shawan Jabarin to its Middle East Advisory Board. Jabarin was a senior figure in the Palestinian group PFLP (Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine), responsible for carrying out dozens of suicide bombings against Israeli civilians, and recognized as a terror group by over 30 countries, including the United States and the European Union.
In 2007, Jabarin was convicted by the Israeli Supreme Court of recruiting other terrorist members, and was sentenced to 24-months in jail. In its judgment, the Court described him as "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" because of his moonlighting as a director of a Palestinian human rights organization (Al Haq) by day and a senior activist in a terrorist organization (PFLP) by night.
In 2009, NGO Monitor also helped disclose how HRW held a fundraising dinner in Saudi Arabia, in which they cited their anti-Israel focus, battles with "pro-Israel pressure groups" and activities in the United Nations to solicit funds from "prominent members of Saudi society." That HRW would use the Jewish state, the sole democracy in the Middle East, as bait to elicit funding from Saudi Arabia – one of the most egregious abusers of human rights in the world – ought to speak volumes.
Further, in 2009, Sarah Leah Whitson, Director of HRW's Middle East and North Africa Division, also visited Libya, where she praised Muammar Gaddafi's son Seif al-Islam as a leading "reformer" and "just the sort of modernizer Libya needs," while in 2011 attacking Israeli President and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shimon Peres, and accusing Israel of "racial segregation."
This is the same Ms Whitson who went to Riyadh on a fundraising tour two years earlier.
With this record of moral inversion, HRW has not just lost its moral compass, but the anchor has been thrown overboard as well.
HRW proclaims it is dedicated to defending and protecting human rights around the world, yet when it comes to Israel, it seems Jewish blood is cheap and the human rights of Israelis just do not matter.
At the Core of the Middle East Conflict? Not Israel.
Posted: 10 Nov 2012 07:01 PM PST
09 November '12..
As Syria's civil war drags on, it is increasingly destabilizing its neighbors. First, hundreds of thousands of refugees poured over their borders; now, violence has as well. Turkey and Syria have repeatedly exchanged deadly cross-border fire; in Jordan, a soldier was killed in clashes with militants heading for Syria to join the fighting; in Lebanon, the assassination of a senior intelligence official considered close to the Syrian opposition sparked violent clashes in Beirut. Ironically, in fact, Syria's quietest border nowadays is with Israel - the one neighbor it's officially at war with. Despite occasional accidents (tanks straying into the demilitarized zone during the ongoing civil war, errant bullets and mortars), there has been no intentional violence across this border, and no casualties.
Yet in reality, this shouldn't be surprising; it's the logical outgrowth of a basic fact about the Middle East that is too often overlooked: Contrary to the popular perception that the region revolves around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the truth is that Israel is irrelevant to most of the region most of the time, because it isn't a player in the nonstop jockeying for power among the Mideast's various Muslim sects and countries.
Syria, for instance, is currently the locus of two major intra-Muslim power struggles: that between Shi'ites and Sunnis, and that between Iran and Saudi Arabia (which is closely related but not identical: two years ago, for instance, Sunni Hamas was aligned with Shi'ite Iran, while its Gaza fiefdom was under blockade by Saudi-aligned Sunni Egypt). And with the exception of Israel, all of Syria's neighbors have taken sides in one or both of these struggles.
Sunni Turkey, though basically neutral in the Saudi-Iranian fight, is openly aiding Sunni Islamists among the Syrian opposition. Sunni Jordan, though wary of Sunni Islamists (who are also the greatest threat to its own regime), is being used by smugglers as a conduit for arms to the Syrian opposition, and its ally in Riyadh would like it to allow such traffic officially. Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Lebanese Shi'ite group, is openly fighting alongside the Iranian-backed Syrian regime, while Lebanese Sunnis back the Syrian opposition. And Shi'ite Iraq lets Iran send arms to the Assad regime through its territory.
Israel, however, has no horse in this race, because both sides dislike it equally: Iran is currently its greatest enemy, yet Sunni Islamists, whose prominence in the Syrian opposition is growing, also pose a major threat. And since Israel isn't aiding either side, neither government nor opposition forces have any incentive to waste men and munitions on attacking it.
Yet, as recent Mideast history amply shows, Israel's irrelevance to the conflict now embroiling the rest of the region isn't exceptional, but the norm. Think back to the last time a Mideast conflict involved as many countries as Syria's now does, and one fact leaps out: Israel wasn't a party to it.
Israel has conducted three major military operations over the last decade: against Palestinian terrorists in the West Bank in 2002, against Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2006, and against Hamas in Gaza in 2009. Yet none of these prompted any involvement beyond the rhetorical from any other Mideast country, with the partial exception of Iran, which resupplied Hamas and Hezbollah afterward.
In contrast, several Arab countries actively aided the opposition during last year's Libyan civil war, while Saudi Arabia sent troops into Bahrain in 2011 to support the Sunni government against a Shi'ite opposition it viewed as Iranian-backed. And in the 1991 Gulf War, almost every country in the region joined an American-led alliance to reverse Iraq's invasion of Kuwait.
Saddam Hussein, like many Mideast rulers, frequently proclaimed his desire to annihilate Israel. But the two countries he actually tried to annihilate were Iran, via an inconclusive war in 1980-88, and Kuwait. The reason was simple: Saddam wasn't a fanatic ideologue committed to waging holy war on behalf of a cause, but a run-of-the-mill dictator whose main interest was augmenting his own power, and who therefore aspired to dominate the region. And to do that, Saddam needed to vanquish not Israel - which doesn't care who dominates the rest of the region as long as it is left alone, and thus rarely takes sides in regional power plays - but his rivals for regional domination.
The revolutionary Shi'ite government that seized power in Iran in 1979 was a clear rival to Saddam, and particularly threatening to his Sunni-minority rule of Shi'ite-majority Iraq. Kuwait, though no threat in itself, had lucrative oil fields that would bolster Iraq financially (and thus militarily) in its bid for regional dominance, and due to its close alliance with another aspirant for regional dominance, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait's conquest would also undermine Riyadh's prestige.
This power struggle also explains why most Mideast countries joined the effort to oust Saddam from Kuwait: They wanted to prevent him from achieving regional dominance.
And Israel? The man who launched two full-scale wars against his Muslim neighbors launched a token 40 Scuds at Israel in 1991, and even that mainly in hopes of disrupting the American-led alliance; most of his opponents have never attacked Israel directly at all. For all their talk, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict simply isn't that important to them.
Iran's nuclear program offers further evidence against the theory of Palestinian centrality. Virtually every Arab leader has urged Washington to take military action against Iran. Some even openly support Israeli military action; others are thought to do so quietly (hence the persistent rumors of Israeli-Saudi cooperation on this issue). Yet Israel's reputed nuclear arsenal provokes no similar hysteria among Arab regimes. Why? Because they know Israel isn't interested in regional domination; its putative nuclear arsenal is only for self-defense. Iran, in contrast, openly seeks regional domination and wants nuclear weapons partly to further that goal. Hence Israel's weapons aren't a threat, but Iran's are.
Clearly, ideology can be a very powerful motivator. Israel, founded after a war that saw Hitler diverting desperately needed resources from the war front to the cause of slaughtering Jews until the bitter end, knows this better than most. That's why it takes the genocidal rhetoric emanating from Iran's leaders - men fanatic enough to send hordes of children to clear minefields with their bodies during the Iran-Iraq War - with utmost seriousness, especially when coupled with Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons.
But most Mideast leaders aren't ideological zealots; they're ordinary rulers concerned primarily with their own interests. They pay lip service to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, because pro-Palestinian rhetoric serves as public diplomacy in their regional power game: It paints the speaker as concerned with "oppressed fellow Muslims" and opposed to "Western colonialism" (i.e. non-Muslim Israel), and hence suited for regional leadership. But it's a great mistake to confuse such rhetoric with reality.
What chiefly concerns most of these countries is the regional balance of power between rival Muslim sects and states. And in this, neither Israel nor its conflict with the Palestinians is a player.
In fact, far from being the axis around which the region revolves, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - as the Syrian crisis once again shows - barely rates as a sideshow.
Evelyn Gordon, JINSA Fellow, is a journalist and commentator writing in The Jerusalem Post and Commentary. For more information on the JINSA Fellowship program, click here.
Author Batya Casper.