Calling sides on political issues

To the Editor:

Milton VIORST'S review of my book "The Case for Israel" [Book Review, Oct. 5] exemplifies its central thesis: that Israel and its defenders are often subjected to an invidious double standard. Viorst, a frequent Israel-basher, characterizes my book as "nationalist bombast," despite the fact that I advocate a two-state solution, have always opposed the occupation and call for an end to most settlements. Were a Palestinian writer to advocate comparable compromises on the part of Palestinians, Viorst would label him a moderate peace-seeker. Viorst resorts to outright mendacity when he suggests that I offer no "prospect of reconciliation," since I repeatedly argue that when Palestinian leaders want a Palestinian state more than they want the end of the Jewish state, there will finally be reconciliation.

Viorst is also wrong about his specifics. The Nazi collaborator Haj Amin Al-Husseini "represented the Palestinian national consensus," as even Edward Said acknowledged. Though Islamic nations did not inflict a Holocaust on its Jewish Dhimmis, they did inspire numerous massacres, which I document in my book. Finally, Viorst mischaracterizes the offer made by Israel at Camp David and Taba. If you don't believe me, listen to Saudi Prince Bandar, who was an advisor to Arafat at the time and who called Arafat's rejection of the peace offer "a crime against the Palestinian people, in fact against the entire region." Viorst, unlike Bandar, has placed most of the blame on Ehud Barak! Anyone who reads "The Case for Israel" will see how seriously Viorst distorts its contents and how transparently he applies his own double standard.

Alan Dershowitz

Cambridge, Mass.

Milton Viorst replies:

Dershowitz attacks several statements in my review, all of which I stand behind, but his least defensible assertion is that he was subjected to an "invidious double standard" by a "frequent Israel-basher." If this is so, then why did I comment favorably on the three other books covered in the review, all written by Jews in support of Israel? I am not a basher of Israel but a critic of its uncompromising, self-destructive policies. If Dershowitz were serious in claiming to favor peace (the same "two-state solution" that I support), he would not have hidden his view within pages of nationalist bombast.

To the Editor:

Mahnaz Ispahani's review of "Who Killed Daniel Pearl?" by Bernard-Henri Levy (Sept. 28, "Daniel in the Den of Lions"), of which I am the publisher, contains several major factual inaccuracies and is deeply misleading in its description of the book. Worse, it commits the cardinal sin of book reviewing: Ispahani criticizes Levy for not having written a different book altogether.

For instance, after noting that the book is intended as "a clarion call to the sleeping American giant" of the complicated dangers in having Pakistan as an ally, she castigates Levy because he didn't write about "ways to extricate us from this paralyzing historical moment...." It's a classic bit of sophistry, wherein readers are diverted from recognition and analysis of a problem by an attack on the whistle-blower for not simultaneously, single-handedly solving the problem. Shortly thereafter, Ispahani curtly cites Levy's bravery (although without clarifying how he was brave; that is, that as a Jew in Pakistan, he put his life on the line by following the footsteps of Daniel Pearl), then mocks him for lacking "intellectual courage" and for not taking the time "to delve into the troubling complexities of places like Pakistan and places like America." A book tracing the footsteps of Daniel Pearl and his killers is not delving into a troubling complexity? And rather than the book at hand, a firsthand account about Pakistan, Ispahani prefers a book about "places like Pakistan" (not to mention one about "places like America").

Beyond the bizarre statements rendered in an unnecessarily insulting tone, there are the inaccuracies rendered in an unnecessarily insulting tone. There are many, but because corrections writers are not permitted the space of original mistake makers in a newspaper, let me limit myself to noting three of the most egregious:

1) Ispahani lectures Levy for not making the point that "the fight against extremism is -- and must be -- primarily fought among Muslims." It is, in actuality, one of the basic tenets of the book, discussed repeatedly from early on, as on page 33, where the author notes that, indeed, one of the reasons he admires Daniel Pearl was that Pearl was among those who "reject the absurd theme of the clash of civilizations." (Almost as shockingly, Ispahani barely mentions another of the book's major themes, which is the influence of anti-Semitism upon this war within Islam.)

2) Ispahani blasts Levy for giving "Muslim moderation short shrift, devoting less than two pages of his book to what he calls 'gentle Islam'...." Again, she has missed considerable swaths of the text -- such as the fact that there is actually an entire chapter called "Gentle Islam."

3) Ispahani mocks the author as a "self-described regional expert" and implies he isn't qualified to write about the region because, she says, he hasn't been to India recently. In fact, as is well known, not to mention stated on the book jacket, Levy first went to the region as a war reporter in 1971, covering the Bangladeshi war, which led to his first of several books on the region. "Who Killed Daniel Pearl?" describes five lengthy investigations conducted in Pakistan, and several others in neighboring countries, including India. In her way of being inaccurate and self-contradictory at once, Ispahani seems to have missed the fact of her own mention of Levy's 2002 diplomatic mission to the region in the wake of the Afghan war. He's not qualified to write about the area?

In short, Ispahani attacks the writer for a book he has not written, then claims he hasn't written what he actually has, then says he's not qualified to write anything. Readers of the L.A. Times have been severely mis-served by this profoundly misleading review about a profoundly important topic for America today.

Dennis Loy Johnson

Hoboken, N.J.

Mahnaz Ispahani replies:

It is odd that I must conduct a debate with a book's publisher and not with its author, especially when its author is a noted French intellectual whose opinions are meant to influence many people. I find it even odder that the publisher of this reticent superstar leaks his deep displeasure with my review to Page Six of that serious journal of ideas, the New York Post.

In the Post I was misrepresented as a "Pakistani critic" who would "not surprisingly" do a "hatchet job" on a book critical of Pakistan's government. Dennis Johnson's facts are wrong. I am an American scholar and I carry no hatchet. My criticisms of successive Pakistani regimes have been a matter of record for more than 20 years. Johnson's insinuation that my Pakistani birth renders me incapable of critical thinking says much about his notions of Pakistan. He assails me for "factual inaccuracies." A fair reading of my piece reveals that a factual inaccuracy is, for Johnson, only a judgment of which he disapproves. He seems so annoyed that I did not call Levy's book a masterpiece that he fails to notice that I concur with Levy's most substantial points: that "if left unattended, real danger could emanate from radical Islamists in Pakistan." (In the New Republic, I referred to the Levy book in a section about Levy's view of these dangers and merely called it "melodramatic.")

I say that "Who Killed Daniel Pearl?" is both a "personal book about the psychology of an individual crime ... and about the larger meanings and implications of that crime." Is that incorrect? It is true that my review was not entirely about the issues of anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism, though it addressed both; but the subject of Pakistan includes more than those themes. About the bigotries that run riot in Pakistan or elsewhere I need no lessons from Johnson. Levy's obsessive focus is on the extremists, their minions and supporters: His portrait of Pakistan is predominantly of a country already lost to extremism. This, I insist, is a caricature, with alarming policy implications. Levy's case here is a partial one: He does not pay sufficient attention to the attitudes of millions of nonviolent, moderate Pakistanis.

As for my "factual inaccuracies": Johnson says I failed to see that an entire chapter of Levy's was devoted to "Gentle Islam." If he reads the book he has published, that chapter begins on page 447 and ends on page 454. Except for the last two pages, this chapter has nothing to do with any Islam but, rather, with murderous extremists. It continues Levy's discussion of the villains associated with the killing of Pearl. I wrote that I agree with Levy that "the gravest threat" is "the possible usurpation of Pakistan's nuclear weapons by Islamist extremists." While I noted Levy's visits to the region and his correct criticism of Pakistan's military policies in 1971, I stand by my assessment that he does not know enough about the ways in which such nuclear threats might likely come about.

I admire Levy's passion for Daniel Pearl, and in my review I applauded his bravery in tracking down Pearl's killers. Who could not be enraged by the awfulness of this killing? But I still regret that Levy's plucky search was marred by his methods and did not make a better book. The violent world of collaboration between elements of Pakistan's regime, intelligence agencies, and terrorists in deadly doings is not a revelation. I accept that Levy understands that there are millions of ordinary Muslims, some of whom are trying to contest the terrain of the terrorists, but his book just does not read this way. Since Levy has been barraging the media with announcements that Pakistan is the most dangerous state in the world, it is only fair to ask that he give a more nuanced analysis of that troubled country in all its dimensions.

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