Readers respond to articles on Salman Rushdie, George Will and a new history of the Holocaust.

By Salon Staff

Published October 4, 2002 7:00PM (EDT)

[Read Michelle Goldberg's "A Beacon of Sanity."]

What a celebration! Salman Rushdie's solution to all the world's problems and his apparently perfect vision of America is to strip away a huge part of the life of most of his intended beneficiaries. How very democratic and pluralistic and fun. I applaud his right to denounce religion and adore the ideals of this country that give it to him. I hate religious violence and oppression, too, but confusion of those things with belief itself is shoddy thinking at best. Martin Amis is right on one count -- religion is not based on reason. Neither is joy, nor happiness, nor love.

What has been done in the name of religion may come to a dismal tally but I've never seen any survey to convince me that the impact of belief itself -- and not the exploitation of cultural baggage -- does not weigh heaviest in the department of inner joy. Salon.com may be my favorite news organization, but I have to say, I love my God, and I'm not going to be bullied by any writer, no matter how famous, into giving up my greatest source of joy. I am unabashedly right when I declare that my belief in God has absolutely nothing to do with the world's problems and everything to do with my potential to fix them. I think I'm also right in saying that Mr. Rushdie would be a more helpful beacon of sanity if he'd stop making cruel generalizations and stick to his clever and insightful commentaries.

-- Saheli Datta

I am an admirer of the writings of Salman Rushdie, Martin Amis, and the like, but I fear their elevation of opposition to religion as the organizing principle of their most important thoughts betrays a certain sloppiness in their thinking. More than one religious person was able to immediately recognize the poisoned religious impulse behind the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 without reaching Rushdie's conclusions. Religion has often led to great evil; but is it the only cause? Is religion to claim credit for the crimes of Hitler, or of Stalin? Human nature is appalling and sublime, and a more careful accounting of the factors that tip the balance in one direction or another would analyze religion's role on both sides.

-- Paul Heisey

[Read Louis Bayard's "A Dying Breed."]

Please, spare me the kiss-blowing to George Will. Whatever reputation for thoughtfulness he may have pales in the face of his relentless, seething, overwhelming hatred of Bill Clinton. Whenever Will brings up our last elected president, he invariably tosses in the aside "It is reasonable to believe he was a rapist." (The same could be said for Ronald Reagan, and by the way, George, still beating your wife?)

It's one thing to disagree with someone politically -- character assassination is another thing entirely. Will is as much a thug -- and about as interested in facts -- as Limbaugh and O'Reilly. Hatefulness wrapped up in WASP gentility is still hatefulness.

-- Noam Sane

No slight to Bayard, but reading about George Will is just as mind-numbingly dull as reading one of his columns or, worse, flipping by the real thing on "Meet the Press." There's a reason the White House doesn't call Will anymore -- what with all the Bush "man of the people" posturing against erstwhile snob Al Gore, the president might look -- gasp! -- soft on intellectualism should he cozy up to the sort of guy his dad used to hang around with.

-- Keir DuBois

Louis Bayard's portrait of George F. Will reminded me in some small measure of the trenchant perspective on V.S. Naipaul by Paul Theroux. I watch George Will on ABC every Sunday and wonder whether the starch on his shirts has corroded his entire being. Bayard has done an exceptionaly good job of sketching the man who thinks he was born to hector and lecture the world. On balance though, Will is a compelling figure albeit insufferable.

-- Mayank Chhaya

Mr. Bayard, let's get something clear right away: You couldn't hold George Will's jockstrap.

There maybe much to disagree with Mr. Will about, but there is no doubting he is one of the preeminent writers and thinkers of our time.

You limit your analysis to making fun of Mr. Will and politicizing your review.

There is not one ounce of scholarship in your work. Doesn't Salon believe in honest analysis, even if it involves the other side?

-- James Abbuhl

[Read Suzy Hansen's "Rethinking the Nazi Nightmare."]

Debórah Dwork and Robert Jan van Pelt, the authors of "Holocaust: A History," do not mention the emergence of "eugenics," first popularized in France in the late 19th century, as part of the Holocaust phenomenon. They rightly concentrate on war and the rise of nationalism as the major causes for anti-Semitism but should not neglect the intellectual climate of the times.

An even more important factor is neglected: the exclusivity of the victim populations in genocide.

Asians in East Africa, Tutsis in Rwanda and Burundi, even repressed groups like the untouchables in India and blacks and Indians in the U.S., save themselves emotionally and socially by excluding majority groups from their most important and intimate ways of conducting their lives. That is true of groups formed on a wide variety of bases, e.g., Mennonites exclude others in the U.S. and even major groups like Catholics in the U.S. exclude others from major parts of their lives. It is part of the definition of a group that it has certain values and practices that exclude others.

The excluded others may ignore, accept or reject the minority groups depending on local circumstances. Given the collapse of colonial control, tribes in Africa, Muslims/Hindus in India, relapse into their sometimes fierce and historically important rivalries over land, power, money.

Jealousy of Jewish accomplishments on merit aroused many Germans, French, Poles and Americans to anti-Semitic actions.

And it is also true that minorities inevitably stick together for survival. Witness the almost universal belief among black Americans that O.J. did not kill his wife and her lover. The welcome given to one's own group in business dealings is universal. That also led to resentment against Jews among Germans. A huge percentage of Berlin's professional classes in the 1930s was Jewish -- doctors, lawyers, writers. That prominence drew jealousy as did Jewish ownership of major retail outlets. As the authors indicate briefly, greed for Jewish property (and Jewish jobs) was very common among many Germans (and among other nationalities).

On the whole, a very interesting and useful book and presentation of the two authors.

-- Bob Baker

Have you people lost your minds? I simply can't credit how Salon could even contemplate publishing an interview with the authors of this odious theory.

These two academians are either very stealthful Holocaust deniers or blithering idiots. The Holocaust wasn't planned?? That would come as a huge surprise to the surviving prosecutors of the Nuremberg trials, especially those who translated the minutes from the Wannsee Conference, held "to arrive at a final solution to the Jewish question" in January of 1942.

-- Rob Anderson

In Suzy Hansen's recent review of "Holocaust: A History," by Debórah Dwork and Robert Jan van Pelt, she notes that they "compare Hitler & Co. to the '60s generation."

Although that's a perspective on Hitler and the Nazis that one rarely encounters, that '60s flavor comes through very clearly in "Triumph des Willens" ("Triumph of the Will"), Leni Riefenstahl's film about the 1934 Nuremberg rally.

Based on that film, at least, the Nuremberg rallies seem to have been a mix of Nazi summer camp and love-in.

-- Jim Cook

Salon Staff

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