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Views in brief

April 20, 2007 | Page 6

VIEWS BELOW:
How "don't ask" affected me
A misstep that shakes Loach's film
Racism on sale at Urban Outfitters

How "don't ask" affected me

THANK YOU for Elizabeth Schulte's article "The don't ask disaster" (March 30). I appreciate the time you took to write it. Like Brian Fricke, I voluntarily left the military because I could no longer lie.

I'm so sick of the daily little reminders that I really am a second-class citizen in my own country. It doesn't matter that I served many honorable years in uniform, or that I continue to work for the government supporting our troops. It doesn't matter that I work hard and pay more taxes than married heterosexuals. None of that matters, because I am a lesbian, and less than human in their eyes.

My girlfriend is still on active duty, working just as hard as her heterosexual comrades. If she stays in the military, I will have to transfer my job on my own, move on my own and re-secure health care to follow her through her career. I cannot marry her; we won't get a free ride for family co-location.

There is no foreseeable future in which I can truly call her my wife and get the support of the Department of Defense. There is no foreseeable future in which she and I can even hold hands when we go out in public. Her risk of being discovered is too high.

It's to the point where I am ready to quit doing anything for the government and anyone who contracts for the government. I'm about ready to take my talent, my training and education, and my job skills to another country if it will mean I can finally be an equal citizen under the law.

It's disgusting and hypocritical that the U.S. preaches democracy and equal rights for everyone in the Middle East, but then tells an entire demographic of its own citizens that they don't have the same rights as everyone else in their own country.

Peter Pace thinks homosexuality is immoral. Well, I find it immoral that our gay and lesbian servicemen and women are fighting a Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan and a Sunni-Shia civil war in Iraq so people they don't know can enjoy rights in a foreign country that they themselves don't have at home.
A veteran, from the Internet

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A misstep that shakes Loach's film

I READ Andrew Freund's review of Ken Loach's The Wind that Shakes the Barley (March 23) with great interest, and recently had the opportunity to see the film.

Freund is right to note that we must defend Loach against the unprincipled attacks mounted against him from the right wing. Moreover, more people should have the opportunity to be exposed to his films, along with that of other political artists and filmmakers for that matter.

There is another side to The Wind that Shakes the Barley I wanted to take up in this letter, however.

The revolutionary (and amateur art critic) Leon Trotsky once noted that "a work of art should, in the first place, be judged by its own law, that is, by the law of art." The principles of this "law" are, of course, up for debate, and change with the times and with different forms of creative expression.

In this context, it must be said--as much as it may be sacrilegious in revolutionary circles--that Ken Loach has reduced his art of political filmmaking to a formula. This formula relies on a predictable recycling of techniques from previous films, such as Land and Freedom. It also relies on Loach's heavy stage-management of his story, which leads to rushed scenes and undeveloped characters in The Wind, despite fine acting by Cillian Murphy.

With each scene, Loach tarries only long enough to make his point, stage his message, and moves on to the next part of his argument. The characters, and the story these characters are living through, are an afterthought to this.

To paraphrase Marx, these are people who are making history, but not as they please. This contradiction is the basis of a lot of great political art.

Loach, however, wants his characters to make their history precisely as he pleases, and as viewers we are simply not allowed to escape this. This is an important element in the law of art that Loach abandons--his work does not transcend his heavy hand.

The story in The Wind can and should draw us in of its own accord, as does Guillermo del Toro's brilliant recent film of the Spanish Civil War, Pan's Labyrinth. But Loach's story is far too abrupt and choppy in the telling, and far too many of the characters are historical stand-ins and archetypes, not people. Del Toro achieves far more with his complex characters and their poignant story than does Loach with his set-piece dramatics.

It is interesting that a film that uses so much fantasy, Pan's Labyrinth, can nonetheless make us feel and live history far more richly and strongly than Loach's painstaking adherence to the correct roles and political positions and arguments of the times. This is perhaps the most important law of art that Loach forgets in his film.
Stuart Easterling, Chicago

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Racism on sale at Urban Outfitters

THE PERSISTENCE of racist stereotypes about Arabs in our society is best illustrated by a new T-shirt sold at one of the many Urban Outfitters stores here in New York City.

The words "Fine tobacco Qatar Lights--one habit you won't be able to sheikh," accompanied by a crude caricature of a turban-wearing man, are an old Hollywood representation of people of Arab descent.

"Irony" is not what this T-shirt transmits, but the idea that the "Arab mind" is static and unable to adapt to the modern world. It is a dehumanizing device that is being used to justify war and conquest today, by the U.S. and its allies in Iraq and beyond.

The roots of dehumanizing the non-European can be found during the time the English empire needed a justification for war and conquest, a practice that led to the use of caricatures of African slaves in soap advertisements full of the most racist and sexist imagery possible at that time.

That a store like Urban Outfitters has no qualms about selling a garment that contains racist propaganda does not surprise me at all, because it has done so in the past. "Ironic" T-shirts carrying racist stereotypes about Chinese people were being sold around the time when both conservative and liberal pundits put forward the idea of China as the "red menace," a new enemy that threatened the security of the U.S.

The biggest irony of all is that racist T-shirts are welcome at Urban Outfitters while kaffiyehs are not, as the company's CEO demonstrated by removing them from the store after being bombarded with thousands of e-mails from right-wingers. The fact that Palestinian life and culture do exist is unacceptable to apologists for U.S. empire.

We shall not forget that thousands of people of Arab descent have been subjected to the most blatant forms of discrimination in many Western countries as far back as the early days of the first Gulf War. It is Islamophobia that has served as a justification for the torture, disappearance and discrimination of both Arabs and Muslims.

That's why both grassroots antiwar and immigrant rights activists need to organize themselves to confront it whenever it appears.
Emmanuel Santos, New York City

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