A Shakespearean Glance at the People and Issues of the Day.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Shakeing a Speare at Syria


"...And then, the justice
In fair round belly, with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances."

The above is Jaques's characterization of judges, which is part of the seven stages of man speech from As You Like It. Shakespeare gives Jaques a jaded and world-weary tone to accompany a wisdom that is worn heavily, unleavened by any force of will. (Rosalind will scold him for this). We see in his judge a man prouder of his office than of how he performs it.

A real life judge, or at least a prosecutor standing somewhat in judgment, and who compares favorably to Jaques, is Detlev Mehlis, a German prosecutor working for the UN. Mehlis produced this week a bombshell report that squarely laid blame on the Syrian government for the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri.

The clarity and directness of this report does Mr. Mehlis and I would even say his country credit. Germany has been waffly on terrorism, its leadership pandering until recently to a strain of reflexive anti-Americanism that operates like a bookmark for anti-semitism. Germany without adequate moral leadership remains a thing to fear.

And so I have to imagine that when the average German wakes up this morning and begins consuming his Bratwurst with the morning paper, he or she will twist between pride and confusion in seeing a German finger of accusation laid against the last remaining Baathist regime. It is to be remembered that Baathism - a school of pan-Arabist secular fascism - was a direct German export with roots dating back to WWII, the Big One. All the more poetic justice to see a German stand up on his hind legs and attack this vestigial evil, born of the worst of his ancestry.

Against this rare high moment for Germany, our own recent American opportunity to achieve justice fell a little flat. The 9/11 Commission Report, comprising a thick book which sold in the millions, grows further discredited with each passing revelation. Prohibitions on the sharing of information between intelligence agencies, which left useful intelligence to rot on the docks, went unremarked on in the report. And famously sitting on the commission was Jamie Gorelick, the person chiefly responsible for the prohibition:

"...I not deny
The jury passing on the prisoner's life
May in the sworn twelve have a thief, or two,
guiltier than him they try."

Angelo says this to Escalus in Measure for Measure, Shakespeare's critique of Calvinism, really of religious extremism. The key to Measure for Measure occurs when Angelo, lusting after Isabella, imprisons and places her brother under sentence of execution, to be commuted only if Isabella will surrender her virtue to him. Isabella is a good religious girl. She is confident her brother would prefer his own death to her dishonour. They meet in his jail cell.

Isa: "What says my brother?"
Cla: "Death is a fearful thing."
Isa: "And shamed life a hateful."
Cla: "Ay, but to die, and go we know not where,
To lie in cold obstruction and to rot....
Isa: "Alas! Alas!
Cla: "Sweet sister, let me live;"

It's a funny scene. But it occurs in the sort of Saddamian/Hitlerian world from which justice has been banished.

Contrast this to a good and wise judge, such as the Prince in Romeo and Juliet, as he scolds the Montagues and Capulets in Act One. True, his brand of justice doesn't halt the tragic folly that leads the two families to lose the flower of their youth, but the Prince does get their attention, and a change of heart of all concerned, in the end. I'm hopeful that the dignified demeanor of the judge now running Saddam's trial will fall within the Prince's model (and remember to say moo-ved when you read moved; it's more Elizabethan that way):

"....From those bloody hands
Throw your mistempered weapons to the ground,
And hear the sentence of your moved Prince -
Three civil brawls, bred of an airy word,
By thee old capulet and Montague,
Have thrice disturb'd the quiet of our streets;
And made Verona's ancient citizens
Cast by their grave beseeming ornaments,
To wield old partisans in hands as old.
canker'd with peace, to part your canker'd hate;
If ever you disturb our streets again,
Your lives shall pay the forfeit of the peace."

The Prince nails down his argument by referring to how the feud is affecting the rest of Verona, causing its ancient citizens to cast away their gravity and begin again to "wield old partisans" or partisanships. Their feud is fostering a culture of bloodletting, a forgetting of civility. Thus does he justify his death sentence, the likely sentence for Saddam, and appropriate for the same reason

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