Wagner, Cultural Zionism, and Korean Chauvinism
August 13, 2001
Amicus Plato sed magis amica veritas--Plato is a friend but truth is a greater friend. (From a passage of Aristotle’s Ethics)
Last month in Israel, there was an uproar from every sector of the Jewish society against the renowned pianist-cum-conductor, Daniel Barenboim, who is presently the conductor of the Berlin State Opera, when he played Richard Wagner’s “Overture to Tristan und Isolde” with the visiting Berlin Staatskapelle Orchestra at a concert in Jerusalem.
For half a century, Wagner’s music was banned from the public play in Israel, because Wagner was Hitler’s favorite composer and his music like Die Meistersinger was actively used by the Nazis for many years.
Though Barenboim got an enthusiastic ovation from the audience for his encore music, many politicians including Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and President Moshe Katsav have denounced an Argentine-born Jewish conductor’s behavior as an arrogant, brazen and insensitive anti-Semitic as Jews blame anyone anti-Semite when a person tells something that Jews do not want to hear no matter what the truth is.
Barenboim, who spent his boyhood in Israel, countered against his critiques, insisting that Wagner’s music should not be packaged as a whole to be politically straitjacketed, but Wagner has to be understood from an interpretive point of view, such as Wagner the composer, the writer of his own librettos, the writer on artistic matters, and finally Wagner the political writer.
Until World War II, no musicians could ignore Wagner’s musical personality such as Wagnerism, Wagnerian, or a Wagnerite… he influenced a whole history of interpretation of music and the continuity of sound.
While he does not deny that Wagner’s opera carries a lot of problematic baggage with German culture and the Jewish caricatures, the world-famous conductor emphatically attacked the cultural Zionism that formulates Jewish exclusivism and nationalism, reminding his fellow Jews that “I feel German when I conduct Beethoven, Italian when I conduct Verdi. This does not give me a feeling of being untrue to myself, quite the contrary. The experience of playing different styles of music can be remarkably illuminating.”
He believes that Wagner’s anti-Semitism is one thing and his music is another, therefore the whole problem of playing Wagner in Israel has nothing to do with his anti-Semitism.
In addition, everything that has come since the ban of Wagner’s music has been the reaction of people from outside the orchestra, some in favor, some absolutely against, based on the ideology of cultural Zionism.
The concept of Zionism was rooted in 19th century European national movement that was grown out of European colonial imperialism, in which mindset projected Eurocentrism, replete with racial superiority above non-European people, especially Afro-Arab-Oriental sub-humans (“Orientalism”).
Contrary to the conventional wisdom, some Zionist leaders in Germany welcomed Hitler’s rise to power, because they shared Nazis belief in the supremacy of race and against the assimilation of Jews to Aryan people.
Under the racist nature and oppressive character of Zionism sanctified by the biblical endorsement of “Chosen People” Judaism, the state of Israel has imposed and facilitated a policy of the undemocratic engagements over the Palestinian Arabs, their neighboring countries, and even their own citizens.
Zionism was initially propagated by Theodor Herzl, a Hungarian-born Jewish writer and journalist, which was encouraged by the Western territorial expansionism in the 19th century, thus it was a Jewish movement for colonial settlement of the “Orient” (“Orient” for Europeans was Mideast as opposed to the Far East for Americans), in order to build Pan-Germanism-like “Jewish blood and soil” homeland, that is, “Palestinenser-Frei” (Palestinian-free) holy land, as Hitler attempted to build a “Juden-frei Europa” during Nazi era.
The Gush Emunim movement, that was the major product of Zionism in Palestine and enjoys the support of one-half Israeli population, has been aimed to build a sacred society whose main project is to keep and expand as many Jewish settlements as possible in the occupied territories.
Even Occidental Jews (Ashkenazi elite) discriminated against Sephardi (Oriental) Jews in every aspect. Zionism was an Ashkenazi invention that they launched the Jewish emigration to Palestine with full cultural baggage of European Orientalism that propagates racism and colonialism toward “Orientals”, with a notion that “Orientals” were not like us, and for that simple reason deserved to be ruled by us.
The political Zionism, together with the religious Zionism (Judaism’s exclusivism), has shaped Israel’s territorial aspirations for the Jews-only society that brings forth an unequal treatment and eventual displacement of other minorities, Israeli Arabs and Christians.
The concept of Jewish blood and soil bounds together the political Zionists and religious Jews, creating the cultural Zionism that breeds the national chauvinism of Jewish supremacy over all other races in dealing with other minorities in their society and other ethnic groups around the world.
No nations are immune to the national chauvinism that attempts to bolster the pride and morale of nations or ethnic group, as recently and rampantly shown as in the Far East region between Japan and South Korea.
Initially, the DJ Kim’s regime of South Korea showed a tepid response on the issue of Japanese textbook, symbolically recalling their ambassador to Tokyo home.
However, when DJ Kim, a Machiavellian par excellence, located himself in a hellhole with the dead-end Sunshine policy, the economic doldrums, the Media crackdown, and so on, he had no choice but to make the distortion of textbook a “master story” in order for his people to turn to the historically-infamous Korean chauvinism that has been built up for centuries against neighboring giant, Japan.
The South Koreans are angry and mad over the Japanese Prime Minister’s visit to the national shrine where Japanese had buried their compatriots who died during the past war, completely ignoring the fact that Koreans are also hollering banzai in their national cemetery where many war criminals found home to stay.
Heck, it is none of Korean’s business whether Japanese, Filipino, Chinese, or Vietnamese goes by their own business to honor their own dead men whether the buried were a war criminal for Korean or a hero for Japanese and et al.
No one is immune from the structure of feeling that “we are number one, and we stand for democracy and freedom, and we are bound to lead because we are superior to others.”
The fundamental problem here is the chauvinistic presupposition that both Japanese and Korean believe that their national shrine or cemetery does not hold any war criminals but their heroes only.
As in a Jerusalem concert on the banned Wagner music and the “Jewish Nazism” in the ideology of Zionism, the South Korean brouhaha over Japanese behaviors was inspired, fanned, and exploited by the malicious, cunning, and deceitful politicians or radical and jealous ideologues.
When the factual truths other than the officially sanctioned one were told, informed, and written by people or media who believe there are always two or more sides to every story, our Big Brothers like government, corporation, or church have wielded enough influence that stories involving their own interests are told, reported or written in their favor, and they do not hesitate to destroy or weaken those who are stubbornly rebellious or obstinately disobedient.
South Koreans are experiencing now such case of the “Media reform” through the excessive tax audit and the threat of physical arrest as they have seen during the past decades of the military dictatorship.