Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Capet Has Gone Kaput

My good friend, Sheldon Lerman, sent me this items:

Choir to depict bible hero as a suicide bomber

Samson to be a Zionist terrorist

VICTORIA - In the Bible, Samson is a hero who used his superhuman strength to do God's will by pulling down pillars in a Philistine temple, killing thousands and himself in an act of vengeance.

But in what's sure to be a controversial interpretation of the story, a Victoria choir will next month present Samson as a suicide bomber.

Simon Capet, music director of the Victoria Philharmonic Choir, says he wanted to update Handel's Samson oratorio to be relevant to today's audiences by drawing comparisons to ongoing conflicts in the Middle East.

"We didn't want to just present the work as a simple morality tale," says Mr. Capet. "There is a social and political commentary here that's important."

While the music will not change, the setting of the oratorio will be 1946 Jerusalem. Mr. Capet says he chose the period to draw comparisons to the bombing of the British headquarters at the King David Hotel by the militant Zionist group Irgun in that year. Menachem Begin, who ordered the attack, would later become Israel's prime minister and win the Nobel Peace Prize.

Mr. Capet says presenting Samson as a terrorist is not meant to offend anyone or point the finger at one group, but to challenge our notions of what a terrorist is.

"Is there any difference between pulling down a pillar or blowing a bomb?" asks Mr. Capet.

"Samson killed thousands [thousands? nice to know he literally interprets the Bible] of people. To show him in the traditional mythological sense does a disservice," Mr. Capet says.

The choir would not be the first to drawing comparisons between Samson and terrorism.

"There's a large focus on this right now, with Israel being presented as the Samson figure," says Andrew Rippin, dean of humanities at the University of Victoria and a specialist in Islamic studies. American journalist Seymour Hersh coined the term "the Samson option" in his book about Israel's development of a nuclear arsenal.

Shadia Drury, a philosophy professor and Canada Research Chair for Social Justice, recently compared Samson to World Trade Center bomber Mohammed Atta in a talk at UVic. In her book, Terror and Civilization: Christianity, Politics and the Western Psyche, she argues that terrorism is a biblical problem.

"The concept of a collective guilt is a flawed morality," she says. "The idea that 'We're on the side of God and everyone else is evil' has and always will be disastrous."

Ms. Drury says she thinks the choir's modern interpretation of Samson -- scheduled to run April 5, 7 and 8--is heroic.

But local Rabbi Itzchak Marmorstein says comparing Samson and the Irgun bombing will offend Jews and Israelis.

"It's an inappropriate comparison that promotes a shallow understanding of history," says Rabbi Marmorstein. "Israelis never supported Irgun or that kind of terrorism. They weren't heroes ... and Begin went into politics legitimately decades later. He wasn't some crazy terrorist."

One man who is already uneasy about the performance is Samson himself, played by Vancouver Island tenor Ken Lavigne.

"I'm really struggling with this," says Mr. Lavigne, 33. "I can't help but feel that a number of people will not enjoy this rejigging of a biblical hero."

Mr. Lavigne says he has warmed up to the idea of putting on an Irgun uniform and wearing a bomb-belt to sing the emotionally charged part since discussing it with Mr. Capet.

"Simon wants to get people talking about music and its relevance today," Mr. Lavigne says. "In the end I've had to accept that whoever I thought Samson was, what he committed was an act of mass murder."

So, off went this letter to the editor:-

Simon Capet's decision to portray Samson of the Bible as a suicide terrorist, while perhaps a legitimate literary-licensed decision, is nevertheless invidious as he seeks to link the Irgun resistance underground and the Arab terror in Israel today. Capet is not, one should note, reinterpreting the Bible but is attempting to apply a moral equivalency: Jews in the 1940s were no better that Arabs today. That parallel is mendacious and malicious.

The fighters of the Irgun, as well as the Lechi, or Stern Group, took up arms against a country that didn't belong to the country, closed the gates to war-time immigrants fleeing Nazi Europe and its ovens and reneged on reconstituting the Jewish National homeland as charged by the League of Nations in 1922. They never purposefully attacked targets that were civilian.

Arab terrorists, including suicide bombers, are active almost exclusively against Israeli citizens. They have been killing Jews even before the 1967 war, before a presumed "occupation", their excuse for their actions. Indeed, Arab terror began in 1920 and has never let up despite attempts to negotiate with them. Israel's compromises as a result of the Oslo Accords could not prevent the Arab terror and many are convinced no amount of Israeli surrendering will ever satiate their desire for practicing terror.

Capet's real intention, I fear, is not a perversion of history but the maligning of Israel.

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