Saturday, July 02, 2016

5 Things We Know About Sharia Law (But the Washington Post Won’t Tell You)

There is no controversy amongst Muslim scholars as to the meaning of Sharia—it is Islamic law.

By Immanuel Al-Manteeqi · @Al_Manteeqi | June 30, 2016

2006 Law Library READ poster featuring Professor Asifa Quraishi reading Al-Mustasfa by Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali:
2006 Law Library READ poster featuring Professor Asifa Quraishi reading Al-Mustasfa by Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali

Asifa Quraishi-Landes writes frequently on Sharia– and always from a very positive, promotional point of view. While an Associate Professor of Law at the University of Wisconsin School of Law and a frequent speaker affiliated with the Islamic group Karamah, she wrote a story for the Islamic Society of North America’s Islamic Horizons magazine in 2013 arguing that,
When it comes to dealing with diversity, America could learn a lot from Islamic law, if only it could stop painting it as something that it is not.
 Interestingly, Prof. Quraishi-Landes’ article, “How to Talk About Sharia,” appeared on the magazine’s cover. Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna graced the cover of a 1999 issue of the same Islamic Horizons magazine, heralded as, “A Martyr of Our Times.”

On June 24th, Quraishi-Landes penned an article for the Washington Post entitled “Five Myths About Sharia.” The “myths” that she delineates and attempts to refute are as follows: (i) Sharia is “Islamic Law”; (ii) in Muslim countries, sharia is the law of the land; (iii) Sharia is anti-woman; (iv) Islam demands brutal punishments; (v) Sharia is about conquest. These so-called myths, with the possible exception of (ii), are not myths at all; they are verifiable truths.

1. Sharia is “Islamic law”

The first “myth” that Quraishi-Landes mentions is the “myth” that “Sharia” means Islamic law. For her to call this identification a “myth” is very strange, and frankly nothing short of absurd. It is linguistically incorrect—period.
In the Arabic language, “Sharia” (شريعة) does in fact mean Islamic law. Indeed, the word “Sharia” in Arabic comes from the triliteral root, sh-r-a (شرع), which means “to legislate.” This can be readily gleaned from a quick consultation of the most renowned Modern and Classical Arabic-English dictionaries and lexicons.[1] Quraishi-Landes’ statement here is factually incorrect on a very basic level. Sharia has incontrovertibly been understood to mean Islamic law by Muslim scholars for centuries. To take but one of innumerable examples,, run by the Saudi cleric Muhammad Saalih al-Munajjid, has the following answer posted in response to the question, “what is Sharia?”:
Shariah is all of [Islamic] religion. It is what God gave to his servants in order to bring them from the darkness into the light. And it is what God legislated to his servants, consisting of commands and prohibitions, what is haram (forbidden), and what is halal(permitted) [the translation is mine].
There is no controversy amongst Muslim scholars as to the meaning of Sharia—it is Islamic law.
However, to support the proposition that Sharia does not mean Islamic law, Quraishi-Landes attempts to drive a wedge between “law” and “Sharia,” stating that the latter “isn’t even ‘law’ in the sense that we in the West understand it.” She does this by emphasizing that Sharia is understood by Muslims ultimately to originate from God rather than the state. But this is hardly evidence that Sharia is not understood to be “law” in the “Western sense”—as if the general concept of law differs between East and West—rather, it is evidence that Sharia is understood by Muslims to be divine law.
But not only is Quraishi-Landes grossly mistaken in calling this a myth, she seems to be inconsistent: for only a few sentences earlier—in her same article—she states that Sharia is “Islam’s legal framework.” One wonders how Quraishi-Landes believes that Sharia is “Islam’s legal framework” without simultaneously believing that Sharia is Islamic law. Either she is being flagrantly inconsistent, or she is using a definition of “law” that is so idiosyncratic as to make her central claim here—viz., that it’s a myth to say Sharia is “Islamic law”—utterly irrelevant to the public discourse on Islam.
All this being said, the idea that Sharia means Islamic law is, far from being a myth, a rock solid truth.

2. In Muslim countries, Sharia is the law of the land

The second “myth” that Quraishi-Landes seeks to bust is the “myth” that in “Muslim countries, sharia is the law of the land.”
However, her statement of the so-called myth is ambiguous; whether or not this is a myth will depend on what she means by the proposition in question. Does she intend the proposition “in Muslim countries, Sharia is the law of the land” to mean that (i) in Muslim countries the law is greatly influenced by Sharia? Or does she intend the proposition to mean the bolder statement that (ii) in Muslim countries Sharia, tout court, is the law of the land?
If the latter, then she is surely correct in describing it as a myth. There are many secular provisions in the laws of most, if not all, Muslim countries. Indeed, because of the practicalities and realities of modern life, it would be surprising if a Muslim country could be ruled by pure and authentic Sharia.
However, if she intends the proposition to mean that, in Muslim countries, the law is greatly influenced by Sharia, then she is not correct to say that it is a myth. In most, if not all, majority Muslim countries, the legal system is greatly influenced—and to some extent governed—by Sharia law. For example, Article 2 of the 2014 Egyptian constitution explicitly states that “Islam is the religion of the state,” and that “the principles of Islamic Sharia are the principal source of legislation.”
To take another example, the introduction to Pakistan’s constitution reads“Islam shall be the state religion.” Furthermore, the following is stated in the Pakistani constitution’s preamble:
Wherein the principles of democracy, freedom, equality, tolerance and social justice, as enunciated by Islam, shall be fully observed; Wherein the Muslims shall be enabled to order their lives in the individual and collective spheres in accordance with the teachings and requirements of Islam as set out in the Holy Quran and Sunnah;
Even Iraq’s 2005 constitution, which the Iraqis received help from the Americans in drafting, contains such totalitarian Islamic provisions. The first section of Article 2 of the Iraqi constitution reads as follows:
Islam is the official religion of the State and is a foundation source of legislation.
(1) No law may be enacted that contradicts the established provisions of Islam; (2) No law may be enacted that contradicts the principles of democracy; (3) No law may be enacted that contradicts the rights and basic freedoms stipulated in this Constitution.
Egypt, Pakistan, and Iraq are only three Muslim majority countries, but there are many who have such provisions in their legislation. While it is true that virtually no Muslim majority country is ruled strictly (only) by Islamic principles, sharia does purvey the legislation of many Muslim majority countries. There does not seem to be any mythology here.

3. Sharia is anti-woman

The third myth that she seeks to blow out of the water is the idea that Islam is anti-woman.
While Prof. Quraishi-Landes grants that, in many Muslim majority countries, the rights of women are infringed upon, she downplays the connection that this has been due to Islamic doctrine. Indeed, she goes so far as to say that “on a range of issues, Islam can fairly be described as feminist.” As examples of this Islamic feminism, she cites how some fiqhscholars (i.e., Islamic jurisprudents) believe that first-trimester abortions are permissible.
Most comical is when she favorably cites how fiqh scholars “have concluded that women have the right to orgasm during sex and to fight in combat.” Can you imagine a group of Catholic cardinals coming out and saying that that in Christianity wives have the right to be sexually pleasured by their husbands? Of course not—it would go without saying. That Islamic jurisprudents or fuqaha even have to conclude this is in and of itself evidence of the low status accorded to women under sharia.
The “patriarchal rules in fiqh,” she says, is a byproduct of human interpretation, and not of Islamic doctrine. But this is just false.
There is much in Islamic doctrine that is patriarchal and that infringes on the rights of women. For example, according toQ 4:34, husbands are allowed to beat their wives if they “fear disobedience;” according to Q 2:282, the testimony of a woman is worth half that of a man’s; according to Q 4:11 and Q 4:176, a woman should only inherit half as much as a man does;  according to Q 2:223, women can be “plowed” at the whim of their husbands; according to Q 65:4, sexual relations with females who have not yet had their menstrual cycle (i.e., prepubescent girls) are permissible; according to Q 4:24, having female sex slaves, “those whom your right hand possess” (ما ملكت ايمانكم), is permissible. These verses are all from the Qur’an, the most authoritative source for Islamic doctrine and praxis.
However, such anti-woman teaching is also found in the ahadeeth, which, it must be remembered, are the sources of most Islamic praxis. The following hadith from Sahih Al-Bukhari, the most authoritative Sunni collection of ahadeeth, is instructive:
Once Allah’s Messenger [i.e., Muhammad] went out to the Musalla [place of prayer] (to offer the prayer) of `Id-al-Adha or Al-Fitr prayer. Then he passed by the women and said, “O women! Give alms, as I have seen that the majority of the dwellers of Hell-fire were you (women).” They asked, “Why is it so, O Allah’s Messenger?” He replied, “You curse frequently and are ungrateful to your husbands. I have not seen anyone more deficient in intelligence and religion than you. A cautious sensible man could be led astray by some of you.” The women asked, “O Allah’s Messenger! What is deficient in our intelligence and religion?” He said, “Is not the evidence of two women equal to the witness of one man?” They replied in the affirmative. He said, “This is the deficiency in her intelligence. Isn’t it true that a woman can neither pray nor fast during her menses?” The women replied in the affirmative. He said,“This is the deficiency in her religion.” [emphases are mine].
All these texts speak for themselves. Sharia is, in fact, anti-woman.  Not surprisingly, Quraishi-Landes does not even bother to mention any of these texts in her attempt to refute the “myth” that sharia is anti-woman. The simple truth is that women are not equal to men in mainstream Islam—they are considered inferior.

4. Sharia demands brutal punishments

This one is no myth at all. Islam does demand brutal punishments.
The Qur’an, for example, clearly states that the hands of thieves should be cut off (Q 5:38), and that fornicators are to be publically flogged with one-hundred lashes (Q 24:2). It demands that polytheists be fought and punished for being non-Muslim polytheists (Q 9:5). It demands that Christians and Jews be fought and brought under submission for their beliefs (Q 9:29). It states that the punishment for “those who sow corruption on the Earth” (الذين يسعون في الارض فسادا), which can include large swathes of people, is to be executed, crucified, or mutilated (Q 5:33). The Qur’an commands that Muslims be harsh against unbelievers, and merciful amongst themselves (Q 48:29).
Further, according to a well-known, though by no means universally accepted hadith, those who engage in homosexual acts are to be put to death. So brutal is sharia that the great Muslim philosopher, Ibn Rushd (Averroes, 1126 – 1198 A.D.), states that there is disagreement among Islamicists as to whether it is allowed in time of war to “slay hermits who have retired from the world, the blind, the chronically ill and the insane, those who are old and unable to fight any longer, peasants, and serfs.”[2] He cites as-Shafi’i (c. 767 – 820 A.D.), the founder of one of the four main schools of Islamic jurisprudence, as being in favor of slaying all such people.[3] In Sahih al-Bukhari, Muhammad clearly and unambiguously lays out the penalty for leaving the religion of Islam—execution.
Furthermore, the idea that apostates should be executed is not a fringe view; rather, it is the view of the five greatest schools of Islamic law—the Sunni Hanbali, Hanafi, Maliki, and Shafi’i schools, and the Shi’i Ja’fari school.

5. Sharia is about Conquest

This last so-called myth is ambiguous, due to Quraishi-Landes use of the word “about.” However, it seems like Quraishi-Landes intends this proposition to mean that “sharia prescribes conquest.”  But if this is the case, which it seems to be, then she is once again mistaken.
Islamic law does, in fact, seem to legitimize expansionism. One can point toQ 9:5 and Q 9:29 as evidence, which seem to imply that fighting non-Muslims (polytheists and “People of the Book”) because of their beliefs is God-ordained. One can also point to Q 8:39, where the Qur’an mandates Muslims to “fight [polytheists] until there is no fitna [i.e, strife] and all religion belongs to Allah.” Furthermore, there is a notorious sahih (correct)hadith where Muhammad seems to outright command that all non-Muslims should be fought. The notorious hadith is as follows:
I have been commanded that I should fight against people till [حتى] they declare that there is no god but Allah, and when they profess it that there is no god but Allah, their blood and riches are guaranteed protection from me except where it is justified by law, and their affairs rest with Allah [emphasis is mine].
The straightforward interpretation of this hadith is that non-Muslims are to be fought until they become Muslims—and only then will their lives and property be spared from Muhammad. Indeed, in mainstream Islam, the world is divided into two main blocks: Dar al-Harb (The House of War), andDar al-Islam (The House of Islam), indicating a design for permanent war and expansion to the lands of non-Muslims. Classical jurists even argued that truces can only last for so long, perhaps as long as Muhammad’s treaty of  Hudaybiyyah, after which Muslims must continue their expansionist jihad against the infidels occupying Dar al-Harb. As the Dutch Islamicist Rudolph Peters notes,
The crux of the doctrine [of jihad] is the existence of one single Islamic state, ruling the entire umma. It is the duty of the umma to expand the territory of this state in order to bring as many people under its rule as possible. The ultimate aim is to bring the whole earth under the sway of Islam to extirpate unbelief.[5]
The fact is that if one looks soberly at Islamic history, one cannot help but conclude, along with Samuel Huntington, that since the 7th century Arab conquests or “futuhat,” Islam has had “bloody borders.”
As we have seen, none of these so-called myths that Quraishi-Landes mentions, with the possible exception of the second one—depending on what it means—is in fact a myth. Rather, they are demonstrable truths based in reality.
In any case, it should be noted that even if Islam apologists like Quraishi-Landes are correct–that Sharia is not, actually, a bad thing, and that some Islamists have merely misinterpreted it for their own ends–that does not mean that there does not exist a certain type of Sharia that is a threat. The Sharia that is common to Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, Hizbollah, ISIS, Al-Qa’ida, and others is still a threat—and it is not one that is outside the interpretive parameters of Islamic tradition.

[1] Hans Wehr, A Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic, ed. J. Milton Cowan (Wiesbaden: Otto Harrasowitz, 1979), 541; Edward W. Lane, Arabic-English Lexicon, ed. Stanley Lane Poole (Cambridge: The Islamic Texts Society, 1984), 1534.
[2] This is found in Ibn Rushd’s legal handbook, “Bidyat al-Mujtahid wa-nihayat al-Muqstasid,” as quoted in Rudolph Peters, Jihad in Clasiscal and Modern Islam (Princeton: Markus Wiener Publishers, 1996), 33.
[3] Ibid, 34.
[4] Ibid, 39.
[5] Ibid, 3.

How J.R.R. Tolkien Found Mordor on the Western Front

By Joseph Loconte
June 30, 2016

Rebecca Bird

In the summer of 1916, a young Oxford academic embarked for France as a second lieutenant in the British Expeditionary Force. The Great War, as World War I was known, was only half-done, but already its industrial carnage had no parallel in European history.

“Junior officers were being killed off, a dozen a minute,” recalled J. R. R. Tolkien. “Parting from my wife,” he wrote, doubting that he would survive the trenches, “was like a death.”

The 24-year-old Tolkien arrived in time to take part in the Battle of the Somme, a campaign intended to break the stalemate between the Allies and Central Powers. It did not.

The first day of the battle, July 1, produced a frenzy of bloodletting. Unaware that its artillery had failed to obliterate the German dugouts, the British Army rushed to slaughter.

Before nightfall, 19,240 British soldiers — Prime Minister David Lloyd George called them “the choicest and best of our young manhood” — lay dead. That day, 100 years ago, remains the most lethal in Britain’s military history.

Though the debt is largely overlooked, Tolkien’s supreme literary achievement, “The Lord of the Rings,” owes a great deal to his experience at the Somme. Reaching the front shortly after the offensive began, Tolkien served for four months as a battalion signals officer with the 11th Lancashire Fusiliers in the Picardy region of France.

Using telephones, flares, signal lights, pigeons and runners, he maintained communications between the army staff directing the battles from the rear and the officers in the field. According to the British historian Martin Gilbert, who interviewed Tolkien decades later about his combat experience, he came under intense enemy fire. He had heard “the fearful cries of men who had been hit,” Gilbert wrote. “Tolkien and his signalers were always vulnerable.”

Tolkien’s creative mind found an outlet. He began writing the first drafts of his mythology about Middle-earth, as he recalled, “by candle light in bell-tents, even some down in dugouts under shell fire.” In 1917, recuperating from trench fever, Tolkien composed a series of tales involving “gnomes,” dwarves and orcs engaged in a great struggle for his imaginary realm.

In the rent earth of the Somme Valley, he laid the foundation of his epic trilogy.

The descriptions of battle scenes in “The Lord of the Rings” seem lifted from the grim memories of the trenches: the relentless artillery bombardment, the whiff of mustard gas, the bodies of dead soldiers discovered in craters of mud. In the Siege of Gondor, hateful orcs are “digging, digging lines of deep trenches in a huge ring,” while others maneuver “great engines for the casting of missiles.”

On the path to Mordor, stronghold of Sauron, the Dark Lord, the air is “filled with a bitter reek that caught their breath and parched their mouths.” Tolkien later acknowledged that the Dead Marshes, with their pools of muck and floating corpses, “owe something to Northern France after the Battle of the Somme.”

In a lecture delivered in 1939, “On Fairy-Stories,” Tolkien explained that his youthful love of mythology had been “quickened to full life by war.” Yet he chose not to write a war memoir, and in this he departed from contemporaries like Robert Graves and Vera Brittain.

In the postwar years, the Somme exemplified the waste and futility of battle, symbolizing disillusionment not only with war, but with the very idea of heroism. As a professor of Anglo-Saxon back at Oxford, Tolkien preferred the moral landscape of Arthur and Beowulf. His aim was to produce a modern version of the medieval quest: an account of both the terrors and virtues of war, clothed in the language of myth.

In “The Lord of the Rings,” we meet Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee, Hobbits of the Shire, on a fateful mission to destroy the last Ring of Power and save Middle-earth from enslavement and destruction. The heroism of Tolkien’s characters depends on their capacity to resist evil and their tenacity in the face of defeat. It was this quality that Tolkien witnessed among his comrades on the Western Front.

“I have always been impressed that we are here, surviving, because of the indomitable courage of quite small people against impossible odds,” he explained. The Hobbits were “a reflection of the English soldier,” made small of stature to emphasize “the amazing and unexpected heroism of ordinary men ‘at a pinch.’ ”

When the Somme offensive was finally called off in November 1916, a total of about 1.5 million soldiers were dead or wounded. Winston Churchill, who served on the front lines as a lieutenant colonel, criticized the campaign as “a welter of slaughter.” Two of Tolkien’s closest friends, Robert Gilson and Ralph Payton, perished in the battle, and another, Geoffrey Smith, was killed shortly afterward.

Beside the courage of ordinary men, the carnage of war seems also to have opened Tolkien’s eyes to a primal fact about the human condition: the will to power. This is the force animating Sauron, the sorcerer-warlord and great enemy of Middle-earth. “But the only measure that he knows is desire,” explains the wizard Gandalf, “desire for power.” Not even Frodo, the Ring-bearer and chief protagonist, escapes the temptation.

When Tolkien’s trilogy was published, shortly after World War II, many readers assumed that the story of the Ring was a warning about the nuclear age. Tolkien set them straight: “Of course my story is not an allegory of atomic power, but of power (exerted for domination).”

Even this was not the whole story. For Tolkien, there was a spiritual dimension: In the human soul’s struggle against evil, there was a force of grace and goodness stronger than the will to power. Even in a forsaken land, at the threshold of Mordor, Samwise Gamgee apprehends this: “For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: There was light and high beauty forever beyond its reach.”

Good triumphs, yet Tolkien’s epic does not lapse into escapism. His protagonists are nearly overwhelmed by fear and anguish, even their own lust for power. When Frodo returns to the Shire, his quest at an end, he resembles not so much the conquering hero as a shellshocked veteran. Here is a war story, wrapped in fantasy, that delivers painful truths about the human predicament.

Tolkien used the language of myth not to escape the world, but to reveal a mythic and heroic quality in the world as we find it. Perhaps this was the greatest tribute he could pay to the fallen of the Somme.

Joseph Loconte, an associate professor of history at the King’s College in New York, is the author of “A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War: How J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis Rediscovered Faith, Friendship and Heroism in the Cataclysm of 1914-1918.”

Friday, July 01, 2016

'The Legend of Tarzan': Film Review

By Todd McCarthy
July 1, 2016
After the creative and financial short-falling of numerous recent big-budget franchise films (the latest tanker, Independence Day: Resurgence)and the ill fortune Warner Bros. has lately suffered with several expensive intended tentpoles (The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Pan, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice), it comes as something more than a mild surprise that The Legend of Tarzan isn't half-bad; actually, it's pretty good. Beautifully made and smartly set at the beginning of Belgian King Leopold II's rapacious colonization of the Congo in the 1880s, this is certainly the best live-action Tarzan film in many a decade (which, admittedly, isn't saying much) and offers a well-judged balance of vigorous action and engaging-enough drama. David Yates' first directorial outing since capably overseeing the final four Harry Potter installments (his Potter follow-up, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, opens Nov. 18) looks to swing to brawny mid-summer box-office returns internationally.
Edgar Rice Burroughs' white boy raised by apes in the African jungle probably starred in as many or more movies than any other fictional character from the dawn of cinema through 1960, after which the vine-swinger was largely relegated to television. Since then, big-screen filmmakers have been more uncertain about how to deal with the muscular wild child uncorrupted by society, increasingly due to changing attitudes and sensitivities about the depiction of colonialism, tribal Africans, a white naif saving the day, et al.
The most financially successful modern take on the tale remains Disney's animated 1999Tarzan, the most serious has been Hugh Hudson's stately Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes in 1984and the most ridiculous was unquestionably John Derek's 1981 Tarzan, the Ape Man, in which the director was far more interested in photographing his wife, Bo, in multiple stages of undress than in training his lenses on the title character.
Yates and screenwriters Adam Cozad and Craig Brewer allow no such distractions to get in their way here, as they deftly apply Tarzan's jungle-learned know-how to the cause of fighting a real historical evil, that being Leopold's enslavement of locals and exploitation of his massive new central African colony. At the same time, there are certain moments when this feels like a 19th century ancestor of James Bond, beginning with the presence of Christoph Waltz as the main villain and abetted by multiple action sequences involving moving vehicles.
At its best, the film achieves what its makers clearly set out to do, to create a sweeping adventure that embraces the old in a new way. Many of the trademark tropes are present: giant apes making off with a white baby boy and teaching him the ropes, so to speak; the removal of the adult Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgard) to England to awkwardly assume his position as the wealthy Lord Greystoke; his marriage to beauteous Jane (Margot Robbie); the lure of precious diamonds that attracts unsavory characters to the jungle; and Tarzan's eventual fierce defense of his boyhood home and those he, and his wife, grew up with.
Along with the deserved branding of Leopold as the ne plus ultra of colonialist evil, the new revisionist aspects also prominently include the presence of a black American "diplomatic envoy," George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson), in London to persuade Lord Greystoke to accompany him to Africa to find out what Leopold's really up to down there.
The writers and director adroitly juggle the tricky job of propelling the main story forward while also sketching in sufficient backstory for Tarzan and Jane. In this telling, the latter is a sharp-minded, American-accented blonde who, like her husband, was raised in Africa. Far from being a tag-along wife, this Jane is a knowledgeable woman of the world with a deep feeling for the people and culture she grew up with and, thanks in part to Robbie's spirited performance, is probably the most plausible of all the main characters.
This is useful since she's the one, rather than her husband, who ends up a hostage in the hands of Waltz's nasty Leon Rom, whose original idea was to lure Tarzan back to Africa with the intention of trading him to a tribal chief (Djimon Hounsou) with a lifelong grudge against Tarzan; in exchange, Rom would receive a vast cache of diamonds to help finance Leopold's African exploits.
So, with a few native companions and the slower-moving Williams in tow, Tarzan sees his journey turned into a mission to rescue his wife, giving all the participants abundant motivation for their strenuous exertions. During this long middle stretch, there are numerous lovely moments involving animals — lions, primates, water buffalo, elephants, crocs and more, all of which were computer generated, superbly and naturalistically so — Jane's sweet reunion with the villagers who helped raise her and extensive scenes shot on fabulously diverse and hitherto unseen locations in Gabon, where the filmmakers spent six weeks. It's a pictorially gorgeous work, with particular kudos due to cinematographer Henry Braham and veteran production designer Stuart Craig, who, ironically, performed the same job onGreystoke 30 years ago.
The film maintains a vigorous pace through pursuits on a slave train (a major project of Leopold's) and river steamer, letting down somewhat only at the climax at a large interior military base and town; given all that's come before, the final minutes have a comparatively soft and rote feeling.
The other fuzzy point, unfortunately, is the portrayal of Tarzan, both in conception and execution. As Lord Greystoke in England, he's stiff and rather out of his element. Once he gets back to Africa, he seems more at ease, but both the conception and portrayal of the character remain narrow and one-note. Physically, Skarsgard is a striking, and different, sort of ape-man; tall and lithe, he carves out a very vertical figure, even down to his unusual abs, which are cut up-and-down rather than layered horizontally. He's also good in his African reunion moments. But emotionally he remains remote and uninvolving, his eyes, face and voice only modestly registering whatever might be going on inside.
Jackson, playing a former Indian fighter and Civil War veteran, gets to proclaim topically modernist lines such as “Mexico was bad but what we did to the Indians …,” and “We ain't better than these Belgians,” while Waltz plays his villain with pure cold blood, as a man who doesn't even feel he needs to lay on the charm to disguise his evil designs.
The top-billed producer here, the late Jerry Weintraub, started development of this project in 2003 and went through any number of scripts, directors (from Guillermo del Toro to Stephen Sommers) and proposed stars (swimmer Michael Phelps, Tom Hardy, Henry Cavill, Charlie Hunnam). Those he and his successors finally settled on to bring Tarzan back to the big screen have done pretty well.

Film Review: A ‘Tarzan’ With a Few Twists in the Hollywood Vine

June 30, 2016

“The Legend of Tarzan” has a whole lot of fun, big-screen things going for it — adventure, romance, natural landscapes, digital animals and oceans of rippling handsome man-muscle. Its sweep and easy pleasures come from its old-fashioned escapades — it’s one long dash through the jungle by foot, train, boat and swinging vine — but what makes it more enjoyable than other recycled stories of this type is that the filmmakers have given Tarzan a thoughtful, imperfect makeover. That must have been tough given the origin story’s white supremacy problems.

Tarzan has always had bad optics — white hero, black land — to state the excessively obvious. Probably the only real way to avoid his negative image would be to let him molder on the shelf and in our cultural memory. Except that this wild child raised by apes turned wild man forever caught between civilization and nature is a great mythic character — a rich, dense tangle of narrative, philosophical and political meanings. That partly explains why he’s been such a commercially reliable property since Edgar Rice Burroughscut him loose in 1912, the year Tarzan roared into existence in a pulp magazine that evolved into an empire of books, comics, plays and films.

The image of Alexander Skarsgard crashing bare-chested through the jungle as the latest big-screen Tarzan, his long hair and diamond-cut muscles gently fluttering, gets at another aspect of this character’s attraction. Like a lot of Tarzan stories, this one teems with striking flora and fauna, much of it skillfully computer generated, some of it captured on location in green, green Gabon. But its most special and spectacular effect is Tarzan, one of those characters who have always complicated the familiar argument that visual pleasure in Hollywood cinema is hinged on women being objects of male desire. Johnny Weissmuller, the most famous screen Tarzan, was an exemplary fetishized object of desire.

The casting of Mr. Skarsgard, who spent a lot of time baring his body, along with vampire fangs, on the HBO show “True Blood,” indicates that the filmmakers understand a primal part of Tarzan’s allure. This isn’t strictly a question of Mr. Skarsgard’s considerable physical charms, though these are central to the character. (He isn’t playing nerd boy of the jungle.) Mr. Skarsgard is also a fine actor with an enigmatic melancholy, a quality that has been put to expressive use in small roles in movies like “What Maisie Knew” and that here suggests Tarzan carries a profound burden that makes him more complex than the usual beefcake in loincloth.

And Tarzan needs a burden, something heavy enough to justify the exhumation of such a difficult fantasy figure. He gets one by proxy in “The Legend of Tarzan,” which opens with some historically informed text about King Leopold II of Belgium (1835-1909), known as the butcher of Congo for his role in murdering millions. It’s a grim start to this make-believe, but the mood lifts at Greystoke Manor, Tarzan’s ancestral pad in Britain, where he’s broodily prowling about like a caged animal. Already married to Lady Jane (Margot Robbie, holding her own), Tarzan now goes by John Clayton, having years earlier returned to nominal civilization and its discontents.

Directed by David Yates, from an action-and-incident-packed script by Adam Cozad and Craig Brewer, “The Legend of Tarzan” takes a while to get going. After announcing its grave bona fides, it continues to engage in a lot of narrative throat clearing, much of it dedicated to seeding Burroughs’s foundational story with historical facts. To this end, John receives an invitation from King Leopold to return to Congo to witness the king’s putative good works. John rejects the offer, only to change his mind after an entreaty from an American, George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson), who suspects that the Belgian king is enslaving the region’s people.

Mr. Jackson’s character is very loosely based on an extraordinary real historical hero named George Washington Williams, who occupies a chapter in Adam Hochschild’s magisterial book “King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in Colonial Africa.” Mr. Hochschild writes that Williams, whom he calls “the first heretic,” was the earliest dissenter to speak out “fully and passionately and repeatedly” on Leopold’s atrocities. Williams deserves a grand cinematic adventure of his own, and perhaps Mr. Jackson’s comfortable, affable performance, which like the movie itself oscillates between seriousness and gentle comedy, will help make that case.

Here, though, Williams is basically an elevated sidekick as well as a physician, war veteran and crack shot who’s as proficient at suturing wounds with insects as he is mowing down swaths of white mercenaries. More interesting, especially given how routine colonialist fantasies tend to play out, it is Williams who voices the complexities, catastrophic errors and redemptive efforts of the so-called civilized world, a screen job usually given to white saviors. Williams’s polar opposite is the resident villain, Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz, predictably good), a silky, uncomplicated sadist who embodies rapacious evil from his all-white suit to his crosslike weapon.

Tarzan remains the man apart and the man in the middle, the uneasy, sometimes forlorn, sometimes exuberant bridge between civilization and nature, between the human and nonhuman animal world. His origin story from his cradle to his new mother’s hairy arms is related in flashback patchwork that conveys what he lost when he left the jungle — home, world and identity. And when he at last returns to that home, he has much to do, including nuzzle old furred friends and lead a rescue mission that soon involves Jane along with thousands of Africans. Jane scoffs at the word damsel, but she’s in distress as well as a stand-in for the abused, captive black bodies that the movie shows only glancingly.

Mr. Yates, who directed the last four movies in the “Harry Potter” franchise, slips easily between intimacy and grandiosity, and he scales up and scales down as easily as Tarzan scrambles up and down the digitally rendered trees. If he and his team haven’t reinvented Tarzan it’s because they’re working in an industrial context that still puts a premium on heroic white men, even if this one doesn’t make you wince each time he turns up. Tarzan is still the white avatar flying through the African jungle with eerie skills, a mighty yodel and existential issues, yet the terrain he swings over is messier, closer and less of a lie than it once was.

Part of Tarzan’s appeal — at least to some — is that he inhabits a world that resembles ours, but without the unsettling distractions of real suffering. It’s become trickier for pop entertainments to gloss over historical traumas, which may be why so many modern colonial struggles involve deep space or an alien invasion. Perhaps it’s easier to rewrite history through futuristic fictions, where worlds can collide before everyone moves on. There’s something touching about “The Legend of Tarzan,” which as it struggles to offer old Hollywood-style adventure without old Hollywood-style racism, suggests that perhaps other fantasies are possible — you just need some thought and Mr. Jackson.

“The Legend of Tarzan” is rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned). It’s a Tarzan movie! Running time: 1 hour 49 minutes.

Bill Clinton up to his old tricks in meeting with Loretta Lynch
June 30, 2016

Bill Clinton reminded America what the future will look like if Hillary Clinton — his wife and enabler — is elected president of the United States.
What Bill did the other day in meeting privately with Attorney General Loretta Lynch while his wife is under federal investigation wasn't ostentatious. Bill didn't want to beat his breast and hold a news conference.
He wasn't as loud, say, as the hair of the barbarian Donald Trump. And Bill wasn't as loud as the relentless American liberal shaming of the English over the Brexit vote.
It looks like Bill Clinton wanted to be quiet, subtle and ambiguous, like the Clintons were years ago when he was president.

And it is the way they will conduct their business should Hillary command theWhite House, with Bill at her side as first laddie of the United States.
They're sidewinders, these two.
So the other day Bill Clinton learned that Lynch was at the airport in Phoenix. Bill walked onto her private plane to chat with her privately for about a half an hour.
Lynch later said they didn't discuss the investigation of Hillary:
"Our conversation was a great deal about grandchildren, it was primarily social about our travels and he mentioned golf he played in Phoenix."
Note the operative word:
You could drive a fleet of dump trucks through "primarily." Don't you just love it when lawyers talk dirty?
But then I guess it all depends on what your definition of primarily is.
What Bill did was quiet, so it wasn't as loud as the hair of The Donald, was it?
The hair of The Donald fills many news columns written by establishment types — pro-Hillary Democrats and anti-Trump Republicans — because hair is so easy.
It's excellent click-bait, rather like overripe cheese for catfish. Just put it on the hook, they swallow it whole. All you have to do is heave those catfish into the boat and call yourself an angler (or an independent thinker).
And what Bill did wasn't like those legions of liberal American establishment pundits ripping their hair out while shaming the English for the Brexit vote.
They denounced the Brexit vote and the people of England as uneducated racists and xenophobes. Why? The English dared to reject the transnational elites of the European Union. And the English had this revolutionary idea that they wanted to govern their own country and control their nation's borders.
Shaming does have its virtues, I suppose, if you're an establishment meat puppet worried that the Brexit vote foreshadows problems here for the only American establishment candidate, Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Calling the English stupid for rejecting the status quo — just as millions of Americans are called stupid for doing the same here — is also very much like that overripe cheese.
Just put your fingers into that creamy goop and roll some into a ball. Put it on the hook, throw out line and begin typing the words "racism" or "xenophobia."
All you need is oil, a frying pan, a place to publish and a Twitter account.
But the meeting between Bill and Loretta had nothing to do with hair or race. It had to do with the subtle projection of terrifying power.
And with Hillary under investigation by her office, and with her boss, President Obama, having already endorsed Mrs. Clinton, Lynch made a terrible mistake.
She shouldn't have talked to Clinton about anything. Instead, she should have said:
"Bill, may I call you Bill? I can't have any kind of conversation with you in private. It would be wrong. But if you'd like to sit with FBI agents and talk about your wife's illegal emails and how they relate to your epic bank account and your Clinton Foundation international slush fund, you're more than welcome."
But she didn't. So she deserves to be made a public fool.
The problem for Democrats in all of this is that the Clintons are considered by most Americans to be liars. Not just pedestrian liars, either, but Olympian liars.
In Chicago the other day, Hillary Clinton acknowledged she has a trust problem and plans on working on it. She's been in public life for more than 30 years, and now she's working on it?
When news of the Bill Clinton/Lynch meeting became public, Republicans predictably skewered the attorney general, Democrats predictably defended her and Trump was predictably outraged.
Lynch bore the brunt of it. But what about Bill?
He's the spouse of the Democratic candidate for president. He's a former lawyer, Yale trained. Doesn't he have any responsibility here?
I'd like you to imagine Bill — after the baby talk about grandchildren was done — looking at Lynch, biting his lip, saying something like:
"So, Loretta, what are your plans for the future?"
You wouldn't need a neon sign. He'd mean a future with Hillary as president, Bill at her side, the two of them ruling the world with power to reward friends and destroy enemies once again.
The poet Maya Angelou said that "When someone shows you who they are, believe them; the first time."
Bill and Hillary have shown us who they are. They've spent years showing us.
And now they want to show us again, and again.
Listen to "The Chicago Way" podcast with John and Jeff Carlin. Guests include Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart who talks of his mayoral
Twitter @John_Kass

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Appreciation: Scotty Moore, who propelled Elvis Presley's great Sun Sessions, was present at the creation

Randall Roberts
June 29, 2016
Scotty Moore and Elvis Presley
If the history of rock ’n’ roll is a series of Big Bangs that pop at random intervals, the explosion that occurred on July 5, 1954, at Sun Studio in Memphis, Tenn., when Elvis Presley, guitarist Scotty Moore and upright bassist Bill Black tore into "That's All Right" was a particularly cosmic occurrence.  
As the electric guitarist steering the music, Moore, who died Tuesday at age 84, lighted Elvis' fuse during the first of what came to be known as the Sun Studio sessions. Moore was the last surviving member of a backing band that upended popular music, helping to propel not only an American musical revolution but also playing a critical role in the birth a whole sub-genre, rockabilly. 
Aside from the towering work of Chuck Berry, no guitarist played a bigger part in establishing the electric guitar as the driving force of rock ’n’ roll.
Sixty-plus years and thousands of distortion pedals later, Moore's playing might sound quaint, but echoes of his fretwork can be heard in the sounds of the Rolling Stones' Keith Richards, George Harrison of the Beatles, Jimmy Page’s work with Led Zeppelin and pretty much every other British band of the 1960s.
The skinny kid with a tight pompadour held a hollow body electric guitar that seemed a few sizes too big for him, but he dotted out strong melodic accents with a minimalist grace and precision. That tone has wended its way through the music of acts as varied as punk bands the Clash, X and Rancid, and is so woven into the DNA of rock as to appear invisible. 
That first musical propulsion took place at the tail end of a session at Sam Phillips’ Sun Studio that hadn’t generated much spark. Presley, who’d relentlessly pursued a session at Sun, was nervous. He and the band had worked on a treacly ballad, “I Love You Because,” and were getting ready to take a break when Moore and Presley started fooling around.
Recalled Moore to Presley biographer Peter Guralnick in "Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley," “All of the sudden Elvis just started singing this song, jumping around and acting the fool, and then Bill picked up his bass, and he started acting the fool too, and I started playing with them.”
Moore recalled that producer Phillips was preoccupied in the control room but that when he overheard the music, “he stuck his head out and said, ‘What are you doing?’ And we said, ‘We don’t know.’ ”
When Phillips played the tape back, the players were stumped. “It just sounded sort of raw and ragged,” Moore recalled to Guralnick. “We thought it was exciting, but what was it?”
It was the sound of the new, a hard-driving R&B number from would-be country balladeers. Ex-Navy man Moore may have started as a middle-of-the-road country and western player, but the blues tones filling the Beale Street clubs in Memphis affected his approach, and that culture clash resonated. 
Throughout those Sun Records sessions, Moore’s solos became templates. If it wasn’t his magnetic uptempo run on “That’s All Right,” it was his sparse, mournful meditation during “Blue Moon.”
Moore’s downbeat riff during the fast version of “I’m Left, You’re Right, She’s Gone” hits with a rocksteady swagger. During the slow version of the same song, Moore adds a twang-bar menace that suggests the simmering work of Duane Eddy.
Moore’s musical relationship with Presley wasn’t all roses. As the singer’s star ascended, Moore, Black and drummer D.J. Fontana didn’t share in the prosperity. They were still getting sideman wages, touring and watching the ascendant King accrue fame and power.
As reported in “Last Train to Memphis,” Moore delivered his first resignation to Presley in 1956 at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. Before the end of the year, though, he and Black were back in the fold – with substantial raises.
After that big rush of fame, Moore continued to innovate on the guitar, even if he never stepped out from the King’s shadow. As classic rock ’n’ roll merged with rockabilly, Moore became the patron saint of a movement that continues to draw generations of fans.
Unlike his more famous singer, though, the guitarist could still walk the streets unrecognized. That’s to be expected. Though his impact was just as forceful, Moore understood that his role was to reside outside the maelstrom that was Presley and transform that energy into a sound.