The Long View 2002-03-01: Black Easter

Black Easter is one of the most terrifying books I have ever read. I too am glad that most Americans' idea of ritual magic mostly centers around Dungeons & Dragons and Harry Potter. They do not know what they are missing, and the world is a better place for it.

Tim Powers once said in an interview:

I suppose I'm always I'm always very sceptical of any supernatural incident anybody ever tells me about. Anybody tells me astrology works or they see ghosts, I'm always terribly sceptical. But at the same time, being Catholic, it's in the rule book. You hope never to be around when it occurs, but it is in the rule book. I'm always tremendously sceptical but at the same time real scared of it, like for Last Call I had to buy a tarot deck, that Rider Waite deck where every single card is an enigmatic picture – two women crying on a beach with three swords stuck upright in the sand and you think what the hell is going on here, you know? And so even though I had to buy the deck in order to look at the cards, I would never shuffle it in the house. I would be terrified.

In fact one lady I met at a convention once said, "Let me do a reading of you – tarot cards – it won't take a minute. I just lay it out. You wave your hand," or something, however you connect with it, and I said "No thanks. I don't want to do it. I don't want to do it," and I left and somebody else came up to me after and said, "You were smart to decline that offer. I used to do tarot card readings a lot and I was very pleased with it. I thought of my tarot cards as my movable window which I could focus on any situation I was curious about anywhere. And late one rainy night I was laying out my movable window to check out some situation or other and I suddenly got the very clear impression that something on the other side had blundered past and looked in and now knew where I lived and I instantly knocked all the cards onto the ground, but of course by then it was too late. The thing would know me again if it saw me." And I just though Great God! I wouldn't touch these things. I'd rather have plutonium in the house than have these things in the house!!

Tim and I are on the same page here. I officially don't believe in anything defined as superstition, and I also don't fiddle with it.

This post also features a prediction John got completely wrong. I still think John is largely right about the motives of Hamas and other similar actors in Palestine. However, he thought that destroying Saddam Hussein's Iraq would encourage Syria to stop supporting Palestinian terrorists. At this point, Assad probably has other things on his mind, and the Palestinians seem to be able to carry on without him. Ah well, I suppose we all make mistakes.

Black Easter

Fans of science fiction will recognize Black Easter as the title of James Blish's dismaying novel, published in 1968. (The term has also been used to refer to the days after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Yes, he was shot on Good Friday.) The book deals with the entirely successful attempt by a contemporary magician to raise Hell. Black Easter is actually the first book in a trilogy, but the second two are superfluous. No fantasy writer, perhaps, has ever equaled the impact of the final three words of Black Easter. This is the book you should give to people who think that the Harry Potter series teaches how to do ritual magic. Let them reflect that it has never been made into a film, and then let them count their blessings.

The term comes to mind this Easter and Passover in connection with the accelerating collapse in the Middle East. These events have clarified the situation. Consider these points:

After the Passover Massacre by a suicide bomber, Yasser Arafat of the Palestinian Authority called for an unconditional cease-fire, when it was clear that no Israeli government could fail to react. He then claimed that the Israeli retaliation impeded US envoy Anthony Zinni's attempts to restart the peace process.

At the Arab Summit this week, Iraq reconciled with its neighbors, who declared that any attack on Iraq would be a threat to the national security of all of them. They called on Iraq to comply with any uncompleted weapons inspections required by the UN, but left it up to Iraq to decide whether the requirements had been fulfilled. The leaders of Egypt and Jordan were conspicuous by their absence at the summit.

When representatives of the Palestinian Authority are asked why the Authority does not stop the suicide bombings, they answer that, if Israel cannot stop the bombings, even with all its power, then how can the Palestinian Authority be expected to do so?

The place to begin is by understanding just how wrong Mark Shields was on the Jim Lehrer News Hour of March 29, when he said that President Clinton had almost succeeded in negotiating a peace in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Maybe that is what we were trying to do. It was not what the Arabs were trying to do. With the possible exception of Egypt and Jordan, they are interested solely in negotiating a series of ever more advantageous truces until Israel disintegrates or can be depopulated with weapons of mass destruction.

The Arab front lies all the time. The peace proposal that this week's Arab Summit approved again contained a right of return for the descendants of Palestinian refugees. It is very far from the simple "land-for-peace" deal that the Saudis said they meant to propose, but never actually proposed to anyone but Thomas Friedman of the New York Times. Except with regard to verifiable tactical issues, there is no reason to take what most Arab countries say seriously, whether they say it privately or publicly.

The Israeli-Palestinian confrontation is not related to the Iraqi menace, even indirectly. However, the Arab front is using the former to delay addressing the latter. Some Arabs no doubt believe that, if the Iraqi regime can be preserved for a year or two, it will develop weapons of mass destruction that will make the region invulnerable to Western intervention.

Solving the Iraqi question is not contingent on solving the Palestinian situation. Rather, if there is a regime change in Iraq, practical support for the Palestinian campaign against Israel will collapse. In many ways, the key to the situation is Syria, for whom the sister Baathist regime in Baghdad has always provided a sense of strategic depth. With a pro-American government to their east, the Syrians will stop hosting terrorist activity.

The lesson of these holy seasons is simple: there is nothing to negotiate.


Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site