The Brooklyn Rail

NOV 2023

All Issues
NOV 2023 Issue
Publisher's Message

Dear Friends and Readers

“An eye for an eye will only make the whole world blind.” — Mahatma Gandhi

“If there is righteousness in the heart, there will be beauty in the character. If there is beauty in the character, there will be harmony in the home. If there is harmony in the home, there will be order in the nation. When there is order in the nations, there will be peace in the world.” — Confucius

“It isn’t enough to talk about peace. One must believe in it. And it isn’t enough to believe in it. One must work at it.” — Eleanor Roosevelt

We like to think of culture as providing a balancing and healing element for the human condition. And the present political circumstances all over the world make us all the more aware of how important such balance is—how important it is for us to act in harmony with, and with consideration for, each other. And this does in fact seem to be a time of particular disharmony right across the spectrum—whether in the deep divisions that keep the US Congress from functioning effectively, or in the violent lack of accord that has created much violence and havoc in Ukraine and in the Middle East.

Unavoidably, life is such that opposing forces are always in play, and various kinds of duality shape our perceptions and experience. Yet at the same time, one of the most important lessons we learn from art is that life is not defined by absolutes, but rather by a delicate balance between opposing elements along with their complexities.

This leads me to reflect on the current ongoing outbreak of violence between Hamas and Israel, where we once again are reminded of an old history of suffering, beginning with the “Balfour Declaration” of 1917, mandated by the British in expressing support for “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.” Subsequently, during the 1920s and 1930s, Iraq, Syria, and Egypt moved towards independence, even though the British and French did not formally depart from the region until after World War II. And in the wake of their impending departures, the conflicting forces of Arab nationalism and Zionism were set in motion. The rise of Nazi Germany inevitably prompted a new urgency in the Zionist quest to create a Jewish state in Palestine. And in 1947, a couple of years after the end of World War II, the British turned the Palestine issue over to the UN. After which the UN decided to end the previous mandate and partitioned Palestine into two independent states west of the Jordan River, Palestine predominantly Arab and Israel predominantly Jewish. As expected, the boundary between the two states was then and still is subject to perpetual negotiation. Thus, in the following year in 1948, when Israel declared its independence, the Israel-Arab War began with five Arab states fighting against the creation of the state; Israel expanded to 77 percent of the territory of what had been the Mandate for Palestine, including the larger part of Jerusalem. As a result, over half of the Palestinian Arab population fled or were expelled from their lands, marking the first large-scale exodus in what would become a decades long dispute over land ownership. Eventually, after Israel won the war, the territory was divided into three parts: Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. As the crisis continued, both Egypt and Jordan respectively retained control of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank until the 1967 Six-Day War broke out between Israel and its Arab neighbors. Israel captured the Palestinian Arab territories of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Gaza, and also the Sinai Peninsula, as well the Syrian territory of Golan Heights.

The situation became especially violent during the 1987 First Palestinian intifada, which prompted the first uprising from Palestinian forces in their struggle for self-determination. During which time the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) was recognized as a representative for the Palestinian people, and both sides agreed to sign the Oslo accords in 1993, recognizing Israel’s ‘right to exist in peace.’ But the old wound never fully healed and the second intifada in 2000 was only ended by 2005; it led to the Palestinian people’s autonomous control of the West Bank and Gaza. In the same year, Israel disengaged from the Gaza Strip, uprooting its settlements in the region. And in the following year, 2006, an offspring of the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist militant group Hamas, won the election against the PLO.

Following Hamas’s armed takeover, both Israel and neighboring Egypt imposed a blockade on the Gaza Strip which over time has worsened living conditions for Palestinians. As a result, there has been an atrocious and unimaginable loss of life. And just a few weeks ago, on October 7 when Hamas launched attacks on Israel, followed by retaliatory strikes by Israel on Gaza, a spark was lit in the minds of the world, bringing new attention to this long-standing conflict.

As the violence continues, we urge everyone to reject the violence that has been inflicted on civilians, as well as Islamophobia, racism, and anti-Semitism. All right-minded people call for total support, safety, freedom, and dignity for all. I myself have personally seen how devastating war is, having grown up in Vietnam, a country that over its four thousand year history has been ruled in a colonial manner by a succession of foreign powers. First, a thousand years of various Chinese dynasties, then by the French and by Japanese occupation forces. And then of course, there was the twenty-five year civil war, in which the United States supported South Vietnam against North Vietnam. And having myself experienced that war first hand, I am profoundly aware of the degree to which political opposition has devastating effects on the lives of ordinary people.

Recently, in thinking about the difference between “hard” and “soft” power, and how each is deployed, I thought of the following few lines from the from the Tao-te-Ching (The Book of the Way and of Virtue):

Man, when he enters into life,
is tender and weak
And when he dies,
then he is tough and strong.

That is why the tough and strong are
companions of death,
the tender and the weak,
companions of life.
For this reason:
If the weapons are strong, we will
not be victorious.

In total solidarity with love and peace to us all,

Phong H. Bui

P.S. This issue is dedicated to four of our remarkable friends, the three artists Ida Applebroog (1929–2023), Jim Long (1949–2023), and Juanita McNeely (1936–2023), and poet Louise Glück (1943–2023), whose contributions have been profound for our cultural lives. We send our deep condolences to their immediate families and admirers, here and abroad. Additionally, we would like to thank Michael Straus for his contributions as an advisory board member and friend in solidarity. Lastly, please come and experience our curatorial project Singing in Unison Part 8: Between Waves in Industry City, Brooklyn, on view until January 12th, and keep an eye out for upcoming events.


Phong Bui

Phong H. Bui is the Publisher and Artistic Director of the Brooklyn Rail.


The Brooklyn Rail

NOV 2023

All Issues