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Mark LeVine
Mark LeVine
Mark LeVine is Tikkun's longest serving contributing editor

President Obama, say the ‘D-Word’


by: on January 28th, 2011 | 4 Comments »

The US appears to shy away from talk about democracy in Middle East, despite historic anti-government rallies in ally Egypt.

“]Obama has 'sought to equate Egypt's protesters and government as equally pitted parties in the growing conflict' [AFP]

Obama has 'sought to equate Egypt's protesters and government as equally pitted parties in the growing conflict' [AFP

It’s incredible, really. The president of the United States can’t bring himself to talk about democracy in the Middle East. He can dance around it, use euphemisms, throw out words like “freedom” and “tolerance” and “non-violent” and especially “reform,” but he can’t say the one word that really matters: democracy.

How did this happen? After all, in his famous 2009 Cairo speech to the Muslim world, Obama spoke the word loudly and clearly – at least once.

“The fourth issue that I will address is democracy,” he declared, before explaining that while the United States won’t impose its own system, it was committed to governments that “reflect the will of the people… I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn’t steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose. Those are not just American ideas, they are human rights, and that is why we will support them everywhere.”

“No matter where it takes hold,” the president concluded, “government of the people and by the people sets a single standard for all who hold power.”

Simply rhetoric?

Of course, this was just rhetoric, however lofty, reflecting a moment when no one was rebelling against the undemocratic governments of our allies – at least not openly and in a manner that demanded international media coverage.

Now it’s for real.

And “democracy” is scarcely to be heard on the lips of the president or his most senior officials.


A Great Way to Keep Smiling in a Difficult Time


by: on January 22nd, 2010 | 2 Comments »

Beyond the Pale

[Editor's Note: We are delighted to welcome Mark LeVine, Tikkun's longest serving contributing editor, to Tikkun Daily. Mark wears at least two hats and another one apart from musician is political prof and Middle East expert. His latest post at tikkun.org is "No Hope for Haiti" Without Justice."]

If the end of 2009 is any indication, 2010 is going to be a difficult year. Whether it’s the economy, foreign policy or just political and cultural pulse of America more broadly, a host of problems confronts our society from the political leadership to the average citizen that hardly anyone knows how or even wants to deal with honestly.

We need inspiration, and few things inspire people to action better than music. For my money, one of the best albums to get your year going in a positive way has to be Postcards, the latest release of the internationally acclaimed Klezmer/world music ensemble, Beyond the Pale.

Based in Toronto, Beyond the Pale’s sound is a paradox — acoustic yet explosive, grounded in Klezmer yet swimming in Balkan and bluegrass elements, with forays into everything from reggae to funk. With its blend of innovative original compositions with classics of the world music repertoire that group is surely one of the most accomplished ensembles on the world music scene today.


It’s not surprising that Beyond the Pale hails from Toronto. The city has a strong Jewish presence, which has been joined in recent decades by a major influx of immigrants from around the world, making Toronto one of the most cosmopolitan and culturally diverse in the world. Eric Stein, the multi-instrumentalist (mandolin, bass, cimbalom, guitar) founder of Beyond the Pale and a leading figure in Toronto’s Jewish music scene, explains that the city and the Jewish music scene there lend themselves to opening up to other cultures, which is reflected in the group’s name. “‘Beyond the Pale’ obviously refers to the Pale of Settlement, but that’s the start, not the end of the musical journey we’re on.” Indeed, while Klezmer is the foundation for the music, the majority of the band is not Jewish, but instead hails from a diverse background, particularly the former Yugoslavia.

“Toronto has been an amazing place to develop our music. It’s one of the only places where a band of such eclectic makeup could come together and do what it does because of all the different musical traditions and the freedom and openness that our cultural environment in Toronto facilitates.”