The Black Widow by Daniel Silva – Book

The Black Widow (Bk. #16) by Daniel Silva opens with the violent death of another venerable Jewish person intent on preventing a reoccurrence of the atrocities of Hitler’s Germany. Hannah Weinberg created the Isaac Weinberg center for the Study of Anti-Semitism in France (fictional) at the end of Silva’s novel, The Messenger  (Bk. #6) She also owns a (fictitious) van Gogh painting, Marguerite Gachet at Her Dressing Table, used to call attention to real events in French history – Jeudi Noir and the Paris Roundup of 1942.

Who is responsible for this bombing and assassination that kills Hannah and other prominent invitees to a conference at the center in Paris? Why are so many Jews leaving France to go to Israel in the midst of Palestinian rocket launches into Israel?

This particular book seemed to touch on issues that are not settled territory for me, perhaps because it brings us to a time that is more contemporary than previous books in the Allon series. For one thing I cannot help having some sympathy for Palestinians, although I think their militant approach to what they see as Israeli imperialism made it impossible to take a diplomatic stance that could have led to shared ownership and peace, instead of eliciting a corresponding violence in the Jewish people. Having just learned of the annihilation of 6 million Jews in Europe, the Jewish people found themselves homeless until they were granted a toehold in Israel, and the lesson they had learned, that they could not afford to trust any nation, had just been driven home so tragically. They were more than ready to defend their new nation.

The second part of this particular Gabriel Allon op was about Syria, and refugees, and ISIS, and the radicalization of Arabic people displaced by war (and others). ISIS appears to promise the vulnerable and dispossessed a new nation – a caliphate – a chance to restore pride and offer them a return to their homeland. (There is no place like home.) There is no instant fix to the whole issue of how Muslims and Christians can learn to live in closer proximity than we did before the Iraq war; it requires an investment of time and tolerance. I cannot help but feel sorrow for people who were forced to empty out their country because of Bashar al Assad’s unwillingness to be humane. But I also find myself fearful at the idea of a regimented caliphate that exhibits a violent missionary zeal. Fighting terrorism seems an appropriate action for nations to undertake.

Does it trivialize the rise of ISIS to put it at the center of a thriller. Perhaps, a little. But it also allows readers who don’t pay much attention to news to get some insight into the genesis of ISIS, its history, its rationale, and its modus operandi. This time Gabriel turns a secretary/administrative assistant into The Black Widow who can join ISIS and perhaps track down the identity and location of Saladin, the illusive man directing recent terrorists activities in Europe and hoping to do so in America.

We know Gabriel does not have a problem using females in spy ops and we also know they often end up in great physical peril, as does Gabriel. How does his black widow fare? The issues I encountered with The Black Widow were personal, so see what feelings this interesting thriller, full of all your favorite Silva characters, engenders in you. I did like the perspectives it gave on the war in Syria and the rise of ISIS.

We Have to Stop Meeting Like This

We have to stop meeting in front of our TV’s like this. For
one thing if attacks by terrorists will be more frequent it will make us too
sad just when we need to keep our wits about us. I’m not saying we won’t mourn
our loved ones and the loved ones of others in this very unconventional war
against terrorists who intend to harm us. Innocent people have been harmed and
we know that may happen again. But can’t we find a more private way to grieve?
Days and days of nonstop media coverage gives these killers more power than
they deserve. It is no great brave act to kill people out for an evening’s entertainment.
There is no heroism in this, no martyrdom.
We do need to hear when the perpetrators of these cowardly
acts have been found or captured or killed. We need to hear how they were
radicalized. But we need to hear it far less often. Perhaps we really need 500
different “expert” opinions about whether or not we should respond on behalf of
our partners in NATO and on our own behalf, how we should respond, and whether
we should send American soldiers into harm’s way again, but it is confusing to
hear so many opposing opinions, and it is excessive.
Recently the police have stopped repeating the names of mass
shooters on American news shows. I think we will have to restrain our deep
emotions and do the same thing with terrorists. Terrorists often die while
carrying out the attacks ordered by their overlords but the terrorists who sent
them out to kill are still alive and every tear, every candle, every flower,
every note adds to their satisfaction with the success of their activities.
Praying might be good if you believe or would like to believe.
The thought of all those Christian prayers directed to the heavens may make
these evil men quail. And although each of these dire events is followed by a
drumbeat – war-war-war – I must confess that I have no stomach for sending our
soldiers into this strange land to bear the brunt of this holy hysteria. I
would rather they train us all here in America to defend our free nation
against those who see only the disadvantages of freedom and who want to rule
us, rob us of our hard-won liberty, of our Democracy, of our very lives.
So let’s not be hasty. Let’s not see a rush to engage in what
could be a very long and bloody war. The leaders of our armed forces should
plan very carefully for a number of different contingencies that put as few of
our people in danger as possible before we send soldiers to be caught and
publicly executed by these men who use ancient texts to try to obliterate
modern cultures.
Given the 24/7 news cycle and the ratings to be earned from
coverage of dramatic and upsetting world events it is not easy for our media to
practice restraint. Perhaps each event generates a certain energy, however
tragic, that needs to be acknowledged over a certain series of days, but when I
turn my attention to the pleasure these atavistic power mad men get from our
round-the-clock coverage it brings me back to my original contention. We have
to stop meeting in front of our TV’s like this.
By Nancy Brisson (offering the 501st opinion)

Who’s Solving Syria?

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 It is difficult to look across the ocean and see
what is happening in the Middle East and in Europe, because of the upheaval in
the Middle East, and even, in fact, because of the situations that pertain in
much of Africa. How will order ever be restored when nations are dissolving and
local political structures are inadequate to offer a stable life to indigenous

The parts of the world that have not fallen into
total disarray have learned from past experience that there are no simple
solutions. Redrawing borders, propping up seemingly malleable leaders
(dictators), training citizens, or even waging full-out war have not been
effective ways to intervene, even when human rights violations become
unbearably obvious and too brutal to tolerate.

Colonization was perhaps the most effective way to
control chaos and set a matrix of order over the disorder, but it comes at a
cost to human dignity that is no longer acceptable to modern sensibilities. We
are at a loss about how to proceed against someone like Assad in Syria. Here is
a leader so unenlightened that, in order to hold onto his power, he will do
anything to his own people. He is the cruel parent who sees the slightest
disapproval from his exploited children as an insurrection, a civil war. Rather
than offer some reforms he hauls out the troops, the apparatus of war, the
chemicals with which he asphyxiates his own people. He holds onto his power as
his nation disappears around him. His people go elsewhere in panic, demanding
that other nations offer them succor. Perhaps they do not realize that their
sheer numbers may swamp the economies they turn to for rescue.

Not only is their leader corrupt and obdurate (and
backed by the Soviet state) but the terrorist force ISIS (ISIL) is pinching
these beleaguered people from the opposite border. These Syrian people are
truly caught between a rock (Assad) and a hard place (the terrorists). I would
run also.

But is there really anywhere to run to? Can nations
put their own citizens’ order at risk by allowing too many refugees or migrants
in? Will they be able to hold them at bay if necessary? Will prosperous,
well-governed nations be swallowed up by the rush of dislocated people
desperate to find peace and a future for their children? It seems unusual for
people to migrate towards densely populated lands but that is likely to be the
new normal as chaos seems to reign everywhere else.

There is no simple set of feelings to reduce our own
confused allegiances to. We look on from America and we understand the plight
of overwhelmed European nations and we understand the plight of the Syrian

There are no simple solutions, either, it seems.
Assad is not about to be unseated, at least not without taking on Putin. That
is a fight that is best avoided because whatever the outcome, it doesn’t seem
like it would be a good one. We could find places to build refugee centers that
operate something like military bases (as I suggested in my post entitled We Need a Refugee Plan, 4/26/15), but
anyone I have mentioned this to just dismisses it, so it must be an unworkable

Meanwhile we wait for this distant tsunami to
eventually batter our shores. And we say to the world that we are fresh out of
solutions. We are using private charitable foundations to chip away at things
like women’s rights, hunger, poverty, schooling, entrepreneurship. These are
acts of everyday love and heroism and hope, but then we have the flood of that
huge migration of Syrian nationals and all those loving global attentions seem
like band aids on a world battered by powerful seas. My lament does not mean
that we should give up our grassroots efforts around the globe. But I do think
we need a plan (and I don’t mean just an American plan, although we probably
can’t use the UN because the right wing has demonized it), and we need a plan
now, or very close to now. Who is working on a plan? Anyone? 

It will be quite ironic if all our attempts to lift
up people around the globe end up pulling us all down into a new dark age. It
also seems all too possible.



By Nancy Brisson





What if ISIS, that ISIS of the black flags, that lost in the 15th
century ISIS, was confronted with the 21st century and beyond on the
battlefield. I saw a headline on the internet the other day which said that we
will be fighting wars with robots and it sounded like that meant that we will
be doing this now (or at least very soon.) Can we build those AT-AT things from
Star Wars? I like to imagine that if an army of these Walkers started stalking
out of the desert and closing in on ISIS terrorists that perhaps we could turn
the tables and strike some terror into their hearts (and send them running for
the hills never to be seen again).
You may think that I am treating a serious topic lightly and, in part,
I guess I am but the advantage of Walkers is that using them does not put any
American “boots on the ground” and the shock value of facing these enormous
robots with their guns blazing just walking inevitably nearer, armored to
withstand whatever modern weapons can dish out, satisfies both a primitive
and a futuristic urge in my brain and in my heart.

These arrogant and brutal terrorists seem un-human enough that I
believe it might be possible to ignore any pacifist tendencies in my nature and
to be dispassionate in the face of this particular massacre. It’s akin to the
pleasure that Sheldon Cooper gets from pretending that he can blow things up
with his mind. Maybe I could experience it almost as if I was watching Space
Invaders (the old, old video game) played by someone who was really good at
wiping out those aliens. If nothing else, imaging this scene in the desert helps
me act out some of my anger and grief.
Link to a short version of Walkers:
Link to a longer version of Walkers:
By Nancy Brisson

The Political Expediency of Blaming Terrorism on Obama

I am so tired of listening to voices that blame
Obama for ISIS (and, in fact, blame him for escalating terrorism overall). The
rather twisted logic is that if Obama had left American troops in Iraq there
would be no ISIS. There is no proof that this conclusion is correct, and there
can be no proof. This is an opinion and a dangerous one, obviously useful to
some as political fodder and to others as a reason to send troops back to Iraq.

This latter group reasons that we need to take care
of ISIS while it is still in the process of forming its cruel Caliphate rather
than postponing our inevitable battle with ISIS until they have consolidated
their power and are more difficult (perhaps impossible) to dislodge and defeat.
It is clear that even experts on war are not totally
clear about this preemptive strategy. We had only very recently decided that we
are better off letting the Muslim world work from within to form coalitions
between various Islamic sects or factions. A common threat such as ISIS
represents would seem ideal as an impetus for cooperation.
Americans did not take well to the smaller American
fighting force that had to be redeployed for tour after tour. We liked Obama’s
promise to end the war in Iraq and bring our troops home. However it did not
take long at all for our relief to be exchanged for horror at the violence
which began to manifest in several Muslim nations. Our senses were outraged by
Assad’s activities in Syria, and from there the barbarity of it all only
escalated as we watched the primitive and very public atrocities dished out by
ISIS, an organization obviously focused on getting the world’s attention and
fomenting war.
How do we turn our backs on acts that we find
heinous; brutal acts which we find so odious to all in modern times that we
thought they had become nearly obsolete? Well, we aren’t doing very well ignoring
these barbarities performed deliberately to incite us. These terrorists
understand how to push the world’s buttons. It seems clear that we may not be
able to accept an escalation in atrocity forever, but we should use this time
to carefully consider our options.
Instead we all waffle daily with our emotions
swinging wildly along the whole scale from warmonger to peacenik and it doesn’t
matter who is doing the reacting. Military experts, media people, Congressmen
and women, and ordinary people find our advice to our President changing daily
as events unfold to incense us and then calmer moments give us more
Obama did not begin the Arab Spring – the Muslim
world probably was ready to awaken in these days regardless of anything America
did or didn’t do. If anything is to blame, blame cell phones and the internet.
Placing blame is not at all helpful and offers no assistance to instruct us about
how to go forward, unless you are one of the people who think time could be put
back in the bottle if we would only send troops back into Iraq.
Should we go in, should we stay out; should we join
the fray, meet these fighters who have declared themselves our enemies on their
own ground, or should we wait until they actually meet us on our ground? Are we
in middle of fighting about whether the future of the planet will be a Muslim
future, a Christian future, or a future that has made peace with religious
diversity; or is such a moment not a moment we will ever have to worry about?
If only we could trace the trajectory of each possible action into the future
to see how it would turn out?
I do know that this moment of upheaval and this
tipping point is too huge to blame on one man, even a man as powerful as the
American President. If voters buy into this latest GOP ploy delivered in their
usual repetitive style, then people must also buy that putting American troops
back into the Middle East is the way to go. Once we get in there this time it
may be almost impossible to get out until all the differences are untangled and
sectarian divisions are overcome or defused and that could take a really long
time. Muslim people may be able to find a way out of animosities that they have
nursed for centuries, but killing each other seems like a rather
counterproductive way to accomplish this.

We need really cool heads to make this decision and
all we have are madmen on one side and people whose emotions get exercised by
each act of inhumanity, and who then subside into a pleasant political amnesia
when the level of atrocity subsides. And sadly, we also have those who whip up
our empathy for others and try to turn it into political divisions here in
America because they are just really focused in a laser-sharp fashion on winning
our next election.
By Nancy Brisson