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Aparna Gopalan (news editor): I recently read Tahmima Anam’s A Golden Age, a novel about the 1971 war through which what was then East Pakistan became the independent nation of Bangladesh. Those nine months were some of the most brutal in the subcontinent’s history, with Pakistani soldiers massacring hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Bengalis, and raping and torturing women on a mass scale; at various points, Indian soldiers and Bengali militants also committed mass atrocities. So while I braced myself before picking up Anam’s book, knowing that the story in its pages would be a blood-soaked one, what I did not expect was the book’s tenderness.

Anam’s protagonist is the middle-class, Urdu-speaking single mother Rehana, who lives in Dhaka and anxiously watches her children, Maya and Sohail, as they are increasingly drawn into the fight for a free Bangladesh. After the Pakistani army invades Bengal in March 1971, Sohail becomes a Bengali nationalist guerilla, and Maya begins work as a movement journalist. But the reader is not permitted direct access to this revolutionary ferment. Instead, we are stuck at home with Rehana, who is worried sick about her children and trying to carry on with day-to-day life in a city under siege. At one point, she goes out to buy groceries, only to find the streets clogged with corpses. Slowly, Rehana begins imbibing her children’s revolutionary fervor even as she keeps praying they will drop their weapons and return home. Moved by Maya and Sohail’s pleas for her help with the Bengali cause and unable to turn away from the mounting violence, Rehana, too, joins the movement. She weaves blankets for the refugees, allows guerillas to bury stashes of arms under her rose bushes, and eventually, welcomes a convalescing Bengali militant into her home—a man with whom she falls in love and whom, facing a tragic test of her maternal loyalties, she ultimately betrays.

In vivid, lyrical prose, Anam persuasively renders Rehana’s journey, illuminating the ways that the protagonist’s emotional and political selves inform and interrupt one another—and showing us a view of war from within that is seldom in the purview of books about revolutions. Even more promisingly, Anam does not end the story at Bangladeshi independence. Her second novel, The Good Muslim, picks up where A Golden Age leaves off, and shows—from the perspective of Maya, Rehana’s daughter—the disappointments and betrayals that abound in the wake of national independence. (While writing this recommendation, I learned that there is a third installment in this series as well, told from the point of view of Maya’s daughter.) As we sit with the unbearable horror of the genocide in Gaza as well as the distant, but live, possibility of Palestinian liberation, Anam’s novels offer a window into another such moment of revolutionary struggle and genocidal repression, showing both its promises and its profound violence.

Mitch Abidor (contributing writer): The classic Austrian Expressionist film The City Without Jews (1924)—directed by Hans Karl Breslauer, and based on the 1922 novel by Hugo Bettauer—is widely and aptly described as prescient. In the movie, the legislature of Utopia (a stand-in for Vienna) responds to public protests about economic ills by voting to expel the city’s Jews. The results are catastrophic: Culture withers and dies, and the economy only declines further, as foreign governments and firms refuse to loan money to Utopia. As the lawmakers realize they’ve made a terrible mistake, they hold another vote; a new bill, which requires trickery to ensure its passage, ultimately allows the Jews to return. While The City Without Jews is far from great cinema, the boldness of its conceit and the warning it issued elevate it above its failings.

Revisiting the film now, it provides insight not only into the Austrian mindset of a century ago, but also into the current fear of antisemitism that has gripped Jewish communities around the world. Counterintuitively, The City Without Jews does much to allay these fears by demonstrating the mechanisms of antisemitism when it constitutes an existential threat, none of which apply in the present. As the film shows, this danger occurs only when popular demonstrations against the Jews are followed by government indifference or antisemitic action. Today, all Western governments have staunchly defended their Jewish citizens and their place in society. In November, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer claimed that American Jews “feel alone”—an absurd claim, since Jews have more defenders now than at perhaps any other time in our history. In a moment of rampant confusion over the scale and danger of antisemitism, The City Without Jews offers a much-needed dose of clarity.

Jonathan Shamir (JC fellow): Amer Shomali and Paul Cowan’s part-animated documentary The Wanted 18 (2014) tells the absurd yet true story of Palestinians from the majority-Christian town of Beit Sahour who purchased a herd of cattle from a kibbutz to end their dependency on Israeli milk during the boycotts of the First Intifada, only for the cows to be deemed “a threat to the national security of the State of Israel.” Fearing that the actions of this Palestinian collective would serve as a blueprint for nonviolent resistance, and that their organizing toward self-sufficiency could become the basis for a proto-state, Israel cracked down on the agricultural activism with full force, sending hundreds of soldiers and even two military helicopters to hunt down the activists and their cattle. The contrast between the peaceful cows—brought to life through animation, in humorous sequences interspersed among interviews and archival footage—and the army’s violence highlights the brutality of occupation. Israel’s vicious campaign of arrest and torture, and eventually their tragic killing of an activist, show the lengths the state will go to maintain domination.

Despite this horror, The Wanted 18’s picture of the Palestinian organizing of the First Intifada captures the energy and innovation of this communal solidarity. After tax strikes and boycotts were met with punitive Israeli measures, the Popular Committees delegated everything from teaching to food production, modeling inspiring new social forms. But even as the film celebrates this utopian potential, its optimism is tempered by an understanding of the events that followed the First Intifada. The activists from Beit Sahour express the view that the Oslo process co-opted and ultimately quashed grassroots organizing. The sour taste of this thwarted potential only builds as the film’s chronological narration arrives at the retrospective vantage point of 2014, and the activists’ mounting sacrifices are brought into ever-sharper relief against an occupation that still persists.

The valorization of this period, then, serves as a retort to a stunted present. In a 2015 interview with The Guardian, Amer Shomali—a Palestinian raised in a Syrian refugee camp, where he heard tales of Beit Sahour’s legendary social solidarity—expresses his disappointment when he finally arrived at the town. “I thought it was this perfect place where everybody helps everybody else, but instead many of the people were obsessed with cars and brands and cared only about themselves,” he says. In the film’s final scene, which seems to amount to a gesture of escapism, Shomali walks through the desert near Beit Sahour in search of one of the lost cows. “To feel that life is still worth living you need to believe in something, and I chose to believe in a white cow living in a cave,” he says. The Wanted 18 may be a charming paean to the resistance of the First Intifada, but it also feels like a eulogy for a lost future.