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Norman Finkelstein at Coney Island. (Jeremy Liebman)

For three decades, Norman Finkelstein has been the American Jewish community’s problem-child—denounced as a hysteric, a marginal ideologue, and a self-hating Jew. Selfless and vain, highly emotional—sometimes hysterical—in tone yet relentlessly logical in his arguments, he is now an academic with a doctorate from Princeton whose attacks on “the Holocaust Industry” and public cheerleading for Hezbollah have rendered him so toxic that he can’t obtain even the lowliest adjunct teaching position at any community college in America.

Yet, like it or not, Finkelstein’s influence on public debate is by now undeniable, with his once-radical ideas having been embraced throughout the Jewish community, from his debunking of the idea of Israel as “a land without a people” and his diagnosis of a strain of American Jewish Holocaust obsession to his assertions of the immorality of the continuing Israeli occupation of the West Bank.

On the eve of the publication of two new books—Knowing Too Much: Why the American Jewish Romance With Israel Is Coming to an End and What Gandhi Says About Nonviolence, Resistance, and Courage—I made a pair of unlikely pilgrimages to Finkelstein’s book-lined one-bedroom apartment on Ocean Parkway. Located smack in the middle of the most densely populated Jewish ZIP code in America, the place where Finkelstein spends his days is, as he is quick to point out, quite different from the fancy suburban abodes occupied by critics like Alan Dershowitz, who, he says, claim to love Jews but “live among the goyim.”

Finkelstein is a martyr of a particular type: a man who sets himself on fire at a dinner party and wonders why no one offers him a glass of water. In the course of our conversations, we spoke about the life of Gandhi, Finkelstein’s Holocaust survivor parents, his mentor Noam Chomsky, and the idiocy of conspiracy theorists who suggest that a small group of neo-conservative Jews manipulates American foreign policy in favor of Israel. We also discussed his fixation on Jeffrey Goldberg (which I expected) and his love for the music of Pete Seeger (also expected) and Whitney Houston (not expected at all). Where Houston went from manicured black pop queen to foul-mouthed reality-show subject, Finkelstein’s engagements with the public have been consistent in their marginality. Still, the comparison is instructive, save for the fact that Finkelstein’s own drive toward pariah-dom may have finally bottomed out.

What’s left is a difficult and contradictory human being whose personal history and distinctive modes of argument have confined him to a small apartment in the heart of a community to which he professes to have no attachment whatsoever. But to dismiss him, professionally or personally, as “damaged goods” begs the question of who, exactly, made him this way. After reading over the transcripts of our conversations, I realized that his disavowal of any attachment to the Jewish community that rejected and stigmatized his survivor parents may let both Finkelstein and his critics off too easily.

What follows is an edited version of portions of our conversations.

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How do you know Noam Chomsky?

That’s an interesting story, which tells you something about Professor Chomsky as a person. I don’t like to put him on a pedestal, because, you know, I’ve known him for more than a quarter of a century, and I was very close with his wife, closer than with Professor Chomsky. Because Professor Chomsky is in the cerebral world, and [his wife, the linguist] Carol [Schatz], who is brilliant, was also down to earth. We could talk bullshit. I went shopping with her, we would talk about prices in the supermarket, and she took out her coupons at the cash register.

Chomsky has his flaws, but the virtues are staggering. It’s not just that he made these linguistic discoveries; it’s the thousands of graduate students that he trained. He created physically a field. And you know, I travel a lot, I tell you every time everywhere I go, at least two people will say, “I read a book by Chomsky, and it changed my life.” But he has his flaws, like everybody else.

What are Chomsky’s biggest flaws?

I’m never going to say. Because Chomsky’s biggest virtue, you know what it is? Aside from his staggering intellect and absolute faithfulness, Professor Chomsky never betrayed a friend. He will defend them even though inside he knows that they’re completely wrong.

But don’t those virtues of friendship and faithfulness come into conflict with the truth?

I know that! I see that! But he cares very deeply about the facts. Let me tell you a story. I worked for a radical newspaper, The Guardian. A modest paper, you never heard of it. I remember we were sitting in a room, having an editorial meeting, and at that time there were two Maoist factions—it’s laughable now—the October League and the Revolutionary Communist Party. The Guardian was pro-the October League, and we were debating whether we should increase the numbers of people who attended the October League rallies and decrease the number of people who attended Revolutionary Communist rallies in our stories. And I’m thinking to myself, “Wait a minute, there’s a problem here. Shouldn’t we be telling the truth?” And you know, that was the difference with Chomsky. It wasn’t enough to say that something was bourgeois propaganda or Zionist propaganda—no, you had to prove it.

So, how did I meet him? I had been a Maoist, and then when the Gang of Four was overthrown I was completely distraught. I was bedridden for three weeks, it was a very painful experience for me. Not only because I had been wrong, but because I felt really embarrassed that I had been lecturing and pontificating with such self-confidence.

Then in ’82, almost 30 years ago now, I got involved with the Israel-Palestine conflict, and then Israel and Lebanon, on June 6, 1982. I belonged to a little group, and they were always arguing about Zionism, and I didn’t want to hear about ism’s anymore. So, I refused to take a position on Zionism. And then I decided, “OK, Norm, get intellectually serious.” I sat down and started to read about the subject. Eventually it became my doctoral dissertation at Princeton.

At the very last minute, when I was just about finished with the research phase and I was about to go on to the writing phase of the dissertation, I walked into Harper and Row Bookstore, and there was this book called From Time Immemorial by Joan Peters, and it said that it was going to change the history of the conflict. Everybody on the left like Professor [Edward] Said, they said, “Ahh, Zionist propaganda. Why even bother?”

Well, I heard that line before. If anybody criticized China, they said, “Bourgeois propaganda.” And I said, “I’m not going to be taken for a fool a second time. If it’s true, it’s true, and I’m out of here.” Because I was so devastated by what happened in China. The worst part of it was the personal humiliation. I was not going to be a fool again, you know?

So, when the book came out, I went at it. It was Captain Ahab and Moby-Dick. I went down to the New York Public Library, and they had a special section at that time where they kept all the League of Nation and Permanent Mandate Commission reports on Palestine, and I went through everything. The core of the book was chapter 13, the demographic study, and in the back were the tables that corresponded with the text. I would come home from work each night, lie down on my bed, and go through the numbers, I do everything with paper and pad, and I’m doing it and I’m doing it and I’m doing it. And then one night, it was 1:30 in the morning, I suddenly discovered the fraud, the fake numbers. I got goose pimples. I’ve discovered a fraud!

Continue reading: Intellectual honesty

I got up and, in that tiny little studio in Washington Heights, and I’m pacing back and forth, I did it! I did it! I couldn’t believe it. I was just a graduate student, I was working in a daycare center in Chelsea to make ends meet while writing my dissertation. And so I first went to one of the—now he’s turned out to be one of the leading computer scientists in the world, then he was the head of the theory section at Bell Labs, to make sure the math was right, and he confirmed it.

So, I wrote up my findings, and I sent it to 25 of the leading scholars in the world who are knowledgeable on the subject. Twenty-four never replied.

One Saturday morning, I get a phone call. I pick it up, and the person says, “Hello, my name is Professor Chomsky. I read what you wrote, and it sounds right to me.”

Sometimes I get angry at him, I do. But he changed my life. I don’t think he even knows today where I went to school. He never asked me. Now, part of it of course is Gulliver in Lilliput. From his height, he can’t see the difference. But part of it was, you had to say there was a genuine democratic impulse. I don’t care about your credentials, I don’t care about your pedigree, I don’t care about your letterhead, I don’t care about your publications, let me just read it! You would think he has better things to do with his mind than to sit down and go through land reform in one corner of Northeastern Brazil. And sometimes you think, was this a waste?

If he can lower himself to this kind of unglamorous detail-work, then you can, too?

The details are actually the most interesting, because that’s where you see all the lies.

Intellectuals on the left are every bit as dishonest as intellectuals on the right.

I’ve lived a good life, a blessed life. But as a matter of fact, I’ve been out of DePaul, it’s going on five years, right? There are a lot of academics who are politically sympathetic to me. Palestine’s not an unpopular cause anymore in academia. OK, so let’s ask the question: Has any professor worked to get me a job at any university? I want to be factual. Answer: No.

Has any professor worked to get me a guest lectureship for a year? Answer: No.

Has any professor worked to get me a lecture, even once? Answer: No.

That surprises me—

Let me finish. You were in graduate school, you remember the thing called a brown-bag lunch. Has one professor invited me for a brown bag lunch? Answer: No. We’re not even talking about cost.

You know, there are quite a few professors at Columbia who are pro-Palestinian. Has one of them invited me for anything? No.

The Nation magazine? Thirty years, they’ve let me have one letter in print. I find that funny.

What do you think of Paul Berman, who is in some ways your ideological and literary opposite, but who is also a public intellectual in the old-school sense, without a tenured academic position. Do you feel any affinity with him?

Look, I’ve read his stuff, so I’m not speaking from ignorance. There’s a whole tradition on the left that basically goes back to Trotsky, who was a brilliant political actor and also was a brilliant political writer. And so there’s this whole tradition—I’ll speak now of the American left, of people who are good writers and also want to write about politics. But they don’t know anything about politics.

OK, this tradition had people who weren’t terrible, like Irving Howe, who knew literature, and knew something about politics because he grew up in the ’30s, during the Depression. In more recent years, it’s people who know nothing, like George Packer. He went to Yale, he got a degree in English, and so he thinks he’s qualified to write about politics. OK, it’s not badly written, but he doesn’t know anything about Iraq.

I know it sounds odd, but a lot of politics is having good political instincts. Some people have it, some don’t. Chomsky has it. Trotsky of course had it. But of course you have to be deeply immersed in the subject matter. They’re not interested in the subject matter, they’re interested in a clever turn of phrase. Their model was someone like Christopher Hitchens, whose whole art was: You take three little arcane facts and spin a whole article or essay around it. He’d start an essay on Pakistan by saying, “Oh, Pakistan literally means LAND OF THE PURE!” And you’d think, Oh, he really knows something about Pakistan!

So, you come to Paul Berman, who writes Terror and Liberalism. He finds in the street two pirated volumes of [Sayyid] Qutb, and suddenly he becomes an expert on Islamic texts. Trotsky wrote Literature and Revolution when he was in the iron cart, going from front to front in the Russian civil war. Berman was walking along Atlantic Avenue and saw two pirated editions, and now he’s an expert in Qutb, whose collected works comes to 40 volumes, if memory serves. It’s just so silly. It’s so unserious.

You obviously spent a lot of forensic energy thinking about Jeffrey Goldberg in your new book. Is it your opinion that he acts as a conscious agent of Israeli propaganda campaigns, or do you think that he believes what he writes?

Goldberg is just like Packer. He has some writing talent, but he knows nothing about politics, he has no clue. Just because he lived in Israel for a couple of years … well, there are a lot of people who live in the United States who have no idea what goes on here. He was a prison guard. That doesn’t make you an expert in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There’s no knowledge there.

So, maybe he goes to Israel and they tell him these things, they’re very good at PR, they’re very good at manipulating. He’s a fat kid, and I’m sure they’re excellent in making him feel important—we’re just telling you this, this is your little scoop. And he gets very excited, and he writes it down. Israel is attacking Iran? I think it’s ridiculous, but you have to have some political sense to know it’s ridiculous. No, I don’t think it’s going to happen because Israel went into Lebanon in 2006 and they didn’t kill one Hezbollah leader, so I don’t think they’re going to attack Iran.

Continue reading: ‘We are all Hezbollah.’

Goldberg doesn’t have a political bone in his body. Past the personal and the experiential, it’s just clichés. He knows the cliché about Jewish intoxication with strength, and he knows the cliché about Palestinians needing to embrace Gandhi, and then at the end, I love America, America is beautiful, La-la-la-la. It’s just one bundle of clichés after another because he doesn’t know anything.

He’s a very good writer. Do you envy that?

I’m not a good writer, and I don’t care. Unfortunately, after I left college, I didn’t have time much for literature. I wish I did. Most of the time I read documents, and that’s not going to help your writing. But I’m a very logical writer, and you can’t get out of me. Once I’ve nailed you, you’re finished.

I find a good deal of what you write to be well-researched and challenging. But then, when I was in Beirut, I turn on the TV and I see you on al-Manar, the Hezbollah TV channel. Why do you need that? If those are your friends, how can you expect people in the American Jewish community who might be sympathetic to your views to listen to you?

My views on the Israel-Palestine conflict are not particularly what you would call left-wing or radical. I say we should enforce the law and end the conflict on the basis of international law; that means a two-state settlement and a June ’67 border and a just resolution of the refugee question.

But on certain matters of principle, I’m not going to budge regardless of whether people like it or not. The Lebanese have the right to defend their sovereignty, and they have the right to use armed force to evict foreign occupiers. You’re not going to change my opinion about that because you happen not to like the Hezbollah.

Now, I don’t like what the Hezbollah says now about Syria, and I’ve said so publicly. But Hezbollah’s record on respecting international law is actually quite good. I think their record is a lot better than any other country I know, but of course maybe that’s because they’re the weaker party.

You submarined your tenure bid at DePaul in 2006 by standing up at a rally and announcing, “We are all Hezbollah.”

I woke up that morning, and the Israelis were bombing Lebanon to pieces. I grew up hearing that the crime of the world was being silent when my parents were penned up in the Warsaw Ghetto. So, I felt that it was important to stand up and speak out.

I thought your thesis about the Holocaust as an ideological construct invented by American Jews who didn’t actually suffer at the hands of the Nazis—and did little to stop the murder of European Jews from happening—was quite powerful. But again, the way you presented your ideas made them repulsive to the community you were attempting to reach.

Whenever somebody says to me, “I read the book,” my first comment is, “Did you laugh?” Because it was supposed to heap ridicule. It was a ridicule born of rage.

I lived with my parents’ suffering every day until the very end of their lives, because I took care of them the last seven years. And to see what became of that suffering just filled me with nausea. Both of my parents, as I suspect you know, before they were deported to the concentration camps they were in the Warsaw ghetto. When I was a kid, 13, 14 years old, I started to read books on the Nazi Holocaust, like The Wall by John Hershey and Mila 18. I remember reading these books and looking up at my parents, and I could not make the connection. The dead bodies piled in the streets; the bunkers. My parents were so ordinary! My mother wouldn’t wear any makeup, nothing. No hair coloring. Hand-me-down clothes from our cousin. My father was a factory worker, and he wore the flannel-checked shirt of a worker.

What they went through, the chasm is unbridgeable. My mother was in an assimilated Polish Jewish community. She used to go to concerts every night. She knew Latin very well, classical music very well, and then suddenly overnight, you were reduced to garbage. My parents were both very close to their families, and the whole family just disappeared.

Once in a while you ventured to ask a question, and the answer was, “Don’t talk to me about that.” I never asked my father one question about Auschwitz. I know it sounds hard to believe. Not one question. I couldn’t do it.

But isn’t that maybe one positive outcome of the “Holocaust industry” you decry, is that it has created a climate where people can talk more openly?

I don’t think it’s sensitized people to anything. I would much prefer the way it was before the Holocaust industry sprung up. You simply can’t imagine what it was like growing up the child of Holocaust survivors. The question that used to make my mother most indignant was “How did you survive?” Most of the time it was a very innocent question, but she felt the insinuation: If you survived, you must have been a Kapo, or else how did you survive? Either you did something dirty, or you went like sheep to the slaughter.

It was a source of embarrassment to be the child of Holocaust survivors. First of all, my parents were called the greenhorns, because their English was very heavily accented. And if you were the child of a Holocaust survivor, [the presumption was] your parents went like sheep to the ovens.

OK. So, your parents were horribly victimized twice, and then you became a victim of the double-trauma that they endured. Why is it good to stay trapped in that shame? An entire people suffered.

It was the private mourning of our family, and that’s it. Don’t claim my parents’ suffering. You have no idea what they went through. I get very angry frankly when I hear Jews talk about the Holocaust. What do you know? Really, what do you know? What did you experience? What right do you have to it?

It’s just so solipsistic, it’s so self-absorbed. You know, if you take Hannah Arendt’s “Eichmann in Jerusalem,” she wrote that in ’62 or ’63, and if you look at the bibliography, do you know how many books there were in English about the Nazi Holocaust? Two. There was [Raul] Hilberg’s book and one other. Nobody gave a shit about what happened until it became an industry.

Continue reading: Intellectual prophets

There’s a cocktail-party psychoanalysis of you that would say, “Look, this is a person who grew up in a home with two parents who suffered terribly. Their experience was ignored and rejected by a community that then laid claim to their personal suffering. So, the child of these two people is going to be very angry at the community that treated them this way.”

I don’t want to pretend to be a prophet or a saint. I’m very conscious of my limitations. I know my flaws. But I don’t like lying. So, when Dershowitz was going through thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands of pages of human rights reports just to show that Israeli violations of human rights didn’t happen—it’s not true, it’s not true, it’s not true. It’s just not true. That to me has nothing to do with personal animosity toward Jews. That has to do with a genuine—OK, it may sound pompous—but it’s a genuine revulsion at lies.

When it came to The Holocaust Industry, I had a personal stake, no question about it. I don’t make any pretense to objectivity there. I was the most educated in my family, not the smartest, but the most educated in the United States, so I was the representative fighting the battles. I knew all the main actors personally. That’s why it was so easy for me to take them apart in the book.

On the other hand, as Hilberg said, it was a good job. Because I sat down in the NYU library and got the microfiche of all the hearings in Congress on the Swiss banks. And as Hilberg said, he had thumbed through—that was the expression he used—all the same documents as Finkelstein. In fact, he said, Finkelstein’s conclusions are conservative.

I remember being shocked when I first realized that truth was a relatively insignificant value in public intellectual life, in academic life, in literary life. Ideology mattered more. Personal comfort mattered more. Careers mattered more.

One of my favorite little books is Julian Benda’s Treason of the Intellectuals, which is based in this binary notion that there are two competing sets of values in the world: fame and fortune on the one side, truth and justice on the other side. Benda’s main thesis is, the more vigorously you are committed to truth and justice, the less you’re going to see of fame and fortune. So, I don’t want to become too popular, because then I’m betraying truth and justice.

On the other hand, part of me says, “Well, Professor Chomsky is revered by huge masses of people.” I think they’re probably something on the order of 10,000 or 100,000 people who would say, “Reading Chomsky changed my life.” So, I’m always torn between the trajectory of Professor Chomsky, which has won him the adoration of masses of people, because they believe he’s a truth-teller, a prophet, and on the other hand, always remembering what Benda said, that the cleric who is popular with the layman is a traitor to his office.

But there’s something intensely annoying about prophets. They denounce the king, they denounce the people, they predict that some terrible consequence is going to occur because of a misbehavior, an injustice, and then they’re proven right. So, there’s a self-satisfaction in seeing dire predictions come true, in being the scourge of the people.

It’s often very difficult to separate ego from these sorts of things. Let’s say you write a book and you make a prediction that a war is going to comeand I’ve done that. Part of you wants the war to come because you want to be vindicated, otherwise you’re making foolish predictions. It’s a kind of intellectual egoism. On the other hand, that’s complete insanity, and so you always preface it by saying, “Well, I hope I’m wrong about this.” But of course part you says, “I hope I’m right,” so that everyone says, “Jeez, he’s a prophet.”

Michael Walzer—not in Exodus and Revolution but The Company of Critics—discusses at length the issue of prophets, and he starts out from the premise that a prophet has to be connected with his people. You can’t be a disconnected prophet, so you have to love your people at the same time that you’re criticizing them. This other kind of prophetic—I’m not sure if “badgering” is the right word—he says, is not really workable. If you want to go badger people, criticize people, it has to be based on a real connection with them.

But if a precondition for being a prophet is that you have to love your people, it doesn’t work for me. It’s not something that I relate to.

If you identify yourself as part of the groups that you are criticizing, that means that you have some skin in the game. Otherwise, it’s easy to say that any group of people is morally or intellectual corrupt, because all groups, as a rule, contain at least the seeds of corruption.

I think you can have a stake in principles of justice and become indignant when they are violated. I know that sounds very, as Walzer would call it, abstract and disconnected, but that’s the way I function.

And the other thing is that one has to be realistic about one’s capacities. I don’t have Professor Chomsky’s range, I don’t have his mental capacity, but what I do, I like to do well. I am a person of detail and of mastering the detail. I don’t feel quite the same compulsion when it comes to Israel-Palestine now, because there are so many people out there doing it.

But when I talked to Chomsky about his personal investment in the subjects he writes about, there was an interesting hesitation he had at the end of our conversation. He was like, “Yes, of course, upbringing, childhood, memories of my parents, they all play a role for me.”

But there’s a big difference there. Chomsky grew up in a fanatically Zionist home. You had to speak Hebrew in the house. Everything was Hebrew. You know how he met Carol? His father was Carol’s Hebrew teacher. Carol said, why did she marry Noam? Because he was the best Hebrew speaker in Philadelphia. There was one other rival, but he was the best. So, their home was saturated with Hebrew. My home was saturated with the Holocaust.

Continue reading: Public opinion and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

You mentioned the current conversation about Israel and Palestine on the left. There is something intensely off-putting for me about the BDS movement, which is the lack of honesty about what the leadership of that movement is trying to accomplish. If you’re going to hold Israel accountable to international law, you can’t at the same time be using these things tactically to bring about a result that is not in accordance with international law—which is to destroy the legal and physical integrity of an existing state. It’s intellectually dishonest, it’s a lie, and as a political tactic, it is stupid, because it treats people like dupes.

The points I would stress are, No. 1, among the rank and file of the movement, the groups on campuses, Students for Justice in Palestine, I do not think there is any cynicism. I want to be fair. These people, the basic point is: Well, we had a civil rights movement, we created one society for all people, shouldn’t that be the goal everywhere? It’s Rodney King writ large for Israel and Palestine. “Why can’t we all get along?”

The problem is, there are conflicting sets of principles. There’s the principle of equality before a single unitary secular state. Then there’s the second principle, and that’s the right of self-determination of peoples. And the right of self-determination of peoples is, “No, we don’t want to live together, and we want to live separately.”

So, how do you reconcile a commitment to the principle of equality before the law with the principle of self-determination of different peoples in different states? The literature will tie your mind into knots. Because the whole question of self-determination is, who is the people? Is it the people in Brooklyn? Is it the Jews in Brooklyn? Is it the Latinos in Brooklyn? So, it’s very complicated, but it’s clear that a bedrock of international law is the right of self-determination of peoples.

My own view is, you can’t claim as a foundation the principle of international law and what BDS calls a rights-based approach and deny the fundamental principle that under international law, Israel is a state. That’s a fact. There are no “ifs,” there are no “ands,” there are no “buts.”

When you look at the International Court of Justice opinion, the very last sentence of the opinion—just read the very last sentence. It says two states. I mean, you just can’t get around that. You can’t say you support a rights-based position and then you’re ignoring what the law says. This is the law! And this is what I find completely unacceptable.

There is what you call intellectual dishonesty—I’ll call it intellectual disingenuousness, because I prefer the euphemism—and then there’s the practical side. You’re not going to rope in the Jewish community and say that Israel does not have the right to exist as a state. It’s there, it’s a state.

The truth is that ordinary people on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian struggle have been used as pawns for a century or more in a political game, by their own leaders and by the leaders of bigger, more powerful countries.

But I don’t think it has to have an unpleasant ending. I think everyone can walk away feeling that somehow it was worth it, and that their dignity was validated.

Politics is not about abstract reason. Take the case of the U.S. and the Mexicans. The U.S. stole two thirds of Mexico. Thirty million Americans are of Mexican descent, which is about one tenth or more of the population. The Mexicans who come over here, they send over remittances to their families in Mexico, which basically allows the Mexican economy to survive. So, rationally speaking, we shouldn’t be talking about immigration reform, we should be talking about one state! So, why don’t we abolish the Mexican-American border?

That’s not politics. I might wish it were, but it’s not. And that’s where I found reading Gandhi really useful. For Gandhi, politics was, What is public opinion? What is possible where public opinion is now? Everything else, he said, “I’m not wasting my time on it.” When people would say, “Mr. Gandhi, you’re leading this campaign on alcoholism in India because you say alcoholism is a sin. But why don’t you also have campaigns against racetrack betting and the cinema?” because they thought the cinema was sinful.

Gandhi’s answer was very simple. He said, “Because most Indians agree that alcoholism is a problem. They don’t agree the other things are a problem, so there’s no point in it.”

You don’t give up your dreams, but dreams aren’t politics. Personal convictions are not politics. Personal convictions, if they become the subject of a group conviction, they become a cult. You know, Gandhi lived two lives. He was a leader of the Indian independence movement, but throughout his whole life he also belonged to an ashram. He didn’t allow pens, he didn’t allow underwear, he didn’t allow 10,000 things. He was the guru-leader, and he was very strict. He made you keep an account of every second of every day. And he read it. That’s an ashram. But that’s not politics, you know.

Politics is about where the public is at. And that to me is sensible. Everything else, I don’t want to talk about anymore.

Why do you like Whitney Houston?

There was something really so fragile about her even at the end of her days. I listened to the interview with Oprah, it really kind of touched me. She obviously really loved Bobby Brown. For all of her degeneration, she remained a very pure, innocent church girl.

Her daughter came home and said, “Mommy, he [Bobby Brown] spit on you,” and she said, “It’s all right, it’s all right.” And she said her daughter said, “No, it’s not all right.” And I thought, how could anyone spit on Whitney Houston?

Maybe she had to find the man who would spit on her.

Because she had so much power, she wanted somebody in charge. She liked that.

I wish she had done gospel. The thing about the songs she sang is they were so wretched.

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