Rethinking the Political Meme, Right-Left-Wing: Call for Papers

One hears often the complaint that “right and left” are not good terms for describing and categorizing various thinkers in today’s world. But all the complaints barely make a dent in the More »

Apocalyptic and Gratuitous Hatreds: The Revival of Jew Hatred in the 21st Century

The following is an only slightly edited version of my farewell lecture at Boston University, April 27, 2015. The essay is only partially linked. As I reread it, I see numerous jumps More »

Salem on the Thames: What Connecticut College’s Andrew Pessin Affair Teaches Us.

Salem on the Thames: What Connecticut College’s Andrew Pessin Affair Teaches Us. [A briefer version of this article has been published at American Interest.] Academics like to think of themselves as autonomous thinkers. More »

Radical Thoughts on Fighting BDS

I was just on a panel at the IDC Herzliya Conference about BDS and Europe. [My remarks made to the panel treated BDS as a cogwar campaign to destroy Israel, one of the most More »

Student Email to Pessin Describes SGA Meeting of March 26

In this student email to Pessin, a member of the Student Government Association describes how the body was pressured into throwing out procedure and rushing through a condemnation of Pessin. Later, Aparna More »

Rethinking the Political Meme, Right-Left-Wing: Call for Papers

One hears often the complaint that “right and left” are not good terms for describing and categorizing various thinkers in today’s world. But all the complaints barely make a dent in the widespread use of this dichotomy as a key to identifying the “players” in today’s public sphere: journals, public intellectuals, academic fields, politicians, movements, NGOs, think-tanks, are all labeled along a continuum with such nodal identifiers as far- or center- right/left.

Indeed a peculiar dynamic has taken shape over the last two decades: a kind of western “narcissism of small differences,” between right and left wing in which each speaks of the other in strident terms and limits any serious discussion with the other,on the one hand, and the application of left and right to political cultures where they have no possible corresponding meaning, on the other hand. When, 2006, Judith Butler acknowledged that Hamas and Hizbullah, two groups of the most regressive religious zealots, were part of the “global progressive left,” she rendered the term meaningless. Or so one would think. And yet, right and left continue to be used extensively to identify and either include or exclude some voice in the public sphere.

Whatever the problems involved beforehand, in the 21st century, the designations “right” and “left” as they are used, have become a polemical shorthand that dis-informs, rather than informs. Part of this relates to sociability patterns in which “left” and “right” wingers hang together, and view the other as of questionable legitimacy. Readers who accept the labels right and left as indicators of the reliability of the source, tend to dismiss writings labeled the “other side,” as biased and propagandistic. The mutual ostracism that “right” and “left” have accomplished has an increasingly deleterious impact on the discussion in the public sphere.

One of the places where this impact has been most deleterious is in our ability to think about the Muslim and Arab world, the source of some of the most regressive religious forces on the planet, in its most extreme form, a millennial vision of world conquest. And yet despite how much the values of Islamism contradict progressive principles, the closest allies that Jihadis have, in the Western public sphere that they plan to take over, are people self-consciously identified as “the global progressive left.” Judith Butler’s defense of that alliance emphasized the shared bond of anti-imperialism. Dubbed the “anti-imperialism of fools,” by Michael Totten, this leftist embrace of Jihadi groups brought some of the most ferocious imperialists on the planet into the allegedly “anti-imperialist” camp.

Back in the aughts, the irony of siding with imperialists in an “anti-imperial” struggle, might escape a viewer unfamiliar with, say, Muqtada al Sadr’s messianic sadism:

denver al sadr

Democratic National Convention, Denver Colorado, 2008

Today, the contradiction is no longer even hidden:

anti-imperial caliphate

Global Caliphate for Dummies.con

Question about European Supersessionist Anti-Zionism

What does it mean that Western Europeans are the people with the least affiliation with Christianity, and yet, outside the Muslim world, express the most pervasive supersessionist hostility towards sovereign Jews? Secular, progressive supersessionism?

 

Rousseau explains the 21st Century Hysteria about Israel

In the mid-18th century, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, then one of the more radical thinkers of the enlightenment, made the following argument about Jews and their opinions. (HT/AP)

If someone dared to publish among us books that openly favored Judaism, we would punish the author, the publisher, the book dealer. That arrangement is a convenient and sure way to always be right. There is a pleasure in refuting people who do not dare speak… [When] conversing with Jews… The unfortunates feel themselves at our mercy. The tyranny practiced against them makes them fearful… I will never believe that I have rightly heard the Jews’ reasoning as long as they do not have a free state, schools, universities where they might speak and argue without risk. (Emile, Book IV, 618-20).

[See also essay by Elliott Green, “Reason, Science and Progress: Modern Pretexts for Judeophobia, Left & Right,” Nativ, 10 (June 2007)]

The reason why Jews were “at the mercy” of their monotheistic dependents (Christianity and Islam) for so many centuries was because of the profoundly immature and insecure doctrine of supersessionism, the Oedipal, zero-sum claim that the offspring monotheistic faiths were so superior to their parent(s), that they replaced, erased them in God’s singular affections. Christianity was the “New Israel” and the Jews were cast out; Islam was the true religion and Judaism and Christianity were inferior. In order to make such a remarkable, unnecessary, and mean-spirited claim, they had to make sure that the predecessor monotheism was publicly humiliated, visibly put down. (Hence Rousseau’s comment on the “pleasure of refuting people who dare not speak.”)

Rabbi Yoffie and the Proxy Honor-Killing of Israel: An Un-Jewish Tragedy

In a recent op-ed in Ha-aretz, “Rabbi” Eric Yoffie illustrated the joke that the real name of the paper is “Dibat Ha-aretz” (libel of the land, or, Ha-aretz’ libel), in a rant about recent violence in Israel. (I refuse to link to such a poisonous piece.)

(HT: Pedro Zuquette, Elder of Zion, Jeffrey Bale, Arnold Roth, Daled Amos, et al.)

The reason for Jewish terror is Torah. It is not territories and occupation that are to blame, although they are part of the picture. It is not racism or hatred of Arabs that are at fault, although they play a role. The heart of the problem is Torah, the sacred teachings of Judaism.

It’s hard to imagine a more lacerating piece of self-criticism than this, especially from someone trained in the study of the Torah. And it’s harder to imagine a statement that would warm the cockles of the souls of Jew-haters the world over. Hitler was right, as too many Arabs in this neighborhood tend to say.

He then proceeds to make two further related claims: 1) though not yet found, the killers of the Palestinian baby killed in an arson attack are surely religious Jews, inspired to their actions by their religious beliefs, and 2) they deliberately murdered that child. Although the first claim may be true, it seems a bit premature to indict an entire religious teaching on the basis of a series of unproven presumptions; and the second claim – to attribute the deliberate desire to murder an infant to that religious teaching when there is no evidence that the death of the child was premeditated rather than the unintended consequence of reckless violence – seems itself, the height of recklessness. Indeed, that most tenuous presumption of intention to murder an infant, plays a critical role in the intensity of Yoffie’s anger and indignation.

What would drive a rabbi to such hasty and vicious (self-)accusations (on behalf of his fellow Jews), and drive a newspaper to publishing them? Masochistic Omnipotence Syndrome (MOS)? Self-abasement as a means of dealing with shame? Boundless hatred of those who shame him?

Apocalyptic and Gratuitous Hatreds: The Revival of Jew Hatred in the 21st Century

The following is an only slightly edited version of my farewell lecture at Boston University, April 27, 2015.

The essay is only partially linked. As I reread it, I see numerous jumps in reasoning which make it a difficult read. It in some ways runs the gamut of my research, putting together apocalyptic types, honor-shame, zero- vs. positive-sum, and the huge dilemma we’re in today, where we can’t talk about the most serious threat to global peace (not kidding), and instead, we talk endlessly about the flaws of the Jews, individually and collectively.

Apocalyptic and Gratuitous Hatreds:

The Revival of Jew Hatred in the 21st Century

The rabbis attribute the destruction of the Second Temple to sinat chinam, causeless, or gratuitous hatred between Jews. The most elaborate example used to illustrate the point, tells the story of the confusion of a certain a-Kamtza, an invited guest to a wedding, and Bar Kamza, the mistakenly invited man whom the host dislikes intensely. The host, discovering Bar Kamtza at his feast, demands he leave, and refuses to relent even when Bar Kamtza offers to pay for the full feast. Angry and resentful, Bar Kamtza plots to use the Romans to take vengeance, not only against the host, but the rabbis who stood about and did not intervene while he was being unbearably humiliated. Deeply knowledgeable about both the halacha and the proclivities of its interpreters, and determined to take vengeance, Bar Kamtza sets off a chain of events that ultimately led Rome to destroy the Temple.

Josephus, the historian, tells a different tale. Although it failed, that failure was hardly fore-ordained, and had it succeeded, it would rank as the first successful blow against the juggernaut of Roman hegemony that dominated the previous centuries of Mediterranean history. In Josephus’ account, there were plenty of hatreds, and some – like the Zealots who burned the besieged city’s supplies – clearly contributed to the failure of the Jewish revolt. In historical terms, Josephus is both more embedded in events, and confirmed by outside sources which show a vast range of prophetic/messianic behavior among individuals acting before receptive crowds. Far from gratuitous, the passions that drove the Jewish Revolt might best be considered apocalyptic: in other words, for the participants, the things at stake in these hatreds, were cosmic; this was the final battle.

These believers, whom I call roosters, who live in apocalyptic time, in the certainty that the culmination of history is underway, can behave at once enthusiastically and self-destructively, like the Xhosa in what became South Africa in the mid-19th century. Told by an adolescent girl to slaughter their cattle in preparation for redemption, many Xhosa, including their greatest chief slaughtered their precious herds in anticipation, and each time that anticipation disappointed, they killed even more systematically. They followed this pattern of doubling down so determinedly that they went from voluntary sacrifice (believers killing their own cattle) into coercive purity (killing the cattle of non-believers). In the end, they slaughtered hundreds of thousands of cattle, and tens of thousands of Xhosa starved.[i]

Apocalyptic Dimensions of Global Jihad

#GenerationCaliphate:

Apocalyptic Hopes, Millennial Dreams and Global Jihad

May 3-4, 2015, Boston University

While the conference took place three months ago, none of the discussion is outdated.

Richard Landes – 1

Introductory Remarks, 23:44

Salem on the Thames: What Connecticut College’s Andrew Pessin Affair Teaches Us.

Salem on the Thames:

What Connecticut College’s Andrew Pessin Affair Teaches Us.

[A briefer version of this article has been published at American Interest.]

Academics like to think of themselves as autonomous thinkers. Academia – literally the protected realm of free speech – give professors enormous privileges, not only the right to speak their minds, but also not to lose their livelihood by displeasing those more powerful. Few members of even developed democracies enjoy the exceptional privileges of freedom given to academics: to speak out, dissent, criticize, to “speak truth to power” with relative impunity. Try getting such individuated folks to all toe one line? Try herding cats.

The very fact that civil polities treasure such safe spaces for free speech, attests to their progressive bona fides. Historically, power elites suffocate dissent; yet modern democracies invest heavily in a free academy. Especially in our times, when new social networks can turn ominously feral, one might hope that academics and their institutions, especially small face-to-face communities, could return that investment and resist such anonymous, predatory, crowd behavior.

The Pessin Affair, Connecticut College Spring Semester 2015

And yet, this is precisely what appears to have happened this last semester at Connecticut College where, for two months, a controversy turned campus life upside down. Active participants saw it as a time of mobilization, deepening and enlarging the inclusively excellent community, a revolutionary time of courage, commitment and democratic reform. Others, mostly outsiders and (rare) internal critics, saw it differently: Pessin was a scapegoat sacrifice. And sure enough, the incident begs out for a Girardian analysis of the sacred violence at the origin of all primitive religious solidarity. Kill an arbitrary, surrogate victim, a scapegoat, and create solidarity among the guilty survivor-participants. Of course, being a post-modern sacrifice, there was no blood.

For a Smile: Amazing Pics

Every once in a while we just need something like this. Enjoy! HT: Funpic and Fropki.

The Pessin Affair and Rhino-Peacocks: The Pre-modern Rhino Hide on the Post-Modern Campus

In a previous post from 2010, I proposed the term Peacock-Rhinos to describe a tendency on the “left” of people like Judge Richard Goldstone and members of the international “human rights” organizations,  who thought of themselves as truly good, caring, empathic people who nonetheless had grown the hide of the Rhinoceros that Ionesco so devastatingly describes among those who gave in to fascism’s collective appeal.

The Pessin Affair and Peacock-Rhinos

In preparing some essays on the Pessin Affair, I wanted to use the term Peacock-Rhino to describe the group who attacked Pessin by claiming deep personal pain even trauma at reading his Facebook post. In rereading the post where I first proposed the term, I realize the phenomenon, best exemplified by the star of this particular staged emergency, Lamiya Khandaker, varies considerably from that of Goldstone. What I emphasized in an earlier post was the rhinos’ hide, their thick skin, their imperviousness to empirical reality and reasoned argument, their willingness to run over anything that gets in their way. But in the Pessin Affair, this trait exists alongside another, seemingly contradictory one – an exquisitely thin skin.

At least one species of Peacock Rhinos has very thin skins, and almost anything will set off deeply-felt responses. In modern terminology, they have very bad anger management skills. An affront can trigger a violent tirade; words can ever harm them. In some cases, this is true of people who are simply rhinos, like the Jihadis who go bonkers at the very sight of a picture of Muhammad, no matter how anodine and slaughter blasphemers in response. In 2006, for example, at false news that the Pope had called Islam inherently violent – apparently an unbearable insult to the faithful – set thousands of Muslims the world over to rioting in protests that killed dozens of people. Rather than laugh at the childish absurdity of people violently objecting to being called violent, most Western commentators, both journalistic and political, pressured the pope to apologize.

As there, so in many other places, the guardians of the Western public sphere call for systemic placation. To crudely summarize the prevailing attitude one finds among not just diplomats but journalists and policy advisors: Don’t piss them off. As a result of this pervasive placation of cries of injury, those thin-skinned folks who bruise easily and have problems with anger management get to lead with their glass chin. If you will, they manage an elaborate intimidation/protection racket, carried out in the name of sensitivity. The widespread belief that drawing pictures of Muhammad is somehow “punching down” and in bad taste because it hurts the feelings of over a billion Muslims illustrates the dynamic.

At Connecticut College, however, we find a special breed of Peacock Rhino. There the activist students used this aggressive sensitivity to maximum effect by expressing it as a vulnerability. Everywhere in this affair, one hears of the wounded, anxious, unsafe, deeply hurt, students, whose trauma at encountering Pessin’s Facebook post, triggered and sustained the entire episode. The gaping wound their deliberate misreading of his piece provoked, provided the occasion and sustenance of revolutionary time.

Radical Thoughts on Fighting BDS

I was just on a panel at the IDC Herzliya Conference about BDS and Europe. [My remarks made to the panel treated BDS as a cogwar campaign to destroy Israel, one of the most coveted desires of the apocalyptic millennial set (and many other Arabs and Muslims, alas).]

This is the second such discussion I’ve been in (the previous one, on Wednesday past is here in French), and below are some of the thoughts they both have inspired.

If Others Think It’s Our Fault, It Is.

People who identify themselves as “left” consistently pooh-pooh the problem on the one hand, and then turn around to say, “and if we [Israel] weren’t so bad, if our behavior didn’t seem so close to South African apartheid, then we wouldn’t be having these problems.” So on the one hand, “it’s not a big deal,” and on the other hand, “it’s our fault.”

Of course what they mean by “our fault,” is not their fault, but the “right’s” fault – Bibi, Hotovely, Bennett, the settlements, the occupation, and any other Israeli action that provokes anger among outsiders, whether they be Arab or Western. “As long as the ‘right’ keeps talking and acting the way it does, it’s impossible to win the fight against BDS. If we uprooted the settlements, then the BDS advocates wouldn’t find so sympathetic an audience.” To paraphrase Roland Freudenstein, a foreign panelist, most sympathetic to Israel, “explain and defend everything you do, including the wall, including the occupation. But building settlements?!? Seriously, Settlements?!”

As for disagreements with figures like Obama and Kerry, their perception, even if false, trumps our sense of reality. One Israeli panelist at the IDC actually dismissed the Levy Commission’s ruling on the legality of the settlements, by invoking Ban Ki Moon, “certainly no anti-Semite” (and also, no lawyer). The invocation of Moon was not about legal reasoning, but about international perception. If that’s the way the world thinks, don’t fight it. If the world sees the settlements as an illegal move that prevents peace, then it’s up to Israel to bend. As one of my (former) colleagues once said to me during the early years of the intifada, “I support Israel, but Sharon! ShaRON!.”

The situation, as I see it, is the opposite. It’s not the right that’s responsible for the loss to BDS, but the progressive left, which should have won this particular battle against the demonization of Israel handily. Indeed, the attitude of submission that it argues we Israelis should take – if the “vast majority” (apparently a favorite meme in more than one place) believes we shouldn’t have settlements, then so be it – is the reason why progressives have folded in the face of aggressive Islamist demands. 

Student Email to Pessin Describes SGA Meeting of March 26

In this student email to Pessin, a member of the Student Government Association describes how the body was pressured into throwing out procedure and rushing through a condemnation of Pessin. Later, Aparna Gopalian, editor of opinion page of College Voice and member of the SGA, reflected on how successfully they bent that body to their activist will.

Student Account of GSA, March 26

Richard Landes, “Antisemitism’s Fatal Attraction: The Global Progressive Left, the Jihadi Right And Israel” March 30, 2015

Richard Landes,“Antisemitism’s Fatal Attraction: The Global Progressive Left, the Jihadi Right And Israel…” from ISGAP on Vimeo.

Seminar Series:
Antisemitism in Comparative Perspective

“Antisemitism’s Fatal Attraction: The Global Progressive Left, the Jihadi Right And Israel as the 21st Century Antichrist”

Richard Landes
Department of History,
Boston University

Monday, March 30, 2015, 5:30PM
ISGAP Center, 3rd Floor

Nuggets from the Pessin Affair: For Inclusiveness against Essentializing

As those following this blog know, I’ve been uploading documents on the Pessin Affair, a remarkable and terrifying moment when Connecticut College became Salem on the Thames.

As I sift through the evidence, the arguments employed by faculty when discussing the issue offer interesting insights into the kind of discourses that allowed the public sphere in the college be seized by cognitive Jihadis, driving an entire university community, with only the dimmest awareness of what they were doing, to conduct a human sacrifice in the name of inclusivity. Post modern shades of Rene Girard’s theory of sacrifice.

One of the memes much in use is that of the “equality of all cultures.” What this allegedly multi-cultural sentiment actually means in practice, however, is a dogmatic projection of a Western culture which has, by and large, renounced violence, encouraged individuality and diversity, and chosen to resolve disputes through public discussion. Combined with “moral equivalence,” this notion of cultural equality permits critics to equate acts that have vastly different moral and cultural settings and meanings.

This projection, which had something of a dogmatic sanctity to it, operated on two critical planes during the Pessin episode, granting to the “hurt students” all respect and concern for their feelings, despite the fact that they tendentiously interpreted Pessin’s remarks, and were “coming from a place” of war and not peace.

On a second plane, it operated to equate Israeli/Jewish culture and Palestinian/Muslim. Following up on comments outlining the wide range of beliefs and attitudes within the variegated Jewish community (i.e., opening up a place for Jewish colleagues to dissent from Pessin’s tone and opinions), a colleague insisted that everyone also should acknowledge the same for

… the much larger populations of Arab and non-Arab Muslims and Arab Christians worldwide who are nearly as diverse in their political and religious affiliations as culture itself. We must take care not to conflate these groups or essentialize them in our social / political / religious discourse.

Would this were true. On the contrary, the near-total homogeneity of the 1.6 billion Muslims on the planet when it comes to the political issue of Israel is nothing short of astonishing. There is vastly more variety of political opinion about the Arab-Israeli conflict, openly expressed, in .2% of the global population (12 million Jews), than there is in almost 20% of the global population (1.6 billion Muslims) about Israel. If this astonishing uniformity of opinion is a form of “essentializing,” then Muslims essentialize themselves by peer pressure and policing the narrow borders of dissent with violence, both state- and sect- driven.

Ironically, this professor’s advice not to conflate or essentialize contradicts his empirical assertions: he conflates Muslim and Jewish culture as “equally diverse in political matters,” and thus fails to understand the very dynamics that make this  conflict so adamantine.

Remarks at Herzliya Conference 2015: BDS, Europe, and Jihadi Cogwar

BDS as a Cognitive War Campaign of Global Jihad

I wish to focus today on BDS as a Cognitive War campaign of Global Jihad, more specifically, since it’s the topic of our panel, a campaign for the conquest of Europe for Islam. My remarks, therefore, do not refer to all Muslims or to Islam as a whole, but on a particular salvific (i.e. millennial) movement within Islam for world conquest, one best called Global Jihad. In the Jihadi strategy for Islamizing the world, Israel plays a key role, both strategically and practically. To grasp its significance, however, one must view this from the perspective of their cognitive war against infidels. The goal of cogwar is for a weaker combatant to defeat a much stronger enemy by getting him not to use his superior strength. Historically, from the Maccabees to the Vietcong, most cogwar has been defensive, striving to kick out invaders. Today, Global Jihad conducts an imperialist cogwar designed to get the West not to resist an invasion of its own culture. The following is a brief analysis of Global Jihad’s cogwar strategy with particular attention to the role of BDS in its European theater of war.

Strategically speaking, the elimination of Israel constitutes the primary initial military goal for global jihad. Israel represents the most painful slap in the face of Arab and Muslim honor, a global humiliation, a Naqba, the symbol of Arab and Muslim impotence in the modern age. Destroying Israel would whiten the Arab world’s blackened face and restore its honor, its manhood. And with Jerusalem finally, again, in Muslim hands, the apocalyptic process of world redemption will advance. No single event would more powerfully drive Muslim faithful to join the apocalyptic Jihad for world conquest, than the fall of Israel. By the same logic, nothing would be more counter-indicated for the West than to support the Jihadi campaign to destroy Israel.

And yet that is precisely what has happened over the first 15 years of the 21st century in two major theatres of war: Israel, and Western democracies (primarily Europe). On the Israeli front, Palestinian Jihadis deliberately provoke IDF reactions that inevitably hurt Palestinian civilians, and then count on the MSNM to blame Israel for the Palestinian suffering whose images they run 24/7. Fired by the lethal narratives fed them as news by journalists and NGOs, including self-accusing Jewish and Israeli ones, world outrage forces Israel to withdraw, sparing the Jihadis who then rearm.

Some Recent Videos of Richard Landes

 

 

At an Anti-BDS Conference at University of Baltimore Law School organized by SPME, April 27, 2015:

 

At BU Conference on Apocalyptic Jihad, May 4, 2015:

 

 

Sur I24 News (français): Débat sur le BDS avec Marius Schattner, Dror Even Sapir, et moi. Hôte: Jean-Charles Banoun.

Pessin Archive: Pessin’s Remarks on College Panel about Charlie Hebdo Attacks, January 22, 2015

The following are the comments Pessin made at a panel on January 22, on the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris at the beginning of  the month. It initiated a series of email exchanges with Lamiya Khandaker in February, which preceded the full-fledged assault in March.

Notes for Hebdo comments 1/22/15

Of the many issues, questions, problems in play here, one particularly strikes me:

“moral relativism” … in particular, the profound moral differences in play between distinct cultures/subcultures …

–in the academic bubble we live in we are firm believers in tolerance and diversity … which leads to a strong default inclination toward a kind of relativism — different societies and cultures and religions are all equally valuable, equally legitimate, equally ‘correct’ in their own way — at the very least we are in no justified position to critique their differences … it’s imperialistic, colonialistic, to impose our values on other cultures … shades of European imperialism, colonialism, conquest, domination etc….

–the fascinating irony of course is that these ideas of tolerance, diversity, individual liberties etc. are profoundly European ideas in the first place …

–helping to support these ideas is that it can be very difficult to distinguish “cultural” differences from “moral” differences … of COURSE differences in dress, and language, and cuisine, and customs, etc. should be tolerated, celebrated … so that bleeds over into tolerating/celebrating the diversity of practices that begin spilling into moral practices — the role/status of women, FGM, the role/status of gays, freedoms of the individual (speech, assembly, religion) etc….

–and it is instances like Hebdo which show just profoundly problematic this strongly relativistic attitude is … which reveal just how profoundly different are the value systems in play …

–for most of “us,” OF COURSE Hebdo had the right to satirize religion (not just islam but pretty nasty toward Christianity and Judaism too) … perhaps we find it offensive, in bad taste, maybe even “wrong” in some sense — but in no sense deserving of execution

–but for many of “them” (leaving that undefined!) OF COURSE Hebdo did not have that right, and WAS deserving of execution …. (demonstrations all over the world AGAINST Hebdo, incl riots and deaths against Hebdo … Nigeria (burning churches), Pakistan, Gaza…) ….

–tho I am very skeptical of sharp black/white distinctions, of us/them distinctions — they’re generally not accurate and not helpful to productive discussion — I use the distinction here only to demarcate a strong moral dividing point — either you condemn the Hebdo shootings simpliciter or you don’t … events like this force you finally to make a choice … and I’m using ‘us’ to indicate the former and ‘them’ to indicate the latter, regardless of race/ethnicity/religion etc.

–[and note I’m not even talking about the shooting of the Jews here — separate issue(s) — just focusing on the Hebdo]

–it’s easy to be tolerant and celebrate the diverse practices when “they” are “over there” “elsewhere” — but the world is getting smaller, now they are right “here” … so what can and should you do?

–can you “tolerate” those who don’t want to tolerate you?

–can you “coexist” with people who want to kill you?

–how is it possible to affirm your commitment to “individual liberty, freedom, diversity” when “sub-cultures” within your culture want to overthrow you and your values?

–this also shows up “between” cultures — eg how do states go to war justly, morally (by their own standards) against non-state entities that don’t play by the same rules (eg re protecting civilians) …

–I have no answers, to either the theoretical or practical problems raised here … but I do suspect one thing, regrettably, in both domains — that whatever the answer is, it might well involve re-examining and articulating far more precisely the nature and limits of the key notions (liberty freedom diversity tolerance) we celebrate …. Or to articulate it more precisely: the great challenge for societies committed to liberal democratic values is how to maintain those values, to maximize those values, even toward those who don’t share those values, who are so opposed to those values that they attack them with violence ….

Pessin Affair: Faculty Dissent, Jeff Strabone, March 31, 2015

Published with permission of author.

From: Jeff Strabone <[email protected]>

Date: Tue, Mar 31, 2015 at 9:25 AM

Subject: [faculty] why I have not signed

To: faculty <[email protected]>

Dear Colleagues,

Last night I received an e-mail message from a student who was outraged that I did not sign my department’s recent statement. The student then offered to “help facilitate” my class for me.

I have declined to sign my department’s statement for a number of reasons, some of which have already been articulated by other colleagues. I will therefore explain just one: declaring that you’re not a racist and thinking that you can beat or disprove racism by signing an oath or making a declaration are, to my way of thinking, fundamental misunderstandings of the nature of racism. Most racists (or, more helpfully, people who contribute to racism) don’t think they’re racists. There is no cost or sacrifice required to sign such a statement. It is, in short, too easy to sign a statement and think one’s work is done.

Pessin Archive: Using Saïd and Finkelstein to Shed Light on Pessin Affair

Demystifying Media Bias Surrounding Anti-Semitic and Islamophobic Discourses

In light of recent events on this campus as well as articles in the media, we find it necessary to highlight a number of misconceptions about Islam and anti-Semitism. We would like to dispel the notion that criticizing the Israeli government or military amounts to a condemnation of Judaism or Jewish people (just as a critique of Saudi Arabian state is not automatically anti-Islam or anti-Arab).

Edward Said’s seminal work on orientalism serves as our first point of reference. Said asserts that Western conceptions of the Middle East do not arise from an objective analysis of the region, but rather are viewed through a lens that in effect distorts reality. Orientalism propagates a false historical narrative through its creation of an “ideal other.” Said’s conception of American Orientalism is particularly relevant to our analysis of current campus events and to the larger narrative of Islamophobia. The history of orientalism in Europe differs from the American narrative, as the United States never possessed colonies in the Middle East. As a result, America’s brand of orientalism is entirely unique, defined and politicized by its relationship with Israel, a Western democracy.

Along the same vein, Said remarks that Israel regards the entirety of the Arab world as its principal enemy. Viewed through this framework, the Palestinian desire for national determination is seen as a disturbance to Israeli security. Resultantly, Palestinians and pro-Palestinian Arabs are seen as irrational, violent and inclined toward terrorism. This very fact helps explain the sheer magnitude of Islamophobia on both this campus and in the United States in general. Similarly, these massive generalizations conflate a number of distinct categories, as many individuals believe all Arabs are Muslims, and these two categories are regularly conflated with violent terrorists. 

The conception of the “dangerous Arab terrorist” is also manifested in the portrayal of the Middle East in Western media. In emphasizing the figure of the dangerous Arab terrorist, the media propagates the false presumption that all Arabs are a threat to Western interests. This tendency is visible in the Washington Post article published about the current situation on our campus. David Bernstein, author of the article and also a Professor of Law at George Mason University, singles out a student who wears the hijab as the sole voice on campus who spoke out against Pessin’s anti-Palestinian post, ignoring the numerous other members of the Connecticut College community who were alarmed by it. Our own Hillel House issued a statement on March 25th as a result of the Facebook post stating “We do not condone racist speech or actions toward any group under any circumstance.” Bernstein also quickly conflated criticism of the post with anti-Semitism itself, as if a critique of the Israeli government was itself anti-Semitic. Finally, his thinking ignored the fact that many Jews themselves are critical of the Israeli government as are other citizens of the United States. Singling out the most visible Muslim woman on campus as the sole voice was permissible precisely because of the Islamophobic discourse in the media and the broader public. The media’s tendency to generalize and broadcast false assumptions detracts immensely from a clear-headed discussion of the Israeli-Palestinian problem.     

With these ideas in mind, it is imperative to turn now to Norman Finkelstein, an American political scientist and author of Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History. Finkelstein argues that charges of anti-Semitism, identical to the accusation David Bernstein made in The Washington Post, are essentially misuses of anti-Semitism that serve to delegitimize valid criticisms against the Israeli state. In other words, criticisms against Israel as a state are in fact not anti-Semitic in nature. Criticizing Israel’s policies does not amount to criticizing Judaism or Jewish people. With Finkelstein’s remarks in mind, we as the authors want to make an imperative clarification. In criticizing Professor Pessin’s original Facebook post, which likened Palestinians to rabid pit bulls, students were not invoking anti-Semitism but were simply criticizing the racist and orientalist nature of his remarks. We can see how this is an instance of anti-Semitism discotorse being appropriated to mask Islamophobia.

The polarizing nature of the current conversation precludes productive dialogue on this subject. In order to transcend orientalist assumptions and language, we must stop making generalizations that impede dialogue. Similarly, we must become more critical of the way in which Western media portrays issues of Islamophobia and anti-Semitism, using anti-Semitism to avoid criticism of the Israeli government and ignore orientalist assumptions about Arabs and Muslims. It is evident from the events that have transpired on this campus that generalizations about Islam, Arabs, Jews and all of their representations perpetuate unproductive dialogue. We hope that in invoking Said’s discussion on Orientalism and Finkelstein’s discussion on anti-Semitism we have begun to provide a greater understanding of Islam and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. •    

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Pessin Archive: Pessin’s Letter of Apology for Post, March 8, 2015

Letter to the Editor

I am truly sorry for the hurt and offense that I have caused via my Facebook post of last summer, to individuals on this campus and now beyond.

It was written last August in the middle of the war between Israel and Hamas, and sat quietly (if publically) on my Facebook page until a Connecticut College student, displaying courage and integrity, emailed me about it on February 18 and described in no uncertain terms how she felt about it. I acknowledged how much I respected her speaking up, apologized for my language in the post, and removed it that very day. But my initial apology to her, and then to many others since the Voice articles appeared two weeks afterward, was rather defensive in tone. I see now—particularly after a moving conversation with a group of bright, brave, and sincerely wounded Conn students—just how damaging and hurtful the language of that post was. I made a great mistake in writing in the inflammatory manner that I did, and deeply regret the injury that I caused and have now directly witnessed.

It’s essential for me also to remark that I in no way hold and do not condone the terrible racist views that have been ascribed to me on the basis of the language of this post. I hope that my past actions and words already demonstrate that I am not the person some now think I am; I know that my future actions and words will. Let my first such action be the reiteration of my deepest apology for causing such wounds.

Andrew Pessin

Professor of Philosophy

 -20

Pessin Archive: Khandaker’s Take on her Role in the Controversy, April 15, 2015

Why I Wrote My Letter-to-the-Editor and How a 19-Year-Old Received Backlash

Editor’s note: This is a revised version of the article written by the author for the April 13 print edition of issue 10.

Here is what really happened and where it all started.

It was 8:42 p.m. on February 18th when I received an email of an offensive Facebook post made by a philosophy professor from four concerned students. They had found it from the public Connecticut College Philosophy Department Facebook page.

When the initial students found the Facebook post their first instincts were to send it to the media right away, to print it out and paste it all over Blaustein and other academic buildings. But I had asked them not to.

After some time on contemplating how to proceed, I decided to compose an email. This would be my second concerned email to the same professor. The first time I expressed concern was on Jan. 24 over ideas he shared at a public Charlie Hebdo panel which made me and several other students feel uncomfortable. I emphasized to him the significance of acknowledging that intolerance and violence occur in various forms regardless of who perpetrates it, and the importance in having solidarity for all victims. I received a defensive, unapologetic, and more offensive response in return.  I did not engage with him after that until Feb. 18. I thought I would let him know that his use of language was bothering many students.

This is an excerpt of the response that I received:

“It’s particularly upsetting that in both the Hebdo case and the FB comment, you seem to have misunderstood or misinterpreted what I said.”

In addition to an attempt to justify the use of language by reference to a political conflict, followed by:

“If my analogy inadvertently invites that overly literal misunderstanding, then I am truly sorry and surely need to be more careful, and I’ve taken the post down to think about whether it does; and I appreciate your calling attention to that fact; but either way, it is a serious misunderstanding.”

For the second time in a row, I have been told that I had misunderstood language that was either harmful, offensive, derogatory, or dehumanizing. I asked myself: Should I continue to privately engage with someone who keeps dismissing me and telling me I misunderstand everything he says? If it was just me, then fine. But over a dozen faculty members, and dozens of students cannot all be mistaken.

Over the next two weeks many students, including myself, contemplated the best way to approach this. We were not seeking to criticize his pro-Israel views, but the use of irresponsible language from a philosophy professor. This was a group of intellectual young adults in college who understand the definition of racism as a “social structure that yields superiority and privilege for some, and discrimination and oppression for others.” An analogy that justifies an “owner” and a “cage” in a sensitive region where women, children and civilians are known to die in large numbers is a racist analogy regardless of one’s political views. And we engaged with racism through the best outlet possible—our student-run college newspaper. 

My letter to the editor in The College Voice along with the others did not cause worldwide attention to his post. This attention was going to happen regardless of whether we had written them or not. My letter in addition to the other two actually stopped his post from getting into the media right away. I had advised students to keep it within the local community so we can have a community conversation about our values.

When my letter was published, the administration facilitated a private meeting with the professor and eight other students—the writers of the other College Voice letters and students who filled out a bias incident report. A few days afterwards, the professor issued a public apology to our college newspaper which I acknowledged publicly as well. My role in all this ended right there, right then.

The ending of my active role, however, did not stop other students from continuing to address this issue. A petition was created by others to ask the administration to take a clear stance on disrespectful, racist speech. This petition was created because students were tired of having the conversation end behind closed doors. But I still did not sign or share this petition.

I felt my role was to express grievances on behalf of underrepresented students who felt uncomfortable by this professor’s comments. I hoped whatever transpired afterwards would help push for a positive change for our school to move in the direction of a more acceptable community, but I ended up receiving backlash.

Andrew Pessin as a tenured professor reached out to media and singled out specific students. I immediately became vilified as the 19-year-old Muslim college student who silenced him for his political views.  David Bernstein, who writes in Volokh Conspiracy a Blog from the Washington Post—has simplified me to “a Bangladeshi who wears an Islamic head covering,” and made unsubstantiated claims of my affiliation with “anti-Semitic” and “terrorist-like” organizations. My involvement with Students for Justice in Palestine, the so-called “anti-Semitic, terrorist organization,” seeks to raise awareness on human rights abuses against Palestinians. Raising awareness and fostering controversial conversations do not amount to anti-Semitism.

I was stripped of my American identity and reduced to the Muslim activist who had targeted her professor. My name is blacklisted on hate blogs and national media. My past activity in high school (when I was a minor) was sensationalized to anti-Semitic, terrorist-like activity. The attempt to dig up dirt on a 19-year-old student was not only unprofessional from a grown tenured man, in league with a clearly bigoted journalist at the Washington Post, but also inappropriate. Has this professor lost sight of his role as an educator and protector of students?

We are all entitled to our political opinions. Not once have we attacked his right to have a political opinion. This was supposed to be a community dialogue on the use of racist speech. Ironically, I have been the one to be attacked for my free speech regarding my activity and commentary on political issues.

This is what happened to the 19-year-old who published a letter in her college newspaper only read by the immediate community, to the 19-year-old who has been vilified by the Washington Post. But I stand by my principles and will continue to criticize hate speech.

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