Anti-Zionism as Cultural AIDS and its Cure: Reflections on France VII (Conclusion)
How do you tell very smart people some (what to you seem) obvious things that they cannot seem to see? If it were just an intellectual argument – like the year 1000 – I can deplore the results, but it’s not life-threatening. The ship of historiographical consensus may have sunk long ago, but ultimately… does it really matter? Isn’t what medievalists do pretty irrelevant to what’s going on today?
But here, if what I think I perceive is 70% accurate, the French, the Europeans really are picking up their heads from the sand, and looking out like a deer in the headlights of an oncoming train.
How does one explain a dangerous situation to someone in denial. How do you wake up the driver who’s fallen asleep at the wheel on icy mountain roads is such as way as to wake her quickly enough, but without panicking him. How does France wake up before she careens off the mountainside, last overheard repeating in his sleep the received wisdom that the Roman Empire never really fell.
Were France to careen off the edge, I for one cannot contemplate that with equanimity. That would constitute a tragedy too great too great to contemplate no matter how unpleasantly self-destructive the French behave. France is part of our heritage and part of our inspiration. Granted, that which so inspired from France is now in short supply. But even at the most “rational” dimensions of positive-sum thinking, France’s health is the interest of cultures of freedom. It’s fall – which would almost certainly bring about the fall of other, many European countries with similar problems?
To borrow a metaphor from the Muslims, France is in the heart of “realm of freedom”, and her loss would be a catastrophe for the culture of freedom we have fought so hard over the last millennium to establish. I personally have deep personal ties to France (the French, especially the Parisians, are an aquired taste), but any sane person cannot contemplate France’s fall with pleasure. To think otherwise is to indulge the desire to take vengeance on France, to get French Derangement Syndrome, to wish ill on them even at our own costs.
Doubts: Can I be Right and all these People Wrong?
So maybe I am exaggerating all this. Maybe I’ve gone too far, projecting my millennial “readings” on France, as I did on Y2K. Pretty soon, I’ll be predicting that by 2010, as a century earlier, France will have it’s first execution of Jews on charges of plotting against the one true religion. Ridiculous. Shake it out of your head. As someone noted on the Medieval List:
You know, it is probably a good idea not to get to caught up in the phenomena one is supposed to be studying. I shall now be unable to sleep for trying to retrieve a half-forgotten quotation about scholars getting infected by the madness they were describing.
And yet… and yet… the dynamics sure look familiar.
A French friend, a medievalist, writes back from cheery Provence…
Next time you come, you must come here and don’t spend all your time with those northern intellectuals. We had a good laugh as we read you.
Didn’t Sidonius Apollinarus write from somewhere near there in the late 5th century, enjoying the good life?
The Jews, Europe’s First Dhimmis
Maybe if my amused friend’s note had at least addressed the “Jewish question” a bit, I’d have been more reassured.
But no. French gentiles are, with few exceptions, extraordinarily uninterested in what Jews have to say. Since 2000, an extraordinary turn has increasingly imposed itself in French public discourse. The Jew cannot testify. His evidence, as Jewish, is systematically discounted, consistently denied on charges of “communautarisme” [partisanship]. The 21st-century Jew is France’s (Europe’s?) first Dhimmi. And that is not because he is the least and most miserable of the minorities in France, but because he is at once the most vulnerable and, in civil society, the most dangerous. In a society that prizes freedom, tolerance and self-criticism, Jews will rise to prominence. And for those, like the demopaths and the hate-mongerers who despise and fear freedom, the Jews are the ones whose discourse one must silence. Historically speaking, war mongers first knock off the Jews, and societies that let them do this end up either at war with their neighbors (Nazis) or with themselves (medieval and Spanish inquisition).
Ask anyone who defends Israel to the slightest degree, and they will report, as did RM in an email of March 21:
En effet la diabolisation d’Israel a atteint un tel degré que le simple fait de défendre ce pays suscite presque immédiatement un soupcon : êtes-vous juif ? non je ne suis pas juif … ah mais alors pourquoi vouloir défendre l’indéfendable.
[In fact, the demonization of Israel has reached such a degree that the simple fact that you defend that country almost immediately raises the suspicion, “are you a Jew.” “Uh, no.” “So why do you want to defend the undefendable.”]
This experience has happened to many. When I first met one of the French consuls in Boston, I told him about this problem. He responded, “well, given the evidence, it’s not hard to understand why someone would oppose Israel. Why are you surprised?”
Okay, it’s a “reasonable” argument. But unanimity? No one independent enough to look with reasonable dispassion and come up with a reading that says, “the Palestinians exaggerate at best, and given the circumstances, the Israelis are behaving more decently than most nations — certainly than Arab nations would given the nature of the attack and the disparity in power? No one?
“When the fishes all swim in the same direction, it’s because they’re dead,” noted Pierre-André Taguieff, one of those righteous gentiles who denounces the Judeophobia of the French (and gets accused by Tariq Ramadan of being Jewish as a result.
Or, “when all the intellos face the same direction it’s because a culture of honor and shame has invaded academic life, and no one dares stand opposed to the public consensus. Of course, in the long run that gives you naked kings. And the real question now is, can we afford that?
In the coming showdown, it’s going to be a question of freedom vs. dominion. Can we have sufficient respect for the other that freedom is possible? Or will we allow a thugocracy to take-over, alpha males and their ideologues imposing a new reign of dominion of one man on another, of intimidation, of mutual suspicion, a new dark age every bit as bitter as the early medieval, and late Carolingian, whatever we hear about thriving markets and flourishing towns.
Selling out the Jews at a time like this seems crazy. They are masters in positive-sum. They adopt rapidly to the rules of civil society, become professionals, give passionate commitment to the ideals that democracies cherish, even to the point of endangering fellow Jews. Here are agents of tolerant modernity, people with a very high threshhold to violence (Warsaw ghetto uprising only came in April 1943) who can help spread a culture of civility, where otherness, even opposition, is easier to acknowledge, and things turn rapidly from violence to discourse. No wonder, when a typical Frenchmen looks at public figures — professionals, media folk, talking heads — he thinks France is 20% Jewish.
And when these people tell you that your growing Arab minority is making life intolerant for you, when they appeal to your judges, policemen, journalists and intellectuals to come to their aid, you tell them, “I don’t believe your testimony… and anyway, you can’t blame them, look at what your doing to their brethren in the “Occupied Territories.” Does that make sense? Either practically or morally? Is any intellectual culture that can look at the Arab-Israeli conflict and come out so decisively and pervasively anti-Zionist fair? Everyone swims in the same direction?
Israeli Derangement Syndrome
I’m not sure what the whole story is – that, no one can tell – but part of it seems to be Israel Derangement Syndrome. There appears to be a real emotional pay-off to seeing this as a morality tale in which the Israelis are the “bad guy” and the Palestinians the “good guy.” And any suggestion that Europeans think about the Palestinians, and more broadly the larger culture of Jihad, as a threat to the civil society seems destined to crash on a hard rocky shore. The French won’t hear of it, no matter how much evidence there is, no matter how threatened they may be.
On one level, one can attribute it to “politically correct thinking” — what some might call moral narcissism — a commitment to acting “right” regardless of the circumstances. But even that carries with it the seeds of this destructiveness. When your identity needs to feel morally righteous at all costs, you cannot self-criticize, and you cannot learn. But that only puts off the problem. All the more reason at some point to wake up. What prevents Europe from listening to some of it’s more perceptive analysts, like Per Ahlmark?
One of the more formidable roadblocks to awakening seems to come from an extraordinarily strong European to a demonizing narrative about the Israelis. And any hint of a different perspective, one in which the Israelis were not the hands-down bad guys, and the Palestinians not the chosen people of the left, immediately triggers suspicion and derision. How can anyone assess the evidence for the two alternative “readings” of the Middle Eastern conflict, if their attachment to one is so dogmatic that they can’t even read one of them, without turning bright red within moments?
How well can we resist? For the French, it’s hard to imagine. The derangement syndrome is so great, it operates like a block on any intelligent discussion. As soon as one moves away from the dominant anti-Zionist discourses, the suspicion arises that one is a Mossad agent. Philippe Karsenty, pursuing justice in the Enderlin-al Durah affair through the Kafkaesque French bureaucracy, got accused of Mossad ties. A young and lively-minded reporter, willing to buck the mainstream, nervously joked, “mais on va nous accuser d’espioner pour Mossad.”
The consensus about Israel is veritably crushing. The French cannot hear, even the really good French.
As a result, they make critical mistakes with their own populations. “This is a purely economic and social issue,” the academics and the MSM say in their secular cognitive egocentrism, in firm denial that global jihad has anything to do with them as infidels, and their immigrant populations awakening to a clarion call to dominion. Any attempt to argue otherwise gets hooted down (se fait crier haro) with accusations of racism and demonizing, and then with the comment, “I didn’t know that you were Jewish.”
And the astonishing part is not the existence of such an attitude. History is the history of the argument between self-destructive and constructive attitudes towards the future. The stunning part is how widespread the consensus against Israel.
Whence this astonishing consensus? And from a people who pride themselves on independence, and on critical distance, even méfiance?
After all, the French blogosphere is vast, and anyone who has spent time with the French cannot doubt their intelligence, their wit, their finesse. From the cities to the countryside. Does it not have the resources for some intellectual diversity and cultural creativity?
Michelet saw them at work on that July night of 1830, and he wept over their love-letters to the revolutionary government in Paris in 1790 when the first “Festivals of the Republic” were celebrated. We both see them at work among the crowds that gathered in the fields of the peace assemblies of the 990s and 1020s. France has this resource, the ability to express a communality that really does include brotherhood. They have its slogan inscribed on all the doors of their republic.
Nor are they unaware or unappreciative of these values. Bu these days they apply them with deadened logic and deadly consequences to their attitude towards Muslims. “No good can come from gratuitously insulting another people.” “Let us help the other to be open to the other.”
Anti-Zionism as Cultural AIDS
In the end, my every trip confirms my sense that anti-Zionism is a form of cultural AIDS. It systematically blocks the society’s ability to recognize hostile forces, and to mobilize against them. By mistaking demopaths for democrats, and denouncing democrats (however fallible) as imperialist/colonialist/racists, anti-Zionism and the larger phenomenon of Judeophobia of which it is a part, destroys the culture’s immune system.
Thus they cannot recognize the attack on the system represented by their growing and increasingly hostile Muslim community. By this, I don’t mean every Muslim in France, not even the majority, but those who set the tone for that community. Unacculturated second generation immigrants from North Africa and other parts of the world increasingly turning to a combination of tribal aggressions on territory (areas of plunder or be plundered, of “non-droit”, where civic rules do not apply, briefly but significantly including places like the Ecole Nationale des Chartes and the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Science Sociale), and an ideology of Jihad, which views every concession made by the west, as a further advance in the setting up of the battle field. As one analysis puts it, this is not anger, it’s contempt bordering on hatred.
And the French read it as a cry for help and prescribe across the boad concessions. Since it’s not a religious and cultural hostility, but an economic cry for help, they think they will make it better by throwing money and cultural concessions at the problem. Not water, but gasoline on the flames.
And the second one argues that this is a religious and cultural problem, the cultural AIDS kick in: “you’re exaggerating because you’re Jewish (even if you’re not), you’re a war-monger (even if you want to avoid a war by dealing with the problem while it’s still possible), you’re a racist (while this is about culture). Above all, we Gaulois don’t believe you because you are “ communautaristes.” To respond otherwise would mean “abandoning the Palestinians,” and giving up on the malin plaisir of excoriating the Israelis and the Jewish supporters in France.
I can’t shake off the feeling that these people have so long enjoyed the spell of language, that they can continue to hold a position long after it’s not tenable. After all, Enderlin is the master of cognitive dissonance: he may still think he’s innocent. And so, apparently do the French. Indeed, they’d rather plead guilty to neglecting the Arabs, than to misjudging the Israelis.
Peter Walcot in his brief gem, Envy and the Greeks: A Study in Human Behavior, notes that envious people hate rivals and like to condescend to inferiors. Is this why the Palestinians are the “chosen people” of the Left – understood not as Jews understand chosenness, as obligation, but as the most theocratic of Christians and Muslims understand it, as privilege. Is this why no matter how badly they behave, the “bien pensants,” the beautiful souls forgive them, sympathize with them, encourage their rancorsto the exclusion of other, far more catastrophic cases that deserve progressive attention… like, Darfur?
One of the most striking lessons I’ve learned from observing the behavior of the anti-Zionists since 2000, is what one might call the power of wanting to be moral. As far as I can make out, there are people for whom posturing as the moral cutting edge of the planet is so important that they will commit suicide to maintain that posture. Here we see the envy Walcot discussed in sharp relief. Compared with the Palestinian “left,” the European left actually looks pretty good. Compared with the Israelis (the only left wing revolution to take power, get attacked by its neighbors and not melt down into paranoia, terror, and totalitarianism), they don’t look so good. Indeed, the Israeli left has far more influence in Israeli society than the left in any other country… and under conditions of war when the left and its concerns for human rights, normally folds.
One wonders, for example, how the French (or any European country), so proud of their humane laws against capital punishment, would deal with the level of violence against civilians that Israel has experienced. Unfortunately, we’ll probably have a chance to observe that one up close in the coming decades.
How to deal with the embarrassing comparison? Make the Israelis into right wing imperialists, and the imperialist Arabs into struggling freedom fighters. And when anyone suggests otherwise, turn up the moral hysteria.
Hence the AIDS.
If they were to admit that Israel faced a vicious and hateful foe, one whose hatred far exceeded any provocation and spilled out to far more than the Israelis, they might be deprived of the ability to shout, “excessive force! Imperialist aggression, Nazi Zionism!” If they even entertained the notion that this is not about territory but existence, and that they – any other nation – would have moved to defend itself with far more vigor (not to say viciousness) were they under this kind of pressue (especially with immense military superiority over their foe), they would have to recognize how restrained Israel has been. And that, apparently, would be too much to bear. Even at the price of not realizing that they too are the objects of this zealous hatred.
Given the choice between Muhammad al Durah as a fake that Palestinians staged, as a blood libel to be avoided like the plague, or Muhammad al Durah as merciless Israeli soldiers gunning down an innocent child in his father’s arms, they seize upon the latter. No matter what the evidence says.
Given the choice of seeing Jenin as a monument to Israeli restraint that few if any European armies could imitate, and Jenin the massacre that Europeans can decry to the point of boycotting the Zionist entity, the Europeans will unhesitatingly choose the latter. No matter what the evidence says.
So ignore the genocidal hatred of the Palestinians, run their Pallywood Blood Libels on the news, encourage the violence, and continue to occupy the moral high ground by attacking Israel for not being more generous. Israel Derangement Syndrome.
And it’s linked to Bush Derangement Syndrome. Anti-Americanism and anti-Zionism go hand in hand in France (and in Europe). They so badly want the US to fail in Iraq – such satisfaction – that they cannot see what a catastrophe that would be for Europe, what a huge shot in the arm to the most aggressive elements of Jihadi Islam.
If this were pure cynicism, one would expect it to end the moment their ox was gored. But it’s not. It goes deeper, partly because the self-image of the French/Europeans/Progressive “Left” needs to believe in its own righteousness, Europe the “moral continent.” So when the mad hatred hits them, they continue to pursue the destructive attitudes, turning against their own culture. When it hit London last 7/7, the BBC rapidly backed off of calling it terrorism; or when the riots broke out last November, the French rapidly blamed their own racism.
Apparently, Europeans will do anything but acknowledge two terrifying thoughts: 1) Israel may not only be justified in defending itself, it may even be restrained in so doing; and 2) Europe may be in the same boat as Israel, on the same side. Europeans may even have “des leçons à recevoir” from Israel. Horreur! Anything but!
This is deeply irrational behavior. Under the circumstances, it’s a potentially suicidal paradigm.
So what can I say to my French friends and colleagues? How do I tell them that the anti-Zionism they have so enthusiastically embraced is killing them slowly, paralyzing their ability to “read” the events that unfold every day in this rapidly globalizing world, driving them to minimize the nature and scope of global Jihad, to ridicule those who sound the alarm?
How do I tell them that until they can realize that the Israelis too are on the side of civil society, they will continue to misread, continue to make dangerous mistakes?
How do I tell them that the deaf ear they have turned to their Jewish communities, just like the shrill barking they have directed against the US in the last three years, are rapidly contributing to the barbarization of their culture? That unless they vigorously reassert the culture whose values they so loudly invoke in asserting their moral probity, they are headed for another dark age?
For as hard as it may be for the post-modern scholar to conceive, there is a link between dark ages and moral darkness, between the absence of fairness and tolerance among the population on the one hand, and the dominion of honor-shame driven alpha males who dominate both the women and the commoners on the other. Despite what Chomsky and Saïd and their own intellectuals tell them, there is a vast difference between the culture of a civil society, and that of a theocracy. Civil Society may be free, but freedom does not come easily. It demands emotional maturity. It demands that, even though we all fall prey to feelings of envy, and all its emanations: jealousy, resentment, humiliation and the desire for revenge. It demands that, when the chips are on the line, people can rise above their pettiness, their venal vanities, and deal a straight hand.
And now, civil society, if it is to survive in France, demands some of those things that the 60s at first imagined would launch the new age – affection, openness in brotherhood, but also some other virtues, less easy to get enthusiastic about: realistic self-criticism, the ability to express gratitude, to acknowledge debt, both moral and intellectual, to loosen up just a bit on the firm conviction that you’ve got it figured out and you are the moral crown of creation. And it means finding the ability to say a courageous no to Islamism, to honor-killings, to homerta, to torturing victims to death with the participation, approval, silence of the community, to Muslim anti-Semitism and even — dare I say it? — Muslim anti-Zionism.
In the biblical narrative of the Exodus, Pharoah only listens to the bad news about having to let his slaves go when it really hurts. And as soon as the pain abates, like some power-addict, he goes back to his fix. How many plagues before the French release the Israelis from their moral chains? How much does it have to hurt, before the French, the Europeans, the West, even the Israelis, wake up? Will they wait so long that it has to be a war in which millions if not tens of millions die, as happened last century? Or can we wake up now, while it is still time to win this battle for civil society through the power of courageous words.
Attacking the most powerful is not courageous, especially when the most powerful is a friend and ally and will not strike back. Attacking enemies who will punish you violently for any affront, that is civic courage. When will the Europeans realize that?
Historians like to argue about whether things are inevitable, or the product of choice. I prefer the latter. I don’t think France is lost, although I do think that if the Gaulois – and the rest of Europe, and the Anglophone world, for that matter – do not wake up and start dealing with reality, they will founder on the icebergs that litter the waters in which they sail at such high globalizing speeds.