This is the final installment of my response to Jostein Gaarder. I do hope he responds. For the full text, see here.
We do not recognize a state founded on antihumanistic principles and on the ruins of an archaic national and war religion. Or as Albert Schweitzer expressed it: “Humanitarianism consists in never sacrificing a human being to a purpose.”
The quote from Schweitzer seems like it needs a bit more context and detail, but if I can extract the meaning you wish to give it, it apparently means that humanism is treating human life as so sacred that one would never willingly sacrifice (another’s) life in order to achieve an instrumental goal. If this is the meaning, then few cultures on the planet can compete with Israel for its dedication to life, even another’s life.
But by the same token, there is no culture right now in the world more harshly non-humanist by Schweitzer’s definition than the Arab-Muslim world, where not only killing others is one of the first resorts for solving disputes, but now they even teach their own children to kill others for the sake of the “cause.” This is a cult of death.
So viewed impartially, this statement of principle in which “anti-humanist” states do not deserve recognition means two things:
1) all Arab states are illegitimate (not to mention Sri Lanka, North Korea, most Muslim nations, many African ones…)
2) if we want to hold up to these states an example of humanism despite the highly anti-humanist trend in the surrounding cultures, that would be Israel.
And yet, as obvious as these things might seem to me, they seem not just foreign but unthinkable to you. What is happening here?
It’s reminds me of the paradox of European thinking about the death penalty as a measure of humanistic achievement. The USA is inferior to Europe because they still have such an archaic and blood-vengeful practice. Europeans like Arnold Schwarzenegger, who go to the US and get involved in executing people by law should lose their citizenship. But when Europeans turn to the Middle East, they revile the only country that, with the exception of Adolf Eichmann, has never imposed the death penalty and they glorify cultures in which we find men killing daughters and sisters, executing accused collaborators in the streets, murdering rivals and enemies. How inconsistent can you get before you notice the problem?
Compassion and forgiveness
We do not recognize the old Kingdom of David as a model for the 21st century map of the Middle East. The Jewish rabbi claimed two thousand years ago that the Kingdom of God is not a martial restoration of the Kingdom of David, but that the Kingdom of God is within us and among us. The Kingdom of God is compassion and forgiveness.
Two thousand years have passed since the Jewish rabbi disarmed and humanized the old rhetoric of war. Even in his time, the first Zionist terrorists were operating.
Now the supersessionism imbedded in the discussion comes out of the closet into full light of day. Apparently, Mr. Gaarder, you are still fighting shadow debates between Christian supersessionism and (projections of) Jewish beliefs designed to make the Christians feel superior. Are you aware, for example that as early as biblical times, the tradition held that David could not build the temple because his hands were bloodied by wars which were perhaps necessary, but not holy? Are you aware how pervasive the language of peace in Judaism and in Zionism? Do you care?
Typically your supersessionism works in zero-sum terms (“our inner kingdom is good and true, your external one is crude and wrong”), and typically it completely misunderstands what Judaism was about back then and what Zionism is about today. Where is your sense of history? Jesus may have humanized the rhetoric of war, but over centuries and millennia, Christians militarized the rhetoric of peace, and spilled much blood, especially Jewish blood in the process. You present Jesus’ teachings as if Christians caught on right away and Jews turned a deaf ear. Actually the more the Christians accused the Jews of being crude, belligerent distorters of God’s message of love, the more they did just that, with their Crusades, inquisitorial courts and pogroms. Are you not even a tiny bit afraid you might be doing the same thing again?
Israel does not listen
For two thousand years, we have rehearsed the syllabus of humanism, but Israel does not listen. It was not the Pharisee that helped the man who lay by the wayside, having fallen prey to robbers. It was a Samaritan; today we would say, a Palestinian. For we are human first of all — then Christian, Muslim, or Jewish. Or as the Jewish rabbi said: “And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others?” We do not accept the abduction of soldiers. But nor do we accept the deportation of whole populations or the abduction of legally elected parliamentarians and government ministers.
Now it’s impatient supersessionism!
“We’ve been trying to beat (our) sense into you Jews for 2000 years and you still won’t listen! Can you be surprised that we hate you?”
And that vaunted Christian unconditional love and forgiveness…?
Never mind that the story of the Samaritan represents a typically Jewish self-critical tale – Jesus tells his disciples that “we” Jews have neglected poor people in need, and this Samaritan’s kindness is a reproach to us Jews (or as they say in Yiddish, “a shanda lagoyim,” a shame before the gentiles). Never mind that such self-criticism plays a negligeable role (so far) in the Palestinian culture with which you try to make the link. (Imagine, if you will, a Palestinian saying, “you know, we talk about how bad the Israelis are, how about us?”) There may well be Palestinian good Samaritans. I even remember a story about a man who returned two lost Israeli kids. But when other Palestinians murder young hikers brutally in caves or tear Israelis apart in the streets of Palestinian cities before howling mobs, it seems a bit more than strange to frame one’s condemnation of Israel with praise of Palestinians.
Such, apparently, is the workings of supersessionism. The logic does not count; the zero-sum, I-am-right-you-are-wrong resolution counts.
We recognize the state of Israel of 1948, but not the one of 1967. It is the state of Israel that fails to recognize, respect, or defer to the internationally lawful Israeli state of 1948. Israel wants more; more water and more villages. To obtain this, there are those who want, with God’s assistance, a final solution to the Palestinian problem. The Palestinians have so many other countries, certain Israeli politicians have argued; we have only one.
This is an especially nice formula that reveals the degree to which your analysis completely ignores the behavior and attitude of the Arab world. Between 1948-67, it was the Arabs (and Muslims) who refused to recognize the “internationally lawful Israeli state of 1948,” and that refusal produced the war of 1967, preceded as it was by a month of Arabs dancing in the streets of Cairo, Damascus, Amann, and Bagdad chanting “drive them into the sea.”
The vision here articulates the Post-Colonial Paradigm (PCP2) in which Israel plays the role of the ruthless expansionist aggressor that figures so prominently in Arab and Muslim conspiracy theory. Most Arabs believe that the two blue stripes of the Israeli flag represent the Nile and the Euphrates, and signal Israeli imperial ambitions to establish dominion over the whole Arab world. Okay, Arabs who live in closed societies that brainwash them believe this think it’s true… but educated, intelligent Europeans with access to multiple sources?
The USA or the world?
Or as the highest protector of the state of Israel puts it: “May God continue to bless America.” A little child took note of that. She turned to her mother, saying: “Why does the President always end his speeches with ‘God bless America’? Why not, ‘God bless the world’?”
Aside from the fact that this is taken from a fairly cheesy American movie, few people in the world have as much desire for world peace than the Jews, and few as generous a view of the outside world than the Americans (who devised the Marshall Plan, an unprecedented act of generosity towards defeated enemies). Any school in Israel is filled with pictures and poems about world peace. Indeed, the very notion of Jewish chosenness — “through you all of the families of the world will be blessed” – is precisely about what you seem to think is a high moral plane — a dream about a time when everyone lives in peace. Not to get repetitive but… find me the anti-Zionist Muslim who believes he is Allah’s “chosen” who also wants to bless all mankind (unless his notion of blessing is making everyone a Muslim).
Then there was a Norwegian poet who let out this childlike sigh of the heart: “Why doth Humanity so slowly progress?” It was he that wrote so beautifully of the Jew and the Jewess. But he rejected the notion of God’s chosen people. He personally liked to call himself a Muhammedan.
Sorry to be dense, but I don’t know to whom you refer. In the meantime, let me offer one small answer to his question about why mankind progresses so slowly. It’s partly because people pretend to achieve moral heights that they are not ready for, so when they inevitably fail, things can actually regress. For example Christianity began with the highest of moral demands (forgive seven times seventy, love your enemy) and developed some of the lowest moral standards (culture of hatred, scapegoating and inquisition, holy wars against both infidels and “heretics”). Similar (and more rapid) regression among Muslims who, in the life of the prophet, turned from warning people of God’s coming punishment, to inflicting God’s punishment with their own swords.
And behind these excessive claims to spiritual evolution and their regressions, lies the problem of spiritual envy. When people covet the sacred texts of others and try to seal their theft by annulling any claim of the original culture to its own sacred scriptures, one gets exegetical arrogance among the interlopers who claim to supersede. When people pretend to moral heights they have not achieved, and harshly condemn others not for what they have done, but in order to feel better about themselves, then they confound the moral progress of everyone, rewarding the undeserving and humiliating those who deserve recognition. That’s not a formula for moral evolution.
It is very difficult to overcome the desire to dominate, what Augustine called libido dominandi. It takes both trusting and being trustworthy, both generosity of heart and modesty. And when we fail, the warmongers and the oppressors win.
Much as you think you and your culture embody the best traits, your cruel judgments towards Jews and foolish credulity towards cruel Muslims does not speak well for your actual moral status, and they bode ill for the poor humanity, whose halting steps forward are constantly dogged by fools and tricksters. I know you think it’s because of Jewish stiff-neckedness that things go slowly, but if you had just a bit more modesty, you might begin to see that possibly their stiff-neckedness is a quiet reproach to you that you should seriously meditate on, rather than a sign of their obduracy and your moral perfection.
Calm and mercy
We do not recognize the state of Israel. Not today, not as of this writing, not in the hour of grief and wrath. If the entire Israeli nation should fall to its own devices and parts of the population have to flee the occupied areas into another diaspora, then we say: May the surroundings stay calm and show them mercy. It is forever a crime without mitigation to lay hand on refugees and stateless people.
Do you really think this will absolve you of the forces you unleash with your doomsday prophecy? When in history have Arabs been kind to refugees? And specifically to dhimmi who have revolted (like the Armenians in 1915)? Do you realize that, at best, you have recreated Augustine’s role for the Jew — stateless, homeless, barely protected in degradation? And at worst, you have served the forces of massacre and genocide. Don’t you want to get out of the Middle Ages?
Peace and free passage for the evacuating civilian population no longer protected by a state. Fire not at the fugitives! Take not aim at them! They are vulnerable now like snails without shells, vulnerable like slow caravans of Palestinian and Lebanese refugees, defenseless like women and children and the old in Qana, Gaza, Sabra, and Chatilla. Give the Israeli refugees shelter, give them milk and honey!
In a short but profound book on Envy and the Greeks, Peter Walcott wrote that people who envy like to condescend, to show mercy and generosity to those who are far beneath them, but they hate and cannot abide people who are their competitors. Your extraordinary solution – let the Jews be defenseless and we will protect them with our prayers and give them milk and honey – literally recreates the conditions of envy he describes. Turn the only first rate economy in the Middle East, one flowing with milk and honey on its own, into a 23rd Arab Muslim state with another wretched economy deriving from an authoritarian (medieval) culture of impoverishment, and then put everyone on the dole. Does that not strike you as just a wee bit strange?
Let not one Israeli child be deprived of life. Far too many children and civilians have already been murdered.
I must confess that as a student of Christian-Jewish relations over the last thousand years, this moral tirade delivered in a moment of “grief and anger” stands out as one of the more interesting examples of Christian self-deception and malice. Here you are, in the wake of the mind-boggling Holocaust, still so wedded to your invidious identity formation of supersessionism that you would condemn the Jews to another massacre even as you pray for their souls and bodies. And the terrible irony at the core of your moral outrage is that it is not directed against real Jews doing real things, but against your negative image of who the Jews “really” are.
To look from the perspective of the proverbial Martian come to earth (or a just Judge, or a future historian) weighing the evidence, I think that morally speaking you come off as something of a playground bully picking on the little guy on the block. Scarcely a word of criticism about the atrocious behavior that permeates societies and nations numbering in the hundreds of millions and who have declared immortal enmity to the Jews, combined with ferocious anger at the Jews for doing a tenth of what these enemies do.
Your “moral indignation” will not, I think, wear well. If you and your bully friends succeed in isolating and destroying Israel, then the real victors — not moral Europe, but the Jihadis — will mock both your moral values and your moral pretences. If you fail, people will realize how profoundly unfair you have been in your judgments.
Ironically, you take the very notion of chosenness that derives from your own arrogant sense of supersessionism (we are morally superior to the Jews because we [claim to have] listened to that rabbi 2000 years ago and they don’t listen to us) and project it on to the Jews in order to condemn them and deprive them of statehood. This may feel good in the short run, as does most bullying, but false and cruel judgments are not cost free. He who is merciful cruel will end up being cruel to the merciful. And in a world where the cruel are rewarded and the merciful punished, there is little hope for the high moral values you claim to represent.
Now Israelis and Jews cannot really stop you from bullying them. They can cry out in pain, protest in anger, try and mobilize more fair-minded people to defend them. But if you want to be a moral bully, and lots of your readers approve there’s not much anyone can do to stop you, except appeal to your ability to be self critical.
I don’t have a great deal of hope here, since the nature of what you’ve written suggests that you feel prophetic. But let me try to reason with you on the basis of your values.
What you’ve written will, in coming years, stand as a classic statement of how Europe lost its moral compass.
The indictment will include at least six counts:
- thirsting after idols — images manufactured in the Middle East as blood libels against the Jews — and bowing down to their truth even as the evidence tells you these are false images.
- using those idols to work yourself into a moral rage and demanding suicide of a people who were almost wiped out by a European wave of genocidal hatred less than two generations ago.
- showering your moral disgust and impatience on a people struggling for their very life against a remorseless enemy
- ignoring in your obsessive moral calculus of Israel’s sins, this remorseless enemy’s behavior, and the ways in which it violates your own value-system infinitely more than the Israelis violations
- endangering your own people, culture and civilization in refusing to discuss or reveal to the public the devastating genocidal discourse among Israel’s Muslim enemies, a language that terrifyingly resembles that of your genocidal forebears — blood libel, world conspiracy, genocidal intentions and more…
- failing to mention to your own culture the danger it runs in allying with genocidal cultural forces — the West is also a target of their hatreds.
Why you do this? That’s for you to figure out. That’s your dark night of the soul, your encounter with your own hardnesses and stiff-neckedness. But what I can tell you is that, from the perspective of a history of civil society and its heroes 1750-2100, you, so far, are going down as a tragic fool, whose anti-Zionist moral convulsions presaged the fall of Europe to Muslim forces in the first third of the 21st century (my barber’s guess). Is this the story of Europe you want to see written? Is this the prophetic role to which you aspire:
Pretentious Genius with Catholic Hatreds Jumps on High Horse and Plays Fool at Height of Terrible Crisis?
Can’t you do more for the generations you teach than this invidious narcissism in which you shoot your own allies in the moral and philosophical quest for a just society, while feeding the real forces of hatred and violence gathering strength?
And you wonder why we advance so slowly?!?!
There’s a famous joke about a man who has died and gone to heaven and an angel shows him around heaven. In one place there’s a field with people in saffron robes dancing and playing musical instruments. “That’s the Hindu heaven,” the angel explains. In other, there are people sitting in lotus positions with the heavens sparkling all around them. “That’s the Buddhist heaven.” In another people sitting around tables, eating, drinking, singing songs and arguing. “That’s the Jewish heaven.” Then they pass between two high walls and the angel says nothing. “Wait,” says the newcomer, “what’s behind these walls?” “Hush,” the angel responds, “that’s the Christians and Muslims. They think they’re the only one’s here.”
The tragedy of both Christian and Muslim anger at Jews for thinking they are the “chosen people” derives from a dual misunderstanding. Both Christians and Muslims rapidly developed the claim that there was no salvation outside their religion — a position Judaism has never adopted. They then projected that invidious zero-sum attitude onto the Jews, whose refusal to convert to their brand of monotheism they took as a direct insult, rather than a justified rebuke for their misunderstanding of what chosenness was about.
You, Mr. Gaarder, whether you know it or not, have fallen prey to such a sad and petty act of bad faith.
In the past, perhaps, Europe could afford such invidious identity formation. Sure it led to Crusades and Inquisitions, but hey, mostly it was the Jews, the heretics and the infidels who bit the dust. And who, in such authoritarian societies, would notice a couple of degrees more of totalitarian tendencies. But today, with democracy, civil society, and weapons of mass destruction, you cannot afford this kind of misguided moral hysteria. Woe to the man zwho cannot tell who are his enemies and who his friends. You bring woe not only onto Israel, but onto yourself and the moral Europe you hope to lead.
Remember, chosenness — and surely the prophet considers himself chosen — is a responsibility.