Paradigms and the Middle East Conflict: PCP 1 and 2


If in the 18th century, progressive thought emphasized equality before the law (democracy), and in the 19th, it emphasized equality of goods and services (socialism, communism), in the 20th century it emphasized equality of cultures. This development came on the wings of a wave of exceptional self-criticism in which avant-garde thinkers questioned some of the most basic and often unconscious elements of their own culture and sought to renounce patterns, values, and deeds that they felt were immoral. Respect for other cultures, especially ones that earlier Westerners had found “primitive” and “superstitious” became a major engine of cultural thought, especially in Anthropological studies pioneered by Boas and his students in the early 20th century. Based on the principle that we cannot understand “others” without empathy, and cannot empathize without restraining our tendency to impose our own mentality on others, especially in making value judgments…

After the horrors of World War II, this paradigm took over most long-range political thinking on an international scale, with a de-colonialization process that was supposed to liquidate imperialism. The Sixties and the New Left shifted attention from classic radical concerns about domestic equality towards the international arena, arguing that the prosperity of the West came from plundering the Third World, and capitalism just represented a more sophisticated cultural version of imperialism that did not need to use brute force most of the time.

Edward Said’s book, Orientalism (1979) did much to crystallize this direction of thought into a wide-ranging critique of Western visions of the “other,” insisting that Western attitudes towards the Orient ranging from contempt to prurience to romanticism, represent an projection of our own conscious and unconscious preoccupations onto “other” cultures whose real contours we constantly mistake.

Said’s critique of our misreading of the Orient, especially of the Arab world, developed into a wide-ranging, theoretically sophisticated approach known as “post-colonialism.” Here people examine how dominant (hegemonic) cultures use their discourse to “inscribe” their control over a “subaltern” populations. Here Western culture becomes the theatre of a massive act of military and cultural imperialism, greater in scope (global) and more penetrating in effect (capitalism and modernization) than any earlier imperialistic project. What results is a large body of academic research and analysis that claims to explain the most significant historical developments of the modern world, and to shed light on both the problems that face us and the solutions available. There is an important selection of texts, influenced by Said, that epithomize this post-colonial, anti-imperialist orientation.

This paradigm, which has both radical variants (revolutionary goals, remorseless hostility to West), and liberal variants (reformist goals, self-critical approach), has a powerful grip on the imagination of most progressive thinkers, who consider it the logical extension of the best and most avant-garde elements of Western thinking about freedom and respect for the other, about self-critical willingness to shoulder responsibility for our own misdeeds (e.g., the European colonists’ treatment of native Americans, north and south). It is embedded in a self-critical historiography dedicated to telling the story of the (largely) voiceless masses through innovative social and and cultural investigations.

When applied to the Arab-Israeli conflict, this approach to modern, global history sees the Israelis as another example of Western imperialism, still working within the framework of an outdated (since World War II) violent, colonialist approach that does to the Palestinians what the French did to the Algerians, the English to the Indians and South Africans, and the Americans to the native tribes. In this perspective, the Israelis are the oppressing power, using modern technology to subjugate and exploit – if not ethnically cleanse – an innocent population whose violence is largely a form of resistance to colonialism. Israel is the Goliath of modern western imperialism; Palestine the David of brave native resistance against all odds.


PCPers refer to the conflict between Israel and its neighbors as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Its cause is the lack of Palestinian statehood, the Israeli occupation and settlements in the Palestinian territories, and its solution is to create a Palestinian state either in the territories occupied in the 1967 war (liberal version) or a single “bi-national” secular, democratic state on all the territory (radical version). The reason that Arafat said no to camp David, is because the Israelis did not offer enough.. The reason violence broke out at the end of September 2000, is because Sharon went to the Haram al Sharif and provoked Palestinian violence. The solution is for Israel to withdraw to the “green line” (pre-‘67 borders) and allow the Palestinians to establish their own autonomous state. The corollary to this sees the US as another imperial-colonialist power like Israel which has stirred up the hornet’s nest of Jihadi terror in Iraq; and similarly concludes that the increase in terror is because of the Iraqi war, and withdrawing from Iraq will weaken terrorism. The implication is that terrorism, particularly suicide terrorism, is essentially a “tactic” against “occupation” and not the symptom of a more deep-rooted jihadist ideology.

From the PCP, the media is insufficiently “even-handed” in covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Until recently, the press has basically taken a pro-Israeli stance, which has only increased the Palestinian sense of grievance. To use different language about the two sides, especially when the harsher language refers to Palestinian behavior, is biased in favor of Israel. The more advocacy-minded among such PCPers (PCP2) want the media to use honest and realistic language, to speak of occupation and colonialism. Mainstream media, reflecting the PCP view will not use the term “terrorist” in describing Palestinian attacks on Israeli civilians because a) if they do, they will be under pressure to use it “even-handedly” about Israeli “state-sponsored” terrorism; and b) if they do, it will seem like they are taking sides against the Palestinians. Media outlets such as the British Broadcasting Company (BBC) have adopted a similar “even-handed” approach.


1) Sides with underdog
2) Views the conflict in ways that do not lead to violent action on our part.
3) Self-critically accepts blame on West, thus empowering possible positive-sum solutions from our (and Israeli) changes in behavior
4) Considers poverty the cause, and economic development the answer to terrorism
5) Offers coherence in framing the conflict on both intellectual (explains events) and moral (identifies the bad guys and good guys) levels.
6) Abundance of data to fit
7) Academic consensus (MESA)
8) Criticizes the side that doesn’t respond violently to criticism (i.e., to attack them is without immediate cost).


  • 1) anomalies the PCP has difficulty explaining:
  • 2) Involves extensive use of inappropriate moral equivalences.
    3) Solutions backfire producing more, not less violence (Oslo, Lebanon and Gaza withdrawals).
    4) Robs “others” of their identity to fit them in our assigned categories — they are reactions to us.
    5) Ignores the role of Zero-sum behavior on the part of subalterns.
    6) Cannot register aggressive tendencies from “other” (racism, genocide, imperialism are Western sins).
    7) Excessive self-criticism makes it hard to spot the demopaths.
    8) Susceptibility to any narrative that fits the model (e.g., “Palestinian Victim Narrative”).
    9) Susceptibility to anti-semitic discourse disguised as anti-zionism
    10) Feeds resentment by appealing to a Moral Schadenfreude about Israel and the US (we feel better for pointing the finger at Israel)
    11) Suscepibility to conspiracy narratives (particularly the radical PCP2).


    1) Occupation.
    2) Naqbah.
    3) State-Sponsored Terrorism.
    4) Martyr operations/resistance.
    5) Even-handed press.


    1) Liberal Cognitive Egocentrism (LCE)
    2) Masochistic Omnipotence Syndrome (MOS)
    3) Human Rights Complex (HRC)


    1) Islam is a religion of peace.
    2) I’m sure the vast majority of Muslims/Palestinians want peace and a decent life.
    3) If only Israel would withdraw to the “Green Line” then the Palestinians would be satisfied.
    4) The cause of terrorism is poverty and despair.
    5) One man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter.
    6) Any Palestinian with a three-digit IQ knows that Israel is here to stay. (The Connection, ca. late 2002)
    7) What choice do they have? (re: suicide bombers) PCP1
    8) Resistance is not terror! (re: suicide bombing) PCP2
    9) Anti-zionism is not anti-Semitism.
    10) Zionism promotes anti-semitism.
    12) Anytime someone criticizes Israel (or Sharon), they’re accused of anti-Semitism.
    13) Occupation creates suicide bombers and ending occupation will put an end to suicide bombers.
    14) Most Arabs want democracy.
    15) Arabs want democracy but not US-style democracy.

    Underlying Grand Narrative
    : Once people, any people, even the Jews, get power they turn around and do to others, weaker people, what was done to them. This is the Athenian argument to the Melians, Nietzsche’s to the Judeo-Christian “slave morality,” and now appears to feed a certain moral Schadenfreude to those who enjoy applying it to the Jews in power, that is, Zionists.

    10 Responses to Paradigms and the Middle East Conflict: PCP 1 and 2

    1. […] lts of a retreat from Lebanon and Gaza (from 2000-2005). It illustrates well the power of PCP (”if we’re nice to them, they&#821 […]

    2. […] east-conflict-introduction/”>see: Paradigms and the Middle East Conflict: Introduction PCP (Politically Correct and Post-Colonial Paradig […]

    3. […] ilemma of Jews and non-Jews alike. They are so convinced that they have the key to peace (PCP), that they interpret any Israeli resistance t […]

    4. […] ritique of Western culture that dominates much of current Western thought. Here Richard Landes on his blog the Augean Stables […]

    5. […] binstein. The text of “Future Vision” illustrates all of the main themes of PCP2. It is a monument to demopathy, and it&#8217 […]

    6. […] Nazis? There are aa wide range of answers to this question: “revolutionary” post-colonial dogmatism, “realistic” […]

    7. […] post colonial critique of Western culture that dominates much of current Western thought. Here Richard Landes on his blog th […]

    8. […] er illustrates quite nicely. John Pilger is the posterboy for the Post-Colonial Paradigm (PCP2). Here he writes in response to 9-11 on the […]

    9. […] nd its exceptional success in the 21st century — we land with a thud in the world of PCP. The Middle East is a problem, could metastas […]

    10. […] sentence of an excellent overview from Landes’  website Augean Stables entitled Paradigms and the Middle East Conflict where he discusses the 2 paradigms: PCP1- Politically Correct Paradigm (Liberal)  and PCP2 – […]

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