What Can Muslims and Arabs Learn from the West and Israel? Response to CS

Chaim Shmuel left a long and challenging note in response to my post on the impact of the media on European Muslims. I got a similar complaint in a private email from one of my research assistants. It raises important questions and seems worthy of a separate post in response. (CS in blockquotes)

Comment:
the article by John Rosenthal is very, very interesting. however, i have a bone to pick with you. This seems to be your underlying motif, the core of every post you have at this site: “the only way the Arab world will ever achieve some semblance of democracy is in learning from the Israelis. But that would mean, of course, swallowing pride and learning some modesty”.

Actually, I never stated it quite as boldly as I did in this post, so I’m not sure it’s my underlying motif of every post, but I’ll own it nonetheless, even if I end up changing or clarifying substantially by the end of this discussion.

But what is the distinction that you always draw? ‘We’ bend over backwards for peace, for restraint, for international approval, while ‘they’ ruthlessly pursue jihad, manipulating us in the process. Therefore, ‘we’ are commendable, and ‘they’, despicable. But Israel, and more broadly, the Jews, always fail precisely when behave this way. They appear ridiculous and contemptible, and rightly so.


I’d be a good deal less sweeping in my language. 90% (or more) of the time that one is restrained and conciliatory in a civil society, it produces positive-sum results. It doesn’t “always fail.” It fails when you are dealing with an honor-shame culture at war with you, which views all your concessions as contemptible weakness. If you (we) continue to behave in such ways, continue to get blindsided by the violence our appeasement elicits, then we are indeed ridiculous. But I would never say that bending over backwards for peace and consensus is a bad thing. On the contrary, sacrifices for the sake of peace are great and generous deeds. Only in contexts where it clearly backfires and produces war does such behavior become problematic.

This bears a striking similarity to what the inmates say…
about their efforts at assimilation, which is very compelling. I found it quite believable, natural, and, resonant. For example: ‘“One imitates them,” he says, referring to “Westerners” in general, “and one thinks that’s good and one tries to become a little Westerner, even though the West despises us and finds us even more hideous when we imitate it. The Muslim loses his dignity and his sense of honor and becomes like a monkey who imitates his master: the West”’. We see clearly what the problem is, and it’s a very old, and very serious concern, both for individuals and for groups of any kind. If i’m not mistaken, before Herzl wrote The Jewish state, he was asking the pope for an audience so as to discuss a way of converting all the Jews. It was the Dreyfus affair that changed his mind…the inability to integrate into French society…

There’s a very important distinction to be made here between imitating and learning from other cultures. I’m not a fan of either imitation or assimilation, either for Jews or for Muslims (or Christians in a secular society for that matter). There’s an excellent book by Jonathan Sacks (Chief Rabbi of England) called The Dignity of Difference. The point I’m trying to make is that civil society has a set of rules that everyone can live by and still maintain their identity. It would be an enormous loss if Arab culture disappeared in an effort to ape Western styles; just as it is an enormous loss that Arab culture insists on identifying itself with the kind of prime-divider, authoritarian styles that have so far characterized the political culture in the Arab world, it will not only fail to “keep up” with the modern world, but will perpetually feel humiliated by its appalling performance.

What this adjustment without losing cultural specificity (both Arab and Muslim) would involve is really not clear. In a sense, it’s up to the Arabs and Muslims to negotiate that. There’s a joke about a British Jew who decides he’s going to assimilate, so he shaves his beard, cuts off his payyes, buys a three-piece pin-stripe suit, bowler hat and umbrella, and looks at himself in the mirror and starts to cry. “Don’t worry, Moishe,” his friend says, “you can grow the beard and payyes back.” “I’m not crying because of that,” Moishe responds with an English accent, “I’m crying because we lost India!” That kind of assimilation no one needs, not even the Brits.

It isn’t so good they found jihad, sure, especially for Jews, but you can see how vapid, how morally depraved Western society is, how reasonable it is for them to hate France, and the reasons they hate it. Let me clarify: Jihad, not reasonable. Hating France, reasonable.

This is an interesting formula. But I do think there are more interesting and generous ways to find your self-respect than turning to a really vicious form of vengeance for your lost honor. I don’t consider exploding in anger and seeking to destroy that which has rejected you, an honorable response. On the contrary, it suggests a fundamentally immature reaction, in which self-respect can only be retrieved by violence and dominance.

As for hating France… I have a very complicated relationship to the French. I’m a historian of medieval France; I admire certain aspects of their culture and think that they have contributed in their own way to the emergence of a free society. They also have major shortcomings – arrogance to hide insecurity, hypocrisy and self-deception to hide weakness, and a disastrous addiction to moral Schadenfreude that makes for a culture and politics of resentment. And all of these shortcomings are right now killing the French, like a man with a 300 Cholesterol count who insists on washing down his cheeseburgers with truffles. It may taste good, but freedom demands discipline, and self-indulgence can forfeit the hard-earned privileges of freedom.

I know plenty of people who have already written France (and Europe) off as lost to the Islamic demographic and ideological juggernaut. I don’t agree, although the prognosis is not great, especially as long as the Europeans refuse to acknowledge what they’re up against. (And here their media play a key role – hence my reference to the MSM as an Augean Stables.) But I think that French culture for all its shortcomings, is a distinct and valuable contribution to world culture, admirable in many ways. And if you feel free in hating the French (presumably for their hypocrisy and treachery to allies and their brown-nosing of enemies), then I think you have all kinds of reasons for hating the Arabs. Don’t fall prey to HRC, in which your indignation only falls on honkeys, and spares the “authentic” indigenous cultures of the world.

Of course you could say something like it’s their fault for not integrating, but that is not an adequate solution. Ok, so you say to them, you should be more like us. They have found a way to be more like us, at least ‘us’ before we go astray: they have stopped imitating the master, they stopped trying to be a part of a society that rejects them, which, i think, is pretty admirable. We should learn from them! They have sought and found a way to gain self-respect, and even, yes, honor.

There are, as far as I’ve been able to make out, at least two different kinds of honor – the honor of integrity, and the honor of dominion. When Judah says to Tamar (Genesis 38), “you are more righteous than I,” he loses his honor as dominion (humiliated in front of his fellow “big men,” when he could gain honor in their eyes by burning Tamar for shaming his household with her sexual promiscuity), but he gains honor in integrity. I have no problem with the Muslims of the West regaining their honor by rejecting the effort to assimilate with Western secular styles (which are, often, but not always, empty). But, if you will, they need to find a new form of Islamic identity, not regress to the “rule or be ruled” version of Islam that characterizes both Jihad and the Islamic empires it spawned.

Secular society is not necessarily hostile to religion. On the contrary, by demanding that its member renounce the drive to impose their own religion on others, by forcing religious people to articulate their beliefs in ways that attract rather than intimidate others, they bring out the best in religion. And by allowing everyone freedom of religion, they make it possible to live a dignified religious life without either being humiliated by others or corrupted by the effort to dominate others. My sense is that Islam, just as much as Christianity and Judaism, has the ability to generate an egalitarian religiosity that renounces the need to dominate. (This, by the way, is one of the big differences between the US and the Europeans. The latter have a tendency to show profound contempt for anyone who believes the “superstitious” nonsense of religion. As a result, they really have fewer cultural resources to resist the onslaught of a religion of fervent believers.)

This is a fundamental part of making peace with your surroundings, and it is a very widespread struggle, not just Islamic. Rosenthal notes: ‘It is important to note that in the most psychologically informative accounts, the primary feeling is of “not being French.” The “discovery” that the “authentic” — or, at any rate, “not French” — self is in fact Muslim is a secondary interpretation of this sense of “otherness.”’ Even if the outcome is terrible, you have to admit that the logic is valid, and those early years of Israel’s existence is proof of the manifestation of that inner desire to not be like everyone else.

Again, the logic is valid; but the “terrible” conclusion not valid both in terms of respect for one’s neighbors (let’s not forget that it’s French society with its commitments to freedom of religion that make it possible for these Muslims to pursue other options), and in terms of the very psychology of self-respect. They haven’t made a move towards real autonomy if they go from slavish imitation to blind destruction. Self-respect means, among other things, being more concerned with one’s own self-integrity than needing to either beg or force others to give you respect.

Why would they want to be like Israel?

From their point of view? They want Israel’s power, and, I suspect, many of them also would like Israel’s freedoms. It’s just a question of whether they’re willing to give up the freedoms of a prime-divider society, like honor-killings.

Israel could not even outrank the United Arab Emirates in the list of most corrupt countries, and that is just one in a host of problems with the country. (http://www.transparency.org/news_room/in_focus/cpi_2006/cpi_table)

I visited this site. I don’t have time to examine what their criteria are, but it looks less than convincing. Remember that Reporters without Borders had Israel below the Palestinian Authority in “freedom of the press” in their first annual rankings (2002). I would want an extensive view of the data that lies behind this list before I took it seriously.

Beyond that, your remark is a good example of what I’d call “prophetic rhetoric” (which I’d now say has become so common as to appear “accurate.” There is a huge difference between what counts (and appears publicly) as corruption in a civil society like Israel’s, and Arab (or for that matter, most “third world”) countries. In most places, corruption is the norm, not noticed, not denounced, largely legitimate (civil servants are paid a pittance and expected to get bribes to keep afloat). When there’s a corruption scandal in Africa, an Africanist friend of mine told me, the reaction of most people is “what a fool to have gotten caught.” You, however, not only want to compare Israel (a society in which the Prime Minister can resign because his wife had $10,000 illegally in a foreign account) with a society in which, as Bernard Lewis put it, wealth is acquired by “taking, not making,” but you also want to claim it’s inferior. As a spur to “shaming” Israelis into become less corrupt, that’s okay, I suppose. But don’t think that with this rhetoric you’re describing reality.

The fundamental problem is that Israel is becoming like any other Western nation, whose people are concerned basically with leading an affluent, comfortable, easy life, kind of like this one: “But my ideal was to be French, to act like the French: to have my wife, my kids, my car, my apartment, my house in the country, to become an average Frenchman and live in peace. . .”

First, I’d like to say something on behalf of affluence. We all have the desire and capacity to enjoy this world… its sensual and intellectual, as well as its spiritual possibilities. It is part and parcel of being a compassionate and loving human being to want to make life good for oneself and others (starting with one’s children, family and friends). In most cultures, the ability to enjoy this world is overwhelmingly reserved for the elites (alpha males and their families). Civil society and (primitive) capitalism have made it possible for those benefits to accrue to a much wider range of people who are willing to work for it – “make not take.” (This means, among other things, that one must overcome the typically elitist contempt for manual labor: even if one doesn’t do it oneself, at least have respect for those who do.)

As far as I can make out, the laws laid out in Exodus and Deuteronomy are the earliest extant political program for a society of free peasants, people who walk upright (as opposed to the deference one must pay the elites in prime-divider societies), work the land, and eat to their fill (including meat, generally the preserve of the aristocracy). The idea of a society of free people who work and enjoy the fruits of their labor strikes me as a particularly noble idea… and not one that demands a particular religious adherence. It’s not a question of creed, but of morality. As one commoner in a Spanish medieval market put it, “I don’t care if I’m dealing with a Muslim, a Christian, or a Jew. I care if he’s honest.”

The problem with the West is not the bourgeois dream, it’s the vapid, materialistic existence that such dreams can induce. That’s precisely why I’m not a fan of assimilation. On one level, the whole materialistic rat-race is one of the conspicuous consumption of keeping up with the Joneses, of pinning one’s identity to the opinions of others rather than taking delight in what one has and has earned. (Ultimately, I think that too comes down to a failure to disengage from honor-shame culture.)

Voter turnout was the lowest it has ever been this past election. One Rabbi here in Boston asked me if I had been to Israel. I said yes, I stayed in Tel Aviv. He said, chuckling, but Tel Aviv isn’t Israel; it’s a suburb of Los Angeles.

The original vision was to make it the eastern Mediterranean Barcelona. But even as such, it’s got its own distinct character. Not everyone’s cup of tea, but surely attractive to many. But it’s not a cultural catastrophe. Israel is not just Tel Aviv (despite what many Tel Avivis think). As for voting patterns, Israel still have one of the highest rates of turnout in the Western world. Just as the world is divided between people who have too much and not enough (food, attention, time, freedom), so are countries divided between people who would love the privilege of voting, and those who spurn it. But again, avoid the prophetic rhetoric, certainly if you want to discuss “reality.”

We see plainly from Rosenthal’s article there is absolutely no reason for the Arabs or Muslims to want to be more like us, at least not the present incarnation of us, unless we want them to have the same kind of reaction they do with the French.

I think you’ve focused on the least attractive aspects of the West (us), given a pass the least attractive in the Arab world, and end up misgauging the situation. As a historian who works on prime-divider societies, in which the elite systematically oppresses and the commoners (for the sake of stability, of course), I can assure you that modern western, secular society has accomplished miracles; that there is a great deal to admire and want to learn from (note! Not mimic). And I think many Arabs and Muslims, even if they won’t admit it, feel that way.

What I meant when I said the Arabs could learn from Israel is not that they imitate it, but that they learn lessons from it about the nature of freedom (of speech) and mutual respect (including of women). Again, you can roll your eyes and say, “Israelis? Mutual respect? You must be kidding.” But that response itself, I think, shows how little you appreciate the enormous efforts at preserving freedom and mutual respect that make Israeli society – under pressures never before experienced by a civil society – possible. Just talk to a secular Jew – who may dislike the religious Jews a great deal — but nonetheless accepts the idea that they not serve in the army. He may want them to do national service, but he understands that their culture cannot survive the impact of army service, and, however disgruntled, accepts the importance of that culture’s survival. Israeli is astonishingly accepting of diversity.

Were cultures who have yet to develop a system that works by the rules of civil society — equality before the law, tolerance, freedoms of press and assembly, etc. — that repects their own culture’s deeper elements, including religion, that individuates without falling into the trap of a soulless scientism and techonological indulgence that threatens the planet with its excess appetite, then I’d say we have a great deal to learn from them.

7 Responses to What Can Muslims and Arabs Learn from the West and Israel? Response to CS

  1. Webloggin says:

    What Can Muslims and Arabs Learn from the West and Israel …

    The Iraq Study Group seriously proposes that we have a nice little coffee klatch with Iran as one of the ways to resolve the situation in the Middle East, putting the group in comfortably with many Democrats and all Europeans. Put aside the fact that …

  2. Abu Nundnik says:

    The comment about Herzl’s attempt, before the Dreyfus affair, to meet the pope to discuss mass conversions of the Jews is particularly interesting, and in itself a superb refutation of the spurious connection made between Zionism and so-called “Jewish supremicism.”

    It strikes me that, other than that, Mr. Shmuel falls into the most common political trap there is, which is to seem to prefer absolute perfection to simple goodness. Many critics of the West seem to be unable to look beyond the flaws of a culture to see the grandeur beneath. Criticism of Western materialism is as exaggerated today by the Muslim world as it was by the Soviets who, following Dialectical Materialism, argued that bread is what feeds man and the rest is so much opiate. What could possibly be more matericalistic than that? And why exactly is the Muslim world so threatened by the West’s cultural siren call anyhow if it isn’t sorely tempted?

    It’s time to say that people are largely responsible for their own failures, their own thoughts, their own desires. Certainly Muhammed was right when he called the inner struggle the Great Jihad. Just as Islam can learn much from us, we also can learn much from them. Why not? That is, after all, the only way knowledge comes: it’s an exchange.

  3. Chaim Shmuel says:

    I’d be a good deal less sweeping in my language. 90% (or more) of the time that one is restrained and conciliatory in a civil society, it produces positive-sum results. It doesn’t “always fail.” It fails when you are dealing with an honor-shame culture at war with you, which views all your concessions as contemptible weakness. If you (we) continue to behave in such ways, continue to get blindsided by the violence our appeasement elicits, then we are indeed ridiculous. But I would never say that bending over backwards for peace and consensus is a bad thing. On the contrary, sacrifices for the sake of peace are great and generous deeds. Only in contexts where it clearly backfires and produces war does such behavior become problematic.

    Even in a civil society, people who are too conciliatory appear weak and thereby suffer a loss of honor. The difference, yes, is that western countries have institutions in place to prevent degeneration into violence, and so a court victory will restore honor in lieu of a bloody massacre. I think—and I’m certainly no expert—that Western countries have managed to institutionalize and bureaucratize the necessity of maintaining honor, but that in no way obviates this aspect of social relations; it simply makes it harder to talk about (cf. France, as honor-shame as any other country there). The Cold War rhetoric was fraught with these domino-effect, we-can’t-show-weakness sound bites. Would you characterize the US and USSR as honor-shame societies? Both very educated, very advanced (in some respects)…I get the sense sometimes that for you civil-society is a panacea, and that if only the Arabs had civil society (like Israel), then Israel’s “great and generous deeds” (again, I’m not sure how angelic Israel is in all this, especially the current leadership, which is scandal after scandal and failure after failure) would finally go rewarded. I’m not so sure about this; and what I meant about Jews is that they fail when they try to be like everyone else, precisely when they try to play by ‘the same rules’ (your definition of a civil society). Look at the UN, and how much of a hypocritical debacle that has been, viz. Israel.

    There’s a very important distinction to be made here between imitating and learning from other cultures. I’m not a fan of either imitation or assimilation, either for Jews or for Muslims (or Christians in a secular society for that matter). There’s an excellent book by Jonathan Sacks (Chief Rabbi of England) called The Dignity of Difference. The point I’m trying to make is that civil society has a set of rules that everyone can live by and still maintain their identity. It would be an enormous loss if Arab culture disappeared in an effort to ape Western styles; just as it is an enormous loss that Arab culture insists on identifying itself with the kind of prime-divider, authoritarian styles that have so far characterized the political culture in the Arab world, it will not only fail to “keep up” with the modern world, but will perpetually feel humiliated by its appalling performance.

    What exactly is your conception of the ‘Arab culture’ that could be lost? Can you name some of its traits, or contributions, or just things about it that you like? Could you bring some examples of this for Muslim culture? I understand that this is not your area of expertise, but still, maybe you have some ideas. The reason I ask is not to insinuate that they have nothing to contribute, but to perhaps suggest that they don’t feel like they have anything to contribute, which makes them feel impotent, and hence enraged. The fact is that France, at least legally, has given all their immigrants the same rules to play by, and it obviously hasn’t helped. Now, there are a number of possible explanations for this, but one major factor is the fact that the French nationals pre-immigration now have to share their benefits with all these people they look down upon, and since there can’t be legal discrimination, they resort to more subtle measures of restoring their honor, which is to say, subordinating others. In other words, because they have the civil society (legal equality), they can’t talk about it in the open; but that doesn’t make anything go away, it only makes the thing fester, as you’ve astutely pointed out.
    I agree that “a really vicious form of vengeance for your lost honor” is not commendable. Nevertheless, it appears highly unreasonable for you to demand, given your presumed understanding and acknowledgment of the plight of the alienated (and I don’t say it with ‘HRC complex’ or whatever) French youths, for them to look to emulate Israel. The point is, you have to look inside when the outside rejects you. It’s condescending and almost insulting to say, ‘look at your (perceived) enemy, look at how well they’re doing, why don’t you just calm down and get a pen and paper.’
    I mention Jews in this context because since the 19th century, this has been the major struggle for Judaism: how to maintain Jewish identity without assimilating. Jews, trained by centuries of isolation, could only come up with an iron cultural mechitza, in or out. Many Orthodox Jewish sects begged Napoleon not to emancipate the Jews for this very reason. Muslims have more of a reproduce-and-conquer philosophy, in that they have been trained by centuries of dominating others, but the process of soul-searching is the same, and it is the most difficult balance to find. The descendants (genetic, not ideological) of Moses Mendelssohn, of Herzl, are gone from Judaism.
    Again, I want to stress the near-impossibility of looking without when the ‘without’ rejects you, NOT the justification of jihad or other such nonsense.
    I don’t hate France, and I don’t hate the Arabs. I do think, however, that Israel, and the Jews, need to find strength from within and quit behaving like such appeasers. In this I agree with you completely, but I would go further and say that at least this Israeli government is doing everything they can to ruin any chance of peace PRECISELY BY bending over backwards for peace, and is therefore not commendable. I don’t know what the aims of the leadership is—it’s been a puzzle since disengagement—but whatever they are, I strongly doubt their good intentions, and as such don’t find them a model for emulation.

    There are, as far as I’ve been able to make out, at least two different kinds of honor – the honor of integrity, and the honor of dominion. When Judah says to Tamar (Genesis 38), “you are more righteous than I,” he loses his honor as dominion (humiliated in front of his fellow “big men,” when he could gain honor in their eyes by burning Tamar for shaming his household with her sexual promiscuity), but he gains honor in integrity. I have no problem with the Muslims of the West regaining their honor by rejecting the effort to assimilate with Western secular styles (which are, often, but not always, empty). But, if you will, they need to find a new form of Islamic identity, not regress to the “rule or be ruled” version of Islam that characterizes both Jihad and the Islamic empires it spawned.
    Secular society is not necessarily hostile to religion. On the contrary, by demanding that its member renounce the drive to impose their own religion on others, by forcing religious people to articulate their beliefs in ways that attract rather than intimidate others, they bring out the best in religion. And by allowing everyone freedom of religion, they make it possible to live a dignified religious life without either being humiliated by others or corrupted by the effort to dominate others. My sense is that Islam, just as much as Christianity and Judaism, has the ability to generate an egalitarian religiosity that renounces the need to dominate. (This, by the way, is one of the big differences between the US and the Europeans. The latter have a tendency to show profound contempt for anyone who believes the “superstitious” nonsense of religion. As a result, they really have fewer cultural resources to resist the onslaught of a religion of fervent believers.)

    In which category of honor would you cast the story of Shimon and Levi murdering the entire town of Shechem, after they made all the male inhabitants perform a circumcision and waited until the third day, when they were in the greatest pain? Genesis 34:30-1:
    30. Thereupon, Jacob said to Simeon and to Levi, “You have troubled me, to discredit me among the inhabitants of the land, among the Canaanites and among the Perizzites, and I am few in number, and they will gather against me, and I and my household will be destroyed.”
    31. And they said, “Shall he make our sister like a harlot?”
    (http://www.chabad.org/parshah/rashi/default.asp?AID=15554)
    Ok so they did not kill Dinah, but this seems like classic honor-shame to me…And the tradition casts them as righteous!
    I think religion has yet to find an answer for secularism, and vice-versa, and as of now the two forces are hostile to each other, though, yes, not necessarily so. There are major clashes going on in the United States about intelligent design, abortion, prayer in public schools, and the separation of church and state in general, which seems to me to suggest anything but a harmonious relationship. Both the secular and religious camps are growing more extreme as a result. Ok so you may say, well at least American evangelicals are not killing those they oppose (even though abortion clinics are often attacked), but the difference between using the system to assert your honor and improvising a system to assert it is not as great as you make it out to be.
    Now we are living in a sort of post-nation world, ‘globalized’, if you will. Consumer products are emerging as the new transnational identity (or at least an attractive option), which, I hope you’ll agree, is extremely unfulfilling. I think Western society is as materialistic as it’s ever been, and this logically leads to a religious backlash.

    Again, the logic is valid; but the “terrible” conclusion not valid both in terms of respect for one’s neighbors (let’s not forget that it’s French society with its commitments to freedom of religion that make it possible for these Muslims to pursue other options), and in terms of the very psychology of self-respect. They haven’t made a move towards real autonomy if they go from slavish imitation to blind destruction. Self-respect means, among other things, being more concerned with one’s own self-integrity than needing to either beg or force others to give you respect.
    The last sentence is puzzling: “Self-respect means, among other things, being more concerned with one’s own self-integrity than needing to either beg or force others to give you respect.” I’m not sure how the definition of self-respect involves not only already having self-integrity (which is remarkably similar to self-respect, in which case the sentence is tautological), but being MORE concerned with it than any respect others can give you. Despite the clumsy phrasing, I suspect what you mean (and I am sure you will not hesitate to correct me if I’m wrong) is that “slavish imitation” and “blind destruction” (“[to] beg or [to] force others to give you respect,” respectively) are not valid forms of obtaining self-respect. By extension, you seem to imply that you have to have self-respect before others can respect you. If that’s the case, I agree with you entirely. You have to be a mensch. But how does one become a mensch? What is “the psychology of self-respect” according to The Augean Stables? To me, it implies finding an identity which gives your life meaning, which is necessarily an introspective process, and I think it is obvious that the Franco-Israeli nationalistic model of systemic equality and potential affluence is not an appealing one, and it is not difficult for me to see why, even if at times I have difficulty articulating it.
    From their point of view? They want Israel’s power, and, I suspect, many of them also would like Israel’s freedoms. It’s just a question of whether they’re willing to give up the freedoms of a prime-divider society, like honor-killings.

    Ok, the ‘they’ has now become two different groups, as far as I can tell: French inmates like in Rosenthal’s article/secular Muslims who hate Israel, and other fanatical Muslims in the Arab/Muslim world who hate Israel, and probably don’t commit honor killings. The former group—you suggest—would trade their position for, essentially, the economic success and affluence that Israel enjoys (because, in a civil society, you have to make some sacrifices), which, as the Rosenthal article clearly demonstrated, only radicalized them when they had it or a shot at it in France (probably more of a chance there than in Israel)…so that conclusion is dubious. The second group is probably on top of their miserable societies and would probably have even less interest in being like Israel.

    I visited this site. I don’t have time to examine what their criteria are, but it looks less than convincing. Remember that Reporters without Borders had Israel below the Palestinian Authority in “freedom of the press” in their first annual rankings (2002). I would want an extensive view of the data that lies behind this list before I took it seriously.
    Beyond that, your remark is a good example of what I’d call “prophetic rhetoric” (which I’d now say has become so common as to appear “accurate.” There is a huge difference between what counts (and appears publicly) as corruption in a civil society like Israel’s, and Arab (or for that matter, most “third world”) countries. In most places, corruption is the norm, not noticed, not denounced, largely legitimate (civil servants are paid a pittance and expected to get bribes to keep afloat). When there’s a corruption scandal in Africa, an Africanist friend of mine told me, the reaction of most people is “what a fool to have gotten caught.” You, however, not only want to compare Israel (a society in which the Prime Minister can resign because his wife had $10,000 illegally in a foreign account) with a society in which, as Bernard Lewis put it, wealth is acquired by “taking, not making,” but you also want to claim it’s inferior. As a spur to “shaming” Israelis into become less corrupt, that’s okay, I suppose. But don’t think that with this rhetoric you’re describing reality.

    Ok, the country report for TI was written by an Israeli, and their Israel bureau is staffed by Israelis. Now, you might say something like, it’s obviously a testament to Israeli society’s highly self-critical, outward-looking, free-press-committed attempt to ‘bend over backwards for peace.’ Or, you will, as you do here, call into question the integrity of the institution by dispensing a handy acronym from your arsenal to describe just why it is that they are biased against Israel. In both cases, the actual crime of which Israel is accused is passed over.
    For every example you bring of how transparent and well-meaning Israel is, I can bring you two of how endemically corrupt or incompetent the leadership is. Sharon and his sons (one, or both, curiously on the same party list as their father) have had investigations for corruption pending against them for a while; Olmert brings Avigdor Liberman (a man with ties to the Russian mafia and a virtual dictator of his own party) into the government as strategic minister against Iran and the first thing he says is, ‘it’s not our problem, let the international community deal with it’; After damning reports against the highest military echelons for its failure in Lebanon, Peretz promotes (promotes!) the brigadier generals; soldiers report that their orders changed hourly, that their equipment was horribly inadequate (the accounts are worthy of Joseph Heller, if only it wasn’t so tragic); the settlers kicked out of gush katif are still living in hotels; an Israeli I recently met told me that ‘we have three stooges in government: Olmert, Peretz and Halutz’; I won’t even get into the Rabin assassination, which, by the way, your man Shahaf did a lot of work on. Please, don’t give me the batting averages spiel. You think that because you can’t bribe a cop on the street in Jerusalem that everything is going smoothly. If Israel is so great and transparent, how come the same men have been in politics for decades? Doesn’t that seem odd to you? Are they really so popular to be reelected all the time? Or is that in Israel you don’t vote for people, you vote for parties…

    I don’t claim that Israel is inferior; for sure it’s a better place to live than a lot of places, but so what? Of course, if you compare with Gaza, Israel is Norway, but this also is not grounded in reality, it’s “escapist rhetoric”. I think it’s phenomenal that Israel is held to a higher standard than other places, and attempts to blame the Arabs and the Western press for Israel’s woes is a ‘blue pill.’ Israel should be held to a higher standard, and Israelis and Jews in particular, have to be five times better than they think they are. My family is from the former USSR, so maybe my mentality is not yours, but my mother, my grandfather, always told me that Jews had to excel well above and beyond their peers, and even me, who went to Jewish day school in the US, had the same pressure. They are reacting to us; as goes Israel, as go the Jews, so goes everything else. Please don’t misunderstand; I am not advocating weakness, or concession, or LCE or HRC or a-through-z. On the contrary, the leadership’s vacillations are killing us. Look, it’s obvious that we’re better than the Arabs and that’s why they hate us. But why stop there? This is a great comfort for you? We have to be even better, and stronger than what we are now. Europe, the UN, the Arabs, they look down on us because we don’t have self-respect, and that self-respect is found only on the inside.

    First, I’d like to say something on behalf of affluence. We all have the desire and capacity to enjoy this world… its sensual and intellectual, as well as its spiritual possibilities. It is part and parcel of being a compassionate and loving human being to want to make life good for oneself and others (starting with one’s children, family and friends). In most cultures, the ability to enjoy this world is overwhelmingly reserved for the elites (alpha males and their families). Civil society and (primitive) capitalism have made it possible for those benefits to accrue to a much wider range of people who are willing to work for it – “make not take.” (This means, among other things, that one must overcome the typically elitist contempt for manual labor: even if one doesn’t do it oneself, at least have respect for those who do.)

    One’s children? People in the West aren’t even having children anymore, probably because life is too good to bother with waking up at 2 am to tend to a screaming baby…but even if they did, there would be people available at low cost to change their diapers and babysit (or tv when babysitters are lacking) them and so forth. What are the benefits that have accrued to a much wider range of people who are willing to work for it? Ok, electricity, running water, all these things are fantastic, but when people in rural Brazil who don’t have these things spend money on satellite TV, do you consider this a victory for capitalism? I agree, we live better now than we did before, but after (and in some cases even before) the body is taken care of, one needs to tend to the mind, and the soul, and in the West this has been done via consumerism (really just an extension of tending to the body) which is the hallmark of affluence, and boy have we exported (cf. Japan post WWII) that notion, and boy have we wrought a vapid world. I’m sorry, given the proliferation of mass entertainment and products, I just don’t see how that is a vindication of capitalism, or the West, and I again have to side more with the inmates than you on this one. One could make an argument that civil society, equally before the law, has become equality before the store, that is, equality through products (Ipod does a great job of marketing an identity with cross-cultural appeal) It’s not working, our societal model is not working. (and I think elites in the West do detest manual labor, hence the importation of immigrants—to do the jobs the French/Americans/Israelis refused to do because life is too good).

    As far as I can make out, the laws laid out in Exodus and Deuteronomy are the earliest extant political program for a society of free peasants, people who walk upright (as opposed to the deference one must pay the elites in prime-divider societies), work the land, and eat to their fill (including meat, generally the preserve of the aristocracy). The idea of a society of free people who work and enjoy the fruits of their labor strikes me as a particularly noble idea… and not one that demands a particular religious adherence.

    Affluent people haven’t worked the land for a long, long time. I’ll have to review Exodus and Deuteronomy and get back to you on this noble vision.

    It’s not a question of creed, but of morality. As one commoner in a Spanish medieval market put it, “I don’t care if I’m dealing with a Muslim, a Christian, or a Jew. I care if he’s honest.”
    The problem with the West is not the bourgeois dream, it’s the vapid, materialistic existence that such dreams can induce.

    And which existence the West has refused to denounce, and has in fact embraced. And you say my ‘prophetic rhetoric’ is not descriptive of reality…Your emphasis on the dream of Manifest Destiny and the Industrial Revolution and the First and Second Aliyahs have long since evaporated, and ONLY the nightmare has remained. The notion I get from statements like this one “The problem with the West is not the bourgeois dream” is that you are refusing to acknowledge a dream gone horribly wrong, and are refusing to face the consequences of that failure, which is exactly at the root of the motivations at least of the affluent jihadist demographic; remember, Islam is just picking up the ball we’ve dropped, like the USSR was doing back in the day when disaffected youth were sick of the US and capitalism. Fortunately, people came to their senses then, and hopefully they will now, but that doesn’t change the people who go for such revolutionary (I don’t mean politically) and aggressively proselytizing creeds. The inmates are France’s problem, and, since France is a major player in the West, culturally, it is the West’s problem. I clarify again: that’s not to suggest appeasement, but introspection on our part.

    That’s precisely why I’m not a fan of assimilation. On one level, the whole materialistic rat-race is one of the conspicuous consumption of keeping up with the Joneses, of pinning one’s identity to the opinions of others rather than taking delight in what one has and has earned. (Ultimately, I think that too comes down to a failure to disengage from honor-shame culture.)

    The problem is that people haven’t earned anything, they’ve just bought it. I agree, people have to work for what they have, they must toil, and struggle, and ‘till the land.’ But it has been a long time since we have tilled the land, and the inmates realize this, that we are decadent, and, frankly, they’re right.

    The original vision was to make it the eastern Mediterranean Barcelona. But even as such, it’s got its own distinct character. Not everyone’s cup of tea, but surely attractive to many. But it’s not a cultural catastrophe. Israel is not just Tel Aviv (despite what many Tel Avivis think). As for voting patterns, Israel still have one of the highest rates of turnout in the Western world. Just as the world is divided between people who have too much and not enough (food, attention, time, freedom), so are countries divided between people who would love the privilege of voting, and those who spurn it. But again, avoid the prophetic rhetoric, certainly if you want to discuss “reality.”
    Again, you console yourself with your ‘escapist rhetoric’: ‘still have one of the highest voter turnout…’ Israelis should have 100% voting turnout! Apathy is not an option for the Jew, nor the Israeli.
    I think you’ve focused on the least attractive aspects of the West (us), given a pass the least attractive in the Arab world, and end up misgauging the situation. As a historian who works on prime-divider societies, in which the elite systematically oppresses and the commoners (for the sake of stability, of course), I can assure you that modern western, secular society has accomplished miracles; that there is a great deal to admire and want to learn from (note! Not mimic). And I think many Arabs and Muslims, even if they won’t admit it, feel that way.

    I have not once given the Arabs a pass for anything. In fact, I have explicitly said that I do not condone their actions in any way. Understanding where someone is coming from is one thing; giving credence to their responses is quite another. Yes, I agree there is a great deal to admire and learn from the West, which is why Hamas and Hezbollah are winning DEMOCRATICALLY. Ok, so let’s assume they’ve learned democracy, a system we seem to think is incredibly infallible. Now what? They are still electing islamofascists. I assume they have more to learn then, right? Or could it be that we are not teaching well, or the material is outdated?
    I’ll concede that I am focusing on the least attractive aspects of Western culture, but you have to admit that you are presenting a near-infallible and miraculous Israel, which is just as inaccurate.

    What I meant when I said the Arabs could learn from Israel is not that they imitate it, but that they learn lessons from it about the nature of freedom (of speech) and mutual respect (including of women).

    Why should they learn from Israel? Why not from the caliphates in the 10th and 11th century who showed remarkable freedoms for that age? Why not from Scandinavian countries? Why not Canada? I think everyone has a lot to learn from Canada, even Israel.

    Again, you can roll your eyes and say, “Israelis? Mutual respect? You must be kidding.” But that response itself, I think, shows how little you appreciate the enormous efforts at preserving freedom and mutual respect that make Israeli society – under pressures never before experienced by a civil society – possible. Just talk to a secular Jew – who may dislike the religious Jews a great deal — but nonetheless accepts the idea that they not serve in the army. He may want them to do national service, but he understands that their culture cannot survive the impact of army service, and, however disgruntled, accepts the importance of that culture’s survival. Israeli is astonishingly accepting of diversity.

    Here I have to disagree. The secular Jew is not reproducing; the orthodox Jew is, and the Muslim is. The state of Jewish demographics is alarming, and, again, life is too good for children, so the secular Jew has to respect the fact that the religious is keeping him alive just as much as the case is in reverse. Also, there is a huge friction between religious and secular Jews (Shinui was a party whose ONLY PLATFORM was to get rid of religiousness; Begin, or Ben-Gurion, can’t recall which, said something like, soon you’ll see the religious Jew only in the museum, gay pride parades in Jerusalem, El Al flying on Shabbat, the founding tenets of the State of Israel, etc). And, finally, pikuach nefesh allows religious Jews to fight on shabbos and so forth (at least in the Lubavitch sect). Again, your portrait of a harmonious, we-can-work-it-out, gesher-tzar-me’od Israeli civil society is not so accurate, or convincing

    Were cultures who have yet to develop a system that works by the rules of civil society — equality before the law, tolerance, freedoms of press and assembly, etc. — that repects their own culture’s deeper elements, including religion, that individuates without falling into the trap of a soulless scientism and techonological indulgence that threatens the planet with its excess appetite, then I’d say we have a great deal to learn from them.

    Yes, obviously it’s a trade-off. However, your conclusion, “…then I’d say we have a great deal to learn from them” seems to imply that we (the West, Israel) are the cream of the crop right now. Even if I grant this dubious assertion, it in itself is not something that we should be so proud of, especially given some of the many drawbacks illuminated here, by the inmates, and in many other places.

  4. M. Simon says:

    In America Martin Luther King found an answer to non-acceptance that assumed acceptance and framed his struggle.

    “We are Americans too and demand that Americans treat us as such.” was the guiding principle.

    We haven’t straightened it all out (The Nation of Islam is a case in point – funny name that) however, we have come a long way.

    As some one pointed out elsewhere – where is the Islamic MLK? We have plenty of Islamic Malcom Xs (in his more firery days) and Huey Newtons.

    There are ways to solve problems and there are ways to start a civil war. Or a war for civilization even.

    Now I’m going back to read that long comment by Chiam.

  5. M. Simon says:

    Chiam says:

    the difference between using the system to assert your honor and improvising a system to assert it is not as great as you make it out to be.

    That may be true. However it is the difference between the civilized and the barbarians.

    So in the end it is a great difference indeed.

    =====

    I’ll probably have more to say as I read on.

    Chiam, you have to tighten up your arguments.

    Me? I type one handed with two fingers so I have to spend more time thinking and less time typing.

  6. M. Simon says:

    Let me reformat that:

    Chiam says:

    the difference between using the system to assert your honor and improvising a system to assert it is not as great as you make it out to be.

    That may be true. However it is the difference between the civilized and the barbarians.

    So in the end it is a great difference indeed.

    =====

    I’ll probably have more to say as I read on.

    Chiam, you have to tighten up your arguments.

    Me? I type one handed with two fingers so I have to spend more time thinking and less time typing.

  7. M. Simon says:

    Chiam,

    Let me see if I get this: goat herders are spiritual. Kings in their castles (most folks in the West) are not.

    Wealth creates apathy. etc.

    The one thing you are forgetting is the lessons of WW2. The Germans and the Japanese had a similar view of the west in general and America in particular. History proved them incorrect.

    What history showed is that you have to kick the west very hard to get a response. However, that response when in motion is more utterly ruthless than anything the Huns and the Japs expected. Hiroshima being the exclamation point to a ruthless military campaign that including firebombing so many Japanese cities that the Americans had to put off taking out a few so that the effects of the bombs could be ascertained. The Americans were running out of cities to burn.

    The jihadis do not want to go there.

    Let us hope that the Islamic supremacists do not kick that hard. For their sakes.

    ========================

    The American religion is truth, justice, and a great deal of tolerance (the American way). Fine principles to live by even if there is no “Maker” behind it.

    The dedication to truth is a spiritual discipline. I work among engineers and they are some of the most spiritual people you would ever want to meet. The universe keeps them honest.

    Americans being richer have way more temptations than the Euros and yet we are way more religious (which may be a marker for spiritual). Americans as individuals are way more generous than the Euros as individuals. Why? Because the state is not our extended family. It is functional not familial.

    I think this is an accident of history (the place where WW1 and WW2 were fought, the intolerance of German fascism, socialism as the dominant economic model, etc.) Capitalism has done a pretty good job of keeping America from falling into that trap.

    The European model is corporate socialism i.e. 1930s Germany without the race hatred. The state is responsible for the individual in the same way a sheep herder is responsible for individual sheep. In other words an aristocracy that treats the people like a herd of sheep or cows. America never had an aristocracy.

    I guess I’m starting to ramble. I’ll be back another day to see if there are any replies.

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