Monthly Archives: April 2007

Finkielkraut on Why the Left has “Chosen” the Palestinian People

I had intended to put this piece up with some commentary. No time for that, as I leave tonight for three week trip in which I will leave my laptop behind. (Those who know me are probably gasping at this news.) So instead let me just post it. It’s not a new essay, about two years old, but Finkielkraut is exceptionally perceptive, and his analysis of why the Palestinians are the “chosen people” of the Left strikes me as particularly significant.

Perhaps one of the greatest travesties of the current situation is that the “progressive” camp, filled with concern for the “other” should turn to the Israeli-Arab conflict and assault the Israelis for being insensitive and closed to the “other.” A brief conversation with Arabs and Muslims that has the courage to probe rather than ingratiate, will rapidly reveal how little the Jewish/Israeli “other” has any value when it’s a matter of “face.” For the Islamist, the “other” is “to be converted,” and when he refuses, he clearly designates himself as an enemy.

There is a woman in an Israeli prison cell who brought the suicide terrorist who blew up Sbarro Pizza in August of 2001. She expresses regret at the loss of the terrorist — “I was just with a human being and now he’s gone” — but none for his victims, families, children. “They are not Muslim.” In terms of sensitivity to the human “other” very few ideologies and people rank lower on the modern scale of values than Muslims and Palestinians. But Israel gets blamed for this particular sin.

Perhaps the most striking element of the modern progressive concern for the “other” — and one of the great ironies of our “other”-oriented post-modern age — is that the “other” is really an abstract. He or she has no face, no autonomy, no concrete presence and personality — a mental construct. And so despite all the concern in Western thought about meeting, experiencing, and dialoguing with the “other” — itself an exceptional (and civic) cultural development — the most prominent practitioners seem the least ready to really meet, really experience, and really speak with the Muslim “other.” And anyone who dares suggest that the experience might not be very pleasant is banished as an Islamophobe.

We may be committing suicide with our lack of willingness to have the courage to live up to our own values and actually encounter the “other” as an “other” and not as a pleasing projection onto the cosmic coffin of our narcissistic souls.

The Religion of Humanity and the Sin of the Jews

“I am a man,” the old-time humanist used to say, “and nothing that is human is foreign to me.” By bringing what was once remote within reach, mass media has made this timeless maxim seem like a cliché. Yet today’s humanist nonetheless seems foreign or indifferent to everything human save for the suffering of the Palestinians. Palestine torments him, obsesses him, preys on his mind. And if his attention should stray, it is only to focus instead on conflicts or calamities that can be related, through correlation or causality, to this basic drama. As the French philosopher Étienne Balibar has put it, Palestine is now a “Universal Cause.”

To what does Palestine owe this extraordinary privilege? What is the source of this unequaled, unprecedented fixation? Why has the keffiyeh become a universal symbol of rebellion? And finally, why the Palestinians, and not the Chechens, the Tibetans, the Bosnians, the Tutsis, or the Sudanese?

A letter I received recently helped explain things. “How can a sensitive, intelligent people that has suffered and that knows what it means to be decimated,” my correspondent asked, referring to the Jews in a tone more afflicted than vindictive, “inflict upon another people, in no way responsible for its condition, fifty years of brutality, murder, and despoliation?” Both the accusation and the dating of it are telling: A persecuted nation that has been persecuting in turn for half a century. It is the Holocaust, then, that makes the territories occupied by Israel the locus of crime; it is the trauma of the destruction of European Jews that inexhaustibly fuels international sympathy for the suffering of the Palestinians. I would even say that for my correspondent to have so readily dated the scandal of the “occupation” not from the Six Day War, but from the creation of the Jewish state, the post-Hitlerian impulse to ignore all that came after Auschwitz must be deeply ingrained indeed. “Fifty years of brutality,” the correspondent declared. So did an angry caller to the French radio program Là-bas Si J’y Suis in June 2001:

About Me: A(n Unknown) Friend Challenges Me

I am about to leave for three weeks with my wife to East Asia, where I have not been since my undergraduate years in 1968. I will be leaving the blog inactive for those three weeks, and have been thinking about the final posts I’ll make before I leave. I’ve been having a private correspondence with a Jeffrey B. who has challenged me to reveal more about myself to my readership. I will only partly satisfy his request, but I do think he raises major issues that the blogosphere and the 21st century need to deal with in terms of evaluating information, presentation, argumentation.

Dear Dr. Landes,

Thanks for your reply. You seem reluctant to divulge any information beyond your CV. I’m sure there are legitimate reasons for that stance, but I’d like to take one more stab at persuading you that making some background info available to your readers would be valuable.

My sister Heather is a “born-again” Christian who believes in the literal inerrancy of the bible. Although she has no training in geology, paleontology, or archeology, she teaches classes on “Creation Science”. You can know all about Heather’s education and employment history, but unless you know about her religious beliefs, you can waste a lot of time talking to an apparently intelligent, reasonable, open-minded person, who just doesn’t seem to “get” what you are saying and will never admit doubt or error about an opinion. Only when you understand that her knowledge is based on “revealed truth” rather than empirical data is it clear that it is pointless to discuss scientific facts – she will always have an explanation for fossils, speciation, etc. even if it devolves to “God said so”. The only fruitful discussion would be about the biblical basis for her beliefs , but she has no real interest in discussing the limits and contradictions of her belief system. She is convinced that she already has the truth, and is only interested in promulgating it to others.

If Heather had a blog, I think it would be very useful for readers to know “what she knows and how she knows it”. They would realize that there is no point in discussing the fossil record showing that organisms become progressively more complex in progressively higher strata. The creation scientists have already shown that this is simply a result of differential settling after the flood. Readers would realize that only informed discussions of the bible (creation as allegory?) would be potentially useful in challenging Heather’s thinking. I think disclosure of one’s formative experiences is crucial for understanding/evaluation/criticism by self and by readers and should be made available by [the writer](?)

An eloquent case for self-revelation. And of course I’d want to know this kind of information about a person. But I also think one can find that kind of background material from a careful reading of the person’s writings (or speech) without being given it predigested (and self-consciously) by the person (or even someone else). I like to think that anyone who reads me, and my responses to their comments, can get to know the timber of my mind without my giving them my potted self-presentation. It’s why as soon as I realized what cyberspace and the blogosphere permitted, I moved over here from academia.

(Not that I don’t have any more academic ties and commitments. I love academia, and nothing gets me going more than a good seminar with high level exchanges and arguments. Of course I prefer light to heat, but heated exchanges can illuminate.)

But right now, it’s not from academia that the next generation of successful civic paradigms (and their curricula) will emerge. Just like the printing press replaced manuscript culture in “early modern” Europe, creating the “city of letters” in which the modern paradigms emerged, so has cyberspace given birth to the community blogosphere and the conversations that will generate the orientations we need to survive this onslaught against our hard-fought for civil society.

This won’t be easy, and if we lose, the whole experiment in freedom represented by the WWW (with its anarchic genetic structure) will be taken away by an ruthless elite that will most resemble those mafioso and fanatic rulers who have so dominated the history of mankind for lo these many millennia. But this is where it will happen if it does. And I want to be part of that great intellectual adventure.

As for religious issues, I feel that I am sufficiently iconoclastic to say, “that’s not at issue.” It’s not what we believe about the nature of the divine that matters so much as how much integrity we have. If I understand your description of your sister, it’s a waste of time for someone to speak with her about scientific matters because she has an religious agenda and for her the evidence is subordinated to dogmatic demands. I once met a very impressive minister who said to me, “If you’re a true Christian, you don’t have to tell people, they’ll figure it out.” Precisely.

People who feel they must press their denominational identities on people — either by converting them, or insisting on their “literal” interpretations of sacred texts — are often working out other problems. The very notion that there can be a single “literal” interpretation of a text (or of reality for that matter), is a kind of idol worship.

There’s a joke about how the atheist says, “The god I don’t believe in would never do that” [where “that” stands for a tidal wave or earthquake that kills thousands of innocents, or orders to exterminate another people]. So the theist can say, “The G-D I do believe in would never demand I do that” [where “that” means reading the Bible literally, being dogmatic, burning heretics, or even speaking explicitly about matters of belief].

While in my close friends I may prefer people with whom my personal beliefs and commitments resonate, what I am concerned about with others is not their beliefs, but their moral commitments to “others.” What I find so terrifying about Islamist Jihadis, is that for them there are no moral commitments to non-believers. In denominational soteriology you are “saved” by which faith you hold; in moral soteriology, you are “saved” by how you treat your fellow man. You don’t have to be any denomination to do that well, indeed you don’t have to be a religious believer to do that well.

I want you to trust or not what I say based on your sense of the evidence and the argument. Not on who I am or where I’m coming from personally. Granted, you have a right to wonder whether or not I might be manipulating you. That’s always a possibility. It’s our inability to ask these questions of Muslims that has us paralyzed right now. That’s why I spend so much time talking about demopaths and their dupes. But that’s also why I think we have to develop the crap detectors not to be dupes.

So part of my answer is, it’s not in what someone says, but how they respond to challenges, how they respond to being wrong, that tells you what’s up. You can spot a demopath in a second, just by giving him a hard time. Not needling and hostile. Just firm and penetrating. Very few of them handle challenges well, partly because their positions are so fragile, partly because no one challenges them. So why should they get better?

[By the way, this issue of reliability of information providers, is absolutely critical. It’s the failure of the MSM to c lean their stables that puts us in our present dilemma, and cyberspace introduces a whole who realm of players we need to become familiar with. Ultimately, it’s going to be an important part of the emergent blogosphere that we have brief bibliographies of key players. (We’re planning that for the key players in the “second intifada” for an initiative we’re preparing.) I think the cyberspace should have a “Watchers” portal that does the best job it can keeping track of the reliability of various “news and analysis” experts and sites. That way the people who want the public’s trust know they are being critically appraised, and the public can consult to know more about the people and sites they consult.]

Please take the following comments in the “opposition is true friendship” context, and with the knowledge that I don’t know much about history and have only read a fraction of the material on augean stables. Also that I am diplomacy-challenged.

My kind of guy.

So one question in my mind is whether you (or any blogger/writer) are on an objective quest for truth, open to alternative points of view and willing to revise your opinions as new evidence warrants it? Or are you seeking to promulgate your opinions and hone your presentation of them in preparation for the next debate, conference or book? I see evidence of the former in the choice of many topics (you have set up an excellent framework for identifying and addressing issues), but I also see strong evidence of the latter. Of course all the comments I have read have been affirmative, and when one doesn’t get challenged one’s thinking can get pretty far off base.

Let me take each question/comment in turn.

So one question in my mind is whether you (or any blogger/writer) are on an objective quest for truth, open to alternative points of view and willing to revise your opinions as new evidence warrants it?

I would not phrase the first part as you have: “objective quest for truth.” I have a radical sense of modesty where the “truth” is concerned and believe that I can never claim to “possess” the “truth.” Equally I have no confidence in our ability to (or even its desirability) to reduce reality to some “objective” verbal formula. Every “fact” (data point) needs interpretation to have meaning, and all interpretations are subject to correction and revision. Nor would I ever claim to have produced some verbal formula that was “objectively true.”

(Note this is not necessarily how scientists think, but then I’m interested in humans [subjects] not things [objects]. You can’t be objective about subjects, despite the silly claims of economics or psychology or “political science” to be sciences.)

Now I do come closer to the second part of your sentence: “open to alternative points of view and willing to revise your opinions as new evidence warrants it.” That’s certainly one of my ideals. My thought has constantly evolved over time in response to the evidence. For me, Al Durah was a paradigm buster. I had no idea the media could be as bad as they were in this case. I looked at the footage of the rushes, and my jaw dropped. And when Enderlin said, “Oh, they do it all the time“, I knew that as cheap and obvious as these Pallywood fakes were, that our MSM had was recycling this stuff without a second thought. That did “blow my mind.” And much of the framework you find interesting, came about as a result of meditating on the problem (and failing to get the MSM to pay the slightest attention to it).

As for correcting oneself. The only time I made an outright mistake that I’m aware of, was during the Lebanese war this summer in a picture of corpses at Qana. I corrected immediately.

Overall, our ability to “reality test,” which means taking in the evidence that contradicts our icons of understanding, is a major factor in both our effectiveness and our freedom. This means the ability to listen, reconsider, re-evaluate, and, where necessary, self-criticize. An intellectual (a term that came in during the Dreyfus affair), is not someone who’s smart or knows a lot, it’s someone who can change his mind based on the evidence. And that is our constant test, ours and every generation to come.

Aayan Hirsi Ali says that she never heard a grown man say he was wrong before she came to Holland. That’s passing from an honor-shame culture to an integrity-guilt culture. That’s the basis of freedom for others precisely because you won’t sacrifice someone else’s freedom to your vanities and insecurities, which is what, ultimately both the Inquisition and current Islamist aggressions are all about.

Or are you seeking to promulgate your opinions and hone your presentation of them in preparation for the next debate, conference or book?

Of course I’m trying to promulgate my own opinions and hone my presentation of them. Do you think I spend this much time thinking about these matters and forming my opinions so that I can present them sloppily? Especially now, when how we interpret what’s going on is so important. These two should not and need not be “either/or.” There was a bumper sticker in the 60’s that read: “The Mind is like a Parachute: It only works if it’s open.” Of course, a parachute only works once if you can’t close it. We need flexibility not dogmatism either of belief or disbelief. Yang and Yin, firm and yielding. We don’t possess the truth, we wrestle with it.

I see evidence of the former in the choice of many topics (you have set up an excellent framework for identifying and addressing issues), but I also see strong evidence of the latter. Of course all the comments I have read have been affirmative, and when one doesn’t get challenged one’s thinking can get pretty far off base.

That is something that I’ve been puzzled by. Most bloggers talk about the trolls they get. I’ve never really gotten any. I wish I had more challenging responses than I do. I try and respond respectfully but substantively to those I do get. If you look back, you’ll see a number of posts where I take a comment (like yours) and respond point by point. Helas.

My advocacy position: I am, like everyone who is passionate, an advocate. I believe in civil society and the freedoms it fosters and wealth it generates and distributes more generously than any other civilization on record. It is a miracle that it exists and the West fought long and hard as a civilization to achieve it, and it takes a sustained commitment to positive-sum interactions with others. It is not perfect, far from it. But it is so superior to every earlier effort that I watch with astonishment as people who say they are committed to its values (especially “progressives”) throw it away with abandon.

As Flattering as it is Self-Destructive: David Brooks on Arab Narratives

David Brooks has an interesting column on the impact (among other factors) of the Carter-Walt-Mearsheimer attack on the Israel Lobby on Arab elites. (Hat tip: Robert Schwartz)

April 8, 2007

Op-Ed Columnist
A War of Narratives


On the Dead Sea, Jordan

I just attended a conference that was both illuminating and depressing. It was co-sponsored by the Center for Strategic Studies at the University of Jordan and the American Enterprise Institute, and the idea was to get Americans and moderate Arab reformers together to talk about Iraq, Iran, and any remaining prospects for democracy in the Middle East.

As it happened, though, the Arab speakers mainly wanted to talk about the Israel lobby. One described a book edited in the mid-1990s by the Jewish policy analyst David Wurmser as the secret blueprint for American foreign policy over the past decade. A pollster showed that large majorities in Arab countries believe that the Israel lobby has more influence over American policy than the Bush administration. Speaker after speaker triumphantly cited the work of Stephen Walt, John Mearsheimer and Jimmy Carter as proof that even Americans were coming to admit that the Israel lobby controls their government.

Note that this kind of thinking fits into the Arab mentality of seeking conspiracy theories everywhere. Everything, no matter how public — even a published book by Wurmser — gets thrown into the “secret blueprint” hopper. And just as Arabs can claim the Holocaust didn’t happen and then accuse Israel of acting the way Hitler did (not), so they can imagine the US run by secret conspiracies even as all their evidence comes from published books.

The problems between America and the Arab world have nothing to do with religious fundamentalism or ideological extremism, several Arab speakers argued. They have to do with American policies toward Israel, and the forces controlling those policies.

As for problems in the Middle East itself, these speakers added, they have a common source, Israel. One elderly statesman noted that the four most pressing issues in the Middle East are the Arab-Israeli dispute, instability in Lebanon, chaos in Iraq and the confrontation with Iran. They are all interconnected, he said, and Israel is at the root of each of them.

We Americans tried to press our Arab friends to talk more about the Sunni-Shiite split, the Iraqi civil war and the rise of Iran, but they seemed uninterested. They mimicked a speech King Abdullah of Jordan recently delivered before Congress, in which he scarcely mentioned the Iraqi chaos on his border. It was all Israel, all the time.

The Americans, needless to say, had a different narrative. We tended to argue that problems like Muslim fundamentalism, extremism and autocracy could not be blamed on Israel or Paul Wolfowitz but had deeper historical roots. We tended to see the Israeli-Palestinian issue not as the root of all fundamentalism, but as a problem made intractable by fundamentalism.

In other words, they had their narrative and we had ours, and the two passed each other without touching
. But the striking thing about this meeting was the emotional tone. There seemed to be a time, after 9/11, when it was generally accepted that terror and extremism were symptoms of a deeper Arab malaise. There seemed to be a general recognition that the Arab world had fallen behind, and that it needed economic, political and religious modernization.

But there was nothing defensive or introspective about the Arab speakers here. In response to Bernard Lewis’s question, “What Went Wrong?” their answer seemed to be: Nothing’s wrong with us. What’s wrong with you?

The events of the past three years have shifted their diagnosis of where the cancer is — from dysfunction in the Arab world to malevolence in Jerusalem and in Aipac. Furthermore, the Walt and Mearsheimer paper on the Israel lobby has had a profound effect on Arab elites. It has encouraged them not to be introspective, not to think about their own problems, but to blame everything on the villainous Israeli network.

In other words, W-M and Carter have offered them a “face-saving” solution to their problems. In honor-shame cultures, guilt is consistently projected, and Israel is the scapegoat for Arab feeling of inferiority. The brief moments of introspection that might come in the wake of particularly appalling Muslim deeds — 9-11, Beslan — cannot last because the work necessary to change the dynamic takes too long, and the shame is unbearable. Like someone on opium, the Arabs keep falling back into their self-justifying slumber because coming out of it takes too much of the kind of moral fibre they lack. As one Israeli student of Arab culture notes:

    In contrast, Arab Islamic political culture externalizes the guilt: Do I have a problem? You are guilty! The Arab-Muslims have no guilt remorse towards the outsiders, certainly not to share the guilt with them. They don’t feel any shame towards the infidels. They don’t blame themselves. They are always right.

This lust to blame (libido accusandi) can have only two resolutions: either we Westerners hold their feet to the fire and “trip-sit” them through the painful process of self-examination and development, or we defeat them in the war their thinking inexorably leads to and they apparently so desperately want.

And so we enter a more intractable phase in the conflict, which will not be a war over land or oil or even democratic institutions, but a war over narratives. The Arabs will nurture this Zionist-centric mythology, which is as self-flattering as it is self-destructive. They will demand that the U.S. and Israel adopt their narrative and admit historical guilt. Failing politically, militarily and economically, they will fight a battle for moral superiority, the kind of battle that does not allow for compromises or truces.

Americans, meanwhile, will simply want to get out. After 9/11, George Bush called on the U.S. to get deeply involved in the Middle East. But now, most Americans have given up on their ability to transform the Middle East and on Arab willingness to change. Faced with an arc of conspiracy-mongering, most Americans will get sick of the whole cesspool, and will support any energy policy or anything else that will enable them to cut ties with the region.

What we have is not a clash of civilizations, but a gap between civilizations, increasingly without common narratives, common goals or means of communication.

It looks like we’re not only not waking up, in taking out sleeping pills, we are awakening the wrong instincts even among the “moderates.”

Maurice Ostroff Chronicles the Impact of Pallywood on Hyper-Self-Critical Jews

I have discussed at some length the impact of Pallywood and its epigones — the systematic presentation of news manipulated to blame Israel for Palestinian suffering — on international outrage against Israel. This is true of non-Jews like Jostein Gaarder, but even more so of Jews who, driven to paroxysms of self-loathing by reports from the Middle East which humiliate them with images of Jews as oppressors, beat their breast in public in order to purify their souls.

Recently a group of 12 South African Jews, without any independent investigation (or even consultation of Israel’s response), have responded to the already notorious UN Human Rights Council report on Israeli “apartheid” to express their profound disapproval of Israeli crimes against humanity.

Maurice Ostroff has both the text of their statement and his response.

Without questioning Professor Dugard’s sincerity, his sources are open to question. It is a pity he didn’t consult the like of journalist Khaled Abu Toameh, who has an intimate knowledge of the Palestinian terrain. An award-winning journalist and television news producer, he has reported from the West Bank and Gaza Strip for more than twenty years. An insider with an intimate knowledge of the Palestinians, at one time he worked as editor of the PLO’s newspaper Al Fajr.

Toameh told the Middle East Forum in Philadelphia on April 27, 2004 that the world receives an inaccurate picture of what happens in the Palestinian region. The PA’s tyrannical approach and control of the media creates an atmosphere of intimidation and fear among Palestinian journalists and foreign journalists allow themselves to be misled by some of their Palestinian consultants.

Toameh is certainly in a better position to assess the actual situation than short-term visitors who can’t speak Arabic and depend on Palestinians as guides and translators. He relates that when foreigners interview Palestinians through translators, the translators often mistranslate and even reprimand interviewees critical of the Palestinian Authority.

Palestinian Suffering: Who’s Responsible?


Few people have suffered more constant misery and daily oppression in the last 50 years than the Palestinians. The key issue, however, concerns not the amount — although it has obviously been grossly exaggerated — but the source of that suffering. There are wildly varying accounts of who is to blame. Our purpose here is not to assess how much blame to assign – that everyone must do on their own – but to list the major contributors to Palestinian suffering, and what is the nature of that contribution. We welcome comment, further examples, suggestions, links, reflections, additions.


The most obvious source of Palestinian suffering is the Israelis. According to the dominant Palestinian “victim” narrative, the Zionists came into the region, took their land, and, when war broke out in 1948, drove almost a million of them from their homes and relegated those who remained to second-class citizenship. The dominant Israeli narrative has argued that they came as civilians, purchasing property, developing the economy, clearing malaria-infested swamps. Israelis claim that most of the refugees were created by the Arab armies that sought to destroy Israel and urged the Arab inhabitants to leave. Arabs, whose own leaders openly declared their intention to massacre Israelis, naturally believed that the Israelis would do the same to them.

Recently Israeli “new” or “post-Zionist” historians have questioned the Israeli version, arguing that there were concerted efforts to drive out Arab populations, as well as some actual massacres of Arab civilians. This revisionist work has received sharp criticism from historians who argue that these writers have misrepresented, even distorted the contents of the archives on which they base their work. (That Israeli historians would distort history to criticize their own country may strike some as bizarre if not inexplicable, but such a move combines both hyper-self-criticism with therapeutic history: If we apologize, maybe they’ll stop hating us.) Not surprisingly, the Palestinian reaction to Israeli post-Zionism has been more favorable: it confirms their domineering cognitive egocentrism.

Since the conquest of the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the 1967 war, over 2 million Palestinians have come under the military rule of Israel; and since the two uprisings of 1987-92 and 2000-4?, the hostilities have produced a particularly onerous situation, in which Palestinian suffering most obviously derives from Israeli actions – curfews, check-points and shut-downs. To those who do not know the history of the conflict, the image of the Palestinian David throwing rocks and the Israeli Goliath in his tanks and planes seems not only accurate but poetically ironic.

the new intifada
Book cover for The New Intifada: Resisting Israel’s Apartheid

Most observers who, consciously or unconsciously accept the way that Arab and Palestinian leadership have framed the struggle in terms of zero-sum outcomes, stop here. This is the foundation of both the Politically-Correct and the Post-Colonial Paradigms (PCP1 & 2). For the politically correct, who would not dream of challenging the Arab mind-set, there is no need to go further. Indeed some, exceptionally self-critical Israelis go still farther in the same direction: It is the Arabs who have sought peace and the Israelis who have rebuffed them. Obviously, Israeli victories mean Palestinian defeats; obviously Israeli presence means Palestinian displacements; obviously Israeli independence is a Palestinian Naqba. Obviously Israel and its ally America are the greatest contributors to Palestinian suffering. And were this the only way to conceive of the conflict, such a narrative might well be true.

But from the perspective of progressive, positive-sum interactions and the civil society such interactions foster, this can hardly be the whole story. On the contrary, when Zionists first came to Palestine the population was under a million. Today it pushes 10 million. Modern civil society and the culture of abundance that it produces can create many new opportunities for all involved. This need not have been a zero-sum conflict, and while some Zionists, observing the growing dominion of al Husseini, argued for kicking Arabs out, many more continued to argue for a productive collaboration. So we now turn to the other sources of Palestinian suffering, those who have either forced or encouraged the Palestinians to see it only as a zero-sum game, and to see the Israelis only through the lens of Domineering Cognitive Egocentrism (DCE).


The contribution of Arab political culture to the suffering of Palestinians is less evident to those who do not know the history of the conflict. Arab political culture before Zionism was among the most autocratic and exploitative of the many “traditional” political cultures: With Turkish administrators, wealthy Arab landlords living in Egypt, and Bedouin tribes raiding whenever they could, the plight of the Palestinian peasant had involved plenty of suffering. That kind of suffering continues endemically throughout the Arab world today, regardless of whether the populace lives in an oil-rich state or not. It is characteristic of prime-divider societies.

The Politics of Intimidation: Kidnapping and the News you Get

The indefatigable Khaled abu Toameh, who has more than anyone, addressed the issue of Palestinian press freedom, has an extremely important article in today’s Jerusalem Post on the problems of journalism in the Palestinian Authority. For those of my readers who think that I’ve been exaggerating the role of intimidation by Palestinians, and hence the culture of “access journalism,” on MSM press like Steven Erlanger, consider the implications of what Toameh reveals in his article. [Toameh in bold, blockquote.]

Mar. 31, 2007 18:52 | Updated Apr. 1, 2007 7:00
Palestinian journalists calls for a media boycott of the PA

The Palestinian Journalists Syndicate on Saturday called on the local and foreign media to boycott the Palestinian Authority in response to the kidnapping of BBC correspondent Alan Johnston in Gaza City three weeks ago.

alan johnston
BBC correspondent Alan Johnston, who was kidnapped by masked Palestinian gunmen in Gaza three weeks ago.

This is nothing short of monumental for this organization to call for such a strike. In some senses, it resembles the Israeli academics who call for a boycott of Israeli academics, although in this case it is a cry for help not an insane, ideologically driven stab at seppuku. The Palestinian Journalist Syndicate is hardly the most committed organization in the world to the civic values it here invokes to appeal to the world, so one must assume they are genuinely fearful. As long as both the authorities and the press agreed on the anti-Zionist victim narrative, and Pallywood served both their purposes, the problem remained concealed. Now that it’s civil war, and the Israelis are not involved, the issue of press repression becomes unavoidable.

Meanwhile, a prominent human rights activist in the Gaza Strip expressed fear that the kidnapping of foreign journalists was designed to “prevent the world from seeing what’s really happening here.”

It’s obvious, the activist said, “that those behind the kidnappings want to have a monopoly over the news coverage in the Gaza Strip. They don’t want the world to see the anarchy on the streets and the infighting between Fatah and Hamas. Unfortunately, they have succeeded in achieving their goal because most foreign journalists are today afraid to come to the Gaza Strip.”

Note that the activist remains nameless. No one wants to be in the Palestinian territories and a known critic. Also note that the activist would not have spoken earlier about this — kidnappings and control of the news have characterized Palestinian media culture (and the Western journalists who learn to play by their rules) for decades, certainly since the 1970s.

In understanding this remarkable reaction, it is important to realize, that Alan Johnston was a pro-Palestinian advocacy reporter. The BBC explicitly articulated that in pleading for his release. Like the French government responding to its journalists being kidnapped in Iraq, his father begged for Johnston’s rapid return by emphasizing how “good” he was for all Palestinians.

    Mr Johnston’s father made a direct plea to his son’s kidnappers in a televised statement, imploring: “It is not helping the Palestinian people. It’s no way to treat a friend of the Palestinian people.”