On the Moral Failures of the Left: Kamm meditates on the dangers of identity politics

A friend of mine who lives on the West coast remembers a trip I made out there in early 2002. “All you could say was ‘Where’s the outrage?’” And, of course, I was talking about the suicide terror campaign against Israel and the eery silence, not only from the “left” — which, it turns out, was celebrating the terrorists — but the liberals, the people who should have been most indignant at the appalling sight of a culture that does blood sacrifices of its own youth in order to act on its hatreds. What I eventually learned was that the they had been taken in by the “yes it’s indefensible… but…” position.

All told, I became rapidly convinced over the course of the early years of the aughts (’00s) that the year 2000 — from Camp David’s failure in August to the outbreak of the Intifada in October, marks a major failure of the modern, liberal world. At that point, having urged Israel to make massive substantive concessions on the promise of peace — letting Arafat back in, giving him a free hand to arm his “police” force, to control his own media and educational systems — in exchange for promises of recognition and commitment to making peace. When Arafat turned down the offers of Camp David, and later when he revelled in the violence of the Intifada, that was a moment where the liberal left, if it believed in its values of positive-sum negotiation, mutuality and peace, should have turned to Israel and apologized for having urged such a dangerous, even suicidal “peace process” on them.

Instead, it turned against Israel and made Arafat and his suicide-bombing Palestinian Jihadis the heroes of resistance against the Israelis. If the Palestinians hated Israel so, it must be because the Israelis have deprived them of hope. How could it be their fault? How could we hold them responsible for their hatreds? Wouldn’t that be “blaming the victim?”

Now, from the Times of London, an essay by Oliver Kamm examines the role of a certain kind of identity politics associated with authoritarian (if not fascist) communities who are given more than a free ride.

From The Times
May 23, 2009
How the Left turned to the Right
Oliver Kamm

Liberal over-sensitivity to the beliefs of others is undermining freedom of speech, so giving reactionaries an easy ride

I attended an academic conference in late 1989 on the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe. Martin Jacques, editor of the now-defunct journal Marxism Today, put a brave face on the rejection of the ideals he espoused. He argued that these revolutions would expand the variety of left-wing views in Western Europe.

I recall arguing with him from the floor that the opposite was true. Of the two principal left-wing traditions in Europe, insurrectionary socialism and pro-Western social democracy, only the second retained credibility.

It is obvious now that we were both wrong. The revolutionary Left has made fitfully fruitful tactical alliances, such as the bleakly comic amalgam of Leninists and Islamists who formed and then rent apart George Galloway’s Respect party. But in its own name it remains a minuscule if variegated sect.

Actually, in retrospect, the radical left, groups like International A.N.S.W.E.R., was saved by anti-Zionism and anti-Americanism.

What has happened to the other wing of nominally progressive politics is more surprising. Liberalism, in its broadest sense, has become suspicious of its own ideals.

Notions once considered reactionary, even extreme, have insinuated themselves into the mainstream of right-thinking (that is, left-thinking) social idealism.

When you encountered someone of professed left-of-centre opinions, you used to be able to draw broad but important, and generally reliable, inferences about what these entailed.

They included, at a minimum, commitments to secularism, freedom of expression, individual liberty against collective authority, women’s rights, homosexual equality and the combating of xenophobia. Times have changed. Now these stances are unusual, even heterodox.

The degeneration of progressive idealism has many roots. But among the most important is the instinct that the ideas of Western liberty are specific to time and place — that they are Eurocentric. Almost coincident with the revolutions of 1989, which testified to the power of the human instinct for liberty, was a far more atavistic political movement.

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Supreme Leader of Iran, issued in February 1989 his fatwa calling for the murder of Salman Rushdie, a British citizen, for writing a novel that satirised Islam.

Western governments, religious leaders and political figures were more embarrassed than appalled. In effect, they acknowledged the offence and took issue only with the sentence. The chief rabbi in Great Britain, Dr Immanuel Jakobovits, remarked: “Both Mr Rushdie and the Ayatollah have abused freedom of speech.”

Such ignorant, boorish heedlessness of the principles of a free society and the value of the novelist’s imagination sits easily on the political Right and with religious authority. Yet even then it had its left-wing adherents too. In his invaluable — because so often unintentionally revealing — diaries, Tony Benn records a meeting of the left-wing Campaign Group of Labour MPs in February 1989.

He refers to the late Bernie Grant, who was among Britain’s first black MPs: “Bernie Grant kept interrupting, saying that the whites wanted to impose their values on the world. The House of Commons should not attack other cultures. He didn’t agree with the Muslims in Iran, but he supported their right to live their own lives. Burning books was not a big issue for blacks, he maintained.”

This was one day after the leader of a foreign theocratic state had sought to procure the murder of a British writer for his ideas. Few then or now would be as openly contemptuous of the life of the mind as Grant.

Yet the notion that freedom of expression is a specifically Western obsession that needs to be balanced against the demands of social cohesion has become commonplace in today’s debates. It is part of the political mainstream; part of supposedly progressive thinking, assuming that the sensibilities of minority groups should be protected.

These impulses littered the controversy about the publication in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in 2006 of cartoons satirising the Prophet Muhammad. The offence caused to believers has become a catch-all explanation for religious violence and intimidation.

When, last year, suicide bombers attacked the Danish Embassy in Pakistan, killing six people and wounding more than 20, a Danish journalist writing for The Guardian commented that the attack was “of course, indefensible, but it raises questions about the wisdom of the much-debated cartoons and Danish reactions to Muslim wrath”.

The “of course, but” formulation is worse than a dreary cliché. It indicates a liberalism evacuated of content. Those who prize social unity and order will tend to believe that people’s deepest feelings and beliefs should be accorded respect.

The first time I really noticed the “of course, but…” formulation was an editorial by Jimmy Carter on Hamas in (where else?) the NYT: “Of course Hamas engages in terrorism which is indefensible, but…” While the denunciation took up a half line concessive clause, the “but” section filled the rest of the editorial.

But respect for ideas is never an entitlement. It depends on their intellectual resilience in public debate. No free society can treat people’s deepest beliefs as sacrosanct. They are fair game for hostile and derisive criticism. That is how knowledge advances.

How quaint of Mr. Kamm. He thinks that one of the main purposes of society is to advance knowledge.

The figure of Rushdie continues to disturb the liberal imagination. When he was awarded a knighthood in 2007, the Pakistani parliament passed a resolution condemning the insult to the feelings of Muslims.

Some British liberals thought they were right. Baroness Shirley Williams declared on the BBC Question Time programme that the award was not wise, for Rushdie had “deeply offended Muslims in a very powerful way”. It was, as her fellow panellist Christopher Hitchens remarked, a contemptible statement.

No one has a right to the protection of feelings. If politics concerns itself with mental states, there is no limit to how far legislation can intrude on people’s lives. The task of progressive politics is to protect liberty, not least by attacking the accumulation of bad ideas. Yet to many on the Left, the individual, inquiring mind is of far less importance than the representation of designated groups.

For example, Ken Livingstone commonly asserted that as Mayor of London he had “a responsibility to support the rights of all of London’s diverse communities”. No, he did not. Londoners belong to many different ethnic, national or religious groups. And for civic purposes those affiliations have no relevance at all.

The only characteristic that matters for politics is common citizenship with equality under the law. The notion that democratic politics acknowledges, even celebrates, group identities leads inexorably to the idea that the loudest figures in such groups have a claim on the attention of everyone else. Livingstone notoriously (and literally) embraced a visiting Islamic cleric, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who defends suicide terrorism in Israel and advocates the “punishment” of homosexuals.

It ought to be obvious that liberalism should not stomach that type of thing. Yet there is a type of left-wing thinking that regards militant Islam almost as idiosyncratic liberation theology. Verso, the left-wing publishing house, has produced a volume of the thoughts of Osama bin Laden entitled Messages to the World. To read the editor’s annotations is to gain the impression of a revolutionary figure who daringly challenges Western oppression.

The mass murder of American and other civilians on 9/11 was the expression of a nihilistic, millenarian doctrine of religious absolutism. Yet for a certain type of critic the greatest war criminal of our age is Tony Blair. Blair in reality perceived earlier than most the nature of the international order after the Cold War.

blair ahmadenijad poo
Cartoon courtesy of the Guardian, December 2006

This was an anarchic international order in which supranational institutions were too weak and inchoate to stymie the ambitions of the worst of rulers. In a speech almost exactly ten years ago in Chicago, he expounded the responsibilities of Western nations in the protection of human rights against oppressive governments. And he named Slobodan Milosevic and Saddam Hussein.

Blair’s analysis has many critics. But the extraordinary fact of the supposedly left-wing objections to his interventionist policies is its identity with realist positions on the conservative wing of politics. Attempting to broker a disinterested division of territory in the Balkans in the mid-1990s merely encouraged Milosevic in further depredations, against Kosovo. The containment of Saddam was an inherently threadbare system that could be implemented only if the UN Security Council were resolute in implementing it.

Many civilian lives were lost in Iraq owing to a grotesquely underprepared military intervention. But the notion that this was aggression against a sovereign state with rights gets exactly wrong the balance of moral responsibility. It is hard to find many on the Left who will say this, or will argue the intrinsic connection between peace and human rights. It is not the trahison des clercs, only because there is nothing any longer that the Left still has to betray.

I don’t know. I feel mildly let down by this essay. Maybe it was the word limit. Something’s missing… I don’t know what. Suggestions?

31 Responses to On the Moral Failures of the Left: Kamm meditates on the dangers of identity politics

  1. oao says:

    I don’t know. I feel mildly let down by this essay. Maybe it was the word limit. Something’s missing… I don’t know what. Suggestions?

    perhaps it’s that it states the obvious that we have known for a long time.

  2. E.G. says:

    Perhaps it’s the title?

    The article describes but doesn’t explain “How”. There’s a sequence of betrayals without any underlying logic or line of thought. Maybe this is the most accurate description of what actually happened: a mindless drift.

  3. Lorenz Gude says:

    Yes, it seems to be building to a broadly focused defence of Blair as representing the traditional values of the liberal-left and then abruptly narrows the focus to the Iraq war and just ends. He displays a Guardianista moral equivalence cartoon unfit to print in the NY Times attacking Blair in relation to Iran and does nothing with it. Rereading it carefully I think it just needs a good summary paragraph that draws his arguments together.

    I enjoy Kamm’s work and that of Norm Geras of Normblog, who regularly points out the anti Semitism of the left with great skill. Christopher Hitchens comes from a similar segment of British left/liberal thought, but became a a neo-conservative on the US political scene. That is not to say Kamm or Geras are neocons, but it is hard to find their exact equivalent in US terms and they are therefore well worth reading as people who choose to remain on the left but steadfastly defend what were once its core values.

  4. Eliyahu says:

    Kamm unfortunately spoils his credibility and his article with his defense of the 1999 Kossovo war. There is a great deal of falsification of history going on nowadays and it is not lessened by accepting the conventionaly view of what happened in the former Yugoslavia as a saga of Good [Bosnian and Kossovar Muslims] against Bad Serbs.

  5. oao says:

    Maybe this is the most accurate description of what actually happened: a mindless drift.

    it not mindless for some of the old left and not a drift for the new. the oldies found a raison d’etre for the cause their identity is wrapped in and take revenge on the west; the newies are ignorant, quite stupid and indocrtinated by the oldies and education system.

  6. oao says:

    Yes, it seems to be building to a broadly focused defence of Blair as representing the traditional values of the liberal-left and then abruptly narrows the focus to the Iraq war and just ends

    yeah, any attempt to defend spineless, morally corrupt blair should seem fishy. the abruptness and bland treatment of the subject suggests that at some level kamm was aware of the weakness.

    That is not to say Kamm or Geras are neocons, but it is hard to find their exact equivalent in US terms and they are therefore well worth reading as people who choose to remain on the left but steadfastly defend what were once its core values.

    there have been quite a few lefties writing about their seeing the light lately, i posted links to a couple in other threads. this does not make them neo-cons, they just could not accept the craziness and were forced to recognize and reject it.

  7. oao says:

    Kamm unfortunately spoils his credibility and his article with his defense of the 1999 Kossovo war.

    since they want to remain on the left and only reject its craziness, they are desperate for some things that were done right, leftwise, by the west and kosovo serves the purpose.

  8. oao says:

    it’s not only the left or the UN that are morally corrupt:

    Hosni’s Apology
    David Hazony
    http://www.commentarymagazine.com/blogs/index.php/hazony/67552

    so is israel.

  9. oao says:

    http://www.bigpicweblog.com/exp/index.php/weblog/comments/a_revolutionary_way_of_looking_at_the_illogic_of_the_left/

    i doubt it because they are not smart enough, but as greg felton demonstrates, it is effective.

  10. E.G. says:

    oao,

    Auto-lobotomised oldies and lobotomised newbies. And it’s not mindless?

    In fact, it’s also possible that loyalty to idea(l)s has been substituted by loyalty to friends or authority figures. So it’s just herding (again, not really thoughtful).

  11. Sophia says:

    Cripes.

    Like the Left has a monopoly on stupidity?

    It would be awesome if we could agree to stop attacking mindlessly and try to discuss issues that overarch political divisions and competing economic philosophies in the Western world, wouldn’t it?

    Now: Kamm is framing, eloquently, a couple of issues: one, the lack of faith we in the West have in our own moral principles.

    This is especially disheartening on the Left because, frankly, we don’t see the Right as an exemplar of virtue. We have overestimated our own virtue obviously.

    Now before you climb down my throat please study the history and present situation of the Right in Europe or the behavior of American imperialists in South America.

    If you back off and cool down for a second I’m sure you’ll see my point. There is plenty of room for each of us to criticize the other.

    Meanwhile: if you are going to stereotype the Left as Stalinist then why isn’t the Right characterized primarily as Nazi or KKK, or heartlessly imperialistic?

    I think we can agree that isn’t the case, both Stalin and Hitler represented the radical wings, nevertheless for a myriad of reasons they managed to sweep hundreds of millions with them.

    However unless we are saying that world war and revolution are normal situations we should regard them not as avatars but as abberations.

    Today, some on the neoleft have aligned themselves with hate preachers because they see them as exemplars of the “oppressed” and some on the Right are – well – neonazis and KKK members.

    In other words if we have philosophical weaknesses it’s that the Left identifies with the oppressed regardless of their flaws, and has been willing to use bloody means – oppressive, violent means – as a corrective. The Right at worst openly seeks power and has also used extreme violence to attain and keep it.

    We’re both wrong if we lose sight of our ideals and allow things get to this point, or if, in search of a better world, we make a worse one.

    The misguided leftists are actually quite racist: they apparently see the radicals in the Muslim world as emblematic of Muslims – this is quite bizarre actually, as is their desertion of trade unionists, feminists, anti-racists and those otherwise fighting for human rights within the “Muslim world”, including the Ba’hai and trade unionists in Iran, the state of Israel with its precarious location, secular people attempting to cope with Hamas or Muslim Brotherhood, pro-Western Lebanese in their struggle with Hezbollah, feminists fighting purdah, and so forth.

    One example of Leftist blindness is the apparent desertion of women by feminists in the West.

    The fashionable support for “indigenous culture” has apparently overridden their concern for the rights of living, breathing human women – and that is such a betrayal of Leftist and liberal values it’s gone in a big circle so that you have the liberal feminist Phyllis Chesler writing on Pajamas, which is actually pretty Conservative, because women on the Left du Jour apparently won’t listen to her and others like her:

    http://www.hurryupharry.org/2009/05/26/democracy-and-women/

    PS read the embedded links in the discussion thread. There are other articles reflecting antisemitism, which, like the betrayal of women, are a disease of the modern fashionable Left – at a time when one had hoped antisemitism was finally dead.

    Here’s a must read:

    http://www.clivejames.com/articles/clive/anti-semitism

    In any case, once again we see extremists attempting to dominate the political scene.

    This isn’t new. It is frightening though and conjures the 1930′s.

    What may be even more critical is that the most of us – the relatively centrist liberals/conservatives in the West – are losing faith in our own values. Perhaps this is what happened in the 1930′s as well? Were economic and other pressures so huge that we lost sight of humanity itself, let alone our cultural values?

    We are preaching about Freedom and Liberty but in the very cause thereof are losing ground to dictatorial philosophies.

    I would suggest that this is true not only on the Left but on the Right – there is a big internal battle as you know within the Republican Party here but also between moderate Conservatives in Europe and outright fascists.

    And, we are really guilty of stereotyping others based on the most radical examples they themselves produce. So some of us (the idiots of the Left) are embracing these as exemplars of Indigenous Culture and others (the idiots on the Right) are reacting against “The Other” by forming neofascist political parties.

    As far as the Left goes, and indeed perhaps EU governments and definitely many academic institutions and also the MSM, we’re all are tripping over our own feet trying to be “fair” and in the process we are empowering bigots and religious and political oppressors, not only abroad but increasingly, in the West, as we attempt to absorb large groups of immigrants.

    Kamm understands this from the same angle I do, I think – he sees the differences between individual human rights, inalienable – and the rights lately granted to groups – ie “salad bowl” multiculturalism – but also to those already in power and oppressing others in their homelands.

    The other angle to this is the ideal of peace, noble in itself but possibly leading us to make some huge mistakes.

    People rightly dread war so now we’re seeing puff pieces about Iran.

    People rightly fear harming or stereotyping innocent Iranians but this doesn’t mean we should blind ourselves to the nature of Ahmadijenad or the repressive government and its overt hatred of America and Israel – yet this is precisely what has been happening lately. NYT and now the June 1 issue of Newsweek have both been apologizing vigorously for the Iranian regime and sweeping its uglier aspects under the carpet.

    Similarly Fareed Zakariah attempts to put the shoe on the other foot and implies that Israel seeks to conquer Jordan and imputes ancient religious texts from Jewish history to modern Israeli or Jewish politicians – flipping the obvious messianic Mahdism of the bassenji onto the Jews.

    This however isn’t leftism – it’s a reflection of Muslim thinking on the issues – also a reflection of economic reality: there are 1.5 billion Muslims in the world and they control huge territories, precious resources, and increasingly are influencing Western and other industrialized cultures and economies.

    The MSM is not “left” it is corporate, it has one overriding issue: to survive economically.

    The real problem is when the Left, the Right or anybody else in the West can’t see this for what it is and cope with it accordingly, form opinions accordingly, become informed independently of what we are told to think, seduced into believing.

    We are losing the ability to be skeptical, rational and think critically about issues and all too often instead of clarifying them we attack each other on right/left grounds.

    This is futile, it weakens us as a civilization, and it also makes Kamm’s point. And, even though oao ticks me off I think he’s correct about this – his essential points about losing our educational standards and our ability to reason are well-taken.

    Both Right and Left, we westerners are losing faith in those key values and we’re getting confused and attacking each other instead of the problems we’ve been struggling with for many centuries: issues of ignorance, fear, irrationality, superstition, repression of human rights.

    We are so afraid of another Iraq we’re overlooking the Irans, the Koreas, which could be exponentially more dangerous – in fact, we ignored or tried to finesse Pakistan until it may well be too late.

    Even more strangely, human rights are being vested in ideologies – as in the attempt to render Islam per se – ideology not Muslim people – immune from discussion – this is ongoing in UN discussions and attempts to pass resolutions rendering religion immune from challenge.

    Livingston in London got mixed up with this – in attempting to protect minority rights and create a unified diversity in London he confused the rights of people with the rights of groups, some of which have ideologies diametrically opposed to ours.

    Kamm points out his espousal of vicious hate preachers, ironically violating his own purported ideals by tacitly endorsing their own.

    Understanding this confusion between the rights of human beings, the supposed rights of groups and even ideologies and the resulting perversion of our ideals is key to unravelling the mess.

    What do you think?

  12. obsy says:

    When Arafat turned down the offers of Camp David, and later when he revelled in the violence of the Intifada, that was a moment where the liberal left, if it believed in its values of positive-sum negotiation, mutuality and peace, should have turned to Israel and apologized for having urged such a dangerous, even suicidal “peace process” on them.

    And that is part of the problem. This is such an incredible hard thing to do. It is easy to apologize for the wrongdoings of your country or culture. Let’s try it: “I apologize for how bad the Europeans treat Israel.” Wow, that was easy!

    It becomes hard when you yourself were demonstrating against Israel, talked with all your buddies about how bad Israel is and really believed in that. Especially when you are an arrogant leftist intellectual.

    So what happens when you are proven wrong?

    Instead, it turned against Israel and made Arafat and his suicide-bombing Palestinian Jihadis the heroes of resistance against the Israelis.

    You stop any thoughts that don’t feel well.

    If the Palestinians hated Israel so, it must be because the Israelis have deprived them of hope.

    You invent an excuse!
    Or support excuses that intellectuals have constructed. After all, they are smarter than you.
    It is such a relieve, that all your commitment wasn’t wrong after all. Nobody shall dare to take that relieve away from you!

    And since you were so right and this is so important you should act even more than before.

    How could it be their fault? How could we hold them responsible for their hatreds? Wouldn’t that be “blaming the victim?”

    It is not about them anymore – it is about you!

    Well alternatively you could accept the prove and be ashamed of yourself. So either retract or right a wrong by turning 180 degrees.

    To be fair:
    We are talking about many people so it is safe to assume that all those possibilities (and probably more) happened.
    After the first excepted excuse is circulating, the first option will be the most popular one.

  13. nelson says:

    I’m a regular reader of Kamm’s blog. He’s an excellent and extremely well informed reader of modern history, one, btw, who’s not afraid, for instance, of saying and proving that the dropping of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs were the “less bad” action the allies could have taken to end a just war.

    His blog is also worth reading for all the information he provides about the British and Euro left during the Cold War. Needless to say, he is absolutely critical of the role of that so-called authoritarian left.
    Without being a neocon, he has also defended neoconservantism.

    Last but not least, whoever wants a thorough critical anlysis of Noam Chomsky’s falsehoods, lies etc., should also turn to his blog, both to read what he has to say about Chomsky and to get the best links available about him and his likes.

    That said, I’d say the main difference between Kamm and many who write here seems to be less a matter of real intellectual or deep ideological disagreement than, in a way, a matter of temperament. About most topics discussed here, I’d say his outlook is rather more optimistic or less pessimistic and, anyway, less scared. Actually, it would be better for all of us if he were right. I’m more disillusioned, pessimistic and scared than he is. But that’s me.

    I’ve used to read dozens of blogs daily. Now I read but a few. And among those that, in normal times, would be called democratic leftist, I usually read only Kamm’s, Norm’s and Harry’s Place.

    I may disagree with much of what they say, but, unlike what happens with conservative bloggers whose main enemy is Darwin, I still share a universe and a common language with them.

  14. oao says:

    And that is part of the problem. This is such an incredible hard thing to do.

    you know what: if it’s so hard to do, let’s forget that.
    how about stopping the support of hamas, fatah and unrwa on condition of, say, stop the anti-semite indoctrination and renounce terror?

    it’s not the lack of apology that’s the problem here, but rather the active facilitating if not guaranteeing terror and murder of jews.

    obsy, it’s also that they cannot accept the reality of who the pals are and what they want and do because they don’t longer have a nice, peaceful solution and they’re scared shitless of that.

    About most topics discussed here, I’d say his outlook is rather more optimistic or less pessimistic and, anyway, less scared.

    in my book that IS an intellectual problem to some degree.

    I may disagree with much of what they say, but, unlike what happens with conservative bloggers whose main enemy is Darwin, I still share a universe and a common language with them.

    i dk his material, but this particular article has not said anything i have not known for a long time and which is rather trivial. that does not mean he’s wrong; it’s just nothing impressive.

  15. nelson says:

    For some to bridge the gap between a worldview where Muslims are just poor Third World victims of Western imperialism expressing their progressist/revolutionary and justified anger in the old clothing of religion and another view where an expression like “Eurabia” is more than just racist/Islamophobic fear-mongering may prove somewhat hard to do.

    Let’s say some minds can be headed in a different direction, but they need intermediary stages to get to the opposite side. I don’t know for sure whether there are people whose minds work this way, who are already disillusioned with certain ideas, but aren’t ready yet to embrace radically different ones.

    But, if there are some persons so predisposed, then reading Kamm or Harry’s Place may be a mind opening experience for them — and, thus, useful after its own way. A couple of years ago I wouldn’t have expected to see LGF and HP linking to each other. We’re here facing the famous question about the half-empty or half-full glass.

  16. E.G. says:

    Sophia,

    What may be even more critical is that the most of us – the relatively centrist liberals/conservatives in the West – are losing faith in our own values.

    Where did you get this idea from?

  17. JD says:

    “There is a great deal of falsification of history going on nowadays and it is not lessened by accepting the conventionaly view of what happened in the former Yugoslavia as a saga of Good [Bosnian and Kossovar Muslims] against Bad Serbs.”

    This is tiresome. They were Bad Serbs. Remember “ethnic clensing?” It did not start with the Muslims, but the Catholic Croats. The Serbs had a three, maybe four stage strategy of expansion–one enemy at a time. First, the Croats. Then the Bosniaks. Then the Albanians. Then possibly the the Macedonians, but they didn’t get that far.

  18. oao says:

    Let’s say some minds can be headed in a different direction, but they need intermediary stages to get to the opposite side.

    and they must have some reasoning ability, whether they are governed by emotions as ray insists, or not.

    What may be even more critical is that the most of us – the relatively centrist liberals/conservatives in the West – are losing faith in our own values.

    since most of them wouldn not even know what the values are, how they were established and defended, and have little clue how fragile they are, i would be shocked if they had much faith in them.

    It did not start with the Muslims, but the Catholic Croats.

    which is why i don’t think countering one religion with another is ever the answer.

  19. Eliyahu says:

    JD, do you know that the newly set up Croatian state refused to give the resident Serbs any guarantees of minority rights for the group or individuals? This came after the genocide by Croats of Serbs [and Jews and Gypsies] during WW2. Up to 750,000 Serbs were massacred by Croats, including in the Croatian concentration and death camp at Jasenovac. The hatred of Serbs for Croats was seldom explained in the early 1990s, leading to very one-sided views of current events, without a historical context.

    Likewise, the Bosnian and Kossovo Muslims had a history of oppressing Serbs [and Croats] as dhimmis in Islamic society when the Ottoman Empire ruled there. There was a very bloody repression in the 19th century of the Serbian revolt in Bosnia at a time when the Serbs were the most numerous group there [no longer true, but why?]. The Serbian proportion of population in Bosnia was reduced by the WW2 massacres, among other things.

    Further, many many Serbs were “ethnically cleansed” from Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosovo. Think, for example, of the 200,000 Serbs driven out of the Krajna, an area of Croatia long-populated by Serbs. Moreover, NATO and the EU promoted false views of Balkan history to the detriment of the Serbs. I am accustomed to drastic distortions of Israel’s history, Jewish history, Middle Eastern history in Western publications. Why not distortions of Balkan history?

  20. JD says:

    “Further, many many Serbs were “ethnically cleansed” from Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosovo.”

    Kind of like the Germans from Pomerania, Silesia and the Sudetenland, no? Like the Germans, they started it.

  21. zee says:

    they are therefore well worth reading as people who choose to remain on the left but steadfastly defend what were once its core values.

    You might be like the work of Canadian writer Terry Glavin who has a similar outlook.
    http://transmontanus.blogspot.com/

  22. David M says:

    The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the – Web Reconnaissance for 05/29/2009 A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention, updated throughout the day…so check back often.

  23. nelson says:

    “Kind of like the Germans from Pomerania, Silesia and the Sudetenland, no? Like the Germans, they started it.”

    Not really. Milosevic might have been the main culprit, but he wasn’t the only one.

    After having been victims of the far-right Croatian nationalists (the Ustashi, whom even their German Nazi allies considered a bit too savage for their taste)during WW2, the Serbs, who were scattered (for historical reasons since the defeat of their medieval kingdom by the Ottomans) all over Yugoslavia, couldn’t but feel safe only in a federal Yugoslav state or under the protection of Serbia itself.

    The Catholic Croats, the Muslim Bosnians and the Albanian Kosovars wanted openly ethnic states for themselves, but were not willing to grant the Serbian inhabitants of their countries any guarantee of equal rights or protection as a recognized minority. And neither the Croat or the Bosnian governments nor the Western powers, Germany in special, were willing to allow the only solution that would, maybe, have avoided bloodshed: the redrawing of internal borders more according to national or ethnic demographics and the peaceful exchange of populations.

    Milosevic obviously made things much worse by offering the Croatian, Bosnian and Kosovar Serbs a protection he had no way to assure and, thus, inciting them to rebellion. These Serbs were eventually betrayed by him and forced to abandon lands where they had been living for centuries.

    Franjo Tudjman was a nationalistic, anti-Serb (and anti-Semitic) racist, while Alija Izetbegovic was no saint either, nor the members or the leadership of the KLA. Croatian (Catholic)Bosnians, with the full Backing of Zagreb, also murdered many Muslim and Serbian Bosnians and (mainly) Herzegovinians, but with much less publicity given to it.

    What the Croats did to the Serbians of the Krajina or Slavonia had nothing to do with/nor was it a punishment for the atrocities the Serbian Bosnians perpetrated against the Bosnian Muslims.

    Milosevic was doubtlessly a genocidal bastard, but due to Western Europe’s mistakes (Germany’s first of all) there would have been bloodshed anyway, even if not necessarily on the same scale.

    The only way of maybe avoiding the worst would have been a concerted action by Germany, France, the UK and the US. But the Europeans started their series of mistakes by not allowing the US to interfere.

    Then Germany, breaking ranks with France and Britain, recognized in a hurry the independence of Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina with unchanged and non-viable borders. Any reasonable observer knew by then that Western Europe’s most powerful diplomatic card was to withold those recognitions until all republics of the Yugoslav federation agreed to sit down around a table to negotiate in earnest.

    The role Germany played in the Yugoslav civil war was rather similar to the one played by France in the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

    By the way, in absolute numbers, four times as many people were killed there in a decade or less than, during more than a century, in the Jewish-Arab conflict (counting both the Arab and Jewish dead). In relative numbers the Yugoslav war was even more murderous than that Middle Eastern conflict.

  24. Eliyahu says:

    Nelson, one of the champions of distorting Yugoslav history was one Misha Glenny, a BBC journalist. He wrote one, maybe two or three, books on the ethnic conflicts there in the early 1990s, before the massacres began. He somewhat disarmingly admitted that the Croats had committed their notorious mass murders of Serbs during WW2 under the Ustashi regime. But Glenny carefully left out any info about Bosnian Muslim or Kossovo Muslim enlistment in the SS divisions and persecution of Serbs during the war. A journal published by the US Army War College, called Parameters, I think, published an article by a prof that reported 750,000 Serbs killed by Ustashi Croat forces. this is not to mention Jews and Gypsies massacred.

    Glenny carefully omitted not only the WW2 Bosnian Muslim Nazi collaboration [mediated by Haj Amin el-Husseini, the British-appointed mufti of Jerusalem] and killing of Serbs but also the historic Muslim oppression of Serbs in Bosnia during Ottoman rule, etc.

  25. Eliyahu says:

    JD, check out the Handschar SS division made up of Bosnian Muslims, recruited with the help of Haj Amin el-Husseini.

    Also check out the Skanderbeg SS division of Kossovo Albanians.

  26. nelson says:

    Well, maybe it wasn’t just a coincidence that the first foreign policy action of the re-united Germany was precisely to back its WW2 allies in the Balkans: the Slovenes, Croats and Bosniam Muslims.

    There were two European parties that the Nazis considered even more savagely anti-Semitic than themselves: the Croatian Ustashi and the Romanian Iron Guard (also known as the Legion of Michael, the Archangel).

    The Serbs lived under Ottoman threat until the end of WW1 and, thus, their collective memories of Muslim imperialism are relatively fresh. That’s a common experience for the Orthodox Christians. The Roman Catholics have already forgotten it, while, with few exceptions, the Protestants were never much threatened by Muslim neighbours.

  27. oao says:

    the Romanian Iron Guard (also known as the Legion of Michael, the Archangel).

    as a romanian native and a jew i know all about that. romania was an anti-semitic country throughout communism and it still is. the first victims of the communist regime where its own jewish leaders, who were liquidated on false accusations (in line with stalin’s).

    then the jews were accused for being the initiators of communism because of the leaders who were liquidated.

    the jews always getting coming and going.

  28. Joanne says:

    Nelson, those are excellent blogs to read. I would add to that list another one: Adam Holland’s blog (www.adamholland.blogspot.com), which is done in the same vein. There is also ZioNation (www.zionism-israel.com/log), which is Zionist from a progressive standpoint. Note that I don’t have the word progressive in quotes; that’s because the writer does seem to be genuinely progressive, but without having drunk the Kool-Aid.

    One thing I might take exception to in Kamm’s statement is that I would hold off on the “hostile and dismissive” bit. Of course, there are times when hostility can’t be avoided in debate, but a certain decorum is a good idea, even when it hurts.

    Debate should be tempered by patience and by the expectation of a certain level intellectual depth and integrity. Otherwise, the hostility and dismissiveness will take over, and what you’ll get are people who are wily, obnoxious, intimidating, or just plain demagogic. Such people will win by the force of their personalities rather than by the value of their ideas. Think Chomsky. Think Galloway.

    That doesn’t exactly mean treating all points of view with the same respect when they don’t deserve it (e.g., neo-Nazis), but by toning down the derision, and demanding to see more well-documented substance, media outlets and their audiences would eliminate obnoxious groups anyway.

  29. Cynic says:

    Debate should be tempered by patience and by the expectation of a certain level intellectual depth and integrity.

    E.G. will get me for this but I must ask: “Like the Oxford Union debates?” Integrity my foot :-)

  30. Cynic says:

    E.G.,
    Taking this this somewhat tangential thread a bit further, no doubt you’ve read this Dalrymple piece:

    Pictures from an Institution

    On the other hand, there probably never was an age in which disputes were resolved by civilized, Socratic dialogue. It is just that more people nowadays demand to be heard, with the resultant cacophony.

  31. [...] Robert Wright is an interesting case study in a toxic mix of LCE (liberal cognitive egocentrism) combined with MOS (masochistic omnipotence syndrome). After the collapse of Camp David, when the progressive left should have been begging the pardon of the Israelis for having urged them to take enormous risks with Arafat for the sake of a peace they were sure would come, Wright came out with a ringing defense of Arafat (elaborating on the work of Malley and Falk[!], that embodies for me the moral failure of the left in the period after 2000. [...]

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