Andrew Sullivan on Breivik’s Epistemic Closure: Left, Right, Not

Now I understand where my persistent, somewhat repetitive, commenter, Chris, comes from. Another illustration of the problem. He comes from Andrew Sullivan who quoted the passage to which Chris objects, disapprovingly. Here’s his post with my comments.

Breivik’s Epistemic Closure

Chris Bertram analyzes it:

We may be, now, in the world that Cass Sunstein worried about, a world where people select themselves into groups which ramp up their more-or-less internally coherent belief systems into increasingly extreme forms by confirming to one another their perceived “truths” (about Islam, or Obama’s birth certificate, or whatever) and shutting out falsifying information. Put an unstable person or a person with a serious personality disorder into an environment like that and you have a formula for something very nasty happening somewhere, sooner or later. Horribly, that somewhere was Norway last Friday.

This is an interesting quote for what it vaguely alludes to in its “whatever.” The whole paragraph is an analysis, quite shrewd indeed, of the epistemological slippery slope to what Damian Thompson calls self-brainwashing. But that depiction applies equally well to those on the other side of the political divide, including (probably – I’m guessing here) to the author of the blog and the person he’s quoting.

In this case, as acute as they are to what’s in the eyes of the “right,” the “left” has a major beam in their eyes that they seem to have difficulty acknowledging. On the contrary, their tone, their style, their rhetoric all express a kind of supreme confidence that treats all dissonant voices as not merely wrong but bad, not merely dismissively, but contemptuously. And yet that “whatever,” can be expanded far wider than the current list of “right wing” examples Bertram offers, starting with 9-11 truthers who swarm within the epistemic clotures of the left far more than birthers do on the right, and not just among the weirdo fringes.

Anders Sandberg urges us to check our cognitive biases when calling Breivik insane and bin Laden an ideologue. Richard Landes (cited in Breivik’s manifesto) tries, but doubles down, in some almost Malkin-worthy rhetoric, on blaming the other side:

Then Sullivan cites me without comment.

All those people who, in the mid-aughts, like Cherie Blair and Jenny Tonge among so many, thought that Palestinian terror was an understandable response to their hopeless condition, for which Israeli was responsible, owe it to themselves to think: what did I to contribute to Breivik’s despair, with my insistence that anyone who sounded the alarm was an Islamophobe?

Now I’ve been told by a close and trusted source that this passage made at least one sympathetic reader wince.  So let me explain.

The comparison has several possible interpretations. On the one hand, we have what I think Sullivan objects to, an accusation that people like Tonge are as responsible for Breivik, as he and his colleagues think the people Breivik cites in his manifesto (Theodore Dalrymple, Bruce Bawer, Daniel Pipes, Roger Scruton, Melanie Phillips, Mark Steyn, Robert Spencer, etc. etc.) are responsible. And I’d be very interested to see how, were we to lay out the data, an impartial audience might decide about which side, those who warn about Islamist ambitions and those who shut down the conversation, contributed to Breivik’s frustration and rampage. However facetious the premise, I even think it would be a valuable conversation.

But that’s not what I meant. My point runs as follows: Tonge and Blair are quick to blaming Israel for Palestinian hatred because they frustrate the Palestinians. They have nothing to say about the way the Palestinians (and their supporters in the West) incite genocidal violence against Israel. If they were consistent, then in this case they would not blame those they see as inciting hatred against Muslims for inspiring Breivik, but those who frustrate his desires (to be heard). It may be a bit convoluted and, as my friend says, when almost a hundred people have been horribly murdered, then it’s important to be limpidly clear. For any lack of clarity, I apologize.

On the other hand, my invocation of Tonge and Blair’s blaming Israel for Palestinians suicide bombing is an effort to say, “this kind of thinking – blaming someone for someone else’s staggeringly inappropriate behavior – is morally unacceptable.” This is something that people on the left have done repeatedly over the last decade in particular, and especially about Israel. For Tonge and Blair to say, “I understand why the Palestinian’s blow themselves up – it’s what Israel’s done to them,” shows an astoundingly, indeed racist attitude towards the Palestinians whom these “liberals” treat as if they have no moral agency. “If Israelis frustrate them, then that explains their ferocious hatreds; who am I to question their despair. On the contrary, everything bad they do is because they’ve been mistreated. The moral opprobrium falls on those they hate.

The broader version of the liberal cognitive egocentrism gone wild is “terrorism comes from poverty,” regardless of how many desperately poor people there are who don’t become terrorists, and numerous rather well off people, who driven by other and far less “legitimate” desperations who get involved quite energetically.

How is this related to Breivik? With these easy accusations that Israel is responsible for the frustrated hatred of the Palestinians, we have an argument that could be turned against the Left: “you have frustrated Breivik by silencing him.” Now, unlike the Left’s easy blaming of Israel for Palestinian “rage,” I wouldn’t go anywhere near laying responsibility for Breivik on the left. What I would say is, this rush to nail the “Islamophobes” for Breivik reveals the appalling double standards of those who do it. They are the very ones who would reject the argument that PA sponsored incitement is responsible for the terrorists; indeed, they would sooner accuse those of pointing out the incitement for making a bad situation worse.

If there were any moral consistency here, then the Left would indeed examine its own camp for their flaws. But the only consistency I see is, dump on the “right,” dump on Israel, dump on anyone who dares to suggest that Islamism is a serious threat. Don’t dump on ourselves. It may be “natural” and predictable behavior, but it violates major aspects of the moral code  by which the “left” considers itself outstanding. Indeed, it seems quite close to the quote Sullivan started out his post with:

groups which ramp up their more-or-less internally coherent belief systems into increasingly extreme forms by confirming to one another their perceived “truths” (about Islamophobia, or Bush’s involvement in 9-11, or whatever) and shutting out falsifying information.

For a decade, people like me have been trying to warn people who love civil society, and freedom, and human dignity, and generosity, and empathy for the “other,” and the rich and vibrant fabric of human life that comes from peaceful diversity, that they’ve a) gotten the Arab Israeli conflict profoundly wrong, and b) in granting the Palestinians permission (encouragement) to hate the Israelis, they have mistakenly empowered people who hate them just as much, for reasons they (we, the demotic West) can’t even consider lest we be called Islamophobes.

One of the themes I have repeatedly addressed in this problematic situation of epistemic closure, is the radical imbalance between the left’s demands that anyone defending Israel self-criticize on the one hand, and the astonishing lack of any kind of self-criticism among the attackers of Israel, whether they be Palestinian/Muslim or progressive Left.

It’s time to get serious. Let’s try and work through some of the following:

1) how do we distinguish between Islamophobia and legitimate criticism of Islam?

2) how do we distinguish between Anti-Zionism and legitimate criticism of Israel?

3) how do we reframe the debate so as to avoid the kind of puerile epistemic closures that characterize both right and left?

I’m ready for any and every one of these conversations.

7 Responses to Andrew Sullivan on Breivik’s Epistemic Closure: Left, Right, Not

  1. 1) The term “Islamophobia” was deliberately invented, as a strategic political tactic, by the Islamic supremacist racist genocidally anti-Jewish regime in Iran.

    Antipathetic racism toward Middle Eastern people who are rightly or wrongly perceived as being Muslim, and toward West Asian people who are rightly or wrongly perceived as being Muslim (which, in general, is antipathetic racism toward Middle Eastern people who are rightly or wrongly perceived as being Arab, and toward West Asian people who are wrongly perceived as being Arab, or who, in being rightly or wrongly being perceived as being Muslim, are rightly or wrongly perceived as being in communal association with Arab people), is obvious and is harmful and is wrong, but, compared to most other forms of antipathetic racism, especially compared to antipathetic racism toward Jewish people, and considering the current (ignorant, indoctrinated, false-grievance-driven, resentment-driven, hate-driven, genocidally racist anti-Jewish, and, as part of that, totalitarian supremacist) state of Muslim societies, and considering the (ignorant, indoctrinated, false-grievance-driven, resentment-driven, hate-driven, genocidally racist anti-Jewish, and, as part of that, Islamic supremacist and Arab supremacist) state of the culture of Arab society as a whole, is, at this time, minor and negligible.

    Patronizing sympathetic racism toward Middle Eastern people who are rightly or wrongly perceived as being Muslim, and toward West Asian people who are rightly or wrongly perceived as being Muslim (which, in general, is patronizing sympathetic racism toward Middle Eastern people who are rightly or wrongly perceived as being Arab, and toward West Asian people who are wrongly perceived as being Arab, or who, in being rightly or wrongly perceived as being Muslim, are rightly or wrongly perceived as being in communal association with Arab people; and which is racism that is involved in antipathetic anti-Jewish racism) is rampant and widespread among the members of the most socially influential quarters of culturally Christian-European (Christian and post-Christian) societies.

    Legitimate criticism of Islam is the expressing of the facts of the principal tenets and political mandates of orthodox authoritative Islam.

    2) Anti-Zionism is the propagating of lies (verbal and visual lies of omission, and verbal and visual blatant lies) that vilify Israel and that, involved with that, obfuscate, and that are, therein, part of, the Islamic supremacist, Islamic racist, and Arab racist, and Western racist, war against the nation of the Jewish people.

    At this time, the only legitimate “criticism” of Israel is the giving of constructive beneficial helpful advice to Israelis, and to non-Israeli Jewish people, on how to effectively present the reality of the situation to the world.

    3) In order to “reframe the debate so as to avoid the kind of puerile epistemic closures that characterize both right and left“, we must mindfully, clearly, firmly, tell the factual history of the situation that Israel is in, and we must mindfully, clearly, firmly, describe and explain how and why the West is, with lies, vilifying Israel obfuscating the Islamic supremacist, Islamic racist, and Arab racist, war against Israel.

    Israel – A Brief Summary of the History of the Situation
    http://danielbielak.blogspot.com/2011/03/israel-brief-summary-of-history-of_17.html

    Why the West is, with Lies, Vilifying Israel – Excerpts from Articles by Matthias Küntzel and Ruth Wisse
    http://danielbielak.blogspot.com/2011/03/why-west-is-vilifying-israel-excerpts.html

    Excerpts:

    From “The Anti-Semite’s Pointed Finger”, by Ruth R. Wisse:

    “…Today, by any reasonable standard, Israel remains a beacon of liberalism in an illiberal region. Moreover, on any genuine political compass, Jews and Israel are the true north of liberalism, not simply on account of the way they are constituted as a people, but also because of the anti-liberal forces ranged against them. Arab opponents of Israel themselves oppose liberal democracy and fear its freedoms. Anti-Semitism in all its forms — Christian and Muslim, secular and religious, totalitarian and authoritarian — is an anti-liberal movement, one that explicitly defines liberalism as a Jewish conspiracy. One would therefore expect the alignment of Israel with liberalism and anti-Zionism with anti-liberalism to win Israel the defense of all liberals. The standard-bearers of muscular liberalism, from the 19th-century novelist George Eliot to the late senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson, have done just that, using defense of Jewish rights as a touchstone of liberal principles.

    Yet here is the paradox: the fiercer anti-Semitism grows, the more it forces a choice on liberals. The choice is between protecting the Jews and protecting the orthodox liberal belief in rational compromise, world peace, “getting to yes,” and all the rest. Protecting the Jews requires confronting hostility that is not subject to rational persuasion, does not obey the liberal version of the rule of law, does not abide by liberal ideas of fairness, and does not extend peace and goodwill to others. To side with Israel, therefore, leaves one exposed to the same hostility that assails the Jews — an uncomfortable position for individuals and governments alike. The dictates of self-interest persuade some to ignore aggression that presumably doesn’t concern them, and then to justify their callousness by holding Jews responsible for the aggression against them. Some Jews try to demonstrate their own innocence by dissociating themselves from those of their fellow Jews who are under attack.

    The politics of anti-Semitism strikes again: blaming the Jews succeeds by persuading liberals that it is aimed only at the “culpable” Jews. By casting these Jews as aggressors, it invites liberals to join the attack on them, on behalf of the Jews’ alleged victims. It congratulates liberals for joining the anti-liberal side by persuading them that they stand with the weak against the strong.”

    From “Anti-Semitism 2.0″, by Mudar Zahran (Mudar Zahran is a ‘Palestinian’* Arab writer and academic from Jordan who currently resides in the UK as a political refugee):

    “The concept of the “evil Jew” has made a well-disguised comeback: Criticizing Israel and Zionists, is now deemed a legitimate option to cursing Jews and Judaism. Not only is it open, socially acceptable and legal, but it can actually bring prosperity and popularity. This new form of anti-Semitism 2.0 is well-covered-up, harder to trace and poses a much deeper danger to the modern way of life of the civilized world than the earlier crude form of it, as it slowly and gradually works on delegitimizing Jews to the point where it eventually becomes acceptable to target Jews, first verbally, then physically — all done in a cosmopolitan style where the anti-Semites are well-groomed speakers and headline writers in jackets and ties; and not just Arab, but American and European, from “sanitized” news coverage of the most bloodthirsty radicals, to charges against Israel in which facts are distorted, selectively omitted or simply untrue, as in former President Jimmy Carter’s book on Israel.”

    Note: * I write the term “Palestinian” in single quotes with consideration. I don’t mean to offend any Arab people who have come to view themselves as being ‘Palestinian’ Arab. The writing of the term “Palestinian” in single quotes is the correct, accurate, form of writing the term ‘Palestinian’. The name “Palestine” is the English translation and pronunciation of the name “Falastina”. “Falastina” is the name to which the Romans renamed Yehouda (“Judea”), and neighboring Shomron (“Sameria”), after they committed genocide against the Jewish (Yehoudi) people and annihilated the country of the Jewish people (Yehouda). The Romans renamed Yehouda (“Judea”), and neighboring Shomron (“Sameria”), to “Falastina”, in reference to the then-extinct, Greco, sea-faring, people, the Philistines, who, several hundred years earlier, had attacked the country of the Jewish people, which, at that time, was divided, from the original country of the Jewish people, Israel (Yisrael), into two kingdoms – Yehouda and Yisrael – and which subsequently diminished into only Yehouda. Shomron had been a part of Yisrael. For several hundred years, until 1917, the area of land that the Romans renamed to “Falastina” was part of Islamic Ottoman Turkey. Until 1948, the term “Palestinian” was always only a term that was used by European people to refer only to Jewish people who were living in the area of land that the Romans renamed to “Falastina”. In the 1960′s, as a strategic political propaganda tactic, members of the KGB of the Soviet regime of Russia, and Soviet-supported Arab leaders, began to call the Arab refugees from the 1948 Muslim Arab self-proclaimedly intendedly genocidal attack on Israel the “Palestinian” refugees. As a result of the cunning of anti-Jewish racists, and as a result of the timidity and imperceptivity and appeasement of Jewish people, the Arab refugees from the 1948 Muslim Arab self-proclaimedly intendedly genocidal attack on Israel have come to now even be called “The Palestinians”.

    • Correction:

      “…3) In order to “reframe the debate so as to avoid the kind of puerile epistemic closures that characterize both right and left“, we must mindfully, clearly, firmly, tell the factual history of the situation that Israel is in, and we must mindfully, clearly, firmly, describe and explain how and why the West is, with lies, vilifying Israel and obfuscating the Islamic supremacist, Islamic racist, and Arab racist, war against Israel…”

    • Correction:

      “…and as a result of the timidity and imperceptivity and appeasing acquiescence of Jewish people…”

  2. Rob Miller says:

    Hello Dr. L,
    I think you know by now that as far as I’m concerned, I’m pretty convinced Oslo was a false flag op. If Breivik in his manifesto touted the desirability of allying with Islamists,who’s to say he wasn’t allied with them in the Oslo attacks?

    To get to the meat of your question (and I’ll politely ignore taking someone like Andrew Sullivan seriously) I think the question itself is seriously flawed. It equates Judaism and Islam, Israel and Islamist jihadis.As far as I’m concerned, there is no equivalency. A short look at the events of the last decade alone , let alone the last 1400 odd years should make that abundantly clear.

    Neither Judaism or Israel is a threat to anyone who isn’t trying to destroy them. Islamism definitely is a threat because of the inherent command to bring about dar Islam whether non-Muslims like it or not and that includes a number of nation states like Iran and Pakistan who self-identify as Islamic states.

    Anyone who doesn’t consider this a threat is a fool as far as I’m concerned. There is thus no ‘Islamophobia’ per se that’s not based on empirical evidence. It’s an invented term. That doesn’t mean all Muslims are dangerous or that there’s a license to treat them in an inhumane way, but by and large the world doesn’t do that. Not in any of the western democracies and not in Israel.Any ‘repression’ or ‘profiling’ is based on entirely rational criteria, and even that doesn’t really happen much except in Israel, for very good reasons.

    As for question,’ how do we distinguish between Anti-Zionism and legitimate criticism of Israel?’ that’s even simpler. Most criticism of Israel is based on criteria that is expected to apply to Israel and no other country, and there’s a word for that. The day Israel becomes like every other country and stops anguishing over such nonsense will be a great day.

    There will always be ‘anti-Zionists’ , simply because there will always be Jew haters and Israel is a Jewish state. It’s really time they and we stopped apologizing for its success.

    That’s why I despise the notion of ‘hasbara’. It implies that we actually owe the world an explanation.

    I’m not an academic,so of course this doesn’t have a lot of philosophical references to the works of academics or Jew haters with a byline like Andrew Sullivan.

    But that’s the best answer I can give, and I think it’s the sensible one.

    Shabbat Shalom,
    Rob Miller @ Joshuapundit

    • Rob,

      I’m writing this message just to let you and other people know that the web address that is the link in your name which is posted at the beginning of your message is spelled incorrectly as: “joshuapundit.blogpot.com” (instead of being spelled correctly as : “joshuapundit.blogspot.com”).

      The web site to which the incorrectly spelled web address (“joshuapundit.blogpot.com”) which is the link in your name, which is posted at the beginning of your message, is a link is a web site whose content is religious Christian messianic “end-times” articles.

      Dan

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