Jeffrey Goldberg: 4-D Jews, 2-D Gentiles, 1-D Muslims

Jeffrey Goldberg has published a short op-ed piece about the terrorist attacks he fears the most. In so doing, I think he thought he was trying to prevent terrible things from happening, but what I think he really did was illustrate the problem with how some people process the problem of terrorism in ways that are so deeply condescending that, in a world where “Islamophobia” is often called “racism” (as in Goldberg’s own remark about Pamela Geller as a “lunatic racist”) such condescension pushes the limits of unconscious racism.

The core of the problem so nicely illustrated by Goldberg is that he treats Muslim behavior as a force of nature, something at once predictable in the sense of a “law of nature” and something beyond all moral suasion. As Charles Jacobs put it, in discussing the “Human Rights Complex” (something Goldberg undoubtedly shares), you don’t criticize your cat for chasing mice and birds; it’s in the animal’s nature. So in listing his fears, Goldberg carefully skirts around the underlying fear – Muslim terrorism – the fear that can’t be named. Basically, Goldberg three major fears are all forces that might provoke Muslim rage.

Three Terrorist Attacks I Worry About the Most: Jeffrey Goldberg
By Jeffrey Goldberg Aug 2, 2011 3:00 AM GMT+0300 25 Comments

(Jeffrey Goldberg, a national correspondent for The Atlantic, is a Bloomberg View columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)

“One rocket, fired from right here,” my friend said. He didn’t have to complete the sentence.

A few months ago, I visited a building in the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City owned by a radical yeshiva. A friend, sympathetic to my worry, took me to the roof, up a series of dark, winding staircases. We came out into the sunlight. There, seemingly close enough to touch, was the golden dome.

In Israel, the Shabak takes the threat of Jewish extremism quite seriously. But once again, lone wolves or small, self- radicalized cells are difficult to stop. And the target is exposed.

In the U.S., it’s impossible to say. Such is the nature of lone-wolf terrorism. One day, a Timothy McVeigh or an Anders Breivik is completely unknown to the public and to the authorities. The next, he has written himself into history.

Yehuda Etzion, a former member of a Jewish terrorist group in the West Bank, once drove me to the top of the Mount of Olives, to a ridge above the Garden of Gethsemane, and asked me to look out across the valley, to the Temple Mount on the far side.

Shimmering in the sunlight was the Dome of the Rock, one of the world’s most important Muslim shrines. I said that the Dome was beautiful. Etzion answered that he didn’t even see it.

I asked him what he meant. “Look, maybe it’s beautiful,” he said.“But my father told me once that there are very many nice women in the world, beautiful women, but you have only one wife. This building is not my woman. It’s my enemy’s woman. So I don’t see it.”

I asked him what he saw instead. “I see the place where the Temple will stand.”

The Temple in question is the yet-unbuilt Third Temple, which certain Jews of a messianic bent believe should be built atop the Mount (site of the first two Jewish Temples), in place of the Dome of the Rock. But how to remove the Dome? Etzion and his fellow extremists once plotted to blow it up. The Israeli internal security service, the Shabak, caught them and sent them to jail before any damage could be done. Etzion told me he didn’t regret the plot, only that it didn’t work.

It could still work, however. There are still Jewish extremists roaming the Old City of Jerusalem, and some West Bank Jewish settlements are still home to men who believe they could hasten the coming of the messiah by igniting a cataclysmic war with Islam. I’ve met these men — rabbis among them — and they believe that God would save Israel if the Muslim world rose up in anger at the destruction of what one rabbi called “the abomination.”

They are right about one thing: The Muslim world would ignite if the Dome were attacked.

Clash of Civilizations

The terrorist who imagines himself to be not merely an agent of the aggrieved, but the salvation of his civilization — these are the ones to fear. Anders Behring Breivik, who killed 77 people July 22 in Norway because he believed Europe was under threat from Islam and multiculturalism, is the new archetype.

The ambitious terrorist of this moment in history seeks not simply to kill large numbers of innocent people, or to terrify an even greater number of people. He seeks nothing less than to provoke the thing we have so far mainly been able to avoid: a clash of civilizations.

Three attacks, in particular, I worry could have such world- changing effects. A plot against the Dome of the Rock is one.

Another would be an attack inside the U.S. of the kind that just took place in Norway — an assault by a white, Christian extremist agitated by the imagined specter of worldwide Muslim domination, either against a government target, in the Oklahoma City and Oslo manner, or against a Muslim target.

Febrile Minds

A deadly attack prompted by anxiety about the building of mosques, for instance, would do irreparable harm to America’s image as a diverse and welcoming refuge, and could trigger the clash of civilizations extremists (both anti-Muslim Americans and anti-American Muslims) so desperately seek.

Is this a possibility? Spend time on websites devoted to stopping the coming invasion of the American court system by Muslim law — an invasion that exists only in the febrile minds of anti-Muslim agitators — or visit the sites devoted to keeping mosques out of places like Murfreesboro, Tennessee. It’s not hard to imagine that an unstable person with access to explosives would try to carry these campaigns to their logical conclusions.

Having followed the Boston Mosque controversy, and tracking the English Sharia law controversy, I’d say assigning these concerns to the “febrile minds of anti-Muslm agitators” is part of the problem. It’s the only way, though, that Goldberg seems to know for suppressing the thing he fears – an attack that will provoke Muslim violence. Of course in taking this tack – radical Muslims are so crazy that we should avoid criticizing Islam lest we provoke people who provoke the worst from them – he makes the situation worse not better. If it’s not febrile minds at work, but observers of a febrile phenomenon, just how should one express oneself to warn against a serious problem (which Goldberg tacitly acknowledges throughout this post)?

Of course, the main terrorist threat to global security still emanates from Islamist groups: al-Qaeda, Qaeda affiliates and those inspired by the Qaeda message. But al-Qaeda itself has little ability now to launch a world-changing attack.

Huh? It’s just al Qaeda? (What does Qaeda affiliates mean?) Does that include Hamas, Hizbullah, Hizb ut Tahrir, etc.? Or is this short list an effort at containment? After all, how can you say “the imagined specter of worldwide Muslim domination” unless you minimize those Muslims you think are trying to accomplish that?

The Lashkar Threat

That ability resides with another Islamist organization, the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba, which has links to the Pakistani intelligence service. Lashkar unleashed the devastating attack on Mumbai in November 2008 that killed 164. That attack, terrible as it was, did not lead to war between India and Pakistan only because India’s government made the deliberate decision not to retaliate.

But a second terrorist spectacular in Mumbai? The Indian defense minister, Pallam Raju, said in June that “if a provocation is to happen again, it would be hard to justify to our people self-restraint.” And Pakistan — which still views India as a hegemonic Hindu power dominating Muslims across the subcontinent — would surely respond to an Indian reprisal with force. These two states, with massive armies and impressive atomic arsenals, could spiral toward a nuclear exchange.

Okay here we have the racism of low expectations aimed at both Indians and Pakistanis. Granted they’ve made it to here with nuclear weapons without a war, so they’re reasonably susceptible to the rational logic of MADD. But with an attack, who could expect India and Pakistan – “surely” – not to spiral out of control. After all, they’re still pretty primitive folks, no?

Targets Are Exposed

What’s the likelihood that that any of these three attacks could happen? In Mumbai, the likelihood is fairly high. Lashkar is a potent and fanatic group with state support, and Mumbai remains a vulnerable target, as a fatal bombing showed last month.

In the U.S., it’s impossible to say. Such is the nature of lone-wolf terrorism. One day, a Timothy McVeigh or an Anders Breivik is completely unknown to the public and to the authorities. The next, he has written himself into history.

In Israel, the Shabak takes the threat of Jewish extremism quite seriously. But once again, lone wolves or small, self- radicalized cells are difficult to stop. And the target is exposed.

A few months ago, I visited a building in the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City owned by a radical yeshiva. A friend, sympathetic to my worry, took me to the roof, up a series of dark, winding staircases. We came out into the sunlight. There, seemingly close enough to touch, was the golden dome.

“One rocket, fired from right here,” my friend said. He didn’t have to complete the sentence.

He didn’t have to complete it, because such is the low opinion of both Goldberg and his friend for the Muslims that he assumes, that like some animal, the response will be entirely predictable and violent. The idea that Muslims should, as a Ummah, show restraint, acknowledge, for example, that it might just be a small group, that it may even be Muslims who did this to trigger the war that should be avoided at all costs, and that they should await the evidence, is laughable to them – and rightfully so.

Indeed, Muslims, as a collective voice, have shown themselves to be astonishingly volatile and aggressive, and in the last decade their “street” has spread around the world. And by and large, the major players in the Western public sphere have greeted this aggression with placation. When the Pope said Islam was violent and Muslim’s rioted murderously at the mere suggestion they were violent, the consensus among Western progressives was that the Pope should apologize for provoking them. He should have known better.

Known what? That they’d start killing people to protest your calling them violent? Surely this is a bad joke, a kind of third-grade immaturity and insecurity that no one would possibly assume about a great and dignified religion (of peace). Of course, to point this out puts one perilously close to “racist Islamophobia” and subjects one to the kind of disdain and contempt Jeffrey and his friends reserve for those they so designate.

So along with silence about the real problem – which must above all be placated – we end up with the furor directed at those who might provoke the evil that cannot be named, or even at those who Jeffrey and friends believe might provoke the people who might provoke that evil that cannot be named. Jeffrey’s fears reveal more than his genuine concern for all the people who might be killed and maimed in the terrible events all this provocation might indeed lead to. It also reveals his fear of even thinking about the real problem.

And the irony of it all is that a man who spends considerable effort trying to avoid being tagged a racist (and tagging others as such), comes close, not in appearance but in actuality, to being a racist when it comes to his astonishingly low estimate of the moral character of Islam and its 1+ billion devotees.

Thus his article is mostly about the Jews, whom he knows and thinks about in four dimensions, then a bit about the crazy Christians and only partially restrained Hindus whom he thinks about in two dimensions, and almost not at all (the specter haunting his essay) about Muslims whom he thinks about, unconsciously, in one dimension.

And in not tackling the real thing to fear – an active cataclysmic apocalyptic movement struggling for a hierarchical millennium of global dominion – Goldberg and those who proceed in the same line of thought, condemn us all to an interminable life of just these kinds of fears, always walking on egg-shells to avoid provoking the explosive forces we won’t talk about (and, arguably thereby encourage).

Is this a way to win a cognitive war for peace and human dignity and tolerance?

19 Responses to Jeffrey Goldberg: 4-D Jews, 2-D Gentiles, 1-D Muslims

  1. This reminds me of a conversation I had years ago with an arch liberal about providing bi-lingual education for recent Hispanic immigrants when no other immigrant group required such accommodations in our history. He told me that we had to provide it, since Hispanics had such a poorer ability to learn English and they needed more support. I pointed out to him that if I, as a voting republican, had said that he would call me racist, but somehow he gets to say these things because he deems himself a liberal, hence morally superior to everyone. The truth of the matter is that those liberals-leftist-and cultural relativists, who perpetuate the idea that Moslems are not capable of joining the civilized world, understanding how freedom works and what is associated with freedoms are the racist individuals. They perpetuate the concept of western superiority and are the inheritors of the concept of the “white man’s burden.” But then again this editorial is part and parcel of Goldberg’s perspective and his blame everything on the ” but if the Jews only did this” vision of the world.

  2. Rich Rostrom says:

    I think this is a little strong. It is disgusting that Western academics and media censor themselves or use pseudonyms because of threats from violent Moslems over cartoons or scholarly discussions of the Koran.

    But blowing up the Dome of the Rock would be a genuine provocation. Pious Moslems would be legitimately outraged.

    Even now, a clear majority of Moslems are not jihadist, and many Moslem-country governments cooperate in the fight against jihadist terror.

    But an action of that nature, a wholly gratuitous attack on the Moslem religion, would shift that balance in a bad way. One need not be in denial about the self-absorbed arrogance of “Islamic Rage Boy” and his ilk to realize that inflicting a serious real grievance on the Moslem community would be stupid.

    It could, as some extremists hope, cause a general war between Islam and the West. But one should be careful what one wishes for; one might get it.

    This reminds me of the Communist position during the Weimar Republic. The Communists openly worked to destroy the republic. They believed that when the “sham of bourgeois democracy” was replaced by explict fascist dictatorship, there would be revolutionary combat between the fascists and the proletariat, ending in inevitable Red victory. We know how that worked out.

    Islam is of course materially incapable of conquering the West, but such a battle would be enormously destructive. And history and public opinion tend to judge negatively those who start destructive wars with provocative wrong acts. I think you agree that blowing up the Dome of the Rock would be wrong? It could be viewed as such a wrong act as to fatally discredit Zionism, and lead to the abandonment of Israel.

    (One memoir records that when Sherman’s army marched north from Savannah, a Georgia farmer called out to them, “When you git to South Carolina, burn them out too! This was their idea!”)

  3. Richard Landes says:

    no doubt a Jew blowing up the Dome of the Rock would be a catastrophe and I’m certainly glad that the Shabak works diligently to make sure it doesn’t happen. But i do think that it helps to address the issue of why it would lead to a massive war. The act would set a match to a huge cache of gunpowder: let’s start addressing just what that gunpowder is made of.

  4. Ben says:

    Blowing up the Dome would indeed be provocative, putting it mildly. Wouldn’t such an act also risk damage to Jewish Holy Sites which the Goldebrg-feared apparently not-too-theoretical religious Jewish zealot/terrorist/bomber would be loathe to harm?
    But what if, instead of blowing up Al Aqsa, some penetrating serious analysis were devoted to the question of why the Dome is of such enormous significance, and what if, instead of that analysis being done by religious Jewish zealot/terrorist/bombers, it was done by, say, Buddhists? Rioting, mayhem and murder is the Muslim world’s answer to cartoons and Papal quotations. Would any suggestion that the Dome’s importance might be undeserved bring any lesser response?

  5. Ray in Seattle says:

    Rich Rosttrom says: “But an action of that nature, a wholly gratuitous attack on the Moslem religion, would shift that balance in a bad way. One need not be in denial about the self-absorbed arrogance of “Islamic Rage Boy” and his ilk to realize that inflicting a serious real grievance on the Moslem community would be stupid. It could, as some extremists hope, cause a general war between Islam and the West. But one should be careful what one wishes for; one might get it.

    Why did not the killing of almost 4000 innocent Americans on 9/11 not cause a general war of retaliation by the West against Islam”?

    And why do you suggest that an attack on a religious shrine (the Dome) that kills no-one (or very few at least) would provoke such a general war against the West from Muslims worldwide?

    Do you see the difference? I think Richard is correct in pointing to the nature of the gunpowder.

  6. pacific_waters says:

    Rick, you’re a dhimmi.

  7. Richard Landes says:

    while i do think that certain people in the west behave as proleptic dhimmis (ie dhimmis without having been conquered), i don’t think Rick is one of them and, like fascist, racist, and anti-semite, i think the term should be used carefully so it doesn’t lose its meaning and effectiveness.

  8. FuzzyFace says:

    Sure. blowing up the Dome of the Rock would be a provocation… so why wasn’t Moslems razing the Tomb of Joseph a provocation…?

  9. Cynic says:

    Wouldn’t such an act also risk damage to Jewish Holy Sites which the Goldebrg-feared apparently not-too-theoretical religious Jewish zealot/terrorist/bomber would be loathe to harm?

    Those sites have already been damaged or destroyed and no reprisal from “the Jewish zealots” has been accepted in the same manner as the lack of US response to the Beirut bombing of marines, the Cole bombing etc, where anything is provocative enough to serve as an excuse.
    Today’s situation is the result of years of timidity in standing up for one’s own foreign policy driven security.

    • Ben says:

      Understand that I think Goldberg is full of it and that my reference to “zealots” was sarcastic. As far as the US responses to attacks go, I attribute our reactions more to deliberation than timidity. We don’t have the luxury of just lashing out in a manner we would expect from Arabs if the Dome were attacked. And US interests in the region include both Israel and the Arabs. As hamstrung as the US is by conflicting political and other interests, I think that far more substantial challenges face Israel in her responses to provocations. While timidity might play a role, I have to believe that there are other influences at work as well, like deliberation, intellect, and sobriety.

  10. ErisGuy says:

    “ending in inevitable Red victory. We know how that worked out.”

    In a war between fascism and communism and in a communist Berlin for 64 years. Not exactly five-star accuracy for the communist prophets, but better than my neighborhood palm reader.

    “a kind of third-grade immaturity and insecurity that no one would possibly assume about a great and dignified religion”

    His subconscious judgments temper his conscious statements. He correctly understands Islam, then lies to himself and others about it being a, well, “religion” and then about it being a “religion of peace.”

  11. […] whom they smear as Islamophobes, from saying something that might bruise Muslims feelings. Indeed, they seem more worried about “us” provoking Muslim violence than about exploring the sources of Muslim violence. And […]

  12. […] whom they smear as Islamophobes, from saying something that might bruise Muslims feelings. Indeed, they seem more worried about us provoking Muslim violence than about exploring the sources of Muslim violence. And often […]

  13. […] whom they smear as Islamophobes, from saying something that might bruise Muslims feelings. Indeed, they seem more worried about “us” provoking Muslim violence than about exploring the sources of Muslim violence. And […]

  14. Steve in Miami says:

    The irony is that if Muslim extremists blew up a Christian or Jewish shrine these worlds would be beating themselves up to not lash out at all Muslim’s everywhere as we are constantly reminded that it is only the bad Muslims, not the bulk of the Muslims responsible.

    Goldberg on the other hand, doesn’t consider that Muslims would respond the same way if a Jewish (or Christian) extremist blew up the dome of the rock. He believes it would unleash this anti-whomever Muslim furry that would be unstoppable. Does this make Goldberg a racist? I thought all the good Muslims out there would understand that it was a few bad apples that blew up the dome of the rock and that it wasn’t the normative position.

  15. […] actually what I think describes the (unconsciously racist) Western attitude and the Arab demand: Do not have any moral expectations of them, do not hold them up to any kind of moral standard. Excuse everything they do, “objectively […]

  16. […] liberals who don’t think Palestinians (or Arabs, or Muslims) can handle serious criticism, who are the racists, and they defend themselves by pretending that “they’re just like us” and […]

  17. […] a result, Gorenberg is susceptible to framing the conflict in terms of the “four dimensional Israeli, two- (or one-) dimensional Palestinian“. Since I rarely agree with Phillip Weiss, let me note that he points out the same lack of […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *