LCE and the Arab-Israeli conflict: Arab mothers are just like everyone

This post has been updated with material from an Facebook exchange with Paul Halsall.

In an article in Ha-Aretz, where he argues a stylish pomo-poco case that the prisoner exchange reveals Israel’s racism, Alon Idan makes a number of statements that reveal the counter-empirical assertions that necessarily underly his argument:

Yet behind this feeling of superiority [at how much Israelis value life more than Palestinians] lurked a murky, inverted truth. The fact is, the release of one Israeli soldier for 1,027 Palestinian prisoners is not normal; certainly it does not represent an inferior love felt by a Palestinian mother for her son compared to an Israeli mother…. This equation derives from the way we, not Hamas, view reality: 1,027 Palestinians are worth one Jewish life not because the Palestinians minimize the importance of their own lives, but because we diminish the value of their lives.

Certainly. I remember hearing the same from Ted Koppel at the outbreak of the intifada. Hosting a program in which he had to have the Israelis separated from the Palestinians – on the insistence of the Palestinians – he responded to one Israeli claiming that the Palestinians wanted war: “I don’t believe that for a minute. A Palestinian mother cares about her children every bit as much as an Israeli mother.”

It was indeed these dogmatic kinds of politically correct statements that led me to formulate the expression “liberal cognitive egocentrism.” This kind of thinking, which Edward Saïd insisted we – not the Arabs – adopt, is a major element in the cognitive war that Islam wages against us, and creates an extensive epistemological confusion in which we cannot identify the problems or analyze how to resolve them. The editors of the NYT, and their major columnists like Friedman, Kristof, and Cohen, all participate in this liberal, PC dogma, and accordingly, find themselves constantly ignoring reality and coming up with ludicrous solutions. (As Pierre Taguieff pointed out long ago, when all the fishes swim in the same direction it’s because they’re dead.”)

Indeed, as long as you believe that the Palestinians are “just like us” and all they want is a state of their own, and their terror is a sign of the desperation at not getting what everyone else has (rather than aspiration to destroy someone else’s), then obviously, Bibi  (and any other Israeli leader who doesn’t retreat to the 67 boundaries) is responsible for the impass which – everyone knows – could be resolved, in the words of one BBC commentator, by email. Never mind that in the real world, people who pursue these satisfying if fantastic solution end up looking – at best – like keystone cops.

Elder of Ziyon catches the latest of the depressingly long list of examples that say something radically different about Palestinian culture.

 The Islamic Jihad website Saraya has an article about Khansa Fatima Sheikh Khalil, a Gaza mother who has had five of her terrorist sons killed “in martyrdom.” She is looking forward to joining her sons in paradise. The article says that she did not cry for more than five minutes upon news of her son Ahmad’s death on Saturday. She expressed joy and praised Allah for what happened, and expressed hope that her sons are all accepted into Paradise where they would be, presumably, happily screwing a bunch of virgins for eternity. Khalil also expressed her fervent wish that Islamic Jihad continue to create Jewish widows and orphans. She called on Allah to grant success to the “resistance” and to defeat the Jews for “our land.” She has two more sons left, as well as two daughters. Ahmed also leaves behind three wives. One of Ahmad’s remaining brothers said “we always expected him to be killed.”

Khansa Fatima Sheikh Khalil and her dead sons (in heaven, for sure)

Now will someone please show me a mother in Israel today (cf. 2 Maccabees, 7) who would be proud about not crying for her dead children, and eager to send more to their death if only she could create widows and orphans among the Arabs? Even if some mother felt so, she would not express such emotions openly: for Israelis such overriding desire for revenge is shameful.

And if you wish to argue that this mother doesn’t really feel these things, she’s just responding to social pressures, from a moral point of view you’ve jumped from the frying pan into the fire: what culture demands that its mothers not mourn their dead children, indeed, that in some cases, mothers kill their own daughters?

Amira Qaoud who killed her daughter (raped by two of her sons) so that the community would accept the family.

The problem here runs deep. Ever since I debated some ISMers in 2002, I’ve become familiar refrain that if you talk about what’s wrong with the Palestinians you’re a racist. But I’ve come to realize that it’s the 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 demonizing anyone who disagrees. In the words of Simon Deng, a freed Sudanese slave, it’s not only “absurd, it’s immoral.”

We need a spatial term to correspond to the chronological term anachronism. Just as we tend to project our contemporary experience and attitudes on people who lived in the past, so we do that to people who live in other cultures. It may make us feel good for not passing judgments on others, for cleaving to moral equality, but one has to wonder at what price we are willing to indulge. It makes us easy marks for demopaths.

Better dead than [considered a] racist?

How… honor-shame, and how utterly wasteful!

In an exchange with Paul Halsall at Facebook, he encouraged me to make the following clarification.

Paul wrote: “I think your problem is that that you have got into some sort of circular thought pattern, and are now not showing that you are able to see the common humanity of actual individual Palestinians.”

I respond: I have no problem seeing the common humanity of actual individual Palestinians. I’m all for those kinds of friendships, and it’s clear that a real friendship with Arabs is not a dull affair. My problem is with Palestinian culture right now, with what’s permitted and encouraged in the public sphere. Are there mothers who secretly grieve? I’ll bet many, most. But they can’t show it because of a dominating, disgusting political culture that runs right down from the religious and secular tyrants to the alpha males who dominate their women – daughters and wives – with death threats in the service of their honor. That’s what we should be criticizing as progressives, not reinforcing that predatory patriarchal elite by buying into their scapegoating of Israel to distract from their terrible deeds (eg the Palestinian refugees).


17 Responses to LCE and the Arab-Israeli conflict: Arab mothers are just like everyone

  1. Paul Halsall says:


    When you reduce all Palestinians to some stereotype, backed up by a few examples, yes, you are being racist.

    It’s exactly the same mental procedure as taking figures like Bernie Madoff (and the heads of the various charities who invested with him), as examples of some Jewish stereotype.

    As you well know, I could multiply examples of greedy Jewish bankers for many pages. Just as I am sure you could multiply examples of ideologically driven Palestinian mothers.

    But as some one who lived in New York for over decade, worked for two summers on a kibbutz as a youth, I absolutely know that such stereotypes of Jews are wrong and a result of anti-Semitism. I did not, in fact, know any Jewish bankers (although I slept with a few goyischer ones), but I knew literally hundreds of Jewish students, colleagues, friends, and fellow social justice activists.

    I think your problem is that that you have got into some sort of circular thought pattern, and are now not showing that you are able to see the common humanity of actual individual Palestinians.

    • Babs says:

      @Paul Halsall, can you tell us about any incidences where Palestinian mothers stand up against their culture’s egregious demands for their children’s martyrdom? Why, for example, don’t they insist that the recruiters lead by example or refuse to allow their children’s heads to be messed with? The women are certainly not encouraged to do that by their codependent supporters in the West are they? What are YOU doing about it?

      Your risible attempt to give your criticisms some sort of stamp of authority – so you spent time on kibbutz, so what? How exactly does that make you an expert on Palestinians’ abuse of their women and children?

      Google some of the children’s TV programs on Palestinian television. You can find them at Palestinian Media Watch. Israel does not diminish the value of Palestinian lives and futures. There would be no need for it to do so even if it were so inclined because the Palestinian cultures do that very well. Try to imagine minds and existences so abused and so devoid of empathy or creature feeling that they (a) allow their children to be abused in such ways and encouraged to want to die whilst murdering others and (b) actually say that they are proud when their children succeed!

      I referred to Palestinian abuse of their women. Here is where you can do some good. Were the Palestinian women to get the power they deserve, they would not so easily allow their children’s lives to be disposed of. Start campaigning for women’s rights among Palestinians and elsewhere in Islamist regimes.

  2. Cynic says:

    There was an article just this week in Israel Hayom by Dror Eydar
    Saint Thomas

    in which he he basically starts out with

    Western liberalism has been trying for years to decipher the code of Middle Eastern behavior. Years of colonialism resulted in pangs of conscience that led to an absolutely Westernized perception of the Orient. Criticism on Orientalism, i.e., the science of Middle Eastern studies, from Edward Said and his cohorts rendered the West’s methods of studying the East ineffective, to the point that the mythical and tribal dimensions were almost totally neglected – the same ancient dimensions that from deep within motivate nations and groups more than any apparent economic or national interest.

    and he ends after defining 10 points about Friedman

    10 – Friedman’s final basic assumption is repetitive to the point of an obsessive compulsion: It is Netanyahu who is mainly responsible for the absence of a peace process. “He wasted time in his attempt to avoid an agreement with the Palestinians. Everyone knows that. No one is dumb.”

    “Everyone knows that” is a claim reserved for those who do not have a winning ticket, other than their own word. The truth is that Thomas Friedman has no idea about the political, security, religious, historical, and cultural affairs of this region, despite the fact that The New York Times allows him to pull the wool over the eyes of his readers. Everyone knows that. No one is dumb …

    Obsessive compulsion because Friedman needs to convince himself?
    To avoid the angst of a belief mired in quicksand?

  3. Cynic says:

    Paul Halsall,

    When the general form of rhetoric coming out of an area presents a standard voice, does one then have to search for some hidden dissenting voice to present a “fair and balanced” point of view?
    So to criticize what comes out of the Arab and Palestinian media is racist?
    Something akin to quoting the Qur’an to display Muslim actions is racist and Islamophobic?

  4. RichardNYC says:

    @Paul Halsall

    It is not a matter of anecdotes. Every Palestinian martyr is venerated, not mourned, publicly.

  5. Walter Sobchak says:

    The statement “A Palestinian mother cares about her children every bit as much as an Israeli mother.”

    Is logically attacked by demonstrating that there are Palestinian mother’s who act with callous indifference to their children’s lives, who are willing to kill their children, who celebrate the suicides of Palestinian children.

    The hypothesis that “the common humanity of actual individual Palestinians” exists is just that unsupported by any evidence. Of course, the lesson of history is that humanity is extraordinarily nasty stuff. So, it may be sadly true.

    Further Halsall’s laying down of the racist card, and his insistence on his sexual prowess, are further evidence of the common humanity of the victims of LCE, in the latter sense.

  6. Paul Halsall says:

    I am so glad you are impressed by my sexual prowess, Walter. I feel like Moses Deut 34:7 “his eye was not dim nor his natural force abated.”

    That beings the case I take issue with your statement:

    “The hypothesis that “the common humanity of actual individual Palestinians” exists is just that unsupported by any evidence. ”

    That is because the counter-thesis is that “Palestinians do not share no common humanity”.

    If you believe that then you are indeed a racist, and you may call that a “card” all you want.

  7. Richard Landes says:

    i’d like everyone involved in this discussion to define what “common humanity” means.

    • Leo Barilov says:

      “Common humanity” is just another “politically correct” myth.
      There is no “common humanity” beyond the merely physiological aspects of human existence.

      Obviously cultures, political ideologies, social systems, religions, philosophies, mentalities are NOT equal. To dogmatically claim otherwise is to deny the objective reality.

      Interestingly, it’s the irrational PC types bloviating endlessly about “celebrating diversity and differences” who immediately start screaming “racism”, whenever someone points out that actual serious differences truly exist.

      It’s also the same people who love to rant about “greedy bankers” and proudly accociate themselves with various “soclai justice” (read far-left marxist) groups.

    • Cynic says:

      The “common humanity” I presume is what is “commonly” projected by Western culture in its cognitive egocentrism.
      Witnessing the interactions in a tribal/clan culture up close where the uncommon “humanity” directed at the spouse from the maternal side, because one from the paternal lineage was not available, makes one wonder what commonality of humanity exists.
      There are individual acts away from the general culture that leave one hopeful but that’s not common.

  8. thesadredearth says:

    One element in clarifying what one means by “common humanity,” would be clarifying whether one identifies it synonymously with “culture.” Can there be elements of a “common” humanity, yet differences in culture? Presumably so, or else we have to argue that all cultures, despite our immersion in the empirical evidence to the contrary, are the same. When we distinguish among cultures, we know we delineate not just holiday costumes and religious customs, but values. Richard’s argument as I read it, refers to culture, not to humanity, and not to any individual, in that person’s individuality distinct from the rest of humanity or the person’s culture. As Richard points out, we have here undefined terms. We also have unacknowledged and undiscriminated terms.

  9. John S says:

    Have you read Daniel Greenfield article on this subject?

    “The most common justification for the Shalit deal is to wear it as a perverse badge of moral nobility. “What other country would exchange a thousand terrorists for one man.” This is a close cousin of the argument that says the United States treating terrorists with kid gloves proves that it is nobler than them. Both of these insufferable arguments are symptoms of the moral decline of civilization.

    If the life of a single soldier is more important than the battle, then why have battles or soldiers at all? We don’t send soldiers out to fight because we think that their lives are worthless, but because the objective of war is to save even more lives than those that will be lost in fighting it. Or to preserve that liberty and independence from enemy oppression which are the qualities that make life worthwhile.

    There is nothing to be proud of in a moral confusion that puts the soldier before the battle. Even less in a country whose commanders and politicians think nothing of sacrificing soldiers in order to preserve the lives of enemy civilians.

    All the kvelling over Gilad Shalit would be a trifle less dishonest if the pundits, politicians and generals did not believe that sending a dozen boys like Shalit into battle without air and artillery support to avoid harming enemy civilians was also evidence of moral superiority.

    If the moral equations say that the life of Gilad Shalit is worth a major national defeat and that the life of a Gilad Shalit is worth less than that of an enemy civilian, then it’s no wonder that the terrorists are thriving. Israel’s own idiot elites have laid out a formula under which the IDF must lose every battle to preserve the nation’s morality. It’s Masada as practiced by left-wing lunatics.

    This peacenik logic makes it appearance at rallies protesting against terrorism when someone breaks out into another round of, “Od Yavo Shalom Aleinu”, to show that we really want peace. Whom do we want peace with? The people killing us. The people we are protesting against. But like teachers’ pets we have to keep reminding the teacher that we really are good students.

    Armed pacifism is a contradiction in terms. Reluctant warriors who believe that peace is the ideal state are forced to blame the lack of peace on someone else. “We would love to put flowers in our guns and let the birds nest in our cannons, but those people over there keep shooting at us.” It’s true, but it’s also besides the point. Expediency is a weak and unconvincing argument against an ideal.

    If you view war as an unfortunate response to violence, while the enemy views war as a moral act– then the moral weight of the argument will always be on their side.

    The Muslims declare that war is their ultimate ambition while the Israelis counter that peace is their ultimate ambition, but they just can’t make it work when the other side is trying to kill them. In a rational world they would win the argument. In a world where emotional arguments that appeal to ideals are more compelling than pragmatic ‘shades of grey’ positions, the people who believe that purity of arms comes from the righteousness of their cause win out over those who believe that purity of arms comes from avoiding killing civilians.

    Or take that famous Golda Meir quote. “Peace will come when the Arabs will love their children more than they hate us.” The insipid quote assumes that people who love their children don’t hate other people. Or don’t hate them enough to send their children into battle against them. “

  10. Zara Calvente says:

    In a society that successfully brainwashes children to kill, can the mothers truly be thought of as “just like all other moms”?

    Recognizing that there is a “common humanity” of all, that every individual is created in the image of G-d, need not blind
    one to the fact that others don’t necessarily see the world in this way.
    What if a woman’s emotions have been manipulated since birth? (See linked article.)
    If a mother indoctrinated to hate does not believe in a shared humanity, is she really just like all those mothers one meets in the playground?

  11. Mark Brown says:

    The way that Halsell uses the term “common humanity” begs the question of whether groups can choose, hold and cultivate, and disseminate “inhuman” practices, or practices destructive of elemental human bonds. I imagine that characteristics of groups are never the whole story of “who they really are.” I also imagine, though, that at a certain point when large, and in many ways dominant groups of people within society give themselves to propagating a form of action, like suicide terror, they themselves go on a wild ride, and can become possessed of the form, and degraded thereby. At that point, they relinquish “common humanity” in various ways, and deep structures such as forms of “mothering” can get horrifically twisted and perverse. Can this become commonplace within a society? Yes, I think. Am I being racist? No.

  12. w.w.wygart says:

    My experience of LCE.

    “I don’t believe that for a minute. A Palestinian mother cares about her children every bit as much as an Israeli mother.” ~ Ted Koppel

    That may be true in the sense of the words “as much as”, but as far as I can tell Palestinian mothers and society in general care about their children very differently than other mothers I know in the Western world – sad but true.

    There are real differences between the modern world and the world of traditional cultures, that are very difficult for moderns to comprehend, and when those differences take on pathological differences the cognitive dissonance it creates with our own value system may cause us to excuse the inexcusable – as I think is the case with the Palestinians.

    I don’t know about anyone else, but I have felt very conflicted about the Israeli-Palestinian situation for as long as I have known about it, which for me dates back to the Yom Kippur War and Henry Kissenger’s shuttle diplomacy – grade school.

    On the one hand I believed that after the Holocaust that Jews need a permanent homeland of their own, Israel, but at the same time the Palestinians in Gaza and the West bank need something better than permanent occupation by the Israeli Army.

    I don’t know what the answer is or how it is to be achieved.

    I sympathize with the rights, needs and travails of both sides, but in the last ten years I have become very sick of the way the Palestinians themselves have come to be treated like PETS by their sympathizers in the Western world – that is the Palestinians were never allowed to bear responsibility for their own actions – the logical but unstated implication being that they cannot hold themselves accountable for their own actions – and that all responsibility for the violence and chaos in the region necessarily devolves to the Israelis. By the standards of the term ‘racism’ we are banding about here, this would seem to qualify too.

    I remember watching Brooke Goldstein and Alistair Leyland’s 2006 documentary, “The Making of a Martyr” probably in 2007.
    It has since become hard to find online but can still be found at:

    Watching the film for the first time, I found it very depressing, and discouraging to watch this bizarre [to me] story of Hassam Abdo the 15 year old would-be suicide bomber who surrendered himself at an Israeli Army Checkpoint in the West Bank [Hawara] unfold – I really did not want it to be true.

    Then the documentary makers interviewed Hussam’s parents at their home in Nablus and at about minute 14:00 the interviewer ask Hussam’s parents about his future after Israeli jail.

    Interviewer [to Hussam’s parents]: What will he do when he gets out of prison?

    Mother: He needs a lot of care, a lot of my love. I am going to hold him close to my heart, and never let him go out to the street. I want to take extra care of him.

    Father: He is a grown man now.

    Mother: He will never grow up, he will always be my baby.

    I remember distinctly feeling this great sense of relief and elation, “Palestinian motherhood!! There is Hope!”

    Then a few minutes later the film makers are interviewing the mother of Wafa Idris, the first female Palestinian suicide bomber who detonated a 22lb backpack bomb she was wearing outside a Jerusalem pizzeria in 2002, killing one elderly man and injuring 100 others.

    At minute 21:00

    Interviewer: Amid all of these events, did you feel proud of her? Are you glad she is a martyr?

    Mother: She did nothing bad, by God. My mind tells me she did nothing wrong. It is something that raises the head. However, when I remember her I start crying, and people say I should recover and not to cry.

    It broke my heart – you have to watch this to understand it – this poor old woman, all alone, sickly, heartbroken, saying what her “mind” told her. It was heartwrenching to watch her conflict as she tried to resolve what her “mind” was saying with her broken heart.

    Then in the the ally way outside the home Wafa’s nieces.

    @ minute 22:00
    Niece: Wafa was a hero. You know she did a martyrdom operation. She raised our heads… So many times did I ask my mother to allow me to carry out a martyrdom operation but she said no, no, no. She said if 40 or 50 Jews were killed they would still come just as before.

    @ minute 22:00
    Other Nieces: I want to be a martyr…. I want to be a martyr…. Every girl wants to be a martyr…. We would all like to become martyrs.

    This was very despairing for me. Throughout the whole movie you never see a single instance where a Palestinian shows any ability to show moral culpability for their actions, show any ability to empathize with the deaths of their enemies, or are able to “see the common humanity” of actual individual Israelis. You hear of some parents who forbid their young sons from taking part in suicide bombings or rock throwing, but you are left to wonder why. When you hear the Palestinians talking for themselves, their language is sterilized of responsibility or remorse.

    This really floored me – what do you do as a thinking, caring, well intending human being in the face of this type of a moral pathology? The inevitability is that a great many more Palestinians will die because of it and peace may never come while such a pathology continues to prevail.

    What becomes of a culture where the pathological script of resistance becomes so strong and so self-sealing that becomes impossible to change the script to less self-destructive one.

    Spengler in his new book “How Civilizations Die” in the chapter on Civilization Failure and Suicide has a few choice words on Suicidal Resistance in War, “Across epochs and cultures, blood has flown in inverse proportion to the hope of victory”, – well worth reading.

    On this blog we can have a rough and tumble dialog, we can think our rhetorical opponents are wrong, or full of shit, maybe racists whatever, but we can all have this conversation and what ever our political positions we can still view each other as human beings with rights and a life and that it would be wrong to harm him, or her, and that we can all hold real human concern and empathy for both Israelis and Palestinians, we can have some level of self examination. This does not seem to be the case in Palestinian culture today – at least as best I can determine from the evidence I see flowing out of that region of the world. I hope that I can be shown to be wrong, it’s not a happy thought.

    The question is what do you do about a society that has, for what ever cruel reasons, has become essentially sociopathic, that is incapable of remorse or regret and insensitive to the life of the individual except as an element to be used in the national struggle rather than the point of the struggle.

    It is very cruel, but seem true, put people in an insane situation and many will do crazy things – the true heroes are the ones who maintain their humanity.

    War is crazy making.



    Some parting dialogue from the movie:

    Zakaria Zubeida [former leader of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade]
    @ Minute 33:20

    We refuse [child martyrs] the first, second, third, even the fourth and fifth time, until the child reaches a point where he will use a knife if no one gives him a bomb belt. Who would stop him? Who? There is no way to stop him. You would be considered a spy and you would be blamed. This has become the culture of Jenin.

    Young Boy as Youth Camp
    @ minute 37:00
    Boy: …but those who do say, “Let’s go and die… death takes place just once in everyone’s lifetime.” They go places [where] they can collect stones and start throwing. For them this is the only way to resist.

    Interviewer: Wouldn’t it be possible to have peace and coexist with Israel?

    Boy: Peace with Israel… impossible.
    Boy: If God will, it will be.
    Boy: That’s impossible. It’s either Jihad or martyrdom. Either victory or martyrdom.

    Camp Staff Member: [laughing] Reminds me of my children…

    Psychologist Dr. Shafiq Masalah
    @ minute 38:00

    Dr. Shafiq Masalah: This means that those individuals [the children] who are willing to bomb themselves, in fact do not feel themselves as individuals. The bounderies of their bodies is enmeshed with the group, so it is not their body that is bombed.

    Narator: According to Dr. Masalah’s research Palestinian children are embracing the collective struggle over their own individuality, leading some to commit grisly acts without any personal consequence, and we are beginning to understand why. Obviously they were not immune to the brutality and the indignity of the Israeli occupation, but they were also being manipulated in a very cynical and dangerous way by Palestinian and Arab media stoking the culture of Martyrdom….

    • Cynic says:

      Yes, all very nice but then one comes to the mother killing her daughter because of the family’s honour.
      Helping the sons kill the sister they had raped. Killing the daughter the father had raped and so on.
      Reading the reports of what was actually done in the process was gut wrenching.

      One big thing to remember is that what was said for the International media bore no resemblance to what they said for their local media.

  13. […] Richard had a post up Oct 31st  [yes I'm that far behind the power curve]  entitled LCE and the Arab-Israeli conflict: Arab mothers are just like everyone.  I’m going to use this as a way to broach the subject of Cognitive Egocentrism here at Meme […]

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