Monthly Archives: November 2011

From the Archives: Boston Globe Ombudsman on “Who is a Terrorist?”

In the days  before I knew either what a blog was, or fisking was, at the height of the second intifada (aka. the Oslo War), I fisked a piece by the Boston Globe’s ombudsman, Christine Chinlund. The article came to mind recently because a colleague here at the IKGF in Erlangen mentioned that some “experts” were claiming that the serial murders of immigrants to Germany by a neo-Nazi group should not be labeled “terrorism” because they didn’t seek to publicize their deeds (i.e., to spread the terror) or recruit.

He noted: “such narrow minded discussions must be a slap in the face of the bereaved.” Chinlund alludes to the feelings of the Jewish community in 2002 when she calls their policy of not calling Hamas a “terrorist organization” a policy that “infuriates some.”

This reminded by of Chinlund’s piece, and I realized I had never posted my fisking at my blog. So here it is, as preparation for a posting on the issue of using the term terrorism for the Daily Telegraph. I welcome contributions from anyone who has examples of the problem here delineated (e.g., what happened to the BBC after the terror attacks of 7-7, 2005).

The ombudsperson of the Globe yesterday produced what must be the single clearest statement of what is wrong with our media’s approach to the middle east.


Author(s): CHRISTINE CHINLUND Date: September 8, 2003 Page: A15 Section: Op-Ed


Who should wear the `terrorist’ label?

By Christine Chinlund, 9/8/2003

WITH THIS WEEK’S 9/11 anniversary comes reflection on all that has changed these past two years. Even our language has shifted; the word terrorism itself casts a different shadow. It has always, of course, been a powerfully negative label. But post-9/11 the word’s potency has multiplied. In the current climate, the terrorist tag effectively banishes its holder from the political arena. More than ever, it condemns rather than describes.

Actually, it describes and condemns. Not to use terror in the case of a terrorist group – i.e., one that deliberately targets civilians as a basic tactic – is actually mis-describing. The value judgments are up to the public readership: it is not for the papers to “manage” the public’s perceptions.

Indeed, newspapers must be doubly careful about how they apply the word. Sparing use is the norm. For example, the Palestinian organization Hamas, whose suicide bombers maim and kill Israeli citizens, is routinely described in the Globe and other papers as a “militant,” not terrorist, group.

Given that Hamas has introduced the “suicide bombing” as a religious duty, a practice that specifically targets civilians, including women and children, such a “sparing” norm is actually disinformation.

Such restraint infuriates some Middle East partisans (most often, but not exclusively, supporters of Israel) who say it sugarcoats reality and that any group targeting civilians is terrorist. I receive regular demands to, as a Chelmsford reader put it, “stop misleading readers with terminology that affords terrorists a false degree of legitimacy.”

What possible reason is there for not unflinchingly applying the word terrorist to any organization or person who targets civilians? It may seem like hair-splitting, but there’s a reason to reserve the terrorist label for specific acts of violence, and not apply it broadly to groups.

To tag Hamas, for example, as a terrorist organization is to ignore its far more complex role in the Middle East drama. The word reflects not only a simplification, but a bias that runs counter to good journalism. To label any group in the Middle East as terrorist is to take sides, or at least appear to, and that is not acceptable. The same holds true in covering other far-flung conflicts. One person’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter; it’s not for journalists to judge.

Such statements reflect, apparently, the author’s belief that she speaks for many (her job), and that those many all share certain self-evident assertions, assertions like, a) to label a group terrorist is to “take sides” and b) even to appear to take sides is “not acceptable.”  Both of these assumptions should be examined precisely in the context of terrorism.  Is it somehow anti-Palestinian to denounce the presence among them of terrible groups who teach hatred and plot the destruction of another people?  Is it working against the Palestinians to point out to the readers that Palestinians have to live with some profoundly violent and fascist forces in their midst?  And on what basis do we wish to avoid even “seeming” to “take sides”?

New Review of my Book by John Reilly

This is a review by John Reilly, one of the smartest and most astute (as well as unconventional) non-academic, metahistorical thinkers I know, an active and early member of the CMS. His website (one of the earlier of the phenomenon) is here, and the review here.

Heaven on Earth
The Varieties of the Millennial Experience
By Richard Landes
Oxford University Press, 2011
499 Pages, $35.00
ISBN 978-0-19-975359-8

For more than 1500 years, a conspiracy of clerics and historiographers has worked, with great success, to hide one of the principal features of cultural and political evolution. Now in these latter days it is more important than ever that the truth be revealed, since the failure to take this hidden factor into consideration threatens the survival of civilization, and maybe of the human race itself.

Perhaps this summary slightly overstates the thesis of this book by Richard Landes, professor of medieval history at Boston University. (He was also the principal organizer just before the year 2000 of the Center for Millennial Studies, of which your reviewer was a member.) The book attempts a typology of millennial movements and apocalyptic thinking, illuminated by often fascinating cross-cultural and historical case studies. At the same time, the book argues that historiography and anthropology often do not categorize these things correctly when they appear, and even tend to expunge the millennial elements from the textual record. Unlike most conspiracy theories, this one has the advantage of being true in large part. Neither is the evidence far to seek: the book’s subtitle is a play on the title of the famous study by William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience, a work which somehow manages not to treat endtime excitement, though that is very often a conspicuous feature of religious revivals and personal conversions.

“Millennialism” may be taken to be the image of a future state of the world in which there will be peace and prosperity and societal justice, with the sorrowful aspects of the human condition overcome. The term comes from the “millennium,” the thousand-year reign of the saints mentioned in the Book of Revelation, though similar notions occur in other religious traditions. In fact, any model of history that forecasts a happy ending can usefully be treated as “millennial,” at least for some purposes. “Apocalyptic” can mean the sudden transition from ordinary history to the millennial condition. In some models, this transition can be effected solely through divine intervention, in which case the human role is likely to be rather passive. To the extent that “history” is a deep cause for the change, the human role is more active. The extreme case in the activist direction is pure social revolution.

All these possibilities are eschatological, in the sense that they treat of the eschaton (“end”), but they are not the only possible eschatologies. Indeed, as we are repeatedly reminded in this book, the orthodox eschatology for most of Latin Christendom has almost invariably some variation on that of St. Augustine of Hippo (AD 354 – 430). Augustine discouraged, to put it mildly, the unique identification of any historical period or political regime with the fulfillment of eschatological hope. The end, the Second Coming, would not be the product of historical evolution, and it would end history rather than inaugurate a new historical era, however blissful.

Augustine, we may note, had a hard job: he spent a large part of his career arguing that “Now is not the time to panic” during an era when a reasonable man might respond, “If not now, when?” Be that as it may, in the typology of this book, he is an “owl,” indeed the Great Horned Owl of Western historiography. Owls are a perennial class of commentators who argue, not always persuasively, that current disasters do not mean the world is about to end. They do not argue that an end will not come, or even necessarily that there will be no millennium; they are at their most owlish when they quibble about the date of the endtime. Most annoyingly, from the author’s point of view, owls in the aftermath of a millennial moment will retrospectively conclude that there was nothing much to it (the world did not end, did it?) and insist that they themselves were not taken in, not at all. Confusing documents suggesting otherwise tend to go missing.

The opposite perennial figure is the “rooster,” who crows that the night is nearly over, the time is now, and everyone must cast aside caution in the impending dawn. Roosters often get a hearing. Even casual students of history will have run across episodes like the Great Disappointment of the 1840s, or Savonarola’s Florence. On rarer occasions, they take over the barnyard, for a while. Among the case studies in this book are the Taiping Rebellion in China (the biggest war in the 19th century, remember) and the Bolshevik and Nazi revolutions. (The author leans toward the view that the Nazis were working from a largely theosophical model of history.) Millennial movements can follow more than one pattern, but the one that interests the author shares the morphology of “The Emperor’s New Clothes.”

In this view, the millennial moment starts with the appearance of roosters who announce that some marvelous change is about to occur. They gain so large a following that the skeptical owls are drowned out or silenced, or even converted. Then more and more resources are invested in the change occurring; people who see no evidence of this are forced to silence by social pressure. Finally, some event or counter-propaganda makes it obvious that the roosters were wrong and that it is safe to say so.

The author expresses surprise that this pattern repeats again and again, often in the same region, despite the fact that every millennial movement ends in the disappointment of the little boy pointing out that the emperor is wearing no clothes. To that might say that it is not at all clear that disappointment is always absolute. As the books notes in passing, the Eastern Zhou period of Chinese history was characterized by what in effect was an elite millennial movement directed at imperial unification; when unification occurred in 221 BC, the relevant story for the imperial ideologues may have been not so much “The Emperor’s New Clothes” as “The Monkey’s Paw.”

Less speculatively, we may note that the author suggests that a millennial moment happens when “private transcripts,” views that are often common knowledge but rejected by the elite, became “public transcripts” that can be openly discussed. The more oppressive the public regime is, the more vengeful the private transcripts are likely to be. (Fans of Dune may recall Lady Jessica’s horror when she learns the particular version of the messiah archetype common on Arrakis: “They have that story here? This must be a terrible place!”) At least in the Latin West, however, what may sometimes happen is that perfectly acceptable ideas just shift from type to prophecy. Augustine, after all, did not really dispense with prophecy, but rather turned it into a system of types. These are actually quite useful. Even the most hootfully skeptical owl can still call an oppressive emperor “an antichrist” if not “the Antichrist,” for instance, and there are always slacking congregations that can be tarred with the same brush as Revelation’s Church of Laodicea. Such uses keep millennial ideas in circulation, no matter how many times they are misused.

In any case, the author is particularly interested in two aspects of the Emperor’s New Clothes scenario.

The first is the tendency of millennial proponents to bet more resources on a prophecy being true as evidence of its disconfirmation accumulates. The point is made with sad clarity in the study of the Xhosa Cattle-Slayings of the 1850s. A prophetess in southern Africa (millennialism is a notably girly phenomenon the world over) predicted that the English would disappear and the Xhosa ancestors would return if the Xhosa slew all their cattle. Not all did, but enough did to cause distress. As the situation worsened, the failure of the ancestors to return was answered by the prophetic insistence that not enough cattle had been slain. This created a famine that resulted in the collapse of Xhosa society.

The phenomenon of millennial improvidence is not unfamiliar; the Millerites in America in the 1840s were equally willing to bet their livelihoods on the Parousia, even if they not quite so wholesale about mere destruction. The author argues, however, that a similar pattern characterizes millennial tyrannies when it becomes clear that their political ambitions may have limits. Certainly the famous Anabaptist Munster Commune of the 1530s and the Taiping rebellion became most radical and paranoid as their strategic situation deteriorated. (We may also note that it was only in the closing weeks of the Third Reich that Joseph Goebbels felt liberated enough to implement the Leftist economic policy that has always been dear to his heart.) The issue fades into the book’s other principal interest in the evolution of millennial movements: how do societies handle millennial disappointment.

Not all of them do this badly. Tom Holland’s popular history of the origins of Western civilization, The Forge of Christendom, is based largely on Professor Landes’s assessment of the state of millennial enthusiasm around the year 1000. That book concludes that the major political institutions of Christendom arose in large part as preparation for the impending final struggle against Antichrist. The solid institution-building survived the millennial excitement (much of the direct evidence for which, to Professor Landes’s continuing frustration, has been lost or glossed by pestilential owls). [NB: nicely put, but I call them “bats” – RL.] On the other hand, it is also possible for a millennial regime, if it survives, to simply refuse to acknowledge that it is not Heaven on Earth, and to use extreme measures to ensure that all of its subjects not just say so but think so; this is totalitarian option, which we are given to understand is a system that tries to replace all private transcripts with the Party Line. There is also the possibility of mere nihilism, of a regime that, like Denethor, will have naught if it cannot get what it wants. In this the Taiping and the Nazis may not have been of dissimilar mind.

In some ways, the most interesting and problematical part of the book is the case study of Akhenaton (1353 – 1336 BC) and the Amarna Period, which the author interprets as a brief and unsuccessful exercise in “iconic millennialism.” Millennialism is usually demotic; it is the contemplation by those below of the humbling of those above, whether to replace them or to create a regime of equality (of which more later). It is not unknown, however, for those who are already high and mighty to embrace the view that their situation is not just a happy accident, but an ontological necessity. Thus, it is not out of place to characterize the founding of the Han Dynasty as the establishment of a “millennial empire.” Some church historians made an at least analogous argument about the Roman Empire after Constantine. (Augustine agreed that the empire was providential, but he said it was not the City of God; he wrote a book about it.) Heaven on Earth would have it that Akhenaton’s solar monotheism was similarly an attempt to bring the divine order permanently to earth, based on a theology too exalted to acknowledge death.

Now it is notoriously the case that Egyptian elites after Akhenaton’s death did their considerable best to expunge his deeds and name from the historical record. They almost succeeded; it was not until Napoleon’s expedition to Egypt that it became possible for archeology to recover Akhenaton, who had been known previously only in an abbreviated and garbled form. If ever there were a golden age of owls, it would have been during the attempted erasure of Akhenaton. Still, that probably is not enough to make the millennialism model fit here. The millennium is a kind of narrative closure. If the Egyptians ever had a story about history that needed such a thing, it has not come to our attention. Not even the largest flock of reactionary owls could have expunged it.

What has come to our attention are the hints that Akhenaton, or rather the garbled popular recollection of him, may have had some influence on the Greek-language Hermetic literature of the first few centuries AD. After a fashion, Akhenaton may be Hermes Trismegistus.

That is a name to conjure with. As the author points out, there is a direct connection between Hermeticism and the Renaissance, and to the more uppity kinds of monarchical absolutism that followed immediately. (“Sun King”? Versailles?! See, it’s all connected!!!) It also, obviously, affected the would-be Hermetic revolutionaries of the stamp of Giordano Bruno of the 16th and 17th centuries. This book does not seem to mention Dame Francis Yates’s The Rosicrucian Enlightenment, which deals with that period, but it does discuss her work about the origins of the idea of technological progress. Unlike Egypt, the West does have a story that invites millennial closure, and into that story the Hermetic material, it seems to this reviewer, fit like a key in a lock. Heaven on Earth suggests that the greatest and chiefest of millennial movements is modernity itself.

How is modernity different from other millennial movements? For one thing, it promotes a species of demotic millennialism that seeks to dissolve what the author calls the “prime divider” between commons and elites. Modern societies tend to favor equality before the law, universal literacy, respect for manual labor, and personal autonomy. The author traces this insistence back to the casteless law codes of the Torah. That is fair enough. We may also note, though, that authors from Tom Holland to Francis Fukuyama say that what really made civil society possible in the West is that the pope and the emperor started arguing in the 11th century about who had the right to appoint the bishops in southern Germany. They are still at it, and so the space between principle and power is still open. That does not mean it will always be, though.

The author notes that there are two important apocalyptic movements in the early 21st century. One is the Global Jihad; the book’s explanation of why 1979 AD (1400 AH) was an important apocalyptic date is as good an explanation as you are likely to find for why millennial studies should play a larger role in political science. The other is Anthropogenic Global Warming, which seems to serve some of its adherents as consolation for the collapse of eschatological Marxism. Many people in the West are very interested in  one or the other, but whoever is interested in one is almost invariably dismissive of the other. In both contexts, postmodernism and its condescension to objective truth (note the lack of “scare quotes”) may be to blame, but it is particularly inapposite with regard to the Jihad, since the jihadis are not at all reticent about truth claims.

In any case, the millennial structure persists. It’s not just a mistake, and it’s not something that just applies to other people.



Meditations on Honor-Shame: Were the Nazis to Take Over Again, They Wouldn’t Change a Thing at Wannsee

I recently visited the site of the Wannsee conference in the outskirts of Berlin where third and fourth-level bureaucrats worked out the details of the “final solution”: how to make the extermination of 11 million Jews as profitable as possible. It contains, among other things, the Protocols of the conference, preserved by the Undersecretary of State, Martin Luther, living proof of the deliberate, carefully-planned, and astonishingly lucre-mongering project of genocide. In addition, the exhibition has a review of the history of racist anti-Semitism, profiles of the various participants, and maps of the Jewish population of Europe and the damage done by the Nazis.

As I walked through I realized that in some sense, the exhibit was understated. It worked from the assumption that everyone coming here thinks that the Nazi genocide was a shameful, disgusting event that must  never again occur – Nie wieder. But, it occurred to me, if the Nazis were  to take over Germany again, they probably would change little about this exhibit, including its history of racism. What was presented as obviously bad would, by an alchemy of honor-shame dynamics, become a celebration of the heros who began an as-yet unfinished task.

Reflecting a spurious “shame” that Nazis acknowledged in their attempt to cover the tracks of the Holocaust, even as they held it to be a great deed, Himmler commented in a speech given in Posen, October 6, 1943:

This is a page of glory in our history, which has never been written and is never to be written.

Today’s neo-Nazis express the same ambivalence in their combined efforts to at once deny and resume the genocide. Ahmadinejad’s delight in denying that the Holocaust goes hand in hand with his desire to reproduce it, even if nuking six million Israelis means killing millions of fellow Muslims (even some Shiites). 

How not to save Israel: Response to Gershom Gorenberg

A friend asked me what I thought of the following piece by Gershom Gorenberg published by Slate. Disclosure: Gorenberg and I were once close friends. He was a regular at the Center for Millennial Studies, when wrote his book End of Days: Fundamentalism and the Struggle for the Temple Mount. He even asked me once to substitute for him at an NIF [!] function in New York – before I knew what I was dealing with (more on that below).

For a formal review of the book by Lazar Berman, who used to post at the Augean Stables, see “The Unmaking of Gershom Gorenberg.”

Fisked below.

How to Save Israel
The three steps that could rescue it from endless conflict and international ostracism.
By |Posted Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2011, at 6:59 AM ET

For Israel to establish itself again as a liberal democracy, it must make three changes.

It’s pretty revealing that Gorenberg thinks Israel needs to establish itself again as a “liberal democracy.” He apparently thinks that the first round ended in 1967. That means that the key moment in a democracy – when an opposition group can be voted into power – which occurred for the first time in 1977, doesn’t even count, along with the in some cases excessive commitment to radical democratic principles of Aharon Barak’s Supreme Court (1978-2006). As will become apparent later on, this schema has a great deal to do with his moral perfectionism and, tangentially I think, his concern for what others think, an aspect of his thought revealed in his concern about “international ostracism.”

The following is adapted from Gershom Gorenberg’s new book The Unmaking of Israel. Read the earlier excerpts about why, exactly, Israel ended up losing most of its Arab population in 1948 and about why a new kind of old-time Judaism has taken hold in Israel.

I write from an Israel with a divided soul. It is not only defined by its contradictions; it is at risk of being torn apart by them. It is a country with uncertain borders and a government that ignores its own laws. Its democratic ideals, much as they have helped shape its history, or on the verge of being remembered among the false political promises of 20th-century ideologies.

The risks Gorenberg identifies (see below) are only some of the risks Israel runs, but which he tends to ignore, not the least, the risks embedded in the suggestions he has to make for resolving the contradictions. “On the verge of being remembered among the false political promises of 20th century ideologies”?! Is this a reference to Nazism and Communism? Historically this is ludicrous – unless Gorenberg sees Israel becoming a totalitarian state sometime soon. Only in terms of the kind of post-colonial anti-Zionism of say, Tony Judt or Phillip Weiss, it does make sense.

What will Israel be in five years, or 20? Will it be the Second Israeli Republic, a thriving democracy within smaller borders? Or a pariah state where one ethnic group rules over another? Or a territory marked on the map, between the river and the sea, where the state has been replaced by two warring communities? Will it be the hub of the Jewish world, or a place that most Jews abroad prefer not to think about? The answers depend on what Israel does now.

I have an Israeli friend, a good liberal who supported Oslo despite the information he was getting about the malevolent intentions of the PA, who admitted to me that after the outbreak of the Second Intifada (in other words, after the Palestinians got out of their Trojan horse and showed their real hand), that the hardest thing for him to realize is that “it’s not in our hands.”

Gorenberg has yet to realize that. For him, everything is in Israel’s hands, and if only they’d do what he told them, then they’d have peace, a liberal democracy, the moral high ground, and the world would once again like and admire them (or at least not stigmatize them as pariahs). As a result, he is a prime candidate for “masochistic omnipotence complex” (MOS) ie, it’s all our fault and if only we could be better [a liberal democracy] then we could fix everything.

As 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 any real interest in Palestinians on Gorenberg’s part. This was, by the way, my critique of the play NIF staged in NYC which I commented on in Gorenberg’s place: four dimensional Jews ruminating and churning their guilt in a void filled with fantasies of Palestinian peace-makers whom extremist Jews try to assassinate.

For Israel to establish itself again as a liberal democracy, it must make three changes. First, it must end the settlement enterprise, end the occupation, and find a peaceful way to partition the land between the Jordan and the Mediterranean.

What on earth leads Gorenberg to think that this “peaceful way to partition” is possible? When he says “stop the occupation” he presumably means retreat to the Green line (the ’49 armistice lines). When the Palestinian leadership – “secular” and religious – says occupation, they mean the shore line. Does Gorenberg think that ending the settlement enterprise and the occupation will lead to a peaceful partition, rather than to a resumption of war with Israel in a weaker position? Has he considered that possibility?

Talk on Mass Pilgrimage at the IKGF’s Conference on Pilgrimage

Talk delivered at On the Road in the Name of Religion. Pilgrimage as a Means of Coping with Contingency and Fixing the Future in the World’s Major Religions, Erlangen, November 11, 2011

Mass Pilgrimages:

Voluntary and Prescribed, Yearly and Apocalyptic-Messianic

Richard Landes


I’d like to contribute a problem to the issues raised by this conference on the role of contingency, future, and freedom in pilgrimages by discussing the question of mass pilgrimages. I define a mass pilgrimage in terms of two phenomena: first, that the pilgrimage has already become a massive group on the way. As opposed to more routinized forms of pilgrimage – the overwhelming majority of the cases we find in our documentation – mass pilgrimages have an infectious quality, picking up pilgrims almost spontaneously, gathering steam as they go. Second, that upon arrival at the pilgrimage’s goal, the holy site, there are again massive numbers of participants. All of this is of course relative. Certain pilgrimage sites like the Maha Kumbh Mela at the Ganges and the Hajj at Mecca draw millions of pilgrims over a specific period of days and weeks, either annually or in some regular yearly cycle.

There are, broadly speaking, three major sources for mass pilgrimage: 1) prescribed annual pilgrimages, and 2) apocalyptic pilgrimages, and 3) closely related to apocalyptic matters, “political” pilgrimages – really messianic or what I call millennial pilgrimages. Here the two most obvious traditions are monotheistic. The earliest recorded mass pilgrimages were the Israelite ones to Jerusalem, three times a year, starting, allegedly, in the 10th century BCE. Obviously not all of the three were equally observed (Passover more than Tabernacles and Pentecost), and more by those close than those far away. But this seems to be the earliest example of a religiously prescribed, mass pilgrimage. The still current form of this is the Meccan Hajj about which we have already heard, and to which I will return in my concluding remarks.

What I’d like to do here is explore the second type of mass pilgrimage, what we might call the “spontaneous mass pilgrimage.” Such a pilgrimage is not prescribed – indeed, we will see in one case that it was vigorously disapproved of by the religious authorities – but rather something much closer to a mass religious movement. And accordingly, let me begin with what Carl Erdmann called “die erste religiöse Massenbewegung im Mittelalter,” the Peace of God.

The peace assemblies were clearly – by my definition – mass pilgrimages. Monks and clerics from may sites took relics from their crypts and paraded them – delationes – through the countryside to gather with others at a given open-air site where, before hundreds and thousands of participants, the peace assembly, replete with public vows from the milites not to attack unarmed people – took place. The relics were magnets, drawing huge crowds along the way – peasants, dropping their plows and rushing to the unwonted sight of so powerful a reliquary out of the crypt where, by Carolingian statute, they were jealously kept by their guardians. When these relics and their attendant crowds arrived at the peace assembly, they were so numerous that one hagiographer, writing a generation later, described the scene as if “you were viewing the children of Israel, leaving Egypt and preparing the enter the Promised Land.” In virtually every account of the peace assemblies held from the late 10th to the early 11th centuries, these crowds play a particularly powerful role.

Protecting Muslim Honor at the Price of Freedom of Speech: Bruce Crumley, Time Magazine and Charlie Hebdo

For other responses to Crumley, see Nick Cohen and Jamie Kirchick.

In what I hope is part of the last gasps of the disorienting moral relativism that marked so many intellectuals during the aughts (’00s), Bruce Crumley was given the pages of Time Magazine to spin out a now classic critique based on the internalizing of “Islamophobia” as proposed by Muslims who want to avoid public criticism, something approaching the level of a dogma in journalistic circles. In response to the Charlie Hebdo firebombing, Crumley not only blamed Charlie Hebdo for the attack, but those political and intellectual figures in France who condemned the bombing.

[N]ot only are such Islamophobic antics futile and childish, but they also openly beg for the very violent responses from extremists their authors claim to proudly defy in the name of common good. What common good is served by creating more division and anger, and by tempting belligerent reaction?

It’s yet to be seen whether Islamist extremists were behind today’s arson, but both the paper’s current edition, and the rush of politicians to embrace it as the icon of French democracy, raises the possibility of even moderate Muslims thinking “good on you” if and when militants are eventually fingered for the strike. It’s all so unnecessary.

But that seems more self-indulgent and willfully injurious when it amounts to defending the right to scream “fire” in an increasingly over-heated theater. Why? Because like France’s 2010 law banning the burqa in public (and earlier legislation prohibiting the hijab in public schools), the nation’s government-sponsored debates on Islam’s place in French society all reflected very real Islamophobic attitudes spreading throughout society. Indeed, such perceived anti-Muslim action has made France a point of focus for Islamist radicals at home and abroad looking to harp on new signs of aggression against Islam.

Crumley has here made the classic moral inversion so characteristic of HRC: he treats Muslims as a force of nature, and not as autonomous moral agents. In his analogy, the “burning theater” corresponds to the increasing hostility of Muslims towards the West. He identifies it at the end of his article:  “a climate where violent response—however illegitimate—is a real risk.” In other words, since Muslims are prone to (increasingly) violent responses, we must avoid “gratuitously” provoking them, and in the process (still more gratuitously) “offending millions of moderate people as well.” In short, we can’t say to them: “This is the minimal level of criticism in our culture. If you want to participate in public sphere of a civil society, you have to learn to live with it. We all have.” We have to infantilize them.

And yet, what kind of Muslim would be insulted by this cartoon? Unlike many of the Danish ones which were not even critical, this one is actually quite sympathetic: a smiling Muhammad “threatens” 100 lashes if you don’t die laughing.” What’s offensive here? Would a Christian find a picture of Jesus saying this offensive? Personally I think the “vast majority” of European Jews would find such a cover with Moses and the text, delightful (decided relief from the genuinely antisemitic cartoons that grace European newspapers).

ASMEA Talk: Pallywood, Muhammad al Durah and Cognitive Warfare in the 21st Century

Pallywood, Muhammad al Durah and Cognitive Warfare in the 21st Century

Richard Landes, Boston University

ASMEA Conference, Washington DC, November 4, 2011

I’d like to make two arguments. First, that the image of the IDF as child-killers is the product of a constant campaign of Arab/Palestinian cognitive warfare in which the Western mainstream news media has played a critical role in conveying this disinformation as news; second, that such a state of affairs has had a devastating impact on our ability to understand the conflict and leading to serious errors in judgment.

Let’s take what I would argue is at once a paradigmatic case, and, at the same time, the most terrible case, that of Muhammad al Durah, the 12-year old Palestinian boy who became the icon of the second intifadah, even as he should be an icon of the destructive incompetence of the MSNM.

On September 30, 2000, Charles Enderlin of France2 received the following footage from his long-time cameraman in Gaza, Talal abu Rahmah.

It was accompanied by the following narrative from Talal:

  • The boy and the father took cover during an exchange of fire.
  • The Israelis fired for 40 minutes at the boy who was hit and lay bleeding for 20 minutes while the Israelis fired – bullets like rain – at any ambulance that tried to take him away.

  • They targeted and killed the boy deliberately.

Let me present what I think Charles Enderlin should have done were he a serious journalist merely on the basis of what he had before him. There are at least three issues that should have aroused his doubts.

Nidra Poller on the Auto da fe in Paris: it’s no joke

Nidra Poller has a piece on the Charlie Hebdo bombing in Paris well worth considering. The incident itself was a classic example of the effort to spread Sharia to the West, especially in the form of showing “respect” for the Prophet Muhammad. This began in earnest when, ten years into his millennial project of the “Islamic Republic of Iran,” Khoumeini put out a fatwa condemning Salman Rushie to death for his blasphemous Satanic Verses (which neither Khoumeini nor his advisors had read).

The next major event in this campaign came in 2005-6 when Muslims objected vigorously to the publication of cartoons depicting Muhammad, another attempt to extend to infidels what in principle only applies to (some) Muslim – not depicting the prophet’s face. If there are those in the West who thought that we stood up to our principles of Free Speech and right to criticize during the Cartoon Affair (or, at least that there were no winners), then reconsider. The folks who bombed Charlie Hebdo apparently thought they made it perfectly clear what the price of crossing them would be.

Comments added to bring out some of the implications of Poller’s allusive style.

Auto da fe in Paris: it’s no joke

Paris November 3, 2011

Nidra Poller

The brand new—and deliberately unmarked– offices of the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo in the 20th arrondissement of Paris were destroyed by arson hours before a special issue, renamed Charia Hebdo, hit the newsstands on November 2nd. All 75,000 copies were sold out by noon (a rerun went on sale two days later, bringing total sales to 200,000). One or more firebombs aimed precisely at the IT department wiped out the satirical magazine’s nerve center. Charlie Hebdo’s Facebook page had been bombarded with threats, insults, and koranic verses since it pre-released the front page with a caricature of guest editor Mohamed promising 100 lashes to anyone who doesn’t die laughing. As the offices went up in flames, the hacked website was plastered with a photo of Mecca packed with pilgrims, and the declaration, in English, “No god but Allah / Mohamed is the Messenger of Allah.”

This shocking attack on press freedom inspired a rush of near-unanimous solidarity in French society. Unambiguously labeling the act an “attentat,” meaning “terrorist attack,” Interior Minister Claude Guéant promised to find and severely punish the perpetrator(s). Various Muslim authorities condemned “all violence,” reiterated their disapproval of caricatures of Mohamed and other insults to Islam, and vowed to defend their religion as law-abiding citizens, in the courts.

Editorial director Charb posed meekly in front of the smoking ruins of his offices, displaying the front page that provoked those devouring flames.  Interviewed by Rue89 he said that real Muslims don’t burn newspapers. Elsewhere his colleague, Pelloux, opined: “As far as I know, there is no koranic law against laughter.”