Monthly Archives: November 2012

Hangin’ on rekaB Street: The Stupefaction of the West

I’d like to introduce a new term: rekaB Street. That’s Baker Street spelled backwards, and it represents the opposite of Sherlock Holmes’ approach: rather than notice the anomalies and detect evidence of criminal or shameful activity that people have deliberately tried to conceal, residents of rekaB Street systematically ignore any clues that violate the expectations/demands of their preconceived narrative, sweeping aside the anomalies and highlighting precisely what has been created to mislead. It is, in a sense, a process of auto-stupefaction.

RekaB Street exists in many fields.

In a sense, Thomas Kuhn’s book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, focuses on the problem, in particular, on the resistance to anomalies that contradict the paradigm. He cites a study by Bruner and Postman about how the resistance to anomalies that violate expectations can be so strong that people can literally not see that a deck has some playing cards with red spades and black hearts. The authors note the psychological discomfort felt by people confronting these anomalies (which their minds literally do not want to see).

In my own chosen field of medieval history, I have found precisely this kind of resistance. My early (and now current) work focused on a substantial trail of evidence indicating that for over half a millennium, Latin Christians had been tracking the advent of the year 6000 from the Creation (at which point the millennial kingdom would begin), but that as the date approached, the clergy (our unique source for documentation) dropped the dating system and adopted another that pushed off the apocalyptic date. Among the many events of note that coincided with the advent of these disappeared dates was the coronation of Charlemagne, held on the first day of the year 6000 according to the most widely accepted count, but dated by observers as AD 801.

I argued this “silence,” on something so critical reflected not indifference, but deep anxiety. Like Conan Doyle’s “Silver Blaze,” the main clue was the dog who did not bark. In response, I found that medievalists clung to their view of Charlemagne as someone with his feet firmly planted on the ground, who would never be moved by such silliness. As a result they handled the evidence in ways that resembled the work of clean-up and construction crews rather than that of detectives and archeologists.

Since 2000, the reigning approach for understanding the Middle East conflict between Israel and her neighbors has focused narrowly on the what’s called the “Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” The resulting (or founding) paradigm for such an approach is what I’ve called either PCP 1 (politically-correct paradigm) or PCP 2 (post-colonial paradigm). In both cases, the framing conceit is the Israeli Goliath and the Palestinian David. And so powerful is the underdogma that governs this view that all evidence to the contrary gets swept aside. So insistent are the demands to support the underdog, that the cost of ignoring empirical reality seem a small price to pay.

What results, is a process of determined, deliberate stupefaction, in which we must inhabit rekaB Street, we must ignore critical evidence, bow down to ghoulish idols, literally render ourselves stupid. We must not talk about honor-shame culture much less adopt a paradigmatic view that privileges such concerns in understanding the Arab/Muslim hatred of an independent Jewish state in Dar al Islam. We should not discuss Islam’s triumphalist obsession with dominating and humiliating non-believers. We cannot discuss anti-Semitism or the Holocaust without equating it with Islamophobia, lest we offend people we might identify as agents of a new blood-dimmed tide. We cannot discuss the repeated evidence that our humanity is being systematically abused to benefit people who literally embody everything that we progressive, democratically-minded people abhor.

And as a result, we are fully misinformed by our media and our academics, who think that “attacking the most powerful” is a sign of courage regardless of who’s right, who prefer to preen about their moral superiority even at the direct cost of empowering those holding their morality in contempt, who attack their critics savagely even as they embrace their enemies; who can’t tell parody from reality because the procrustean beds they impose on the evidence have led them to invert empirical reality.

Thus babies killed by Hamas become the occasion of cries for sympathy for Gazans assaulted by Israel. And terrorists who disguise themselves as journalists become the occasion for accusing Israel of deliberately killing journalists.  An army which undergoes a disastrous defeat, gets handed laurels of victory for their performance. The world’s army with (by far) the best record when it comes to reducing civilian casualties on the other side in urban warfare get’s painted at the world’s most brutal army. And people who target civilians at any cost, including suicide, get painted as heroes of resistance.

The inhabitants of rekaB Street will not break step with the parade of the naked emperor no matter what that reveals about their own stupidity.

Of course were this merely a children’s tale for adults, the tailors merely financial tricksters, the emperor merely vain, and the court merely foolish and frightened of losing face, it might be alright (don’t want to impose too high standards here). But when the tailors are malevolent agents of a ruthless cognitive war of aggression, when the “new clothes” are icons of hatred designed to arouse genocidal fury against the very people witnessing the parade, and when the courtiers are aggressively dishonest, some alarm bells should be going off. We – the Western intelligentsia in particular – are in the running for a Darwin Award.

If we do survive this challenge, there will arise an entire field of scholarly research dedicated to exploring the tendencies of intellectuals to commit civilizational suicide.

When in the history of warfare has one combatant adopted a strategy that seeks to maximize casualties among its own civilians?

My sense is that only in the age of TVs, would someone fighting an empathic democracy whose public can be moved by the sight of suffering among its enemy, find it advantageous to adopt such a strategy.

But I may be wrong.

Accepting historical examples.

Women Journalists in Gaza: A New Niche for the “Third Gender”

An interesting reflection on the new and central role of female Western reporters from Gaza. I’ll add some comments about the role of honor-shame culture in producing (and shaping) this encounter, and conclude with some questions about the implicit role of intimidation.

The unique advantage of female war reporters in Muslim countriesMost of the first correspondents to file reports from Gaza when the latest conflict began last week were women. Emma Barnett discovers what their unique advantage is over their male colleagues in Muslim cities and countries.

Destroyed house after an Isareli air strike in Gaza

Image 1 of 2
Phoebe Greenwood is currently reporting for The Telegraph from Gaza City – where she has noticed the majority of correspondents are female. Photo: EPA
Emma Barnett

By , Women’s Editor

4:04PM GMT 21 Nov 2012

Phoebe Greenwood was frantically filing her latest piece for The Telegraph in Gaza City earlier this week when she noticed something.

Sat in the main lobby of the Al Deira Hotel, which has become effectively become a big newsroom in the war-torn strip of land, Greenwood observed that all of the correspondents of the American, Australian, Spanish and British broadsheets writing around her were women.
Jodi Rudoren (New York Times), Ruth Pollard (Sydney Morning Herald), Harriet Sherwood (Guardian), Ana Carbajosa (El Pais), Abeer Ayyoub (freelance Palestinian journalist) and Rolla Scolari (Sky Italia) have all been Greenwood’s comrades during the latest troubles in the Middle East. On the job she has also been accompanied by Heidi Levine, whom she describes as a “ridiculously tough war photographer” and worked alongside Eman Mohammed Darkhalil, an award-winning and heavily pregnant photographer.
Let’s not forget Karen Laub of the AP.
At the start of the latest Israel-Gaza conflict last week, Greenwood, a freelance reporter based in Jaffa, Tel Aviv, said the majority of the correspondents first on the ground were women and what’s even better, it’s no longer remarkable.
“I think this high number of female correspondents in a conflict zone is as a result of gender-equality finally filtering down – making it totally normal for women to report from the front line,” she explains.
Interesting formulation. The fact that it occurs in the Arab-Israeli conflict where one can be most secure that Israelis will not target you if you don’t report according to their liking, that, as Stephanie Gutmann put is, Israel is the only place in the world where you can comfortably be a pregnant war correspondent, does not seem to factor in here.

Name a more positive-sum hegemon than the US in all of recorded world history

I had a bizarre but not completely unexpected experience recently. I had the occasion to participate in a conversation with a nobel-prize winning economist and a young women, initially about her activity in a program that sprays people’s houses in various African countries for malaria. As the conversation moved to the different sprays they can use (the safest being the most expensive), I asked how the homeowner felt about outsiders (honkeys, I think I called them), coming in and doing this. Given that most people view people from other cultures somewhat suspiciously, wasn’t there some question among them about the motivations of the people engaged in this endeavor, and fear that the locals might be the object of a scam that worked not only to the advantage of the alleged “do-gooders” but to the disadvantage of the locals.

“Oh no,” she replied. We work through locals.” (I’m not sure that answers the concerns of the homeowners who had to know that both the poison and the organization came from the outside, but that’s another issue.)

The economist, however, made a number of derogatory comments about the “altruism” of the US, suggesting that we are not so positive-sum.

To which I responded by saying, “surely there are times and places where the US pursues its self-interest, even to the disadvantage of another culture/nation/group. But that’s the norm in human history. In the history of hegemons, however, name one that has anything near the record of positive-sum behavior that the USA does.” (This is particularly the case because so much of  commerce depends on robust economies all around, and given both the Marshall Plan and its counterpart in Japan, there is no record of a victor in a nasty war, who set about building up their enemies’ nations. Economics is, in many ways, the coin of positive-sum relations in modern democratic cultures.)

Long pause….

“How about Rome?” the economist responded.

“Rome? Slave-owning, imperialistic, bloody Rome, which used their military hegemony to conquer everyone they could, that embodied the Athenian saying, “Those who can do what they will; those who cannot suffer what they must? Surely you’re not serious.”

“Well they did build aqueducts and roads. They did benefit other nations…”

I felt like I was in a scene from Monty Python’s Life of Brian:

“Wha ‘ave the Romans ever done for us? says Reg, the leader of the Judean People’s Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

“Well, aqueducts… sanitation… roads… irrigation, medicine, education… wine… public baths… public order.”

“Awrigh’, but aside from roads, aqueducts, education, wine… wha ‘ave they ever done for us.”

But as I thought about it, I realized that this man operates on a world scene, where being derogatory about his own country actually serves as a lubricant. It reminded me of an incident in Cyprus in 2005, when I sat at a table of scholars from the world over, and someone made a nasty remark about the US’s response to 9-11, much to the assent of those assembled.

“I don’t know,” I had the temerity to say, “I think the US behaved pretty well. There were a couple of incidents of violence, but on the whole I thought Americans bent over backwards not to scapegoat Muslims. Certainly in comparison with the Dutch response to the assassination of Theo Van Gogh, where Muslims were attacked, schools bombed, and vigilante revenge widespread, I’d say American response was pretty exceptional.”

That was the last conversation I had with anyone at that table. I was persona non grata at a conversation in which dumping on the US was part of an invidious identity formation for the “progressive” global elite.

The irony of course of the economist’s self-deprecating remarks was that both the young woman was a committed altruist in her  endeavors, as were most of the people who graduated with her from program in Development Economics at Tuft’s Fletcher School of International Diplomacy. And so was my interlocutor. Whether they actually are “doing good” or further contributing to a mess may be a matter of discussion, but their good intentions are, I think, beyond question. So in a sense, the snarky remarks about American “benevolence” was not very nice either to her or to himself.

The reason I tell this story here is because I think it illustrates some important points about self-criticism. It’s one thing to be more modest and self-deprecating than realistic. It’s quite another to believe your modesty. And still another do so for people who take that modesty seriously because, driven as they are by resentment at America’s hegemony – who do these people think they are? The chosen people? – they behave in ways that undermine democracies everywhere, including their own.

Reactionary Modernism in Saudi Arabia: Electronic Trackers for Guardians of Women

In a seminal book about the Nazis, Jeffrey Herf wrote about what he called Reactionary Modernism, that is the combination of fascination with and openness to new technology combined with a regressive politics. People who make the mistake of considering an opening to technology with an openness to modernity may be making a fundamental category error.

In my work, I define “modernity” as the effort to organize polities around the principles of equality before the law. Most other aspects of what we call modernity (and post-modernity) stem from that egalitarian impulse. One of the main points of Bernard Lewis’ analysis in What Went Wrong, is the disconnect between the Muslim desire for Western technology and their inability to adopt the socially egalitarian principles that generated that technology. For those who have not read it, I recommend my father’s chapter on Arab poverty despite their oil wealth in The Wealth and Poverty of Nations

Indeed, the misunderstanding of the “Arab Spring” as a democratic movement was based on the assumption that if the people in the street were using twitter and facebook, then they must be as liberal-minded as college students.

Below, is an article from al Arabiya describing the use of tracking devices to keep track of women who might be acting too independently for the tastes of a culture deeply committed to gender apartheid. (H/T:ES)

‘Where’s my wife?’ Electronic SMS tracker notifies Saudi husbands

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Saudi women’s male guardians began receiving text messages on their phones informing them when women under their custody leave the country. (Photo courtesy: zawaj.com)

Saudi women’s male guardians began receiving text messages on their phones informing them when women under their custody leave the country. (Photo courtesy: zawaj.com)
By AL ARABIYA WITH AFP

Denied the right to travel without consent from their male guardians and banned from driving, women in Saudi Arabia are now monitored by an electronic system that tracks any cross-border movements.

The “how would you like it if we said that about you?” meme: Reflections on Rudoren’s FB Page

Jodi Rudoren has a post about Gaza to which one reader commented:

Gazans killing their own, nothing new about that sadly

Another poster, named Mariam responded angrily:

You are plainly sick! Imagine I say the same thing about Americans? That the attack they suffered was inflicted by themselves? You will probably be horrified and calling me all kinds of names. Don’t de- humanize people and show respect for those that are dying while you watch TV. Wish you could experience Gaza life for a day, you would be ashamed of your words

Mariam’s argument, “what if i were to say that about Americans (or Israelis), then you’d scream…” is a very weighty one in the politically correct “public debate.” People readily back off when confronted with it, especially when it’s accompanied, as is Mariam’s, with implied accusations of “blaming the victim.”

But it really is a fallacious argument. Whether Hamas (and other Gazan “militants”) use their own civilians as shields, whether they not only invite Israeli attacks on civilian areas, but hit their own people with “friendly fire,” is not a matter of feelings hurt or otherwise. It’s a matter of evidence. The strong empirical evidence from many independent sources (cited by a number of commenters at Rudoren’s page in this thread) including Gazan, is that Hamas uses their own people as human shields and tries to benefit from the misery they inflict on their own people by blaming Israel. They even brag about it.

On the other hand, there’s no evidence that either Israelis or Americans do this. On the contrary, they go to extensive lengths not only to protect their own civilians, but those of their enemies. So of course, we don’t like to be so accused. We do everything to avoid being guilty of so heinous a crime, even sacrifice our own soldiers. And accusing Hamas of doing this is not “dehumanizing” them. That’s something they do all on their own.

Thus, it’s not intellectually or morally honest to not criticize someone else for something they’re doing because you wouldn’t like to be (falsely) accused for doing it, and its pure demopathy to invoke the principle to shut up our criticism.

But it’s even worse. This trope of not blaming the victim is actually a form of victimizing. The good people of Gaza (many of whom rue the day they voted “democratically” for Hamas), are the victims of Hamas’ cannibalistic  strategy, which only succeeds if the Israelis are blamed. By blaming Israel even where it’s clearly the fault of Hamas, one makes such a terrible and inhumane strategy profitable. As one of the commenters and my Daily Telegraph blog put it, the people who support the Palestinians by demonizing Israel are co-dependents in Hamas’ terror tactics against their own people.

Nothing better illustrates the argument that the “left” hates Israel far more than they care about the Palestinians. Alas!

 

The Deeply Superficial Counter-attack: Myers vs. Gordis

David N. Myers is history department chairman at UCLA where he teaches Jewish History. His response to Daniel Gordis’ critique of Rabbi Sharon Brous is an eloquent testimony to the dearth of critical thinking that has occurred in the university community over the past decades. He is the chairman of a major History department, and he cannot even fairly summarize another writer’s argument, something historians normally require of first year undergraduates.

In what follows, I defend the position that Daniel Gordis laid out, but the way I do it should not be attributed to Gordis, who, I’m sure, has his own ways of defending himself.

Response to Gordis: a simplistic misreading of history

David Myers, The Times of Israel, November 19, 2012

Rabbi Daniel Gordis’s critique of Rabbi Sharon Brous induces in the reader a certain fatigued response. On more than a few occasions, he has seen fit to anoint himself as the guardian of a fixed moral boundary line, insisting that one either stands with him – or against the Jews. In his latest pronouncement, he issues his own “J’accuse” against one of the most promising leaders to be found in American Judaism (who, in the name of full disclosure, happens to be a friend), Rabbi Sharon Brous. The crime? Nothing less than betrayal of the Jewish people. That the accused has inculcated a love of Judaism, Jews, the Jewish people, and the State of Israel in thousands of young people is of little moment to Rabbi Gordis.

What’s the heart of his brief? Plain and simple: universalism. How could a Jew, no less a Jewish leader, have the temerity and heartlessness to assert that Israelis and Palestinians have the right to live in peace and security?

This does not even remotely allude to the argument Gordis actually makes, one which touches on a particularly important paradox. The problem is not “universalism” per se, it’s that kind of universalism that doesn’t allow one to “take one’s own side,” even in a crisis. It’s the kind of universalism that cannot take one’s own side even when one is right, lest it be “bad form.” This is a serious problem, part of a larger sickness of our (western) age (it sure as hell isn’t a sickness of the Arab world), in which we feel morally obliged to give our enemies the benefit of far too many doubts. It’s a form of auto-immune deficiency in which we cannot allow ourselves to even realize we have enemies. For Myers to reduce it to a silly caricature says much about his estimation of discernment among his readership.

Even more outrageous is Rabbi Brous’s assertion that “Israel’s right to protect and defend itself does not diminish the reality that the Palestinian people are also children of God, whose suffering is real and undeniable.” Such expressions reveal to Rabbi Gordis an utterly universalized Judaism” that is treasonous and full of self-loathing.

I’m sorry. I didn’t notice any reference to self-loathing, self-hate, or self-debasement in Gordis’ essay. It would be out of place. We reserve that for the grotesque cases where it’s appropriate – Ilan Pappe, Norman Finkelstein, Gilad Atzmon. To drag it in here suggests that Myers has no concern for the issues, merely a campaign to ridicule a caricature.

As for treason, Gordis spoke only once, of betrayal. There’s no formal and central accusation of deliberate treason. On the contrary, Gordis feel bereft because someone as fine as Brous can’t bring herself to side with her own – us – at such a critical juncture. He is not accusing her of stabbing her own people in the back, but of leaving them on the lurch. She has internalized a Christian principle that most Christians cite with great pride even as they fail to live up to it – “love thine enemy.” As a Jew this “ideal” strikes me as an unnatural form of turning oneself inside out, as a historian, it strikes me as the kind of extreme and unsustainable moral demand that only makes sense in the context of imminent apocalypse. Between Jesus’ “love thine enemy,” and Hillel’s “If I am not for me who is?, but if I am only for me, who am I,” I’ll go with Hillel.

In matters as significant as those that Gordis raises, for Myers to depict this kind of “straw man” suggests either a lack of intellectual integrity (I don’t want you to hear what he’s really saying), or an impressive inability to hear what Gordis is saying (I can’t hear what he’s saying).

Who are “we”? Gordis critiques Brous on Universal Humanity

The Times of Israel has an interesting and revealing exchange between Daniel Gordis and David Myers over a statement about Operation Pillar of Defense which grapples with what I call the “us-them” problem. In what follows, I comment on Gordis’ post, which includes the message sent out by Rabbi Sharon Brous. In a subsequent post, I fisk Myers unfortunate response.

When Balance Becomes Betrayal

Daniel Gordis, Times of Israel, November 18, 2012

Universalism, Cynthia Ozick once noted, has become the particularism of the Jews. Increasingly, our most fundamental belief about ourselves is that we dare not care about ourselves any more than we can about others. Noble Jews have moved beyond difference.

This inability to distinguish ourselves from the mass of humanity, this inability to celebrate our own origins, our own People and our own homeland, I argue in my latest book, The Promise of Israel, is dysfunctional.

Do we not care about our own children more than we care about other people’s children? And shouldn’t we? Are our own parents not our responsibility in a way that other people’s parents are not? The same is true of nations and ethnicities. The French care about the French more than they do about others. So do the Italians. So do the Spanish.

It’s only this new, re-imagined Jew who is constantly seeking to transcend origins which actually make us who we are and enable us to leave our distinct fingerprints on the world.

That ­- an utterly universalized Judaism is almost entirely divorced from the richness of Jewish heritage and the worldview of our classic texts is bad enough.

Try Judith Butler, whose idea of Judaism consists of a universalist reading of Martin Buber.

But on weeks like this, with hundreds of thousands of Israelis sleeping in bomb shelters and many millions more unspeakably frightened, it’s become clear that this universalized Judaism has rendered not only platitudinous Jews, but something worse. It bequeaths us a new Jew utterly incapable of feeling loyalty. The need for balance is so pervasive that even an expression of gut-level love for Israelis more than for their enemies is impossible. Balance has now bequeathed betrayal.

This sheds some interesting light on the marriage of pre-modern sadism and post-modern masochism. Enjoined by a (messianic) notion of transcending self and embracing totality to practice it in a reality where the most ferocious us-them hostility demands – in the name of human rights – that we (Jews) embrace a balance (and a vulnerability) that our enemies (yes, we have enemies) reject categorically.

Humiliating Slip in Hamas’ Cannibalistic Cognitive War Strategy: Haniyah and Kandil Kiss Baby Hamas Killed

Humiliating Slip in Hamas’ Cannibalistic Cognitive War Strategy: Haniyah and Kandil Kiss Baby Hamas Killed

Here’s a classic. Let’s start with the ghoulish display of sorrow over the body of a dead boy, allegedly killed by Israeli bombing. It’s aimed right at the heart of a someone like Annie Lennox who, upon seeing bombs falling on Gaza immediately imagines Palestinian babies on the receiving end, rather than Hamas militants targeting Israeli babies. And, of course, the news media snatch up the photo-op.

Haniya and Egyptian PM Kandil mugging for the cameras Remember this from Kafr Qana, Lebanon, July 30, 2006: Green Helmet Guy with dusty baby and clean baby toy clip, July 30, 2006. And, of course, the media run with the story. It’s all so obvious. Boy dead from explosion, Israelis bombing Gaza. As the Palestinian “general” in charge of the investigation of Al Durah’s death put it, “there’s no need to investigate when we know who did it. But wait, what about the evidence, asks Elder of Baker Street?

The Dead Baby War: Fisking Max Fisher

The Dead Baby War:

Reflections on Palestinian Thanatography and Western Stupefication

Max Fisher, formerly of the Atlantic Monthly, now the WaPo’s “foreign policy advisor,”  just posted a reflection on the war of images in the current Gaza operation. In it he makes every effort to be “even-handed.” And in the end, comes up empty-handed. A remarkable example of how intelligent people can look carefully at evidence and learn nothing. If I didn’t know better (which I don’t), I might think he was doing some “damage control,” if not for Hamas (in which case, presumably it would be unconscious), then for the paradigm that permits him not to acknowledge Hamas’ character.

The Israeli-Palestinian politics of a bloodied child’s photo

Posted by Max Fisher on November 16, 2012 at 3:17 pm

Left, a journalist for BBC Arabic holds his son’s body. Center, an emergency worker carries an Israeli infant from the site of a rocket strike. Right, Egypt’s prime minister and a Hamas official bend over a young boy’s body. (AP, Reuters, Reuters)

Wars are often defined by their images, and the renewed fighting between Israel and Gaza-based Hamas has already produced three such photographs in as many days. In the first, displayed on the front page of Thursday’s Washington Post, BBC journalist Jihad Misharawi carries the body of his 11-month-old son, killed when a munition landed on his Gaza home. An almost parallel image shows an emergency worker carrying an Israeli infant, bloody but alive, from the scene of a rocket attack that had killed three adults. The third, from Friday, captures Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Kandil, in his visit to a Gazan hospital, resting his hand on the head of a boy killed in an airstrike.

Each tells a similar story: a child’s body, struck by a heartless enemy, held by those who must go on. It’s a narrative that speaks to the pain of a grieving people, to the anger at those responsible, and to a determination for the world to bear witness. But the conversations around these photos, and around the stories that they tell, are themselves a microcosm of the distrust and feelings of victimhood that have long plagued the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Studiously even-handed. One of my favorite memes: “both sides…”

The old arguments of the Middle East are so entrenched that the photos, for all their emotional power, were almost immediately pressed into the service of one side or another.

Actually, there’s a huge difference between the sides. Israel has, over the years, shown enormous reluctance to use the photos of their dead and wounded to appeal for public sympathy; whereas Palestinians have actually created victims in order to parade their suffering in front of the public. Indeed, Palestinian TV revels in pictures of the dead (so much so, that when my daughter wanted to help me with some logging of PLO TV footage, I had to decline lest she be brutalized by the material). They systematically use the media to both arouse sympathy from an “empathic” West, and to arouse hatred and a desire for revenge among Arabs and Muslims. Nothing uglier.

Israel, on the other hand, studiously avoids pictures of the dead, and only a shocking incident like Ramallah can break those taboos. They were so reluctant to exploit these images that, even at the height of the suicide campaign (2002-3) they refused to release pictures of the dead victims. The two cultures could not be more different on this score, and yet, Fisher has no problem finding his symmetry.

To obfuscate this fundamental difference with a pleasing even-handedness symbolizes the literal stupefication of our culture that necessarily accompanies the politically correct paradigm (PCP1), founded on a dogmatic cognitive egocentrism. It forces one not to see critical information. It’s as if we were under orders to not notice everything that a good detective should pick up on, as if we were required to assist the clean-up crews that want to frame the story to their advantage. In such a world, the protagonists of the Mentalist, Lie to Me, Elementary, CSI, House, are not merely unwelcome, they are banished.

Choose Life

H/T: Shlomo Halak

Here’s a good metaphor for the Middle East: Israeli civil polity vs. the Arab world’s prime dividers.

In the Israeli national anthem, there’s the line: “to be a free people in our own land…” Seems so simple and obvious from the perspective of modern principles of freedom and human rights. But from the perspective of those for whom “rule or be ruled” is the imperative, such freedom is an affront to their honor. It’s not what Israel does that drives triumphalist Arabs and Muslims up the wall, it’s what they are – no longer dhimmi.

Western Appetite for Lethal Narratives about Israel: Moral Schadenfreude and Replacement Theology

I just gave a talk at a “Consultation” between Jews and Christians here in Jerusalem, sponsored by the B’nai Brit International and the Ecumenical Theological Research Fraternity in Israel. Here is the written version.

Why Do (Some) Westerners Have So Great an Appetite for Palestinian Lethal Narratives About Israel?

Reflections on Moral Schadenfreude and Replacement Theology

Since the outbreak of the Oslo Intifada (October 2000), the world has been flooded with horrifying images and stories about Israel that have entered the information system largely as news, despite the extensive evidence that many of these accusations are manipulated if not actually staged.  Nidra Poller has dubbed these stories “lethal narratives“; David Hirsh has called them the “Livingstone Formulation.” They emphasize Israel’s malicious, malevolent intent, its deliberate desire to kill innocent civilians, especially children. As such, I and others consider them the 21st century avatar of blood libels.

Obviously, after the terrifying disasters brought upon mankind the last time such blood libels took hold in a culture – 6 million Jews murdered, but over 60 million people dead! – one would imagine that responsible people (journalists, academics, progressive thinkers) would react strongly to such a wave of hatred. And yet, rather than oppose it, in general liberals tended to fall silent, while the more radical progressives both secular and Christian, actually stood at the forefront of the circulation of these lethal narratives. I would like to explore why this has been the case, by examining why Western progressives, Christian and post-Christian (and even Jewish) would have so powerful an appetite for these tales of Jews behaving badly that they show virtually no interest in the possibility that these stories, like the earlier blood libels, are not true, but rather the product of people who themselves have the malevolent intentions that they project onto the Jews.

In 1892, in an essay discussing the wide circulation of blood libels, Ehad Ha-am wrote that one of the common responses to Jewish denial was an incredulous: “Do you want me to believe that the whole world is wrong and the Jews are right?” In 2002, in response to Israelis denying that they had massacred 500 Palestinians in Jenin, Kofi Anan, then Secretary General of the UN said, “Are you trying to tell me that the whole world is wrong, and the Israelis are right?” What an impoverished world when the answer to those questions is, “no.”

But my intent here is not to explore why it might be true that the world would be so impoverished if its consensus were wrong and the Jews were right, but why we Jews are in the position of so absurd a dichotomy in the first place. How did we get to where we even have to respond to such outrageous accusations, and do so to an “audience” of gentiles who, even as they proclaim themselves masters of the highest moral standards – who are we to judge? war is not the answer! — have no problem heaping opprobrium on the Israelis and urging on the most heinous violence among the Palestinians. As the allegedly pacifist ISM slogan that came out in response to criticism of suicide bombers blowing themselves up along with children and old people, goes: Resistance is not Terrorism.

Muhammad al Durah, Lethal Narratives, and the Lust to Demean

If you can’t vote for Romney, Don’t vote for Obama: An Open Letter to Americans of all Faiths and Skepticisms

If you can’t vote for Romney, Don’t vote for Obama:

An Open Letter to Americans of all Faiths and Skepticisms

I hesitate to take a public stand on national elections, never have, never thought I would. But exceptional times call for exceptional measures. I write because I think that the choice of Barak Obama could have dangerous consequences, not only for the United States (where I grew up, teach, have family, and which I greatly admire as both a nation and a culture), and for Israel (where I live, have family, write, and which I greatly admire as both a nation and a culture). I think another four years of President Obama would seriously endanger the culture of openness, tolerance and productivity that has made our current age such an astonishing one in world history.

I have become increasingly alarmed, in the course of the first decade of the 21st century, about what seemed to me an inexplicable loss of ground in a critical battle for moral integrity with a politicized religious movement which we loosely refer to as Islamism. Many of those who believe that Islam should exercise political sovereignty wherever it exists, also manifest alarmingly aggressive, regressive traits. Since political Islam clearly violates the idea of the separation of church and state, a pillar of free democracies, it did not occur to me that the products and developers of modern liberal culture would lose such a debate to people whose sharia-imposed utopia involves patriarchy and its attendant misogyny, imperialist politics and its hate-targeting of scapegoats, violence and its threat in order to silence critics.

To my shock and horror, I have felt like a witness to a self-destructive generation, bent on pursuing the mirages that John Lennon invited us to Imagine, no matter what the cost, no matter who we tried to reach by throwing off all our identity boundaries. Damn the regressive icebergs, full speed ahead to making the world “a much better place” by embracing the “Other.” Ignore those violent Islamists and what they’re doing; they’re all part of the great experiment in global consciousness in which we all participate.

Not only that, our critics from within and without insist, but “we” Eurocentric Westerners should take responsibility for any problems that arise. Ask not, “what do they believe to hate us so?” but rather, “what have we done to make them hate us so?” It was one thing for Chomsky to respond to 9-11 by declaring the US the worst terrorist, it was madness for a generation of idealist/activists to take Chomsky as their moral compass. The result: when Islamists accused us of terrible and malevolent crimes, and held us to standards of human rights for them, that they themselves would never grant to us, we responded, “Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. We deserve the hostility we get. Perhaps, if we atone and show respect to you, we can all move on to a better, more equitable world.”

Who but the most perceptive prophet in the 1990s could have imagined this marriage of pre-modern sadism and post-modern masochism? And who, upon seeing it take shape, would have imagined the powerful (even hegemonic) voice it commanded in the public sphere in the next decade? Who but a pessimistic William Blake could have dreamed of so perverse an Emperor’s New Clothes dominating public conversation even as a remorseless enemy builds strength?