Monthly Archives: April 2015

Does Burston really think it’s legitimate to view BDS as Tikkun Olam?

[I re-post this item from 2010 after having attended a meeting at Temple Israel, a Reform Synagogue in Boston last night where J-Street and NIF talked us blue from their tikkun bubble chamber.]

A good friend sent me the following piece by Bradley Burston with the comment: “It expresses how I feel.” I find it so pervasively flawed that I have difficulty taking it seriously. But if my friend can (and he’s one of the smartest people I know), then I have to, and it does raise, however poorly, a whole range of key issues. So, with great reluctance (because there are more interesting texts to sink one’s teeth into), I fisk below.

First, a brief introductory note: One of the key contentions of Burston and the people he likes (J-Street, Jewish Voices for Peace, Young Jews for Peace, etc.) is that a) they love Israel and b) they know the best way to peace which, since Israel won’t take that path, they must force upon her. Now all these groups locate along the “left” political spectrum differently. NIF disapproves of BDS but funds groups who do; J-Street disapproves of  BDS even if they associate with people who do; Jewish Voices for Peace and Emily Schaeffer (below) support BDS in many forms.

Whatever the details, each of these groups believes that they must pressure Israel to leave the occupied territories out of a combination of moral passion – the Israel they love should set a moral example to the world – and peaceful intentions – they know their formula for peace will work.

Now some people, myself included, see the situation very differently. On moral matters, howevermuch we may share concerns about the occupation and dominion over another people harms both Palestinians and Israelis, we have difficulty with a moral equivalence, that ends up as a moral inversion, with the profound condescension and bigotry it involves in its abysmally low standards for the Palestinians, and the inversely exacting standards to which it holds Israel. The result – people, Jews! – for whom Israel is the new Nazi. And even as such people are morally reckless in their accusations of Israel, they echo and reinforce genocidal hatreds among the most base of the enemies of the Jews.

On the practical level, many of us feel that while making concessions and apologizing is a splendid way to begin a process of reconciliation, that only works in cases where the other side also seeks resolution, and responds in kind. In some cases, conflicts are not only unresponsive to such an approach, but literally allergic: rather than a peace process it produces a war process. Indeed, given how often and consistently Palestinian (and more broadly Arab) leaders have seized upon Israeli concessions to press for more and on Israeli confessions to reaffirm a demonizing narrative, it’s dubious that under the best of circumstances, Palestinian political players would respond to an Israeli withdrawal to the ’67 borders with a shift to peace.

On the contrary, any such move most likely will strengthen those in the Palestinian camp who argue that any withdrawal should be part of a “Phased plan” to destroy Israel and use any and every pretext to keep the war alive. Any observer who dismisses even this possibility – the favorite line is either, “you’re paranoid,” or “oh, you think they only understand violence.” – is either in ignorance or denial of the discourse that prevails in Palestinian political culture today.

And so, if under the best of conditions withdrawing to the ’67 lines could backfire, how much the more likely that the voices of attack will grow louder if Israel finds itself compelled as a result of becoming the object of universal execration (BDS) and pressure from its only powerful ally, the United States, to withdraw. The naïveté of such a formula is only matched by the aggressiveness with which it gets implemented. A formula for war: si vis bellum para pacem.

The fact that groups can argue that the US should force Israel to make these concessions without any serious discussion of the necessary massive reciprocity from Palestinians (especially when it comes to incitement to hatred and violence), raises serious doubts among many about their realism, and given their recklessness in insisting that virtually any means to get there are legitimate, it raises for us serious doubts about their responsibility.

As far as I can make out, Burston has no idea what I’m talking about. He’s like the New Yorker cartoon of a Manhattanite’s view of the USA. When he looks at the landscape of this debate, all he sees are him and his like-minded friends “doing the right thing,” while the opposition is at the other end of the spectrum – messianic rabbis and their neo-con partners who will not part with an inch of the land, even if God himself told them to do so. And nothing in between.

He encases his simplistic dualism in the antimony “Jews of the Gate” vs. “Jews of the Wall.” This fisking comes from someone who thinks that both of his categories are poorly conceived; and that the real issues are entirely different from the ones upon which he focuses.

Thanksgiving, Tikkun Olam, and U.S. Jews breaking the Israel barrier By Bradley Burston

[Part 2 of a series on U.S. Jews emotionally divesting from Israel. In part, a journal of a recent West Coast speaking tour hosted by J Street]

Norah: It reminds me of this part of Judaism that I really like. It’s called Tikkun Olam. It says that the world is broken into pieces, and that it’s everybody’s job to find them and put them back together again.

Nick: Well, maybe we’re the pieces. And maybe we’re not supposed to find the pieces. Maybe we are the pieces. “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist” (Columbia Pictures, 2008)

It’s hard not to read this as a spoof of the trivial use to which a mystical concept like tikkun olam has been put in new “new-age” spirituality. Not having seen the movie, I don’t know if this is an homage to “Deep Thoughts,” but Burston seems to offer them up as his credo. Indeed, Nick’s version – people! – stands behind the full line-up of comments he makes throughout this piece. So it’s probably worth a short comment on this deep and now deeply problematic notion that has set our moral compasses awry in the 21st century.

#GenerationCaliphate: Apocalyptic Hopes, Millennial Dreams and Global Jihad

#GenerationCaliphate: 

Apocalyptic Hopes, Millennial Dreams and Global Jihad

May 3-4, 2015, Boston University

Sponsored by the Center for Millennial Studies, Boston University History Department and Scholars for Peace in the Middle East.

Most Westerners associate the terms apocalyptic and millennial (millenarian) with Christian beliefs about the endtime. Few even know that Muhammad began his career as an apocalyptic prophet predicting the imminent Last Judgment. And yet, for the last thirty years, a wide-ranging group of militants, both Sunni and Shi’i, both in coordination and independently, have, under the apocalyptic belief that now is the time, pursued the millennial goal of spreading Dar al Islam to the entire world. In a manner entirely in keeping with apocalyptic beliefs, but utterly counter-intuitive to outsiders, these Jihadis see the Western-driven transformation of the world as a vehicle for their millennial beliefs, or, to paraphrase Eusebius on the relationship between the Roman Empire and Christianity: Praeparatio Califatae.

The apocalyptic scenario whereby this global conquest takes place differs from active transformative (the West shall be conquered by Da’wa [summons]) to active cataclysmic (bloody conquest). Western experts have until quite recently, for a wide range of reasons, ignored this dimension of the problem. And yet, understanding the nature of global Jihad in terms of the dynamics of apocalyptic millennial groups may provide an important understanding, both to their motivations, methods, as well as their responses to the inevitable disappointments that await all such believers. The now defunct Center for Millennial Studies at Boston University (1996-2003) brings to the public one final conference on apocalyptic beliefs, co-sponsored by the BU History Department and Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME).

This event is free and open to the public.

Schedule

Sunday, May 3

10:00-12:00 Introduction:

  • Richard Landes, “Globalization as a Millennial Praeparatio Califatae: A Problematic Discussion”
  • William McCants, Brookings Institute: “ISIS and the Absent Mahdi: Studies in Cognitive Dissonance and Apocalyptic Jazz”
  • Graeme Wood, Yale University, Atlantic Monthly: “On the Resistance to seeing Global Jihad as Apocalyptic Movement”

 12:00-1:30 Break for Lunch

 1:30-3:30 Panel II: The Millennial Goal: Global Caliphate

  • Timothy Furnish, “”Rejecting Millennial Time: The Ottoman Empire’s 700-year War against Mahdism in its Realm.”
  • Cole Bunzel, Princeton: “From Apocalypse Now to Caliphate Now: Revisiting Juhayman al-‘Utaybi’s Siege of Mecca in 1979″
  • Jeffrey M. Bale, Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, “Refusing to Take Islamist Ideology Seriously: The Persistence of Western ‘Mirror Imaging’ and Ideological Double Standards”
  • Comments: Charles Cameron

4:00-5:30 Panel III: Case Studies in Apocalyptic Jihad

  • David Cook, Rice University: “ISIS and Boko Haram: Profiles in Apocalyptic Jihad”
  • JM Berger, Brookings Institute, “The role of communications Technology in mediating apocalyptic communities”
  • Mehdi Khalaji, Washington Institute of Near East Policy: “Apocalyptic Revolutionary Politics in Iran”

Monday, May 4

10:0-12:00 Panel IV: Conspiracy Theory and Apocalyptic Genocide

  • Itamar Marcus, Palestinian Media Watch, “Anti-Semitism, Conspiracy Theory and Apocalyptic Global Jihad
  • Charles Small, “Ideology and Antisemitism:  Random Acts or a Core Element of the Reactionary Islamist Global Jihad?”
  • Richard Landes, BU, “Active Cataclysmic Apocalyptic Scenarios, Demonizing and Megadeath: Taiping, Communists, Nazis, and Jihadis.”
  • Comments: David Redles

  12:00-1:30 Break for Lunch 

 1:30-4:00 Final Panel Discussion

Paul Berman, Independent Scholar

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Independent Scholar

Husain Haqqani, Hudson Institute

Charles Strozier, John Jay College

Brenda Brasher, Tulane University

*All events will take place in the Stone Science Building (645 Commonwealth Ave), room B50

Been up so long it looks like down to me: Garry Trudeau and punching down at Jihadis

On April 10 at the Long Island University’s George Polk Awards ceremony, where he received the George Polk Career Award, Garry Trudeau, the beloved author of the Doonsbury cartoons, delivered the following remarks which appeared in the Atlantic Monthly. In it he criticizes the cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo for “punching down.” The core of his argument, fisked below.

Ironically, Charlie Hebdo,which always maintained it was attacking Islamic fanatics, not the general population, has succeeded in provoking many Muslims throughout France to make common cause with its most violent outliers. This is a bitter harvest.

The implication here is that the attack on the Jihadis was responsible for this “common cause,” an attribution of causation that will play a critical role in the subsequent analysis. Nothing here questions what is wrong with French Muslims that criticism of their most extreme and violent co-religionists, the one’s who insist that Muhammad cannot be drawn, can drive the “vast majority of moderate Muslims” who have nothing in common with these (not real) Muslims, to nonetheless make common cause with hate-mongering genocidal maniacs. It’s classic Masochistic Omnipotence Syndrome (MOS): it’s all our fault, if only we didn’t provoke them, they wouldn’t hate us so.

There’s a bitter harvest, alright, and much of it comes from this kind of Western supremacist thinking that puts all moral responsibility on the West, and makes no moral demands of Muslims, including the rather basic one – for a civil society at least – of dealing with criticism like mentsches instead of hysterical, testosteronic teenagers.

Traditionally, satire has comforted the afflicted while afflicting the comfortable. Satire punches up, against authority of all kinds, the little guy against the powerful. Great French satirists like Molière and Daumier always punched up, holding up the self-satisfied and hypocritical to ridicule. Ridiculing the non-privileged is almost never funny—it’s just mean.

By punching downward, by attacking a powerless, disenfranchised minority with crude, vulgar drawings closer to graffiti than cartoons, Charlie wandered into the realm of hate speech, which in France is only illegal if it directly incites violence.

Fatal Attraction: The shared antichrist of the Global Progressive Left and Jihad

The following is the text of a talk I gave at ISGAP last week.

Imagine all the people…

Imagine there’s no countries

It isn’t hard to do

Nothing to kill or die for

And no religion too

Imagine all the people

Living life in peace…

You may say I’m a dreamer

But I’m not the only one… (John Lennon, 1971)

And now,

Imagine there’s no countries

It isn’t hard to do

Something to kill and die for

And one religion too

Imagine all the people

Living under our peace…

You may say we’re dreamers

But we’re not the only ones… (Jihadi Joe, 2000)

Welcome to the 21st century.

The Jihadi Apocalyptic Narrative: World Conquest and the Great and Little Satan

Despite the spectacular attacks on the West, most Westerners have little familiarity[1] with the Jihadi narrative, a narrative first revealed in Khoumeini’s Iran.[2] It varies significantly in some ways from traditional Muslim apocalyptic thought, which focused on a Last Judgment at the end of the world. Instead, this apocalyptic scenario focuses on a this-wordly messianic era, envisioned as the global victory of Islam: when all of Dar al Harb becomes Dar al Islam.[3] Those who join this movement fight in an apocalyptic battle in which the Jews will be slaughtered, and the rest of the harbi, would convert, accept the dhimma contract of submission (religions of the book), or become slaves (pagans), or being put to death[4]: a “Second Global Islamic Kingdom,”[5] only this time, really encompassing the whole world. In the battle, no mercy should be shown to those who resist Islam’s dominion. Everything to kill and die for: suicide martyrs goes straight to heaven; their victims, straight to hell.