Monthly Archives: August 2015

Rethinking the Political Meme, Right-Left-Wing: Call for Papers

One hears often the complaint that “right and left” are not good terms for describing and categorizing various thinkers in today’s world. But all the complaints barely make a dent in the widespread use of this dichotomy as a key to identifying the “players” in today’s public sphere: journals, public intellectuals, academic fields, politicians, movements, NGOs, think-tanks, are all labeled along a continuum with such nodal identifiers as far- or center- right/left.

Indeed a peculiar dynamic has taken shape over the last two decades: a kind of western “narcissism of small differences,” between right and left wing in which each speaks of the other in strident terms and limits any serious discussion with the other,on the one hand, and the application of left and right to political cultures where they have no possible corresponding meaning, on the other hand. When, 2006, Judith Butler acknowledged that Hamas and Hizbullah, two groups of the most regressive religious zealots, were part of the “global progressive left,” she rendered the term meaningless. Or so one would think. And yet, right and left continue to be used extensively to identify and either include or exclude some voice in the public sphere.

Whatever the problems involved beforehand, in the 21st century, the designations “right” and “left” as they are used, have become a polemical shorthand that dis-informs, rather than informs. Part of this relates to sociability patterns in which “left” and “right” wingers hang together, and view the other as of questionable legitimacy. Readers who accept the labels right and left as indicators of the reliability of the source, tend to dismiss writings labeled the “other side,” as biased and propagandistic. The mutual ostracism that “right” and “left” have accomplished has an increasingly deleterious impact on the discussion in the public sphere.

One of the places where this impact has been most deleterious is in our ability to think about the Muslim and Arab world, the source of some of the most regressive religious forces on the planet, in its most extreme form, a millennial vision of world conquest. And yet despite how much the values of Islamism contradict progressive principles, the closest allies that Jihadis have, in the Western public sphere that they plan to take over, are people self-consciously identified as “the global progressive left.” Judith Butler’s defense of that alliance emphasized the shared bond of anti-imperialism. Dubbed the “anti-imperialism of fools,” by Michael Totten, this leftist embrace of Jihadi groups brought some of the most ferocious imperialists on the planet into the allegedly “anti-imperialist” camp.

Back in the aughts, the irony of siding with imperialists in an “anti-imperial” struggle, might escape a viewer unfamiliar with, say, Muqtada al Sadr’s messianic sadism:

denver al sadr

Democratic National Convention, Denver Colorado, 2008

Today, the contradiction is no longer even hidden:

anti-imperial caliphate

Global Caliphate for Dummies.con

Question about European Supersessionist Anti-Zionism

What does it mean that Western Europeans are the people with the least affiliation with Christianity, and yet, outside the Muslim world, express the most pervasive supersessionist hostility towards sovereign Jews? Secular, progressive supersessionism?

 

Rousseau explains the 21st Century Hysteria about Israel

In the mid-18th century, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, then one of the more radical thinkers of the enlightenment, made the following argument about Jews and their opinions. (HT/AP)

If someone dared to publish among us books that openly favored Judaism, we would punish the author, the publisher, the book dealer. That arrangement is a convenient and sure way to always be right. There is a pleasure in refuting people who do not dare speak… [When] conversing with Jews… The unfortunates feel themselves at our mercy. The tyranny practiced against them makes them fearful… I will never believe that I have rightly heard the Jews’ reasoning as long as they do not have a free state, schools, universities where they might speak and argue without risk. (Emile, Book IV, 618-20).

[See also essay by Elliott Green, “Reason, Science and Progress: Modern Pretexts for Judeophobia, Left & Right,” Nativ, 10 (June 2007)]

The reason why Jews were “at the mercy” of their monotheistic dependents (Christianity and Islam) for so many centuries was because of the profoundly immature and insecure doctrine of supersessionism, the Oedipal, zero-sum claim that the offspring monotheistic faiths were so superior to their parent(s), that they replaced, erased them in God’s singular affections. Christianity was the “New Israel” and the Jews were cast out; Islam was the true religion and Judaism and Christianity were inferior. In order to make such a remarkable, unnecessary, and mean-spirited claim, they had to make sure that the predecessor monotheism was publicly humiliated, visibly put down. (Hence Rousseau’s comment on the “pleasure of refuting people who dare not speak.”)

Rabbi Yoffie and the Proxy Honor-Killing of Israel: An Un-Jewish Tragedy

In a recent op-ed in Ha-aretz, “Rabbi” Eric Yoffie illustrated the joke that the real name of the paper is “Dibat Ha-aretz” (libel of the land, or, Ha-aretz’ libel), in a rant about recent violence in Israel. (I refuse to link to such a poisonous piece.)

(HT: Pedro Zuquette, Elder of Zion, Jeffrey Bale, Arnold Roth, Daled Amos, et al.)

The reason for Jewish terror is Torah. It is not territories and occupation that are to blame, although they are part of the picture. It is not racism or hatred of Arabs that are at fault, although they play a role. The heart of the problem is Torah, the sacred teachings of Judaism.

It’s hard to imagine a more lacerating piece of self-criticism than this, especially from someone trained in the study of the Torah. And it’s harder to imagine a statement that would warm the cockles of the souls of Jew-haters the world over. Hitler was right, as too many Arabs in this neighborhood tend to say.

He then proceeds to make two further related claims: 1) though not yet found, the killers of the Palestinian baby killed in an arson attack are surely religious Jews, inspired to their actions by their religious beliefs, and 2) they deliberately murdered that child. Although the first claim may be true, it seems a bit premature to indict an entire religious teaching on the basis of a series of unproven presumptions; and the second claim – to attribute the deliberate desire to murder an infant to that religious teaching when there is no evidence that the death of the child was premeditated rather than the unintended consequence of reckless violence – seems itself, the height of recklessness. Indeed, that most tenuous presumption of intention to murder an infant, plays a critical role in the intensity of Yoffie’s anger and indignation.

What would drive a rabbi to such hasty and vicious (self-)accusations (on behalf of his fellow Jews), and drive a newspaper to publishing them? Masochistic Omnipotence Syndrome (MOS)? Self-abasement as a means of dealing with shame? Boundless hatred of those who shame him?

Apocalyptic and Gratuitous Hatreds: The Revival of Jew Hatred in the 21st Century

The following is an only slightly edited version of my farewell lecture at Boston University, April 27, 2015.

The essay is only partially linked. As I reread it, I see numerous jumps in reasoning which make it a difficult read. It in some ways runs the gamut of my research, putting together apocalyptic types, honor-shame, zero- vs. positive-sum, and the huge dilemma we’re in today, where we can’t talk about the most serious threat to global peace (not kidding), and instead, we talk endlessly about the flaws of the Jews, individually and collectively.

Apocalyptic and Gratuitous Hatreds:

The Revival of Jew Hatred in the 21st Century

The rabbis attribute the destruction of the Second Temple to sinat chinam, causeless, or gratuitous hatred between Jews. The most elaborate example used to illustrate the point, tells the story of the confusion of a certain a-Kamtza, an invited guest to a wedding, and Bar Kamza, the mistakenly invited man whom the host dislikes intensely. The host, discovering Bar Kamtza at his feast, demands he leave, and refuses to relent even when Bar Kamtza offers to pay for the full feast. Angry and resentful, Bar Kamtza plots to use the Romans to take vengeance, not only against the host, but the rabbis who stood about and did not intervene while he was being unbearably humiliated. Deeply knowledgeable about both the halacha and the proclivities of its interpreters, and determined to take vengeance, Bar Kamtza sets off a chain of events that ultimately led Rome to destroy the Temple.

Josephus, the historian, tells a different tale. Although it failed, that failure was hardly fore-ordained, and had it succeeded, it would rank as the first successful blow against the juggernaut of Roman hegemony that dominated the previous centuries of Mediterranean history. In Josephus’ account, there were plenty of hatreds, and some – like the Zealots who burned the besieged city’s supplies – clearly contributed to the failure of the Jewish revolt. In historical terms, Josephus is both more embedded in events, and confirmed by outside sources which show a vast range of prophetic/messianic behavior among individuals acting before receptive crowds. Far from gratuitous, the passions that drove the Jewish Revolt might best be considered apocalyptic: in other words, for the participants, the things at stake in these hatreds, were cosmic; this was the final battle.

These believers, whom I call roosters, who live in apocalyptic time, in the certainty that the culmination of history is underway, can behave at once enthusiastically and self-destructively, like the Xhosa in what became South Africa in the mid-19th century. Told by an adolescent girl to slaughter their cattle in preparation for redemption, many Xhosa, including their greatest chief slaughtered their precious herds in anticipation, and each time that anticipation disappointed, they killed even more systematically. They followed this pattern of doubling down so determinedly that they went from voluntary sacrifice (believers killing their own cattle) into coercive purity (killing the cattle of non-believers). In the end, they slaughtered hundreds of thousands of cattle, and tens of thousands of Xhosa starved.[i]

Apocalyptic Dimensions of Global Jihad

#GenerationCaliphate:

Apocalyptic Hopes, Millennial Dreams and Global Jihad

May 3-4, 2015, Boston University

While the conference took place three months ago, none of the discussion is outdated.

Richard Landes – 1

Introductory Remarks, 23:44