Monthly Archives: May 2017

Another Review of Heaven on Earth

[I recently got another review of my book on millennialism, this time in an Indian journal. It’s quite favorable, but my favorite part is what he says about my footnotes, which were in many cases, my favorite part of writing the book.]

Subhashis Chattopadhyay, “Review of Heaven on Earth: The Varieties of the Millennial Experience, by Richard Landes,” (Oxford University Press, Great Clarendon Street, Oxford OX Prabuddha Bharata, May 2017, pp. 480-82.

White supremacists including the historian Niall Ferguson (b.1964), the singer Steve Hofmeyr (b.1964) want the African continent to be a failed democracy. [?] Afrikaners are readying for the day when whites in South Africa’s metropolises will run to the hinterlands of South Africa for shelter. Many Afrikaners are convinced that doomsday is at hand, albeit, to be brought about by South Africa’s black majority. (See Benjamin Zand, ‘Afrikaners on the Edge’, Our World, BBC, 17 September 2016). In early 2016 Turkey witnessed one of its goriest coup attempts fuelled by Fethullah Gülen (b.1941). And India is reeling from suicide as explained in ‘Suicide Terrorism’ in the book under review (462-3) and other terrorist attacks including the one in Uri, Kashmir in September 2016. The ISIS shows no signs of letting up. All of these extremist movements are fuelled by millennialist ideologies. From the paranoid Afrikaner in his hinterland hideout to Abu Musab al-Barnawi, the present leader of Boko Haram, now incorporated into the ISIS, to the ISIS lone-wolves throughout the globe as discussed in ‘Internet Jihad’ (464),the popularity of ‘execution videos’ and to Pakistan’s ISIS, handlers controlling suicide bombers in India; each of them believes that their actions will finally win them heaven (430-7).

His desire for ‘heaven on earth’ needs to be studied to understand and end genocides. There are two ways to understand this deadly phenomenon of millennialism—one through literature and the other through meticulous historiography. Haruki Murakami in his Underground (2000), and IQ24 (2011) and Stephen King in his The Stand (1978) and Revival (2014) show the disastrous consequences of millennial or fundamentalist movements. Both know that neuroses and the need for certainties—Kantian categorical imperatives—lead to disasters. Haruki Murakami’s texts provide us with the literary perspective required for comprehending millennial frenzy. Murakami has recorded the religious cult Aum Shinrikyo’s 1995 Tokyo subway gas attack in his Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche (2000). The gassing was fuelled by millennialism. Later Murakami studies the millennial, cultic mindset in his IQ84.

Richard Landes’s book is the historical counterpart of Murakami’s literary oeuvre. Landes’s constructs a historical matrix needed to understand our desire for utopias on earth from the ancient Egyptians till date in ‘Imperial Millennialism’ (149-84). Landes’s study of millennial longings is matched only by Richard Slotkin’s work on American exceptionalism. If one studies Murakami, Slotkin, and Landes synoptically then one understands how all utopias have as their inevitable telos, dystopic Orwellian worlds. Landes’s book under review performs its cultural work by making explicit the raison d’être for the existence of all sorts of cults and fanatics who believe that our/their time of reckoning is very near.

Nidra Poller on the Sarah Halimi Case

Nidra Poller was among the first to report in English on the Sarah Halimi atrocity. The following excerpts are from Parts 2, 3 and 6 of her extensive French presidential election coverage.

Part 2, Update:  5 April

French Presidential Campaign Part 2 UPDATE

5 April 2017

I drop in to the Shir Hadash Bookstore on rue des Rosiers at the end of the day. Madame Magnichever comes in, pale and troubled, and whispers to me: “A dear friend… we’ve known her for 40 years…she was assassinated… an Islamist pushed her out the window.”

Reports of the incident came out first in Jewish media, then it was picked up by a few two generalist sites: A Jewish woman in her mid-sixties was pushed out of a third (in U.S. 4th)-floor window by a 27 year-old Muslim neighbor who, according to some accounts, had recently become radicalized. He had frequent run-ins with the police for violence and “petty” crime. According to testimony of a  neighbor who witnessed the crime, the assailant who shouted allahu akhbar as he pushed the victim out the window. He is in police custody, undergoing psychiatric examination. Police sources say he made “incoherent statements” (we’ve heard that before).

Detail will follow in Part 3 of the ongoing series.   

From Ilan to Sarah Halimi: Shameful France

French public intellectual, Alexandra Laignel-Lavastine, has written an open letter to Gerard Collomb, the new French Minister of the Interior about the stunning silence in the French public sphere about the terrible murder of Sarah Halimi, a doctor, who was tortured and murdered by her Muslim Arab neighbor while three armed policemen stood outside her door waiting for backup. Below is a translation of the text by André Unterberger with some changes by me.

An open letter to Gerard Collomb [1]: from Ilan [0] to Sarah Halimi, a shameful France

Source: ATLANTICO
Mr Minister,

A 65-yr old Jewish lady MD, during her sleep, is attacked and atrociously tortured for more than one hour.  She lives in a modest apartment in the 11th arrondissement of Paris, rue Vaucouleurs. The murderer,  who reached her apartment through the balcony, attacks with incredible violence, resulting in about twenty fractures all over her face and body.

He then throws her, dying, out of the window, from the 3rd floor. During all this time, the police (3 men with weapons, present in the building just outside the apartment door) do nothing. The neighbours (several dozen) can hear the victim’s yells:  they do nothing either. The French media are alerted. They make no queries and do not report the murder.

Her name was Sarah … Sarah Halimi.

This atrocious scene did not happen in 1942, before or after the “Rafle du Veld’hiv” [2] but in the night from April 3rd to April 4th, 2017, in a tiny apartment close to the “Bataclan” [3]: Cries of “Allah Akbar” accompanied the scene. The next Sunday, a silent march was organised in the area. Youngsters from the nearby quarters countered it with yells of “Mort aux Juifs” or “We own kalachnikovs”.

The Paris public prosecutor immediately pointed out that one should wait for the result of the enquiry before issuing conclusions about the nature of the crime. Who knows? An elderly Jewish lady savagely massacred by a 27-yr old Islamist with many priors (drug trafficking, assault): this could just be a dispute between neighbours… Never mind that the murderer, Kada Taore, from Mali, insulted the victim on a regular basis, and she had reported to neighbours how frightened she was by him. “We are at war”, Manuel Valls proclaimed [4]: “so that Muslims will not feel ashamed any more and Jews will not be frightened any more.” A smashing success.

Mr Minister, you have just taken your position in a country where it is once again possible to murder Jews without eliciting much concern from our fellow Frenchmen and women. By the way, the men who have been in charge before you, both on the left and the right, preferred not to look any further than the end of the broom with which they swept the problem under the carpet. None were up to this challenge. Will you be? This Sunday May 21. on I24News [5], Sarah Halimi’s brother said with extraordinary dignity; “I have waited 7 weeks before I said anything. The absolute silence about my sister’s assassination has become intolerable.”

Further thoughts on Yom Yerushalayim in dialogue:

My Yom Yerushalayim post engendered an exchange with the author of the article I fisked. I asked permission to post one of my long answers and he agreed with this request:

Ok. BUT. I would want you to add 2 points in my name:
1. I am convinced that no one is immune or protected from messianic excess. We are all human.
2. The delegitmation of the “bleeding heart liberals” troubles me. Our opponents refuse to concede that we care and love Israel even if we reach different conclusions. We may be wrong but we care deeply.

****

You exaggerate our faults (that’s your right as a Jew – it’s what the prophets did all the time), and you minimize theirs (why bother confronting them?). As a result, you feed their worst instincts.
The occupation is running amok. Murderers are being eulogized as heroes. Settlers terrorize Palestinians. These “exceptions” are becoming the rule, with the active encouragement of the government (note the recent event run for school age children on how to make sure that a terrorist is dead).
Every statement here needs to be tempered and contextualized, especially when in comparison with real, run-away, violent messianism (which few nations have resisted). You see this all as signs of imminent outbreak/collapse of the moral fiber of the nation. Given we are a garrison state, i’d say it’s amazing it’s this contained.
If the people who buy into the Zionazi theory were right about us (that we treat the Palestinians as the Nazis did us) we’d have massacred every last Arab we could find in 1948. And outsiders would probably have forgiven us our madness. After all, we had just escaped an inconceivably huge attempt at our systematic destruction, and so our paranoia – exterminate or be exterminated – with enemies who had openly allied with the Nazis, would have been fully justified by any law of nations to that point. Look at what the allies did to the Germans and the Japanese – wholescale slaughter to put an end to the madness.

The Echo Chamber of Dupes: Human Rights Discourse in Service of Demopathy

I came across a recent article by Ron Dudai, “Entryism, mimicry and victimhood work: the adoption of human rights discourse by right-wing groups in Israel,” The International Journal of Human Rights, May, 2017.

His basic claim is that “right-wing” groups imitate, seek to be included in, and exploit “human rights” discourse in order to pursue a “right-wing” agenda whose aims are to hijack the movement from within, defend Israel and undermine the Palestinian struggle for their human rights. It’s a classic product of the PoMo-PoCo-Po-Zi discourse heavily favored at Hebrew U, and especially among Buber Fellows (of which he is one): filled with fashionable jargon – entryism, aggressive, colonial mimicry, mimetic isomorphism, counter-hegemonic strategy, etc. (It’s actually not as bad as it might be; and I shouldn’t complain because I make up terminology all the time.)

What’s striking about the article is the echo chamber effect of current “liberal/progressive” thought. It’s logic (and documentation) are impeccable within that echo chamber, recently criticized by the President of Wesleyan (!). The possibility, however, of anomalous evidence entering this mental universe has been minimized to the point where key questions cannot even arise, alternative perspectives cannot even be imagined.

The core of the problem revolves around two issues. First, the reification of the “right-left” phenomenon, as if (according to the medieval school of realists) when the author says “right-wing” that designates a real entity, and not his effort to organize a reality that his terms cannot possibly comprehend. Thus, the differences between what he identifies as “right-wing” and what he considers “progressive” or “left-wing human rights” movements are so fundamental, that the behavior of one side can only be malevolent, and the other only be beneficent.

Second, having reified the dyad, he cannot see any possibility that his criticism of the “right” for invoking human rights to undermine human rights (ie, demopathy“) has already occurred among the major “left-wing human rights groups,” and has been causing havoc in human rights for decades. As a result, he sees a group like NGO Monitor as essentially attempting to hamper the work of the “good left-wing” HRGs (which it is), because they are tribal, Israel-first, right-wingers (not Ron Dudai!), not because they’re opposing the devastating effects of “left-wing” HRGs that are working hand in hand with some of the worst “right-wing” demopaths on the planet. The damage done by this extensive “left-wing” adoption of the “human rights” discourse of demopathic Caliphaters (CAIR, Linda Sarsour, Marwan Barghouti) not only harms Israel (the only “human rights respecting” nation in the entire region), but the very cause of human rights.

(Not) Celebrating Jerusalem Day: Fisking a friend

A good friend and colleague wrote the following piece in 2013. At the time, I said nothing despite my profound disagreement. Recently he recirculated the piece on Academia.com, and, with the approach of the 50th anniversary of the unification of Jerusalem, I find myself, as one historian to another, compelled to fisk.

THE JERUSALEM REPORT

MAY 20, 2013

Since I fear the long-term outcome of the Six Day War victory, and the poison pill of occupation, I do not celebrate Jerusalem Day.
A historian’s nightmare

FOR A number of years I have refused to celebrate Jerusalem Day, which falls on Iyar 28, or May 8 this year [this year, May 24]. Yes, although I lived in New York at the time, I am old enough to remember the fears that gripped us in the weeks preceding the Six Day War, the thrill of the news that enemy air forces had been destroyed on the ground, the capture of the Old City of Jerusalem, and the declaration that the Temple Mount was in “our” hands. Nevertheless, as the consequences of the 1967 war became clearer, I began to view Jerusalem Day as the opening act of a national tragedy. For many years, I was reluctant to publish the piece below; it seemed far too extreme.

Indeed it was, and still is.

The composition of the new coalition government, whose representatives in key places are committed to generous funding of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, has changed my mind. I fear what will come to pass sometime in the future: Israel – a pariah state – about which no one really cares what happens to its Jewish citizens, since they have lost all moral claim to life;

This is a classic case of inverse moral relativism, or maybe moral perfectionism (exceptionally high moral expectations of self) combined with humanitarian racism (no moral expectations of others) that systematically bows to the grotesque attitude of mean-spirited outsiders as some kind of “reality.” We have not by any means lost a moral claim to life. Israel is an (the?) outstanding case of a democracy that, under conditions that have produced totalitarianism in democratic experiments (starting with the French “revolutionary” terror), has remained robust (even if most of its citizens don’t agree with you). To accept the revolting claims of moral idiots like Terje Roed-Larsen, looking at the ruins of five square blocks of Jenin refugee camp in 2002 through the eyes of the news reports of a “Jenin Massacre” declared that “Israel has lost all moral ground in this conflict,” is to in fact abdicate moral responsibility.

Actually, I’d argue the exact opposite. It’s because Israel, in comparison with other nations – and certainly with our neighbors – has such an exceptional moral record (I know, not good enough for you, but, remember, this is a comparative statement), that the reason we are reviled by the “global ‘progressive’ left” is that we are their superior rivals, whom they need desperately to dethrone in order to strut, suicidally, on the global stage as the cutting edge of civilizational values.

Case Study of Lethal Journalism: NYT and Marwan Barghouti

Possibly the single most disorienting aspect of news coverage in the 21st century, was the way the mainstream news media – the main papers and news agencies and TV news studios – presented the “Second Intifada.” For them, the dominant, indeed, the hegemonic, narrative was the Israeli Goliath trying to crush the Palestinian David. Aside from the deep misunderstanding of all the cultural issues in this region that make Arab and Muslim “secular nationalism” and “freedom fighting” inappropriate terms (as was later so spectacularly illustrated by the “Arab Spring”), it completely missed the other narrative, that of global Jihad.

As a result, Western observers were repeatedly exposed by their journalists to a “lethal journalism” that ran Palestinian Jihadi propaganda as news, and portrayed Israel as the murderous, rogue, colonialists running roughshod on Palestinian “civil society.” So when the IDF went after Palestinian mass-murderers, using global Jihad’s most potent new weapon, suicide mass murder of infidels, not only did the press jump all over false reports of an IDF massacre at Jenin, but European “progressives” actually cheered on the monstrous weapon, soon to be aimed at them. In the 21st century, it turns out, lethal journalism against Israel is actually own-goal lethal journalism: running your enemy’s propaganda as news.

If anyone thinks that the long list of scandalous and damaging errors our journalists have made over the last two decades, is in decline, consider the latest. The New York Times, famous for its scrupulous “back and forth” with authors in its op-ed pages, ran the propaganda of a convicted Palestinian terrorist on its op-ed pages, with no fact-checking, and disguising the nature of his crimes. As a result, readers of the Times were treated to a long anti-Israel diatribe by Marwan Barghouti, described by the editors as “a Palestinian leader and parliamentarian.” One could excuse Westerners so informed for thinking that a) the Palestinian Parliament is an operative democratic institution, and b) a Palestinian leader struggles for his people’s freedom, not their sacrifice in the goal of destroying another people’s freedom.

This time, however, the Times felt the blowback. Vigorous criticism got them a rebuke from the paper’s public editor, prompting a “correction.”

I asked Jim Dao, editor of the Op-Ed pages, about the decision not to include Barghouti’s crimes. Dao noted that the piece does say the author received multiple life sentences but he acknowledged that it doesn’t state the crimes for which he was convicted. “We are drafting an editors’ note that will provide that information,” he said.

Here’s the note, attached after our exchange:

This article explained the writer’s prison sentence but neglected to provide sufficient context by stating the offenses of which he was convicted. They were five counts of murder and membership in a terrorist organization. Mr. Barghouti declined to offer a defense at his trial and refused to recognize the Israeli court’s jurisdiction and legitimacy.

[snip]

This isn’t a new issue for the Opinion section. I have written before on the need to more fully identify the biography and credentials of authors, especially details that help people make judgments about the opinions they’re reading. Do the authors of the pieces have any conflicts of interest that could challenge their credibility? Are they who they say they are, and can editors vouch for their fidelity?

I see no reason to skimp on this, while failing to do so risks the credibility of the author and the Op-Ed pages.

In this case, I’m pleased to see the editors responding to the complaints, and moving to correct the issue rather than resist it. Hopefully, it’s a sign that fuller disclosure will become regular practice.

I guess beggars can’t be choosy, but this is half-hearted at the most; and the brave Liz Spayd is too easily mollified.

five counts of murder and membership in a terrorist organization?

Alex Safian: NPR’s Terror Problem: When Is A Terrorist A Terrorist?

In reading an important article by Kenneth Lasson, “Betraying Truth: The Abuse of Journalistic Ethics in Middle East Reporting, I came across a reference to an important article by CAMERA’s Alex Safian on NPR’s use of the term terrorist in the early aughts (ie opening years of the 21st century). Since I only found it with imbedded commands, and it is neither up at his page at CAMERA, nor available at National Review Online, I publish it here for reference. 

NPR’s Terror Problem: When Is A Terrorist A Terrorist?

Alex Safian, National Review Online, June 10, 2003,

Suicide bombers strike civilian targets in Saudi Arabia and Morocco, and National Public Radio quite reasonably labels the attacks “terror” and the attackers “terrorists,” but when — at almost the same time — Palestinian suicide bombers launch five attacks against Israelis, NPR reporters, and hosts, as they have in the past, virtually banish the word “terror” from their vocabulary.

Nakba… Naksa… Naqsba: The Victimization of Palestinian Refugees

Fragments in honor of Naqba Day

  • The original meaning of Nakba: the catastrophe Arab leadership brought on the refugees from their failed war. It was initially voiced by refugees as criticism of the Arab elite.
  • Naksa: (the setback), the term to designate the repeat catastrophe that befell the Arab world under Nasser in 1967: global humiliation, Israel from the river to the sea, Jerusalem in Jewish hands.
  • Current meaning of Nakba (as in Nakba Day): accusation against Israel for treating Palestinians so terribly, sometimes accompanied with comparisons of the Holocaust and the Nakba.
  • This is same scapegoating discourse that created the Nakba in the first place: accusing Israel, erasing criticism of Arab leaders.
  • Naqsba: the mentality of those Arab leaders who scapegoat Israel while abusing their own people, and thereby perpetuate an ongoing catastrophe for Arab people in Arab lands, especially for Palestinians.
  • The way for Palestinians to put an end to the Nakba is to stop blaming Israel and self-criticize. Ouch. A little help here, “western” (ie privileged) progressives? Or is it just too important to you to blame Israel. Ouch.

The term nakba first appeared among refugees to describe the catastrophe that befell them in the failed Arab war to destroy Israel. Told to flee their homes with rumors of Jewish slaughter even cannibalism, to make way for the victorious Arab armies that would defeat this terrible enemy, not only did they get imprisoned in refugee camps, but their neighbors who stayed, not only didn’t get slaughtered, but got treated far better by their Israeli “enemies” than those who fled got treated by their Arab “hosts”. Indeed, one phrase for referring to this catastrophically shameful event was: lammā sharnā wa-tla’nā (“when we blackened our faces and left”).

So one of the original meanings of Nakba was a reproach from “refugees,” the greatest victims of the Arab elite’s irresponsible war, against Arab leaders for their terrible treatment of their own people (lying to them to get them to run, impoverishing them, and imprisoning them in camps to await the day of vengeance). There was even an element of self-reproach for running. In any case, Israel was neither the main culprit, nor even the main target of the criticism. Part of the shame of running, was the Israeli treatment of Arabs who stayed.

Over the last couple of decades, the meaning of Nakba has been completely reversed. It now designates the catastrophe that Israel brought on the “Palestinian refugees,” kicking them out and not letting them back in. The role of the Arab elites in creating the catastrophe, and prolonging it by keeping the refugees in camps, is erased, and its place taken by a loud outrage at Israeli sins and fierce calls for Al Awda – the return.

This reversal of blame rides on the analogy that Palestinians make about how their suffering is somehow equivalent to the Holocaust, and that they are the new Jews, and the Israelis are the new Nazis. It feeds so nicely into the (false) equivalency: what the Nazis did to the Jews, the Israelis did to the Palestinians. How sad! How appalling of the Jews… no sooner do they take power than they do onto others what was done to them.

This switch in meaning is being pushed by the same Arab leadership that brought on the Nakba, with the same strategies of victimizing their own people in pursuit of restoring Arab honor, and scapegoating the Jews as guilty ones. Those outsiders (non-Palestinian progressives, or diaspora Palestinians) who adopt this inverted narrative, thereby support the Arab Nakba-causers, and their descendents who want to prolong the catastrophic policies of Arab forbears, and who benefit from prolonging the suffering of “Palestinians” in pursuit of their irredentist goals.

Naksba: a term to designate the behavior of Arab “leaders” who perpetuate these catastrophes by pursuing the same catastrophic goals and sacrificing their own people in order to attack Israel. Western progressives have no business being Naqsba enablers. It’s almost as if, having taken a time-machine into the middle ages, we were to side with the aristocracy, enabling them to crush their subjects.

From wikipedia:

Initially, the use of the term Nakba among Palestinians was not universal. For example, many years after 1948, Palestinian refugees in Lebanon avoided and even actively resisted using the term, because it lent permanency to a situation they viewed as temporary, and they often insisted on being called “returnees.”[10]

ie: it recognized the naksba logic of turning them into victims, i.e. prolonging their status as refugees.

In the 1950s and 1960s, terms they used to describe the events of 1948 included al-‘ightiṣāb (“the rape”), or were more euphemistic, such as al-‘aḥdāth (“the events”), al-hijra (“the exodus”), and lammā sharnā wa-tla’nā (“when we blackened our faces and left”).[10]

also self-critical or at least a self-reproach. our leaders misled us, but we are shamed for having listened to them and run like cowards.

Nakba narratives were avoided by the leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in Lebanon in the 1970s, in favor of a narrative of revolution and renewal.

when they have power, they get triumphalist, no more of this victim stuff. we’re headed for victory. result: over a decade of civil war (1975-82) in which 150,000 civilians were killed by various factions, among which the PLO was a major player. (NB: all the Arab-Israeli wars together (1948-present), have produced fewer dead (counting both civilians and soldiers) than ten years of civil war killed of Lebanese civilians).

Interest in the Nakba by organizations representing refugees in Lebanon surged in the 1990s due to the perception that the refugees’ right of return might be negotiated away in exchange for Palestinian statehood, and the desire was to send a clear message to the international community that this right was non-negotiable.[10]

so instead of protesting that Arafat wouldn’t let them into his Palestinian state, the one he’d be creating by (allegedly) giving up this right of return, thus leaving them – even after “independence” – in their brutal Lebanese captivity (naksba policy), the spokesmen for the Lebanese Palestinian refugees (and here i’m guessing a naksba elite, not the refugees whose suffering the world must see and blame on Israel) insist that Arafat not touch “their” right to return to Israel. Everyone show your ancestor’s key. Naqsba thinking all the way.

The Israeli–Palestinian conflict has prompted Palestinians like Mahmoud Darwish to describe the Nakba as “an extended present that promises to continue in the future.”[7]

a stark and pregnant description of the condition of his people. the Naksba mentality – blaming Israel, seeking revenge – is precisely what extends into the ongoing present, the Arab elites’ exploitation of, and sacrifice of, Arab people,especially those they designate “Palestinians,” thus perpetuating this Nakba into the future. 

Napoleon as messianic figure: The Pestiférés de Jaffa and The Letter to the Jews (1799)

I recently discovered a file I had thought was lost on Napoleon. It was an appendix to my book on millennialism. I just found a draft that I sent to an Israeli archeologist and historian, Mordechai Gichon. The focus of the essay is on Napoleon’s messianic pretensions (not specifically biblical, but generic, world-salvific), and his alleged offer to the Jews to come back to the Holy Land and reestablish their sovereignty. The letter only survives in a German translation from the 19th century, and is accordingly of dubious authenticity.

One of the arguments I make for its authenticity, however, concerns the way in which the letter reflects a profound, revolutionary (hence also modern) reversal of notions of honor and shame. Just as Anthony Appiah argues that with modernity key notions that were once considered honorable – slave-owning, dueling, foot-binding – become considered dishonorable/shameful, I argue that what in pre-modern cultures (supersessionist Christian and Muslim cultures) was considered honorable – namely having the Jews live in a degraded status with no sovereignty, become, in Napoleon’s terms: that “which the nations of the world had so shamefully withheld from you.”

Napoleon as messianic figure: The Pestiférés and The Letter to the Jews (1799)

That some contemporaries viewed Napoleon either as the Messiah or the Antichrist is unquestionable.[1] Apparently, at least at certain points in his career, he shared the former view. Certainly, as a consummate master of propaganda, he did not hesitate to encourage others to believe the most of him and his mission.[2]

One of the interesting documents in this dossier is David’s painting of Napoleon and the pest-stricken at Jaffa during his disastrous campaign in the Holy Land. Napoleon himself recalls it as an effort to reassure his soldiers and show no fear. Historians regularly point out the royal pretensions of the act: from the earliest Capetians (and possibly before that), kings of France performed miraculous healings merely by their royal touch.[3] But Napoleon here has no conventional claim to royalty. His act, were it to have succeeded, it would have made a charismatic claim to sovereignty that should not (cannot?) be understood in any traditional monarchical sense.

He had risen to power as a general in the revolutionary army, and if his claim to sacral sovereignty addressed itself to anyone, it was to a revolutionary audience – the French people and all those oppressed of the world whose cottages he would protect as he destroyed the castles of their oppressors. His gesture, had it cured anyone, would have established his right to rule, not as king of France, but something much larger. In 1805, Emperor Napoleon reminisced about how he thought in the Spring of 1799:

Had I been able to take Acre, I would have put on a turban, I would have made my soldiers wear big Turkish trousers, and I would have exposed them to battle only in case of extreme necessity. I would have made them into a Sacred Battalion — my Immortals. I would have finished the war against the Turks with Arabic, Greek, and Armenian troops. Instead of a battle in Moravia, I would have won a Battle of Issus, I would have made myself emperor of the East, and I would have returned to Paris by way of Constantinople.[4]

Bonaparte aspired to be a revolutionary messiah, to take possession of an imperial glory that would have rewritten the very boundaries of civilization and sovereignty on a global scale. If we read Napoleon’s behavior not ex post facto but rather ex post defectu, material that traditional historians might disregard, take on alternative resonance. They sound like the crowing of a rooster that vesperian historians so dislike and distrust.

Take, for example, the famous and contested letter Napoleon addressed to Jews on the 1st of Floreal, Year 7 of the Revolution, inviting them to come to Jerusalem and “to claim the restoration of civic rights among the population of the universe, which had been shamefully withheld from you for thousands of years.”[5] Surviving only in a roughly contemporary German translation, transmitted to modern scholarship by a Frankist family in Prague, the proclamation of a Jewish capital in Jerusalem strikes many historians as so out of synch with Napoleon’s subsequent dealings with the Jews, that they either declare the text a forgery, or dismiss its significance.[6]

Doyle Quiggle on Limbic Captivity (Oneidophobia)

I have recently been in an email exchange with Doyle Quiggle about my new neologism, oneidophobia (pronounced: onēdophobia), or the dread of public humiliation/blame/disgrace. He has emphasized to me the biological underpinnings of these issues, including the role of the limbic system (a.k.a. the “old mammalian brain” that controls emotions, arousal, smell, social processing). As a result, in one of his legendary “squibs” which he gave me permission to post, he wrote the following. (Bold mine, my comments in italics.)

Recalling Salzman’s insight about honor/shame dynamics — that they are inextricable from their specific tribal/clan context — I would like to speculate this: The primary context for the tribal dynamics of honor/shame is the human limbic system, which is evolved and a “pre-adapted” to respond with “social intelligence” to tribal symbols and identity narratives of honor/shame. In the human marketplace, caveat emptor: There is no culture without biology. What we need now is even deeper investigation into the evolutionary cognitive substrates of symbolic intelligence. We need more and better understanding of the biology of symbols.

The shame-honor dynamic is what Pascal Boyer and other researchers of evolutionary cognition, like Franz de Waal, call an innate moral intuition. EO Wilson, Anthony Stevens, & Company call it a pre-adaptation.

[not sure why it’s a moral intuition. seems to me it often can be an amoral, pro-us anti-them intuition.]

The more we discover about cognitive pre-adaptations, the more I suspect that an honor/shame “archetype” is universally embedded. However, it’s the time-tested tribal forms of socialization (in situ tribal cultural practices) that typically wake up the archetype. They also give it a specific behavioral rule book, as Clifford Geertz might say. Traditional tribal cultures have learned, through eons of trial & error, how to gain the tight congruency with honor/shame “innate intuitions” that is required to activate the honor/shame archetype in tribal members. Indeed, it is by gaining congruency (through ritual, symbol, narrative–synchronized bodily and mental movement together in time) with shame intuitions that tribes make an individual into a limbic captive of the tribe itself, thereby compelling complicity with honor codes for the main (selfishly genetic) purpose of tribal survival.

[and survival of “individuals” within the tribe.]

If this sounds like cultic brainwashing, it should — only, I call it, following Daniel Goleman, limbic captivation — for neo-cults are rediscovering,  reinventing, and redeploying those social technologies that do gain congruency with moral intuitions like shame. ISIS and Santa Muerta Drug Cartel Cults are horrifying examples.

Furthermore, honor tribes practice an agonic mode of hierarchical social organization where, “individuals are concerned with warding off threats to their status and inhibiting overt expressions [within the group] of aggressive conflict.”  (Anthony Stevens, Evolutionary Psychiatry.)

[p[in game theory, this is hard zero-sum take on “us-them”. i ascend because you descend. i stay high by keeping you down. i make myself look bigger by making you look smaller.]

The agonic mode of social interaction is ancient, far older than the interactive mode that is compatible (and normally associated) with democratic societies, the [positive-sum] hedonic mode.  Under stress, human beings tend to revert to cognitive systems that are evolutionarily older, moving, for example, very quickly in situations of extreme threat from the human neo-cortex back down to the lizard-brain hypothalamus/hippocampus in nano-seconds. We need more research about the environmental conditions in which groups revert to the social agonistics that attend honor-coded societies.

I suspect that only traditional, time-tested tribal “social technologies” (like ritual and group narrative) can fully, effectively, and predictably activate the shame/honor archetype. Once activated by tribal symbolizations of honor/shame, these honor/shame dynamics heavily burden limbic captives (tribal members) with hot symbols to which they cannot help but respond.  For example, the honor-burdened father cannot resist responding negatively (even violently) to his daughter’s impurity any more than we might resist the urge to flick a fleck of human feces from our face.

[This illustrates what I tried to get at in my comment on the movie Sandstorm. For another example, see the play Disgraced by Ayad Akhtar, where the protagonist is a fully “assimilated” Muslim speaking honestly about 9-11:

And so, even if you’re one of those lapsed Muslims sipping your after-dinner scotch alongside your beautiful white American wife— and watching the news and seeing folks in the Middle East dying for values you were taught were purer— and stricter— and truer… you can’t help but feel just a little a bit of pride. (p.62)

Alas, his beautiful white American wife and her liberal friends cannot forgive him this honest confession.]

Fisking Rob Bryan on Bassem Eid: A Glimpse inside the “Pre-Occupied Mind”

I recently had coffee with Bassem Eid, and he mentioned the following article by Rob Bryan that denounces him as a suck-up, a token Palestinian, pandering to right-wing Jewish audiences. It struck me as so classic an expression of what one might call the “preoccupied mind” (or the mindset of members of the “Cult of the Occupation“), that it seemed worth a fisking.

Meet Bassem Eid, the Former Palestinian Human Rights Activist Who’s Sucking Up to the Israel Lobby

Eid once monitored Israeli human rights abuses. Now he defends them before right-wing audiences.
Here’s the pitch, elaborated below. Caveat emptor, this is not about to give you an honest appraisal of either information or opinion.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia

Bassem Eid, a stocky 58-year-old Palestinian political analyst, stood in front of an audience of about 30 people this June 22 in the law offices of Duval & Stachenfeld in midtown Manhattan. The crowd snacked on stuffed grape leaves and drank red wine from the Northern Galilee region of Israel, eager to hear an exuberant man hold court on the plight of his people.

The Israeli-American Council (IAC), a lobbying organization explicitly dedicated to strengthening theing a st of questions sent to his personal email regarding his speaking fees. Yet the depth of Eid’s hostility towards the very notion of justice for Palestinians was genuinely surprising, as was the total fealty he showed towards the state whose abuses are well-documented.

Good illustration of the cult of the Preoccupation: justice is defined only in terms of denouncing Israel. The slogan “No peace without justice,” along with “Palestine will be free from the river to the sea!” means “No peace with Israel.”

The “abuses” are “well documented” by organizations like Btselem, which Eid left because they refused to document any abuses of Palestinian rights by their thuggish leaders, who reflect an Arab political culture that alleged “human rights” groups like HRW treat with great delicacy while reaching out to the for funding to “document” Israeli “abuses.”

“Friends,” said Eid, spreading his arms wide, “if you will look today to the Middle East map and the growing Islamic terror in the Middle East, in my opinion, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict became the most safe place in the Middle East.” Not once did he criticize the occupation of the West Bank, the blockade of Gaza, or the discriminatory laws passed against Arab citizens of Israel. To him, these were minor details.

Well, when you’re faced with someone with a light wound, and someone who’s at death’s door, it may make sense to shift the attention to the latter, the no cost target, Israel. Bryan will have none of this. Israel’s abuses, which have somehow produced one of the Arab world’s higher-ranking HDI (Israel’s Arabs and oil-rich countries excluded).

Here’s Eid’s way of putting it.

His animated diatribes sounded like the inner monologue of a right-wing member of Israel’s Knesset, inveighing against the “thugs and gangsters of the so-called BDS” and decrying Students of Justice in Palestine as a “bullshit group.”

He was being nice. SJP is one of the nastiest groups out there, and its founder, Hatem Bazian, one of the most aggressive purveyors of a definition of Islamophobia that strangles any criticism of Islam, and surely made Said proud.

His claim that the Arab League is “a rehabilitation center for handicapped people” drew big laughs. (Eid’s preferred rhetorical device is the one-liner, much to the delight of a middle-aged man sitting next to me who responded as though he was witnessing the second coming of Jackie Mason).

It’s so hard to realize that one (or one’s ally) has made oneself into a parody. The Arab League is indeed a big and bad joke. Here’s their ambassador to the UN explaining why Hamas can’t stop bombing Israel even though it means that their own people get bombed back.

Unpacked, this means, “it’s a no brainer (for us) that if we’re getting the stuffings kicked out of us, we have to keep hitting back (to show we’re men).” As the proverb goes: “Fighting an enemy who is stronger is not honor, it’s pride, often the opposite of honor.” Self-preservation, concern for the well-being of their own people? Not high on the Arab League’s priority list.

Eid’s point exactly.