Author Archives: Richard Landes

Getting it Wrong: Dinesh D’Souza on Why Islamists Hate America

In his book The Enemy At Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11, Dinesh D’Souza writes:

These Islamic radicals do not hate America because of its wealth and power; they hate America because of how Americans use that wealth and power. They do not hate us for our freedom; they hate us because of what we do with our freedom. The radical Muslims are convinced that America and Europe have become sick, demented societies that destroy religious belief, undermine traditional morality, dissolve the patriarchal family, and corrupt the innocence of children. The term that Islamic radicals use to describe Western influence is firangi. The term means “Frankish” disease, and it refers to syphilis, a disease that Europeans first introduced to the Middle East.12

Today Muslims use the term in a metaphorical sense, to describe the social and moral corruption produced by the virus of Westernization. The Muslims who hate us the most are the ones who have encountered Western decadence, either in the West or in their own countries. The revealing aspect of the 9/11 terrorists is not that so many came from Saudi Arabia, but that so many of them, like the ringleader, Muhammad Atta, and his Hamburg group, had lived in and been exposed to the West.

My point is that their hatred was not a product of ignorance but of familiarity; not of Wahhabi indoctrination but of firsthand observation. But isn’t it true, as many Americans believe, that American culture is broadly appealing around the world? Yes, and this is precisely why America and not Europe is the main target of the Islamic radicals. Decadence is arguably far worse in Europe than in America, and Europe has had its share of attacks, such as the Madrid train bombing of 2004 and the London subway bombing of 2005. But even in those cases the European targets were picked because of their governments’ support for America. The Islamic radicals focus on America because they recognize that it is the leader of Western civilization or, as they sometimes put it, “the greatest power of the unbelievers.” Bin Laden himself said in a 1998 interview, “What prompted us to address the American government is the fact that it is the head of the Western and crusading forces in their fight against Islam and against Muslims.”13

Moreover, Muslims realize that it is American culture and values that are penetrating the far corners of the globe, corroding ancient orthodoxies, and transforming customs and institutions. Many Americans, whatever their politics, generally regard such change as healthy and good. But this attitude is not shared in traditional societies, and it is virtually nonexistent in the Muslim world. America is feared and despised there not in spite of its cultural allure but because of it. An anecdote will illustrate my point. Some time ago I saw an interview with a Muslim sheikh on a European TV channel. The interviewer told the sheikh, “I find it curious and hypocritical that you are so anti-American, considering that two of your relatives are living and studying in America.” The sheikh replied, “But this is not hypocritical at all. I concede that American culture is appealing, especially to young people. If you put a young man into a hotel room and give him dozens of pornography tapes, he is likely to find those appealing as well. What America appeals to is everything that is low and disgusting in human nature.”

There seems to be a growing belief in traditional cultures—a belief encouraged but by no means created by Islamic fundamentalism—that America is materially prosperous but culturally decadent. It is technologically sophisticated but morally depraved. As former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto puts it, “Within the Muslim world, there is a reaction against the sexual overtones that come across in American mass culture. America is viewed through this prism as an immoral society.” In his book The Crisis of Islam, Bernard Lewis rehearses what he calls the “standard litany of American offenses recited in the lands of Islam” and ends with this one: “Yet the most powerful accusation of all is the degeneracy and debauchery of the American way of life.”14 As these observations suggest, what angers religious Muslims is not the American Constitution but the scandalous sexual mores they see in American movies and television. What disgusts them is not free elections but the sights of hundreds of homosexuals kissing one another and taking marriage vows. The person that horrifies them the most is not John Locke but Hillary Clinton.

D’Souza, Dinesh (2007-01-16). The Enemy At Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11 (Kindle Locations 290-307). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

On one level, this is true.

But on another, it underestimates the nature of the opposition. I’d argue that while these are the targets of choice – especially when talking to Westerners who, like D’Souza, agree with the critique of their own culture – they conceal a more profound problem with modernity: namely, the freedom to criticize. Locke and his (old-fashioned) liberal colleagues actually believed that people had a right to criticize those in power. Academia was built on this ability. And it has had a corrosive, but liberating effect on religion. The whole area of historical analysis of religion, including the “documentary hypotheses” depends on this commitment to allowing people to voice criticisms of authority, whether the current political leadership, or the religious dogmas that have accrued over millennia.

While it may sound plausible that Islamic radicals hate radical left gender transgressive iconoclasm, they hate a lot more than that. The reason that the historical critique of Islam trails so much behind that of Judaism and Christianity in academia is because Muslims are so violently opposed to anything that undermines their (pre-modern/traditional) notions of what beliefs are necessary for a social order. They, like the Nazis, are reactionary modernists: they want the power and wealth that technology brings, they don’t want the kind of open society that made (and continues to make) that technology possible.

It may be important to D’Souza to claim that Hillary is the problem for Islamists, not John Locke, but alas, it’s both. It also may be comforting to think that if the radical left were not so influential, things would be better, but alas, they won’t. The hostility between modernity in the liberal sense and traditional society is fundamental. It’s a clash of civilizations that will only be resolved when traditional societies achieve the maturity to live without their dogmatic triumphalism, or we return to the Middle Ages, replete with holy war and inquisition. And this is especially true of Islam, which, traditionally, is, like its monotheistic predecessor Christianity, the most imperialist of triumphalist religions.

In a book on religious tolerance in the Protestant Reformation, Robert Scribner noted that “tolerance is a loser’s creed.” By that he meant that religious tolerance was the cry of groups without power, in the minority. As soon as they got power, they interpreted that to mean that their God had endowed them with the privilege of imposing the right belief on everyone. In that sense, the American Revolution and the Constitution were the first time in the history of Christianity that tolerance was a winner’s creed. We’re still waiting from that from Islam.

Ironically, like the Left, which projects its critique of America onto the Islamists even as it claims to listen to them, so does D’Souza. The challenge here is not to enroll them in our internal culture wars, but to appreciate the Islamist enemy for what he is, a totalitarian, anti-modern, anti-liberal, hater of freedom for all, a throwback to the ancien regime when libertés was a plural noun, a synonym for the privileges of the ruling class, not something extended to everyone.

Four Dimensional Jews, Two Dimensional Muslims: Fisking Rabbi Daniel Landes

I do the following fisking with some reluctance. Daniel Landes is a cousin and friend, whom I love and deeply admire. But this piece illustrates too many of the fundamental errors of a “liberal” Judaism attempting to solve problems that are clearly beyond its ken. So, alas, the following.

End the conflict – a Jewish imperative

We must not allow the messianisms of the religious right to cloud the call from our greatest religious authorities to return the territories, for the sake of saving life.

By Rabbi Daniel Landes | 17:52 07.04.14 |  1

For the religious Zionist Jew who wishes to grasp Israel’s present situation in a rational way, the hardest act is to shake off the messianisms that envelop his society – ranging from overt and imminent “end-time” scenarios, to the hazy metaphor of the “beginning of the dawn of our salvation.”

Of course, it also behooves anyone trying to grasp Israel’s present situation in a rational [sic] way, to become aware of the messianisms that envelop Israel’s enemies. Anyone who has not read at least one of the following, has no business discussing the conflict between Israel and its “neighbors” in terms of messianic tendencies.

Timothy Furnish, Holiest Wars: Islamic Mahdis, Their Jihads, and Osama bin Laden (New York: Praeger, 2005)

Laurent Murawiec, The Mind of Jihad (New York: Oxford, 2006);

David Cook, Contemporary Muslim Apocalyptic Literature (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2008);

Landes, Heaven on Earth: The Varieties of the Millennial Experience (NY: Oxford University Press), chap. 14;

Jean Pierre Filiu, Apocalypse in Islam (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2011).

This of course doesn’t even begin to get at the literature on groups like Hamas, who are “near” enemies, and whose apocalyptic delirium places them at the heart of the most dangerous form of apocalyptic belief: active cataclysmic (i.e., we are the agents of the catastrophic destruction that must cleanse the world of evil). That form of apocalyptic belief has, in the past, caused mega-deaths on the scale of tens of millions (Heaven on Earth, chaps 7 (Taiping, ca. 35 million), chap. 11 (Bolshevik, ca. 50 million), chap. 12 (Nazism, ca. 40 million), not to mention Maoism (ca. 70 million).

I think that any comparison of Jewish and Islamic messianism (I prefer the term millennialism), makes it clear that Jews have a far more extensive fire-wall against apocalyptic outbreaks, especially violent ones, than do the current generation of Muslims. It’s almost grotesque to blame our current impasse on Jewish messianists. Like so many people motivated by a belief that the solution to this conflict is somehow “in our hands,” Rabbi Landes is willing to make extraordinary sacrifices for peace (or even just to save lives). The tragedy here is that the only thing standing between the awful situation of “occupation” and the vastly more horrible situation of Jihadi civil war (à la Syria), is Israel’s continued control of the the West Bank. Painful sacrifices for peace is one thing, painful sacrifices that empower the worst kind of war, is quite another.

What they share and engender is an optimistic feeling of ultimate victory and security. We are assured that the Jews’ political failure and physical catastrophe is as finished as the Galut (Exile). But in the actual psyche of the religious Zionist, the persistently suppressed horror of that past repeating itself propels us further – into a delusional messianism that needs to be coupled to a secular rightwing ideology promising salvation by standing ‘strong’ and ‘proud’, that is confirmed by our increasing isolation.

Of course, we have left-wing variants of this misplaced messianic hope and confidence, expressed, for example, in J-Street and everything to its left (Olive Tree Initiative, Jewish Voice for Peace, etc.), who think that the genocidal threat against Jews is over, and all we have to do to appease the Arab/Muslim hatred of Jews is to give back the “territories” and then we’ll have Peace. This vision of a post-modern world in which we’ve all left behind the madness and superstition of the pre-modern world propels us further – into a delusional messianism that needs to be coupled with a secular left-wing ideology promising salvation by being ‘generous’ and ‘peace-loving’ and ‘accommodating’. You know, “tikkun olam” in support of BDS.

When a Fly Falls into a Cup of Coffee: International Style

Hat tip: Cookie D.

WHEN A FLY FALLS INTO A CUP OF COFFEE 


The Italian – throws the cup, breaks it and walks away in a fit of rage.

The German – carefully washes the cup, sterilizes it and makes a new cup of coffee.

The Frenchman – takes out the fly and drinks the coffee.

The Chinese  -  eats the fly and throws away the coffee.

The Russian  -  drinks the coffee with the fly, since it came with no extra charge.

The Israeli  -  sells the coffee to the Frenchman, sells the fly to the Chinese, sells the cup to the Italian, drinks a cup of tea and uses the extra money to invent a device that prevents flies from falling into coffee.

The Palestinian – blames the Israeli for the fly falling into his coffee, protests the act to the UN as an act of aggression, takes a loan from the European Union to buy a new cup of coffee, uses the money to purchase explosives and then blows up the coffee house where the Italian, Frenchman, Chinese, German and Russian are all trying to explain to the Israeli that he should give his cup of tea to the Palestinian.

Arab Self-Criticism and Acknowledging the Real Enemy of the Arab People

I have complained repeatedly at my blog about the lack of self-criticism in the Arab world, the pathetic way that honor demands that all Arabs line up against Israel, even though Arab elites are the real enemy of the Arab people. So it’s with great pleasure that I post the following piece by Abdulateef al-Mulhim published in Arab News. On the other hand, since this is over a year old and has not had much of a visible impact on the discussion in the Arab world, maybe my complaints remain current. Indeed, in his latest piece, Al-Mulhim taunts the still-string irrational Arab hostility to Israel. Alas.

Arab Spring and the Israeli enemy

ABDULATEEF AL-MULHIM

Published — Saturday 6 October 2012

Thirty-nine years ago, on Oct. 6, 1973, the third major war between the Arabs and Israel broke out. The war lasted only 20 days. The two sides were engaged in two other major wars, in 1948 and 1967.
The 1967 War lasted only six days. But, these three wars were not the only Arab-Israel confrontations. From the period of 1948 and to this day many confrontations have taken place. Some of them were small clashes and many of them were full-scale battles, but there were no major wars apart from the ones mentioned above. The Arab-Israeli conflict is the most complicated conflict the world ever experienced. On the anniversary of the 1973 War between the Arab and the Israelis, many people in the Arab world are beginning to ask many questions about the past, present and the future with regard to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The questions now are: What was the real cost of these wars to the Arab world and its people. And the harder question that no Arab national wants to ask is: What was the real cost for not recognizing Israel in 1948 and why didn’t the Arab states spend their assets on education, health care and the infrastructures instead of wars? But, the hardest question that no Arab national wants to hear is whether Israel is the real enemy of the Arab world and the Arab people.

La Terreur: Couteau à la gorge dans la Guerre Cognitive

J’ai recemment fait une presentation sur la guerre cognitive au MPCT (Mouvement pour la paix et contre le terrorisme) à Paris. Voici le PPP. Textes supplementaires dans un autre posting.

Le francais n’est pas corrigé. Je reçois volontiers des leçons à apprendre. rlandes-at-bu-dot-edu

La Terreur: Couteau à la gorge dans la Guerre Cognitive

Définitions/Terminologie:
La Guerre Cognitive
• Guerre asymétrique: Guerre entre deux entités de combat, l’une étatique et l’autre non-étatique, sur un champ de bataille “kinétique” (militaire). Ce type de guerre oppose des résistants non-étatiques faibles ou supposés tels (des Macchabées aux Vietcongs) aux militaires d’une armée régulière d’état.
• Guerre cognitive (GC): 

L’art de manipuler l’ennemi, considéré plus puissant en termes militaires, afin qu’il n’utilise pas ses forces armées ou, au moins, qu’il s’en abstienne. C’est le terrain de combat préféré des “faibles” dans la guerre asymétrique.

• Espace public: le théâtre principal ou se mènent les campagnes de guerres cognitives.
• Térrorisme: attaques ciblant les civils. Compagnon de la guerre cognitive, employé pour intimider, afin d’aboutir à des victoires dans l’espace publique ciblé.
• Insurrections agressives: forme insolite de guerre asymétrique qui cherche à envahir la société de la partie la plus puissante – donc, la bataille cognitive doit convaincre l’ennemi de ne pas se défendre sur son propre terrain. De tels campagnes de guerre doivent gagner dans la sphère publique de l’ennemi.
• Démopathes:

les combattants cognitifs qui utilisent le discours/lexique des Droits de l’Homme pour paralyser l’auto-défense des personnes soucieuses desdits droits. De fait, ces combattants n’ont que du dédain à l’égard des Droits de l’Homme (d’autrui), et ne font qu’employer la démocratie (les règles de ce mode de gouvernance) pour démolir la démocratie.

• Les années zéros, ‘00s: la première décennie du 21ème siècle, le moment où tout bascule, et où l’Occident commence à perdre la guerre cognitive à grande échelle.
Définitions/Terminologie:
Millénarisme apocalyptique
•Millénarisme: la croyance en l’avènement d’un monde parfait ici sur terre. Peut être soit religieux (Anbaptists, Taiping) soit laïc (Communisme, Maoisme).
Millénarisme hiérarchique: la perfection est imposée d’en haut, pureté coercitive (“Dernier Empereur”). Impérialisme monothéiste: “Un Dieu, un empereur.”
Millénarisme démotique: égalitaire, la perfection vient d’une pulsion d’en bas, anarchie sainte, fin des distinctions de classe. Monothéisme démotique: “Pas de roi sauf Dieu.”
Apocalypticisme: la croyance que le moment pour accéder au millenium (ou la fin du monde) est arrivée. Aussi le scénario par lequel on arrive au millennium.
Scenario apocalyptique cataclysmique: la transition entre ce monde et celui à venir passe par une immense destruction (e.g., l’Apocalypse de Jean)
Apocalypticisme transformateur: la transition se fait volontairement, sans ou avec peu de violences et destructions (e.g., Isaïe, 2)
Apocalypticisme actif: les croyants sont chargés d’effectuer le processus de transition vers le monde parfait.
l’apocalypticisme actif, cataclysmique prône la mégamort. Ceux qui visent un millenium hiérarchique par un cataclysme qu’ils sont eux-mêmes chargés d’accomplir, représentent l’idée la plus dangereuse de toutes les idéologies religieuses ou laïques.
Avertissement

Avant de procéder à l’examen du Djihad global contemporain, je tiens à préciser une chose importante. L’islam que je vais décrire, cet islam qui mène une guerre d’aggression contre les democraties occidentales, n’est pas le seul representant de l’islam. Je reconnais volontiers l’existence d’un Islam démotique, qui a renoncé à l’impérialisme monothéistique, un Islam différent de celui qui, à présent, lutte contre les pays des infidèles. J’en aurais d’avantage à dire à ce sujet plus tard. Mais pour le moment, je précise que les définitions des termes islamiques que je présente ci-dessous ne sont pas les seules définitions qui existent chez les musulmans.

Pas tous les musulmans qui s’ecrient “Allahu Akhbar” le font avec le sens de “tuer les ennemis d’Allah!” Mais c’est precisement ce que voulait dire Muhammed Atta:

When the confrontation begins, strike like champions who do not want to go back to this world. Shout, ‘Allahu Akbar,’ because this strikes fear in the hearts of the non-believers. Allah said: ‘Strike above the neck, and strike at all of their extremities.’ (911 Muslim terrorists)

Et depuis, partout dans le monde, nous témoignons d’une telle crie de guerre.

Je tente ici un exercise : penser à la manière d’un de ceux qui poursuivent ce que j’appèle le Djihad global. C’est eux les ennemis à la fois des infidèles du monde entier, et des musulmans qui ne s’accordent pas à leur lecture de l’Islam. En fait, les musulmans qui divergent de cette lecture agressive sont les premières cibles et les victimes les plus constantes du Djihad militaire.

Quand je dis “nous” dans la présentation suivante, je parle de tous ceux – hommes, femmes, monothéistes, polythéistes, laïcs – qui veulent vivre dans des sociétés libres, où la dignité et les droits de tous et toutes – y compris le droit de dissidence – sont respectés.

Cogwar Reflections on the Danish Muhammad Cartoon Affair

In preparing to post the speech I gave to a Conference on Homeland Security about Cogwar this month, I found myself elaborating on several points beyond what the talk itself could bear. So I’ve moved some of the discussion to separate posts. The first concerns the Danish Cartoon Affair, which I used to illustrate the way that our news media and the intelligentsia in our public sphere failed to report on a crucial detail of the efforts of radical Imams to make the Danish Cartoons into an occasion to “spread Sharia” to Dar al Islam. As a result, a “teaching moment” for civil society and tolerance became a “bullying moment” for an aggressive, triumphalist religion of conquest.

From the global Jihadi perspective, this incident represented an effort to extend Sharia over areas of targeted Dar al Harb. Indeed since Khoumeini’s fatwa against Salmon Rushdie, global Jihadis have sought to get Westerners to adopt Sharia’s (heavily censuring) position on articulating anything they might consider blasphemous. In the most zealous of Muslim formulations, the depiction of Muhammad was forbidden to Muslims (for fear of idolatry). But here Islamist activists insisted that not even non-Dhimmi infidels (i.e., independent non-Muslims) have no right to violate (their strict reading of) Sharia. The stakes were high, both in terms of freedom of speech and in terms of the demopathic demand that infidels show respect for Islam, even as cartoons all over the Muslim world depicted the infidel (especially the Jew) in the most grotesque, hate-mongering fashion.

And yet, in the entire Muhammad Cartoon episode, only the blogosphere discussed at any length the three fake Muhammad Cartoons, by far the outrageous of the lot, the most blasphemous, created specifically by the radical preachers who wanted to inflame the Muslim Street: Muhammad as pig, as paedophile, as being raped by a dog while praying. These were “lethal narratives,” false tales told to make the Western infidel as odious to Muslims as possible, even as they used them to gain sympathy from Western liberals by illustrating the atmosphere of Islamophobia in which Western Muslims must live.

Victor Perez dévoile la malhonnêteté d’Enderlin et son anti-israelism

Charles Enderlin posted at his blog an essay on “Netanyahu’s Vision,” which reveals all the sloppy prejudices that he has internalized from an international consensus that it’s all Israel’s fault. Victor Perez at his blog, manages to draw out many of the elements the explain why Charles’ readership is so fully misinformed.

La vision idéologique de Charles Enderlin

Certains s’interrogent sur les raisons de la poussée de l’antisémitisme en Europe et principalement en France. Une hostilité systématique envers les Juifs cachée sous le paravent d’un anti-sionisme développé dans les médias nationaux par la bouche et/ou les écrits des journalistes à demeure, ou envoyés, en Israël.

L’envoyé permanent de France 2 à Jérusalem, pourtant juif, israélien et, paraît-il, ayant fait son service militaire ne déroge pas à la règle de ses employeurs. Charles Enderlin en bon petit soldat de la guerre larvée qui se joue contre l’Etat du peuple juif a une idéologie à soutenir.

La logique et le bon sens ont, vraisemblablement, déserté sa réflexion !

Dans un texte intitulé « La vision de Netanyahu », publié dans son blog, il confirme que tout le mal vient des Israéliens ! Il nous affirme qu’il « sera quasi impossible d’évacuer cent mille colons installés au cœur de la Cisjordanie, les 260000 autres étant regroupés dans des blocs d’implantations. En admettant que cela se fasse, resterait le problème de Jérusalem Est (…) »

Analysis of a Cognitive War Campaign against the West: Why Iran will get a nuclear bomb

One of the more fruitful ways of understanding the dilemma of dealing with Iran is a cognitive warfare analysis. Cognitive warfare is the main theater of war for “weak” insurgencies in an asymmetric conflict. Unable to win on the kinetic battlefield, insurgencies must pursue means to prevent the stronger side from using their strength to prevent them from gaining strength. In the case of non-democratic insurgencies against superior democratic foes – the majority of such conflicts in the modern period – the “weak” side must deploy both their own deceptions and exploit the vulnerabilities of their foes in order to proceed. When the enemies are democracies who, in principle, consider the use of force a last resort, this means insurgencies must use the pacific (pacifist) tendencies of their foes to paralyze them.

In the case of Iranian nuclear ambitions this involves clearly high stakes: not only is Iran a Shi’i theocracy with an apocalyptic worldview, whose leaders have made clear since the inception of the regime in 1979 (1400 AH), that their resort to war is neither inhibited by modern norms, nor defensive, but also that Iran’s acquisition would trigger a much larger nuclear push on the part of their foes in the Sunni Muslim world. Thus, from any angle, whether from the huge increase in a nuclear Iran’s hegemonic influence among her immediate neighbors, or from the metastasis of nuclear weapons in other, pre-modern polities in so unstable a region, it seems an imperative that the West should prevent Iran from acquiring these weapons. Indeed, one might argue that with this cognitive-war victory (acquiring the nuclear bomb without opposition), Iran could dramatically alter the kinetic battlefield, and with this power to threaten and intimidate, to immeasurably increase their cognitive position of demanding concessions.

Annals of Cognitive War blunders: George Bush, “Islam is a religion of peace.”

 

In the immediate aftermath of 9-11, President Bush appeared with members of the American Muslim community on September 17, 2001, at Islamic Center in DC to declare that Islam is a religion of peace. His comments:

Like the good folks standing with me, the American people were appalled and outraged at last Tuesday’s attacks.  And so were Muslims all across the world.  Both Americans and Muslim friends and citizens, tax-paying citizens, and Muslims in nations were just appalled and could not believe what we saw on our TV screens. These acts of violence against innocents violate the fundamental tenets of the Islamic faith.  And it’s important for my fellow Americans to understand that. The English translation is not as eloquent as the original Arabic, but let me quote from the Koran, itself:  ‘In the long run, evil in the extreme will be the end of those who do evil. For that they rejected the signs of Allah and held them up to ridicule.’ The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam. That’s not what Islam is all about.  Islam is peace.  These terrorists don’t represent peace. They represent evil and war.”

Now were we a “reality-based” community with a sophisticated sense of both the narratives and the exegetical principles of the “other,” such a statement would have been met with howls of derision, especially from academics whose knowledge of the history of Islam would make such a characterization as “religion of peace” risible, and who knew alas only too well what shouts of joy 9-11 provoked in Muslim, Arab and even other audiences the world over.

Moreover, more than one person should have been equipped to explain to the President that the man standing by his side, Nihad Awad of CAIR, who may well have supplied the president with the oh-so eloquent Qur’anic quote, heard those words to mean precisely the opposite of what Bush thought: “In the long run [i.e., finally, now], evil in the extreme will be the end of those who do evil [i.e., America]. For that they [Americans] rejected the signs of Allah and held them up to ridicule.”

And rather than slowly learn from this, American scholars and journalists by and large continue to widely mouth the delusional pieties of the president. Despite extensive critiques from Daniel Pipes, in 2012, Samuel Freedman wrote in the NYT:

The other anniversary is of the visit President George W. Bush made to a Washington mosque just six days after the attack, where he spoke eloquently against the harassment of Arabs and Muslims living in the United States and about the need to respect Islam. This act of leadership and statesmanship, however, has all but vanished from the national collective memory. It deserves, instead, to be noted and heeded and esteemed. (NYT, Sept. 7, 2012)

People have rights. Ideas do not have Rights.

HT: Jeffrey Bale who notes:

It should go without saying that in a truly free society, no ideas, beliefs, and ideologies have a “right” not to be criticized, just as no individual has a “right” not to be offended by criticism of his or her ideas. It’s sad that one nowadays feels compelled to state this obvious point, over and over again, in a world in which so many people apparently feel that their beliefs should be immune from criticism or that no one else has a right to offend them.

 

This problem is about to reach epic proportions if the European Parliament enacts a well-intentioned but misconceived legislation against “intolerance” (which protects an undefined “Islamophobia“). All of this effort to legislate tolerance and mutual respect stems from the appalling inability of the progressive intellectual elite to speak out against the grotesque abuse of free speech by Muslims who revile Israel with Nazi-like hate speech.

If they did (rather than defend it as “free speech” – as if free speech should not be criticized), we wouldn’t need legislation that is just waiting to be exploited by demopaths. The response to intolerance is courageous criticism, not legislation.

 

 

 

 

The Culture of Dispute and Israeli Hi-Tech

In a recent WSJ article one finds the following (HT: YE):

5.  Wall Street Journal (Ben Rooney), Oct. 24: It is extremely hard not to be a bit star-struck by the Israeli technology scene…. ‘It is Silicon Valley for the rest of the world‘ said Saul Klein, a London-based venture capitalist…. ‘On a scale of one to 10, the innovation I see in Germany would be close to zero. In Israel, it is a 10,’ said Mark Tluszcz, co-founder of Mangrove Capital Partners, a Luxembourg-based venture firm…. What’s the secret? Reasons include the role of the Israeli Defense Forces, and in particular the high-tech Unit 8200; the unique cultural values of a country forged from centuries of oppression; and Jewish mothers…. The link with America remains as strong as ever. If you look at the flight schedules into Tel Aviv, there are just three direct flights a week from Beijing, and another three from Seoul. There are at least that many a day from the U.S.”

Lots of explanations available. I tend towards the one about the Jewish culture of dispute, and the way that one is encouraged to ask challenging questions. About which, two anecdotes and a thought:

1) The first time I studied Talmud, I learned with a venerable and brilliant man, Rabbi Abraham Lappin. At the end of a long passage in which we read carefully and exhaustively not only Rashi’s commentary by that of every Tosafot, he asked us if we understood. We all nodded dutifully. To which he replied, “no you don’t.” When he saw the pained look on our faces, he added, “if you did, you’d have questions.”

2) On a plane from Israel to Germany in the late 1990s, sitting next to an Israeli businessman with factories in Germany and Israel. “Is there a difference between Israeli workers and German workers?” I asked. “Yes,” he replied, “if I ask a German worker to do something, he says, ‘Yes boss.’ If I ask an Israeli worker to do something, he says, ‘Why do you want to do that?’”

3) This is intimately linked to the difference between honor-shame dynamics and integrity-guilt. I you view challenges as attacks on your “face”, as forms of zero-sum one-upsmanship, then questions from subordinates is insubordination; if you take challenges as occasions to up your game, as potentially positive-sum ways to learn from an exchange with another person who may have a different and valuable perspective, then such questions are opportunities.

When Abba Eban said, “the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity,” he got is somewhat wrong. For them, positive-sum encounters in which both sides win (i.e., Israel also wins) are not viewed as opportunities, but decisive defeats in the zero-sum world of honor lost (by Israel’s successful resistance and survival), and the overriding need to regain face by destroying her.

One man’s opportunity is another’s shame… at the core of the difference between innovative and productive cultures on the one hand, and cultures of impoverishment on the other.

UPDATE: Apparently Dawkins is puzzled by the phenomenon. In an interview with the New Republic he admits:

RD: …the number of Jews who have won Nobel Prizes is phenomenally high.

IC: OK, but what do you make of that?

RD: Race does not come into it. It is pure religion and culture. Something about the cultural tradition of Jews is way, way more sympathetic to science and learning and intellectual pursuits than Islam. That would have been a fair comparison. Ironically, I originally wrote the tweet with Jews and thought, That might give offense. And so I thought I better change it.

IC: I still want to know what you draw from this. Do you think the Torah is more progressive than the Koran?

RD: No, I doubt it. I don’t think that.

Of course he has no idea; and like Christopher Hitchens, his exposure to the Hebrew Bible is via his Anglican teachers whom he apparently disliked intensely. A Christian lens, especially one formed in the crucible of invidious identity formation, is not the way to find out just how “progressive” the Torah is.

And I don’t think that the key is in the text (although that’s critical), but how the community reads the text. The culture of dispute is unquestionably encouraged by the text – think of Abraham arguing with God about just how much innocent collateral damage is acceptable to punish the guilty – but unless that is embodied in the relations of the community, the idea has no life.

IC: So then what?

RD: I haven’t thought it through. I don’t know. But I don’t think it is a minor thing; it is colossal. I think more than 20 percent of Nobel Prizes have been won by Jews (24% of Science).

If the World Really Wanted Peace in the Middle East…

Ted Belman reposted this article from Saul Singer from 2007. Imnsho it’s right on. Readers who bristle at these suggestions should ask themselves why they bristle, and what assumptions underly their reaction about who should make concessions. And finally, whether their acceptance of assumptions that the Israelis should be making the concessions stems from serious independent thought, or an unexamined acceptance of a Palestinian victim narrative that imposes itself not by empiric accuracy but… what?

Saul Singer advises How to pressure for peace.

I go further and suggest that the peace process has it bass-ackwards.

Rather than arm and train the terrorists (Fatah) it should force their disarmament.

Rather than finance them to the tune of $7.4 billion thereby enabling them to continue the “resistance”, they should be left to fend for themselves.

Rather than force Israel to freeze settlement activity thereby removing time as an issue it should allow Israel to build to its heart’s content thereby forcing the Palestinians to compromise quickly rather than to allow an erosion of their position in a final settlement.

Rather than force Israel to make goodwill gestures which merely encourages intransigence, it should force the Palestinians to make goodwill gestures. Whatever resistance Israelis have to the “peace process”, it will be reduced with such real gestures.

This is so obvious that one must conclude that the peace process is designed to continue the conflict rather than end it.

I should point out that no one is demanding peace at the end of the process. You will recall that one of the things Arafat balked at at Camp David, was signing an “end of conflict agreement”. Today no one is even mentioning such a thing and the Arab League is only offering “normalization” whatever that means..

Israel knows this. That is why it is demanding, so far, recognition as a Jewish state. If there was going to be a real peace agreement and a real peace, there would be no need to demand this recognition. Israel, as a sovereign state, could be what it wanted to be. Unfortunately, such recognition if it is given, will be a poor substitute for real peace.

The Arabs are refusing such recognition because their ultimate goal is to destroy Israel as a Jewish state. This they cannot accept. They also would not accept Israel with a Jewish majority even if it were a state like any other. They want Palestine to include Israel and the Jews there to become dhimmis. The peace process is just one step along the way.

The peace process, from Israel’s point of view, is simply a negotiated withdrawal from the Westbank as opposed to the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza.

Here’s a good place to meditate if your reaction is “Exactly! And so it should be.”

To my mind, whether Israel just withdraws or negotiates terms of withdrawal or signs a peace agreement, as with Egypt, it makes little difference as the Arabs don’t and won’t abide by the agreements.

On the Dangers of Conspiracy Theories: Brief Reflections

I recently got the following request from a Dutch journalist doing an article on conspiracy theories. I responded in some detail, and thought I’d post it here for a wider readership.

As a Dutch freelance journalist I’m writing an article about conspiracy theories, and their potential danger to modern societies.

While doing my research, I found a very interesting lecture from the Hebrew University, in which you took part and said some very interesting things about this subject.

However, some things are still unclear to me, and I hope that you are willing to cast some light upon these questions.

You called the internet a petri dish for conspiracy theories. While these theories do seem to reach more people who might believe in those theories, do you believe that universities and media – from a moral and socially responsible point of view – should put more emphasis on debating and debunking such theories? Are such theories actually more dangerous in our internet age than ever before?

As you know from my article, I wanted to have a conference on conspiracy, and my colleagues showed considerable timidity about the possibility of drawing the wrong crowd. Academics are not known for their courage, even (I’d say especially) those who pretend to be courageous in their criticism of their own governments (which protect their right to criticize them), while yielding to the intimidation of other governments (who threaten them with everything from barred access – China – to worse). It’s particularly easy to dump on people who don’t retaliate. Hence, for example, post-colonialism does very little to address the profound imperialism and colonialism embedded in Islam.

Review of Heaven on Earth by Andrew Gow

RICHARD LANDES. Heaven on Earth: The Varieties of the Millennial Experience.
Richard Landes. Heaven on Earth: The Varieties of the Millennial Experience. New York: Oxford University Press. 2011. Pp. xix, 499. $35.00.
Andrew Gow
University of Alberta

This is an immense and wide-ranging book (a “craggy edifice,” as Garry Trompf rightly notes in his blurb for the back cover); all attempts to review it must fail in view of its breadth, diversity, and ambition. Richard Landes’s first “law of apocalyptic dynamics” is “Wrong does not mean inconsequential”; the second is “One person’s messiah is another’s antichrist.” The first “law” is in fact not a universal law, but a powerful historiographic program of revision: just because chroniclers and historians since antiquity have correctly noted that apocalyptic hopes and/or fears have always been dashed does not mean that such hopes were unimportant, transitory, superficial or merely crazed, as most historians have assumed and continue to claim.

Landes’s career as a scholar of millennialism began with a reassessment of the Truce of God and Peace of God movements of the late tenth and early eleventh centuries in Carolingian and Capetian France, around the year 1000 (during which feudal warlords were tamed and France was “blanketed by a white mantle of churches”). He has persistently argued that these episodes were mass movements of millennial enthusiasm, the core of which was elided and denied by clerical observers after the fact (or, in Landes’s catchy phrase, after their collapse: ex post defectu), and then radically downplayed in all subsequent historiography. Such activity Landes considers to be the work of “owls” commenting disapprovingly on the disproven nonsense so recently crowed by apocalyptic “roosters” and enjoining all to settle down and sleep some more, as it is still night, not yet the heralded new dawn.

Landes employs a bestiary of types based on a Talmudic story about a rooster and a bat waiting for the dawn, with the rooster wondering what is in it for the bat. The attempt to set up “ideal [animal] types” representing both apocalyptic prophets and (anti-apocalyptic, Augustinian) scholars is reminiscent of Jean de La Fontaine’s Fables; it is also a novel move that places both prophetic doomsayers and scholarly naysayers in the same notional category, based on what seems like a tacit premise that scholarly claims to objectivity (or at least to stand outside the fray) are hollow. They often are, but this leveling move pre-selects both data and possible approaches to it.

Landes’s core complaint about historians is that we have been unreasonably unwilling to contemplate the often indirect evidence of millennial and apocalyptic movements in the past because they left so few traces—as owls effaced the evidence and laughed roosters to scorn. One of Landes’s most prominent critics, the distinguished French medievalist Dominique Barthélémy, has repeatedly insisted that there is no (written) evidence for a mass millennial/millenarian movement around the year 1000, nor for a great “mutation” or change in Western society as a result. He is in prestigious company, with Jacques Le Goff and Jean Delumeau.

Hell on Earth: Review of Heaven on Earth by Wendell Krossa

Hell on Earth

Heaven on Earth, by Richard Allen Landes
A Book Review by Wendell Krossa

‘Heaven on Earth’ covers The Varieties of Millennial Experience, as another great study of apocalyptic thought and history.  Landes says historians often resist seeing the influence of apocalyptic myth on modern secular movements.  But, Landes insists, apocalyptic is there working on allegedly modern, enlightened minds.  He sees apocalyptic notably in contemporary Islamic radicalism.

Landes approach looks quite intriguing as he tries to understand the dynamics of this mythology on past peoples and on the present… ”The most striking and horrifying of these movements respond badly to disappointment.  They deny, they rage, they grow paranoid, they lash out, they turn the passion of their followers into rivers of blood and mountains of skulls, they go down in flames”.  He notes that post-moderns have declared the end of all grand narratives, but he says, grand narratives are still here and “Indeed, millennial world histories are the mother of all grand narratives (and I would argue, mother to many of the West’s grand narratives)”.

This book is one of those volumes that satisfy on many levels. The sense of getting to the root of what is wrong in public consciousness and corrective alternatives (he doesn’t deal so much with alternative narratives, as he spends all his effort on critique of the millennial one), but his work opens up the vista with ideas for alternatives that avoid the violence of the millennial narrative.

Review of Heaven on Earth by Martin Marty

Heaven on Earth: The Varieties of the Millennial Experience (review)
Martin E. Marty
From: Journal of Interdisciplinary History Volume 43, Number 3, Winter 2013 p. 462 |

Landes contends that “secular” historians have often failed to account for millennial prophecies and millennialist movements, mainly because they are ill at ease with religious movements. That is, they have often walked away from such movements or failed to understand them, thus undervaluing the drama of their ordinarily turbulent, if not catastrophic, consequences.

Methodologically he supports his thesis with a conventional narrative history comprising ten movements or episodes. He is at heart a storyteller who cannot resist breaking up his larger narrative with brief asides that are usually humorous or satirical. Yet he cannot be content merely to rely on narratives, since he has a grand interpretive scheme in mind that involves many different kinds of evidence. He has to be at home with “intellectual” history, because the millennial prophets on whom he focuses are given to extravagant—many would say “weird”— ideas that he must probe and then connect to form a coherent plot. Call what he does “cultural” history, because he deals with assemblages of behavior used with ideas, the proper subject of cultural studies. He also needs and favors the methods of “theological” history, which resemble the “philosophical” ones, except in subject matter.

To be precise, one would have to say this book is a multi-methodological history, or, in exasperated moments of reading, that it is a study devoid of method, just a set of engrossing ideas culled from Landes’ reading in idiosyncratic stories. Landes leaps from one subject to another with a style that a cynical reviewer might expect from someone with attention deficit disorder. Nonetheless, it would not be fair to damn the book with faint praise, because the research is vast and deep, discovering meanings that one might have overlooked, had one not the impulse to upset convention.

Review of Heaven on Earth by Jon Butler

The Journal of Religion, Vol. 93, No. 3 (July 2013), pp. 384-386

Reviewed work: Landes, Richard. Heaven on Earth: The Varieties of Millennial Experience. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. xix+499 pp. $35.00 (cloth).
Jon Butler, Yale University (Emeritus).

Richard Landes’s thick Heaven on Earth is more and less than the sum of its complex parts. Obviously, scholars interested in millennialism should read it. But political historians are Landes’s most urgent audience, followed by scholars concerned about religion and politics anywhere in any century. Its ultimate value and frustration lie in Landes’s persistent argument about the importance of millennial dynamics that drive many political movements, including movements like the French Revolution that ostensibly denied any religiosity, or Marxism and Communism, which formally rejected religion altogether. If religion and politics lie at the heart of frustrations with Heaven on Earth, they also give the book the intellectual thrust that makes it the persistently challenging read it promises to be.

Heaven on Earth argues straightforwardly that a “near universality of millennialism” (xi) shapes many revolutionary political movements from the times of Akhenaten (1360–1347 BCE) to the present, and it deliberately focuses on ten case studies of “non-Christian and non-Jewish movements” (xi) to give the argument an aggressively non-Western, seemingly secular edge. Landes frequently references Christian and Jewish millennialists and millennial prophets from Joachim of Fiore and Sabbatai Zevi to Jim Jones and millennial Zionists. But Heaven on Earth advances its universalist argument by examining what Landes sees as millennial dynamics at the heart of nineteenth-century Xhosa cattle slaying, Papuan cargo cults, the French Revolution, Marx, the Bolsheviks, Hitler and the Nazis, UFO cults, and the Islamic Jihad.

Heaven on Earth’s most powerful insights derive from its emphasis on millennialism’s cultural malleability. Landes argues that the search for a perfect time, an end to tribulations, and in some cases the destruction of enemies occurs in widespread cultures and settings and with many different consequences, though most are disastrous.

Article by David and Richard Landes for TNR Symposium on Zionism at 100

Looking through some of the pieces my father and I wrote, I came across this one. It’s attributed at the TNR site to Walter Lacquer, and I don’t have a copy of the original, but I’m pretty sure it was ours.

The Zionist Anomaly

Zionism poses the same anomaly to post-modern culture that Judaism posed to pre-modern and modern: a historical case that goes against type, that in some sense defies the “laws” that define human culture and behavior. The Jews themselves represent, of course, one of the great historical anomalies: the only cultural personality of late antiquity to survive, not only in a series of written works cherished also by other cultures, but as a people with a history and an intellectual community driving across millennia. The survival is the more notable because it was achieved without that sine qua non of survival: power, sovereignty, the might and right to protect itself and dominate others.

Of course, historians who do not love anomalies try to sweep this one aside as almost unworthy of attention. As Gavin Langmuir pointed out over three decades ago, no textbook deals seriously with the place of the Jews in medieval life. And this neglect is only the milder version of a much older, more widespread phenomenon, found high and low in Christian and Muslim cultures: the attempt to eliminate Jews as a voice in society. In the Latin West, this found expression in forced conversion and mass killing. Normally one does not put so much energy into silencing the insignificant.

On top of this anomaly comes Israel, the only national liberation movement of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries to succeed in modernizing the society it created. (This is what such movements were presumably made for.) Most of the countries of the undeveloped world have failed here, even those with exceptional material endowments such as Uganda, Brazil and the oil producers of the Middle East. But here is Israel, poor in natural resources, beset by enemies, able in one generation to go from a Third World agricultural economy to one of the most effective producers pound for pound in the world. The story is familiar, so much so that many have grown tired of it. Yet this familiarity should not inure us to the accomplishment.

Article on 9-11 by David and Richard Landes in the New Republic

Going over some of the articles my father and I jointly published, I ran across this one from October 8, 2001.

Girl Power

BY DAVID S. LANDES AND RICHARD LANDES

Among the popular explanations for September 11′s cunning, devastating attacks on the United States is American support for Israel. The argument runs like this: If the United States had not aided and abetted the Muslim world’s primary enemy, we would not have become Islam’s enemy ourselves, and therefore would not have been a target for reprisals. That argument, however, is a dodge. Even if there were no Israel, the Muslim world would still likely feel deep and deepening hostility toward the West.

That hostility predates the formation of the Jewish State, and has its roots in the West’s growing cultural, political, economic, and military dominance over the lands of Islam, a dominance that has been building for centuries but was by no means inevitable, and which many Muslims find baffling and infuriating. Hundreds of years ago, Islamic civilization stood at the pinnacle of global achievement, politically and intellectually. Muslim empires ruled over the Middle East, stretched west to Spain and Portugal and east to India and the borderlands of China. Islam was deservedly reputed for its ecumenism, its ability to learn from and assimilate other societies. And then something went wrong.

Cultures of Development, Cultures of Impoverishment: Romney and Landes on Israelis and Palestinians

The following is a longer and linked version of the op-ed that appeared in the Wall Street Journal in 2012 in response to Romney’s comments of the difference between Israeli and Palestinian economic culture. At the time, I could only post a portion of the essay on my blog (i.e., material that was not in the Journal version). Here is the complete version.

To clarify what aspects of this essay specifically reflect my father’s thinking, I have put those passages in bold. But generally, I would say, he tended not to get embroiled in political fights and stuck to his specialties in historical matters, so in some senses these are sentiments he held but did not share publicly.

We did jointly publish a couple of essays in the New Republic, one in 1997 (the fiftieth anniversary of Zionism), and one on 9-11 in October of 2001, and given their tenor, I think he did not have any hard and fast position on not publishing his political ideas.

In rereading it, I am struck by how much subsequent events have borne out this analysis.

Cultures of Development, Cultures of Impoverishment

Mitt Romney’s comments in Jerusalem last week about the cultural dimensions of economic growth have raised a firestorm. Palestinian spokesman Saeb Erekat, (correctly) seeing an implied criticism at Palestinian culture (which Romney tried to deny), called Romney a racist and complained that the occupation stopped the “Palestinian economy from reaching its full potential.” Journalists then jumped on Erekat’s reaction to point out how Romney’s blunt partisanship for Israel has disqualified him as a broker for peace.

The comment and the reactions, however, reveal as much about the misunderstandings at play in the Middle East conflict, both socio-cultural and political, as they do about presidential politics. First, the issue of culture and economic development, in which Romney cited The Wealth and Poverty of Nations. Like so many other fields of social “science,” economists argue about whether development derives from cultural advantages or built-in natural advantages like resistance to disease, access to primary resources and location. Jared Diamond, author of the “evolution” inclined Guns, Germs and Steel, has written a NYT op-ed where he moves toward the middle (both) and tries to draw David Landes in with him.

But Israel (which neither book examined) and the Arab world (which only Wealth and Poverty examined) illustrate the primacy of culture as both necessary and sufficient. As Romney himself has earlier noted, Israel illustrates the sufficiency of culture alone: a country with no natural resources, an economic backwater even in the economic backwater of the Ottoman Empire, it rose from the bottom of the third world to the top of the first world, in a century: Israel, the Start-up Nation. The Arab nations, on the other hand, illustrate the necessity of (a certain kind of) culture: even those with vast petrodollars still have among the least productive economies in the world. Alas, Saudi Arabia’s major exports are oil and hatred.