Category Archives: Are We Waking Up Yet?

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.

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.

American Vanity and Ambition Plays the Fool in Middle East Political Culture

I’ve posted some items on the upcoming “negotiations.” Here I just want to draw your attention to three recent analyses on key American players in this charade of negotiations: Kerry and Indyk, both of whom consider messing with the only relatively stable situation in the Middle East an extremely short-sighted career “win.” Talk about making others pay for your fifteen minutes of fame.

Indyk: Noah Pollak, “What does Martin Indyk Believe

Between 2006 and 2009, no relevant facts on the ground in the Middle East had changed: Iran was still pursuing nuclear weapons, Bashar al-Assad was still the dictator of Syria, and Hezbollah was still entrenched in Lebanon. Only one fact had changed, and it was a Washington fact: Barack Obama had become the president, and he had made “engagement” with Syria a pillar of his Middle East policy. Indyk dutifully discarded his previous objections to the idea.

Give him his due: His shameless positioning and audacious reversals have been successful where they were intended to count – not in making “the cause of peace his life mission,” as Kerry said about him yesterday, but in advancing his career. Step one was showing his loyalty to Obama after betting on the wrong candidate in 2008; step two was burnishing his image as a tough-minded veteran of the Middle East who understands why things went wrong in Obama’s first term and can be counted on to get it right in his second term. On the substance, it’s been an awful, tawdry display. But as a matter of Washington careerism, Indyk’s press conference yesterday, where he was introduced and praised by the secretary of state, is inarguable proof of success.

Kerry: Lee Smith, “Requiem for the Peace Process

The peace process has entered its mannerist phase—it is nothing but a series of empty elegant formalisms. Does Martin Indyk, Kerry’s newly named Special Envoy for Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations, really need to add a sequel to his memoirs of the peace process, Innocent Abroad—Again?

Why is the peace settlement that’s so obvious, so elusive?

Well intentioned people like John Kerry cannot understand why it’s so hard to make peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis, despite the fact that “everyone knows” what the eventual settlement will be, and, in the opinion of one BBC reporter, “it could be solved with an email.”

Many, frustrated with the lack of movement towards so obvious and mutually beneficial a goal, tend to blame Israel. This includes not only hard-line anti-Israelis like Walt, Mearsheimer, and Carter, but also good liberals like the editors and op-ed writers at the NYT, Peter Beinart at Open Zion, and all the “pro-Israel, pro-peace” lobbyists at J-Street. Indeed, at the talk I gave at the Association of Isreal Studies last month, most of the objections centered on my changing the subject from the real problem, “the settlements.”

And, unquestionably, the Israelis are pretty reluctant to make the concessions these well-intentioned people urge upon them, often as thinly veiled threats in the form of eventual boycotts, divestments and sanctions. This reluctance, critics readily attribute to the irredentist desire of the religious zealots who have settled what they call Judea and Samaria and want to hold onto the them, which certainly is one factor, among a relatively small minority in Israel (certainly not an electoral majority).

What makes their arguments hold water with the larger population of Israelis, most of whom would be willing to give up the West Bank in exchange for peace, is the pervasive evidence that the Palestinians would use whatever territory they got not, as J-Street assures us, to build a peaceful nation of their own, but as a launching pad for further attacks… in other words the “Phased Plan” for the destruction of Israel, formally adopted by the PLO in 1974 (after the one stage destruction failed decisively), and never repealed (despite the Oslo “Peace Process” obligation to do so and the assurance of many journalists that they had done so).

To have an insight into what the evidence that Palestinian culture is pervasively hostile to any kind of peace with the Israelis that leaves them any piece of the land “from the river to the sea,” one needs above all to look at the culture of incitement that brainwashes Palestinian youth to hatred. And in addition to a formal “incitement index” established by the Israeli government, one can find good examples of the hate-mongering, genocidal discourse that passes for a Palestinian culture at Palestinian Media Watch.

For only the most recent example of this grotesque phenomenon, see below:

Little girls on PA TV:
Jews are the “most evil among creations,
barbaric monkeys, wretched pigs,”
condemned to “humiliation and hardship”

Note the language of “humiliation” which is the fate of all dhimmi, and which Israelis, by definition, and unacceptably, escape.

by Itamar Marcus and Nan Jacques Zilberdik

Palestinian Authority TV continues to promote Islam-based hate speech and Antisemitism, voiced by little children. In this latest example, two sisters recited a poem that included the following demonization of Jews:

“You who murdered Allah’s pious prophets (i.e., Jews in Islamic tradition)
Oh, you who were brought up on spilling blood
You have been condemned to humiliation and hardship
Oh Sons of Zion, oh most evil among creations
Oh barbaric monkeys, wretched pigs.”

The poem also taught that Jerusalem is not for Jews, because Jerusalem “vomits” out the Jews who are said to be “filth” and “impure”:
“Jerusalem vomits from within it your impurity
Because Jerusalem, you impure ones, is pious, immaculate
And Jerusalem, you who are filth, is clean and pure.”

Palestinian Media Watch has documented previous examples of hate speech and Antisemitism voiced by children on official PA TV, including:

For more examples click here.

The following is the transcript of the poem recited by the little girls on the PA TV program Palestine This Morning:

PA TV reporter: ”Let’s meet these girls who want to recite a short poem.”
Girl 1: ”I do not fear the rifle because your throngs are in delusion and ignorant herds.
Jerusalem is my land, Jerusalem is my honor
Jerusalem is my days and my wildest dreams.
Oh, you who murdered Allah’s pious prophets (i.e., Jews in Islamic tradition)
Oh, you who were brought up on spilling blood
You have been condemned to humiliation and hardship.
Oh Sons of Zion, oh most evil among creations
Oh barbaric monkeys, wretched pigs
Girl 2: Jerusalem is not your den
Jerusalem opposes your throngs
Jerusalem vomits from within it your impurity
Because Jerusalem, you impure ones, is pious, immaculate
And Jerusalem, you who are filth, is clean and pure.
I do not fear barbarity.
As long as my heart is my Quran and my city
As long as I have my arm and my stones
As long as I am free and do not barter my cause
I will not fear your throngs
I will not fear the rifle.”
[Official Palestinian Authority TV, July 3, 2013]

The Moral Chasm and the Pursuit of Peace

UPDATE on the moral chasm: David Brog, “A Tale of Two Hearts

Recently an Israeli blogger translated a piece by a young Israeli journalist who participated in what was supposed to be a “peace initiative” with Palestinian young adults. She is a classic product of Israeli culture, engaged, open, desirous of peace even if that means painful compromises, Liberal Cognitive Egocentric. This recent encounter with her Palestinian counterparts brought her face-to-face with her LCE.

Her pained realizations reminded me of one of Golda Meir’s many profound reflections on the conflict.

We will only have peace with the Arabs when they love their children more than they hate us.

There’s a moral chasm here so great that even contemplating it becomes unbearable. So what do outsiders do with this chasm? They invert it.

Peace? From the Palestinian Standpoint, There is a Past, No Future

by Lital Shemesh

I participated in the Dialogue for Peace Project for young Israelis and Palestinians who are politically involved in various frameworks. The project’s objective was to identify tomorrow’s leaders and bring them closer today, with the aim of bringing peace at some future time.

The project involved meetings every few weeks and a concluding seminar in Turkey.

On the third day of the seminar after we had become acquainted, had removed barriers, and split helpings of rachat Lukum [a halva-like almond Arab delicacy] as though there was never a partition wall between us, we began to touch upon many subjects which were painful for both sides. The Palestinians spoke of roadblocks and the IDF soldiers in the territories, while the Israeli side spoke of constant fear, murderous terrorist attacks, and rockets from Gaza.

The Israeli side, which included representatives from right and left, tried to understand the Palestinians’ vision of the end of the strife– “Let’s talk business.” The Israelis delved to understand how we can end the age-old, painful conflict. What red lines are they willing to be flexible on? What resolution will satisfy their aspirations? Where do they envision the future borders of the Palestinian State which they so crave?

We were shocked to discover that not a single one of them spoke of a Palestinian State, or to be more precise, of a two-state solution.

They spoke of one state – their state. They spoke of ruling Jaffa, Tel Aviv, Akko, Haifa, and the pain of the Nakba [lit. the tragedy – the establishment of the State of Israel]. There was no future for them. Only the past. “There is no legitimacy for Jews to live next to us” – this was their main message. “First, let them pay for what they perpetrated.”

The comparison that Palestinians like to make between the Shoah (which did not happen) and the Nakbah reminds me of Mel Brooks’ comment as the 2000 year old man: “Tragedy to me is if I cut my finger. I’ll cry a lot, go into Mount Sinai for a day and a half. Comedy is if you fall in an open manhole and die. What do I care.” Only, they care.

I’m not saying that the Nakba was not a tragedy, but in comparison with other tragedies that have befallen the Arabs in this area – “Black September 1970, Hama, 1982, Syria, 2010-13 – what happened in 1948 is not exactly of epic proportions. And, of course, who is responsible for this tragedy?

Empathy for the other is clearly not an element of this culture of blame and revenge. The injury must be paid for, and the injured (the Arabs) restored to their former honor (no autonomous Jews to deal with).

In the course of a dialogue which escalated to shouts, the Palestinians asked us not to refer to suicide bombers as “terrorists” because they don’t consider them so. “So how do you call someone who dons a vest and blows himself up in a Tel Aviv shopping mall with the stated purpose of killing innocent civilians,” I asked one of the participants.

Ah, but you don’t understand, my dear. You and your fellow Israelis – indeed your fellow infidels – are not innocent.

“I have a 4-year-old at home,” answered Samach from Abu Dis (near Jerusalem). “If G-d forbid something should happen to him, I will go and burn an entire Israeli city, if I can.” All the other Palestinian participants nodded their heads in agreement to his harsh words.

The significance here is less the vengeful attitude of the speaker than the assent he produced among his fellow Palestinians. In honor-shame cultures, where vengeance is an honorable deed, the ability of people to dissent from such desires is limited, to say the least.

“Three weeks ago, we gave birth to a son,” answered Amichai, a religious, Jewish student from Jerusalem. “If G-d forbid something should happen to him, I would find no comfort whatsoever in deaths of more people.”

Here’s the progressive, integrity-guilt attitude shared my most Israelis. This is not an isolated case; on the contrary, it’s a national ethos, that not only does not seek vengeance, but, wherever possible, to repair the rent in the body social created by earlier violence. Israel’s hospitals are models of fairness to Jew, Christian, Arab, Muslim. If anything, some might think that treating a terrorist in the same place and with the same care as his or her victims, is going too far.

Take just one example among many. The parents of Malki Roth, founded the Malki Foundation in response her “senseless” slaughter in a Palestinian suicide attack on a pizza parlor chosen specifically to kill as many children as possible. It is dedicated helping special needs children. 30% of the cases it treats are Arab children.

The shocking thing here, is that the “progressives,” in supporting the Palestinian cause, have essentially “gone native,” not so much in their own desire to take vengeance (?), but their radical inability to make even a dent in the tribal attitudes of those whom they support. After 13 years of “solidarity” with the Palestinians, Human Rights NGOs, journalists, UN agencies, have not only failed to communicate even the most elemental principles of a progressive attitude and the peace it can lead to, but have done precisely the opposite: they have infantilized, they have fed the resentments, they have played the picador.

In doing so, they have demonstrated the moral vacuity of a major post-modern meme. If Palestinians want to blow up Israeli civilians because it assuages their pain… “who are we to judge?” And when that kind of insane violence grows with this kind of malignant neglect, even spreads to other societies, then it must be because of something the Israelis did to those poor Palestinians.

Israelis from the full gamut of political parties participated in the seminar: Likud, Labor, Kadima, Meretz, and Hadash (combined Jewish/Arab socialist party). All of them reached the understanding that the beautiful scenarios of Israeli-Palestinian peace that they had formulated for themselves simply don’t correspond with reality. It’s just that most Israelis don’t have the opportunity to sit and really converse with Palestinians, to hear what they really think.

Our feed of information comes from Abu Mazen’s declarations to the international press, which he consistently contradicts when he is interviewed by Al Jazeera, where he paints a completely different picture.

Note that this material has been available to anyone online for decades. MEMRI and PalWatch provide precisely the translations needed. But somehow, people like Lital – i.e., an up and coming major journalist – seems unaware. Has she spent her time reading A.B. Yehoshua and dismissing them as the product of “right-wing” war-mongers?

I arrived at the seminar with high hopes, and I return home with difficult feelings and despair. Something about the narrative of the two sides is different from the core. How can we return to the negotiating table when the Israeli side speaks of two states and the Palestinian side speaks of liberating Palestine from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea? How can peace ever take root in a platform which grants legitimacy to terrorism?

Welcome to reality. There’s good news and there’s bad.

The bad news is that until the Palestinians grow up, there will be no peace, and that, at the moment, land concessions actually make things worse. And they won’t grow up as long as their “honor group” consists of other Arabs who live in fantasy worlds and they get support from “progressives” who think that they’re being brave and honorable by supporting their vengeful mentality.

The first Arab leader to wean his people from their scape-goating anti-Zionism will create the first productive, democratic Arab state. May it happen swiftly, in our days.

The good news is that if the West, and especially progressives in the West, would snap out of this “performance” of moral vanity in which we act as if we have no enemies in order to be “true to our values,” and begin to rebuke the Palestinians – and the Arabs, and the Muslims, for behavior that really is, by modern standards, shameful, we could make a lot of progress.

But alas! Palestinians made a cult of their suicide bombers, sanctifying their violence, commemorating it in every way. They even made a papier-mâché recreation of the Sbarro Pizza bombing at the moment of the bomb’s impact, so people could come and savor the Schadenfreude. That exhibit is father to the son who says, “If G-d forbid something should happen to my child, I will go and burn an entire Israeli city, if I can.” And what if his  child were killed by a Palestinian militia, as we can now document happens not infrequently? Will he burn a Palestinian city? This testifies to a complete failure of the international community to hold the Palestinians to even the most limited set of standards. They are not only the queen of welfare nations, they are the king of moral affirmative action.

Westerners need to contemplate the moral chasm that separates Israeli and the Palestinians culture, make up their minds who is on the side of the progressive values that they (say they) cherish, and say to the Palestinians, as it needs to say to Muslims: Where are the voices of moral outrage in your community? Where are the projects and programs you have to respond to such grotesque interpretation of morality? Where is your commitment to humanity and your willingness to outgrow your need for tribal revenge?

I’d like to believe that the vast majority of Muslims are moderate, really moderate. I think that could even happen with a shift in the honor-group. But right now, the world community supports the (near) worst a society can produce, people whose moral discourse we would not accept even in the most permissive community, a community that pressures members to kill their daughters. They embody everything upon whose rejection we have built the world that allows us to dream messianic dreams about a global civil society.

We need to stop feeding these folks with and look for the real moderates, those willing to accept that, in matters of faith there is no coercion, and build a community of tolerant faithful.

And one of the first things to do, is stop adopting a demonizing narrative about Israel that empowers the worst tendencies and actors in Palestinian/Arab/Muslim political culture. That’s actually doable. And it’s definitely in the interest of the West to say to Palestinians and Muslims, “you need to get along with the Israelis, with the Jews.” You can’t be so juvenile as to say, “I refuse to deal with these people.”

So that’s the good news: we Western liberals can start now contributing to peace, and we can actually lead the way. Prizes for the most important and successful delivery of progressive tochacha to Palestinians and Muslims. What a virgin field!

Are we waking up? Maher calls it “liberal bullshit”

Bill Maher hosted Brian Levin, professor at CSU-San Bernardino, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism. The exchange is most illuminating, primarily for what it shows about the kind of “therapeutic” scholarship that dominates the academy. HT: Jeff Poor at Daily Caller). Comments interspersed in the transcipt below.

BM: I’m always interested to know how people like the people we caught today up in Boston can have two minds going at the same time. I mean if you read what the older brother wrote on the internet, he said his world view “Islam” personal priorities, “Career and Money.” And we see this a lot. I mean the 9-111 hijackers went to strip clubs the night they got on the plane.”

BL: Could I just interject. Look, it’s not like people who are Muslim who do wacky things have a monopoly on it. We have hypocrites across faiths… Jewish, Christian who say they’re out for God and they end up…

Levin immediately takes Maher to refer to the hypocrisy of it all, when (particularly as a scholar) he might have addressed the issue of cognitive dissonance, and the kind of “doubling” that Robert Jay Lifton analyzes in Nazi DoctorsBut instead he immediately reaches for the “we too…” meme of moral equivalence.

BM: You know what, yeah, yeah, You know what — that’s liberal bullshit right there … I mean yes there … all faiths…

BL: There are no Christian hypocrites? You made a career on that!

Levin is very confident here, thinking that with Maher, producer of Religulous, he has a like-minded interlocutor. 

The Arab-Israeli Conflict for Dummies: Barry Rubin explains why Kerry’s “peace” push is bad for peace

For many of us who understand how political cultures driven by honor-shame imperatives operate, the Sisyphean tendency of well-intentioned “peace makers” to “restart” the Oslo Process after its explosion into the Oslo Intifada in 2000, serves as a apt illustration of the (mis-)attributed quote of “Einstein’s” - the definition of insanity is trying the same thing and expecting a different result. (So un-Einsteinian: you can never try “the same thing.”)

So when someone like John Kerry takes over at State and goes on a tour of the area looking for how he can jump-start the peace process based on the principles of the Politically-correct paradigm in which we are all positive-sum players and if only we sweeten the pot for the Palestinians, they’ll join in, many of us roll our eyes and know he’s doomed to failure.

What few people consider is what Rubin analyzes here: not only is Kerry’s approach not going to work, if it did, it would make things worse. Not just, one step forward, two backward, but, as in 2000, blowback in our face. Consider Rubin’s analysis.

Why “Progress” Toward Israel-Palestinian “Peace” Is More Likely to Bring Regional Instability

April 10th, 2013 – 7:13 am 

Secretary of State John Kerry has what-should-be-discredited cliché about the Middle East firmly ensconced in his head. Of course, he is not alone. I just briefed a European diplomat who came up with the exact formulation I’m going to deal with in a moment. What is disconcerting—though long familiar—is that Western policymakers hold so many ideas that are totally out of touch with reality.

They do not allow these assumptions to be questioned. On the contrary, it is astonishing to find how often individuals in elite positions have never heard counter-arguments to these beliefs. It is easy to prove that many of these ideas simply don’t make sense, but it is nearly impossible to get elite intellectuals, officials, and politicians to open their minds to these explanations.

This is a fascinating point. The PCP has literally eclipsed all other approaches in the minds of the Western elites. It becomes unthinkable to view the situation otherwise.

Yet we can’t just believe what we want to believe, what we’d like to see happen, what we hope for. Reality must be faced or things will be worse. Having uunexamined utopian ideas dominate this topic does not serve anyone’s interests.

Well, it does serve the interests of the demopaths, who keep pushing all our liberal buttons as a way to have things go worse. But we fine Westerners don’t even want to admit that there are enemies, much less ones that use our values to destroy us.

Let me give a single example. Here are Kerry’s observations after touring the Middle East:

“I am intensely focused on this issue and the region because it is vital really to American interests and regional interests to try and advance the peace process and because this festering absence of peace is used by groups everywhere to recruit and encourage extremism.”

Supposedly, then, the reason that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is so important and urgent to solve is that otherwise it is a powerful force in encouraging extremism. Of course, steps toward easing Israel-Palestinian tensions and stabilizing the situation are good but have no positive effect on the region.

Let’s stipulate that it would be a very good thing if this conflict would be resolved in a stable and compromise way. Let’s further stipulate that this isn’t going to happen.

But there is another point which sounds counter-intuitive and yet makes perfect sense:

Resolving the conflict in some way will encourage even more extremism and regional instability. How can I say that? Very simple.

Islamist groups and governments, along with radical Arab nationalists, Iran, and others, are determined to prevent any resolution of the issue. Anything other than Israel’s extinction they hold to be treason. If—and this isn’t going to happen—Israel and the Palestinian Authority made a comprehensive peace treaty those forces would double and triple their efforts to subvert it.

The folly of “linkage” is precisely the misunderstanding of what drives the conflict. If, as Obama and his advisors wanted to do at the beginning of his first administration, we “solve” the Arab-Israeli conflict, then, with the Arabs happy, we go after Iran. The only problem is that even if some (how many?) Arab leaders might be “happy” with a resolution that still left an Israeli state present and autonomous in the heart of Dar al Islam, far more would find that utterly unacceptable. Not only is linkage a Rube Goldberg machine, but it’s one that strewn with landmines just waiting to explode.

The government of Palestine would face determined domestic opposition, including assassination attempts on the “traitors” who made peace. Palestinian factions would claim to be more militant than their rivals and would seek to use the new state as a basis for attacking Israel in order to prove their credentials and advance their political fortunes.

What would the government of Palestine do once cross-border attacks inevitably began against Israel? It is highly likely it would disclaim responsibility and say they cannot find those responsible or even proclaim that these people are heroes.

Of course, the Hamas regime in the Gaza Strip would not accept the deal, thus ensuring that it could not be implemented. That last factor, which is a huge and impassable barrier is simply ignored by the “peacemakers.” Israel would have to make major territorial concessions and take heightened risks in advance that would bring zero benefits from a Hamas government that would increase its attacks on Israel. Hamas forces on the West Bank, perhaps in partnership with Fatah radicals, would seek to overthrow Palestine’s government.

There would be attempts to carry out atrocities against Israeli civilians to break the deal, just as happened by Hamas alone during the 1993-2000 “Oslo peace process” period. Hizballah from Lebanon would also increase attacks on Israel to prove that the treasonous peace could not hold.

The ruling Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Syria would do everything possible to help Hamas. There would be outrage in large sectors of public opinion and especially among the armed Islamist militias who would try to lever their countries into war, stage cross-border attacks against Israel, and back Palestinian insurgents.

Of course, the fact that they understand all of the points made above is one of the main reasons why the Palestinian Authority’s leadership isn’t interested in making a peace deal with Israel, and not even negotiating seriously toward that end.

Ironically, then, the recruiting and encouragement of extremism would be at far higher levels than it is now.

Which is why, ironically, like Penelope, Odysseus’ wife, we need to continue weaving a peace process that must not come to fruition.

But that’s not all. Who would be identified as the architects of this terrible setback for Islam and Arab nationalism? The United States and the West, of course. Imagine the increase of anti-American terrorism for having permanently “stolen” Palestine, perpetuated “injustice,” and so powerfully entrenching the “Zionist entity.”

Kerry, no doubt, thinks that the Egyptians, Syrians, Lebanese, and Iranians would applaud the wonderful U.S. achievement. This is sheerest nonsense, especially at a time when Islamists feel they are riding the crest of a tidal wave of victory.

Is Kerry that foolish? I’d like to think not, but I’m forever astonished at how foolish smart people can be in our day and age.

While the parallels are inexact, some aspects of such a situation remind me of what happened at the end of World War One. Many people in Germany were convinced that their country was not defeated but merely suffered a “stab in the back” by its foreign enemies and the Jews at home. Out of this soil arose the Nazi movement, to avenge this betrayal and defeat. You can make of that parallel what you will.

Remember, too, that the 1990s “peace process” effort came at a time when Arab regimes were weak, repeatedly defeated by Israel, having lost their Soviet superpower ally, been riven by the Iran-Iraq and Kuwait wars, and with a bankrupt PLO. Now we are in a new era when, for example, the most important single Arab pillar for peace—the Husni Mubarak regime in Egypt—has been driven out to the cheers of those Westerners who also claim to recognize the value of an Arab-Israel peace.

Whether or not I’ve convinced you, I assume that you must understand that a serious case can be made for the argument stated above. Yet none of these points will appear in the mass media or the high-level debate. The assumption is, as Kerry stated, that Israel-Palestinian peace will make things better and no idea will be considered that contradicts this notion.

Let me again emphasize that I am not making an “anti-peace” argument here. If it was possible to secure a lasting, stable compromise peace between Israel and the Palestinians, that would be a great achievement. That might be possible some day but, dangerous wishful thinking aside, that isn’t true now.

And wishing it so makes it worse. Until we look at the cultural issues involved in making peace, and begin to prepare the Palestinians/Arabs/Muslims a generation or two down the pike to shift gears, none of our liberal fantasies will do any good.

Read the rest.

 

George Galloway and the Politics of Auto-Stupefaction

Recently George Galloway embarrassed – no, humiliated – the anti-Zionist forces by walking out of an Oxford debate with a (non) Israeli, because (he thought) he was Israeli. The audience, normally spoon-fed their anti-Zionism, booed Galloway’s exit and cheered the young man, Eylon Aslan-Levy.

Now Galloway has a comment on his Facebook page that… says it all (HT/A. Ostrovsky).

Me and the Palestinian cause: A number of questions have recently arisen I need to deal with. Firstly if people want to talk to the Palestinians they need to contact the Palestine Liberation Organisation. This is the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people and has been for many decades.

A bit out of date, but consistent.

Secondly, an organisation calling itself “BDS” does not own the words or the concept of boycott, divestment or sanctions. They are entitled to their own interpretation of these words but they don’t own or control me. I will make my own interpretation. And it is this – no purchase of Israeli goods or services, no normal contacts with individuals or organisations in Israel who support the existence of the racist Apartheid creed of Zionism. That’s what I mean by boycott. That’s what I do. Israelis who are outside of and against the system of Zionism are comrades of mine – like Prof Ilan Pappe. My opponent at Oxford University did not meet this test. The organiser of the event momentarily lionised by the liberal as well as the conservative establishment needs to know this, especially as he is a medical student. To compare Israeli Zionism to “Vegetarianism” is like a doctor not knowing the difference between a pimple and a tumor. Apartheid Israel is a cancer at the heart of the middle-east.

Because Israel is surrounded by liberal and tolerant democracies who assure everyone (including women and religious minorities) of full rights. Talk about a pimple on a pox-ravaged face.

Only it’s replacement by a bi-national democratic state from the Jordan River to the sea will cure this. That is what I am fighting for.

George Galloway MP

House of Commons

London

And just who in this neighborhood, other than the Zionists you won’t talk to is either committed to, or capable of, establishing and maintaining a democracy? The Syrians? The Egyptians? The hapless Lebanese? The endangered Jordanians? Oh, I know, the “democratic” Gazans.

It’s hard to imagine a more foolish political agenda. But the benefits – free rampaging racism and anti-Semitism in the form of Schadenfreude-indulging lethal narratives – are just too delicious to renounce.

 

Hangin’ on rekaB Street: The Stupefaction of the West

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

RekaB Street exists in many fields.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The Other’s Antichrist, is my Antichrist”: The Millennial Encounter Between Post-Modernism and Global Jihad

I was recently asked to write a preface to a volume of essays on Millennialism. After discussing the enormous resistance of “conventional” historians to allowing millennial topics any more than marginal status within the larger narrative of Western history, and arguing on the contrary that we need to define millennialism in a way that includes stealth secular forms (e.g., communism), I concluded with a discussion of the stakes involved, in part inspired by my encounter with Judith Butler’s work over the past weeks

Here is the concluding section.

Real-World Stakes in Millennial Scholarship: Post-Modern “Others” vs. Islamic Apocalyptic “Others”

The stakes involved here are not insignificant, nor merely “academic,” although they are most specifically academic. Right now, and since the 60s, much of the academic world involved with human subjects (Arts, Humanities, Social “Sciences”) has become absorbed by an interlocking series of theoretical paradigms and exegetical techniques (deconstruction, critical, gender, queer, theory, post-modernism, post-colonialism) that have millennial premises embedded in the core of their theory.[1] And as every effective millennial discourse must provide, Post-modern theory has identified the “source of our suffering,” namely boundaries. And since those “us-them” boundaries – between self and “Other,” “male and female,” one culture/religion/ethnicity/nationality and another – have been constructed, we can ‘free’ ourselves (or at least, resist), by deconstructing.

Thus, the Post-modern theories in their various avatars systematically transgress conventional boundaries, subvert “hegemonic” discourses (including meta-narratives), that must always-already inscribe an invidious dichotomy between “us-them”.[2] Instead, liberation comes from the embrace of the “Other,” in post-colonialism, the subaltern “Others,” to whose narratives we are obliged to grant epistemological equality if not priority.[3] Redemptive performativity is, among other things, a way to speak of messianic behavior, of tikkun olam, of “realized eschatology.”[4] And it all takes place in the (relatively) non-apocalyptic framework of a progressive effort to fundamentally transform a cultural sensibility.[5]

Like many of their predecessors, including Marx, these latest secular millennialists tend to deny their chiliastic genealogy.[6] Indeed, the whole post-modern principle of “incredulity towards Grand or Meta-Narratives,” is a repudiation among other things, of the greatest of them all – apocalyptic narratives about eschatological End of History.[7] So in principle, post-modernists and their offspring (the various “theorists”), have liberated themselves from apocalyptic and millennial narratives. Of course post-modernists are far to sophisticated to fall into complete denial.[8]

A Judith Butler, for example, openly embraces her utopian longings – e.g., for Buber and Magnes’ “binational state”- despite their impossibility – as driving forces of her performativity.[9] But, she would on the one hand, deny any relationship to earlier apocalyptic movements that veered rapidly from transformative to cataclysmic, from demotic to hierarchical, and even when confronted with the disastrous implications of her millennial reasoning, declares herself proud of her courage to think so daringly.[10] Indeed, her work deserves a thoroughly millennial analysis, not the least because she has chosen to perform her theories in the “real world,” of other people, and when she does so, it has results that should alarm anyone familiar with apocalyptic dynamics.[11]

More broadly, I think only a millennial analysis of the post-60s (post apocalyptic) Zeitgeist of the academy, especially where studies of humankind are concerned, can explain the current direction of consensus politics when dealing with Islamism. Take for example, the following conundrum: In the entire history of Christianity, no nation that called itself Christian adopted a foreign policy based on the Sermon on the Mount; on the contrary. Now, however, post-Christians, people who by and large have contempt for religion, even view it as a virus,[12] urge a “turn the other cheek” policy of self-criticism and self-abasement vis-à-vis a profoundly hostile “Other.”[13] As a colleague commented at a conference on apocalypticism, “If the USA were attacked by nuclear weapons, I hope we’d have the maturity not to strike back.”[14]

Oxymoronic Islamic Logic: Call me Violent and I’ll cut out your tongue

One of the things anyone with a reasonably logical mind may find darkly amusing is the way that Muslims these days (I’m guessing in earlier ages they were less transparently silly) make statements that directly contradict each other without seeming to be aware of what they’re up to.

Take, for example, the following: 1) Israelis are like Nazis, and 2) The Holocaust didn’t happen. So the Nazis aren’t bad, but the Israelis are like them.

The resolution to the logical contradiction has to do with the emotional pleasure making the statements provides:

  • Saying the Israelis are like Nazis is a form of moral sadism that not only attacks Jews, but demeans them in the eyes of anyone who believes the Nazis did commit genocide.
  • Saying the Holocaust didn’t happen is another form of sadism which any Palestinian who wanted to extend the most elementary empathy to Jews might appreciate since they are immensely indignant at any effort to question just how bad they have suffered, or the role of Israel in that suffering.

There was a similar moment, oft repeated, when the Pope quoted a 14th century Byzantine emperor (who had good experiential evidence for the remark) saying that Islam was inherently violent. The Muslim response? Riot, kill, maim: “How dare you call me violent!”

Now, in Israel, where Member of Knesset Taleb a-Sanaa (United Arab List- Ta’al) and others have petitioned the court for a temporary injunction blocking an anti-Islam video ridiculing the prophet Muhammad on Google and YouTube, we have the following from a supporter (H/T: DC):

Islam is a religion of love, living together like brothers, and good livelihood. It’s lies what they said, and anyone who said anything bad about Muhammad needs to have their tongue cut out,” said Zatmi Ali, one of the supporters of the ban.

Again, content doesn’t matter. It’s all about what feels good: to praise Islam and to assail anyone who contradicts that praise.

Don’t you dare diss me. I’ll diss you right back.

No wonder that, although they are in principle dedicated to brotherly love (at least among Muslims) and good livelihood, in practice Muslims are so often at each other’s throats, and by a vast majority, are poor and wretched in their livelihood.

Some readers may feel that I’m being hostile to Muslims, even Islamophobic. But I challenge you to come up with a non-Muslim example of this kind of emotional “logic.” And while you can probably find some (especially in psychotherapeutic discussions), I’ll bet that the other people(s) who express this kind of utterly self-indulgent thinking don’t think that it’s a good idea to say such things too loudly.

For an honor-shame culture, Muslims these days sure are shameless. Maybe it has to do with the success of the intimidation of the rest of us. After all, instead of Muslims being the laughing stock of the global community, the Pope was assailed by good people for provoking the Muslim reaction.

Who would have thought that for lack of a sense of humor, the Western world might commit suicide?

Red Hot Chili Peppers Elicit Evidence of the Massive Gap Between Pro-Palestinian Israelis and Anti-Zionist Arabs

Elder of Zion has an amazing transcript of a facebook exchange between a radical, pro-Palestinian Israeli activist, Noa, and various Arab exponents of BDS (in this case, refusing to allow Red Hot Chili Peppers to come to Beirut because they plan to play in Israel).

“We’re not against Jews. We’re against non-Arab Israeli citizens”

972mag’s Noam Sheizaf brings us a fantastic example of how Arabs will never accept the existence of Jews as equals in the Middle East.A Jordanian “anti-normalization” group put out a notice to ban all “Zionists” from traveling to Jordan to attend an after-party with a popular Lebanese band called Mashrou Leila (that recently canceled a gig opening for the Red Hot Chili Peppers in Beirut because the RHCP are playing in Israel.) Apparently, many anti-Zionist Israelis are big fans of the band.Well, that’s not quite true. The “anti-normalization” letter says it intends to ban all Zionists, but its definition of Zionist is interesting:

Finally, we would like to inform you clearly that despite your confirmation and that of your associates here in Amman, that the event you’re organizing will not host any Zionists (to be clear we take this stand against all Israeli nationality holders that are non Arab) we are still taking certain measures to ensure that you will abide by your word on this matter, fully realizing and taking into consideration the continuous arguments and justifications in favor of accompanying Zionists to the event here in Amman. We simply reject all Zionists’ irrelevant of their race, political or religious orientations or beliefs.

We are very vigilant to all cultural events in Amman and we will have narrow to the ground during Mashrou Leila, so we urge you to keep your word and promise to keep our events and country zionist-free.

Now, a number of vehemently anti-Israel Jewish citizens of Israel – people who completely share the Arab desire to destroy Israel and create a single “Palestine” from the river to the sea – were offended by this letter. Here is a dialogue between “Noa” and Jordanians who make it quite clear that if she is a true anti-Zionist, she should leave the country she was born in because she is Jewish:
Noa: (Israeli) Can I ask a question?

The Post-Self-Destructivism of Judith Butler

Benjamin Weinthal and I have an op-ed today in the Wall Street Journal. Here are the links (as well as some of the material that got cut from the original submission (1250 words). Some of the wording may not correspond exactly to that in the published piece, and bold text does not appear in the article.

The Post-Self-Destructivism of Judith Butler

On Sept. 11, a German organization will reward the American scholar and anti-Israel activist.

By RICHARD LANDES AND BENJAMIN WEINTHAL
In 1938, shortly after philosopher Martin Buber, formerly of the University of Frankfurt, came to Israel to teach at Hebrew University, a reporter asked how his Hebrew was. He replied: “Good, but not good enough to be obscure in.”

The joke, apparently, is on the city of Frankfurt, which tomorrow—Sept. 11, incidentally—will hand its prestigious Adorno Prize for excellence in philosophy, music, theater and film to Judith Butler. Ms. Butler, an American philosopher and anti-Israel activist, is a great admirer of Buber and the 1998 recipient of the “Bad Writing Prize” for her impenetrable prose.

Professor Butler’s first-prize sentence appears in “Further Reflections on the Conversations of Our Time,” an article in the scholarly journal Diacritics (1997):

  • The move from a structuralist account in which capital is understood to structure social relations in relatively homologous ways to a view of hegemony in which power relations are subject to repetition, convergence, and rearticulation brought the question of temporality into the thinking of structure, and marked a shift from a form of Althusserian theory that takes structural totalities as theoretical objects to one in which the insights into the contingent possibility of structure inaugurate a renewed conception of hegemony as bound up with the contingent sites and strategies of the rearticulation of power.

Dutton remarked that “it’s possibly the anxiety-inducing obscurity of such writing that has led Professor Warren Hedges of Southern Oregon University to praise Judith Butler as ‘probably one of the ten smartest people on the planet’.”

objections to award: SPME Germany statement; summary article in JPost; extensive criticism and responses to Butler’s defense at SPME Faculty Forum.

Judith Butler, the Adorno Prize, and the Moral State of the “Global Left”

The following is a long version of a response to Judith Butler that will appear in various forms at other sites, including SPME. This version is here either for those who enjoy my overwrought prose, of those who find that the logic of edited versions elsewhere is interrupted by the cuts.

Judith Butler’s feelings are hurt because some professors who claim they’re for “peace in the Middle East,” have criticized her and openly called on the Adorno Committee to withdraw the Prize that they have announced would be offered to her this year, on Adorno’s birthday, 9-11. Stung by the criticism, Butler responded at the site of the notoriously anti-Israel Jewish blog, Mondoweiss. in her defense. The defense illustrates every aspect of the problem with Butler’s approach to the criticism of her work, including the folly of German intellectuals to raise her up as a heroic example.

The criticism of her receiving the Adorno prize involves the following three points: 1) Her criticism of Israel for violations of (her) moral standards is exceptionally harsh, even though she has very little to say about exceptionally harsh violations among Israel’s enemies. 2) She has taken this moral imbalance from mere rhetoric to determined action, supporting extensive and punishing academic boycotts of Israel (e.g., Kafka archive should not go to Hebrew University). And 3) she enables and encourages virulent anti-Semitism both in this participation in BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions), and in identifying some of the worst offenders where that ancient hatred is concerned (Hamas and Hizbullah) as part of the “progressive, global, Left.”

Her response was a long, rambling, self-defense (2000 words) in which she systematically misrepresents the critique, and shields herself by claiming the status of a suffering victim of a vicious attack that deeply hurt her feelings.

Nidra Poller on the Auto da fe in Paris: it’s no joke

Nidra Poller has a piece on the Charlie Hebdo bombing in Paris well worth considering. The incident itself was a classic example of the effort to spread Sharia to the West, especially in the form of showing “respect” for the Prophet Muhammad. This began in earnest when, ten years into his millennial project of the “Islamic Republic of Iran,” Khoumeini put out a fatwa condemning Salman Rushie to death for his blasphemous Satanic Verses (which neither Khoumeini nor his advisors had read).

The next major event in this campaign came in 2005-6 when Muslims objected vigorously to the publication of cartoons depicting Muhammad, another attempt to extend to infidels what in principle only applies to (some) Muslim – not depicting the prophet’s face. If there are those in the West who thought that we stood up to our principles of Free Speech and right to criticize during the Cartoon Affair (or, at least that there were no winners), then reconsider. The folks who bombed Charlie Hebdo apparently thought they made it perfectly clear what the price of crossing them would be.

Comments added to bring out some of the implications of Poller’s allusive style.

Auto da fe in Paris: it’s no joke

Paris November 3, 2011

Nidra Poller

The brand new—and deliberately unmarked– offices of the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo in the 20th arrondissement of Paris were destroyed by arson hours before a special issue, renamed Charia Hebdo, hit the newsstands on November 2nd. All 75,000 copies were sold out by noon (a rerun went on sale two days later, bringing total sales to 200,000). One or more firebombs aimed precisely at the IT department wiped out the satirical magazine’s nerve center. Charlie Hebdo’s Facebook page had been bombarded with threats, insults, and koranic verses since it pre-released the front page with a caricature of guest editor Mohamed promising 100 lashes to anyone who doesn’t die laughing. As the offices went up in flames, the hacked website was plastered with a photo of Mecca packed with pilgrims, and the declaration, in English, “No god but Allah / Mohamed is the Messenger of Allah.”

This shocking attack on press freedom inspired a rush of near-unanimous solidarity in French society. Unambiguously labeling the act an “attentat,” meaning “terrorist attack,” Interior Minister Claude Guéant promised to find and severely punish the perpetrator(s). Various Muslim authorities condemned “all violence,” reiterated their disapproval of caricatures of Mohamed and other insults to Islam, and vowed to defend their religion as law-abiding citizens, in the courts.

Editorial director Charb posed meekly in front of the smoking ruins of his offices, displaying the front page that provoked those devouring flames.  Interviewed by Rue89 he said that real Muslims don’t burn newspapers. Elsewhere his colleague, Pelloux, opined: “As far as I know, there is no koranic law against laughter.”

9-11 and the dysfunctional “aughts”

This is the longer version of a blogpost at the Telegraph.

9-11 and the dysfunctional “aughts”

In the years before 2000, as the director of the ephemeral Center for Millennial Studies, I scanned the global horizon for signs of apocalyptic activity, that is, for movements of people who believed that now was the time of a total global transformation. As I did so, I became aware of such currents of belief among Muslims, some specifically linked to the year 2000, all predominantly expressing the most dangerous of all apocalyptic beliefs – active cataclysmic that is the belief that this transition from evil to good demands massive destruction, and that we true believers are the agents of that destruction, warriors of God, Mujahidin. Death cults, cults of martyrdom and mass murder… destroying the world to save it.

Nor were these beliefs magical, like the far better known Christian, but largely passive-cataclysmic, Rapture scenarios where one must await God’s intervention. They had practical means and goals. In the same year 1989, that Bin Laden drove the Russians from Afghanistan, Khoumeini issued a global fatwah against Rushdie, and the West trembled. Iran and Afghanistan, however, like so many utopias born of such death cults, proved terrifyingly dystopic – acid in the faces of unveiled women. But these bitter new heavens on earth also showed remarkable staying power… and spreading power. So when Bin Laden struck with such spectacular force on 9-11, he took his Jihad, already declared in 1998 against America (the “Second ‘Ad”), to the next level. He put deeds to words.

We, in the West, were taken totally by surprise. Who are these people? Why haven’t we heard about them before? (NB: the blogosphere, which first “took off” in the early “aughts” is largely the product of a vast number of people turning to cyberspace for information that their mainstream news media had conspicuously failed to deliver.)

What was the logic of such a monstrously cruel attack that targeted civilians? A warning shot to pay attention and address grievances? Or the opening shot in a battle for world domination? Was this primarily an act of retribution for wrongs suffered, i.e., somewhat rational? Or global revenge at global humiliation, i.e., a bottomless pit of grievance?

Some of us said, “What can they possibly believe to make them hate so?” Others, “What did we do to make them hate us so?” And while both are legitimate questions, over the last decade, the “aughts” (‘00s), we have split into two camps, each of which will not allow the other question’s consideration.

PomoMarx: Eagelton tries to make Marx and 21st century progressive

In my book on millennialism I have a chapter devoted to Marx in which, among other less than flattering remarks, I note the following about his “dialectical” thinking:

The totalizing discourse operates as a kind of scientistic magic, making millennial promises about total liberation—“complete” control over the instruments of production and universal intercourse. But Marx offered this promise not to the intellectuals of his age, but specifically to those then suffering the most from the throes of industrialization.

. . . Marxist revolutionaries adopt Hegel’s dialectic to prove that each step downward into deeper misery simultaneously and inevitably hastened the coming of paradise. “Imperialist” wars and “capitalist” depressions became, for the apocalyptic Marxists, what the “fortunate fall” and the “signs of the End” are for Christians, the same gratifying dialectic that Bakùnin had in mind when he announced that “the passion for destruction is a creative passion.”[1]

With such a promise comes a fury to console and soothe the agony of one’s current condition—the very crushing pains the laborer now experiences will be transformed into the opposite, the very totality of their alienation will make it possible for all to achievecomplete self-activity.

And behind the apocalyptic historical analysis lay an enticing millennial premise and promise: a “new man” would emerge on the other side of this wrenching process of alienation. Just as the French Revolution had promised a new citizen, so the Marxists promised a “new comrade”—an interesting shift, given the sad fact that “fraternity” was the first of the promises to vanish from the millennial formula of liberté, égalité, fraternité.[2] Here, over the course of the nineteenth century, revolutionaries availed themselves of John Locke’s theories about man as a blank slate who had no “innate ideas,” that is, no innate character, that rather sensory perceptions and experiences mold man. Whatever Locke believed he meant, both Enlightenment thinkers and subsequent radicals seized eagerly on this nurture versus nature perspective to believe anything possible.[3]

As in the case of many millennial texts, this one seems far less compelling with hindsight; indeed, these expectations were and still are completely unrealistic.[4] But, “[o]ne may poke holes in the theories . . . mock any number of embarrassing contradictions. None of that matters. It is the myth, as Sorel saw, and its inspirational powers that count. And apocalyptic Marxism is the perfect myth.”[5] One of the reasons that Marx succeeded in winning so many fervent disciples was not despite the bizarre reasoning here displayed, but because of it.[6]

[1]. Mendel, Vision and Violence, 153.

[2]. By the time of the Directory (1794–99), it appears in the variant: “Liberté, égalité, propriété.” See, for example, a print of the three directors (Barras, La Révellière, and Reubell), after the coup-d’état of the 18 of Fructidor (4 September 1797) entitled La trinité républicaine, BNP, Estampes, reproduced in François Furet and Denis Richet, La Révolution du 9-Thermidor au 18-Brumaire (Paris: Hachette, 1966), 123. See also Mona Ozouf, “Liberté, égalité, fraternité,” in Lieux de Mémoire, ed. Pierre Nora, 3 vol. (Paris: Gallimard, 1997), 3:4353–89.

[3]. Richard Pipes discusses the link between Locke and the Communists in Russian Revolution, 1899–1919 (London: Harvill Press, 1997), 125–36; see above on the French revolutionaries’ use of this notion, chapter 9 n. 87.

[4]. For an attempt at a sympathetic but realistic review of the completely impracticable assumptions that underlie so much of Marx’s thought about the Communist state to come, see Jon Elster, Making Sense of Marx (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), 521–27. He repeatedly refers to the elements of Marx’s assumptions and allusions that are “extremely” (522) and “irredeemably Utopian” (526), of coming from “Cloud-cuckoo-land” (524). See also Axel Van den Berg’s characterization of Marx’s salvific vision as an “absurdly bucolic . . . utterly cloudy millennium.” The Immanent Utopia: From Marxism on the State to the State of Marxism (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1988) 56-7,

[5]. Mendel, Vision and Violence, 152.

[6]. “Such utopian images of the future command society, however scattered and fragmentary in the writings of Marx and Engels, form an essential component of Marxist theory—and one that is essential for understanding the appeals of Marxism in the modern world.” Maurice Meisner, “Marxism and Utopianisn” in Marxism, Maosim and Utopianism, Eight Essays (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1982); see also Frank E. Manuel and Fritzie P. Manuel, “Marx and Engels in the Landscape of Utopia” in Utopian Thought in the Western World (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 1979), 697–716.

I also, in a subsequent chapter on the Russian revolution, note the way Western intellectuals dealt with the cognitive dissonance of the failed communist millennium:

Fellow Travelers and the Cognitive Dissonance of Failed Revolutions

The reaction of Western Marxists to the Soviet debacle, namely, the length and depth of their denial that the dream had turned into a nightmare, has astounded and puzzled most intellectuals not in thrall to Communist ideology. This is particular true since some of these people, like George Bernard Shaw and Jean-Paul Sartre, were both brilliant and otherwise known for their mordant observations on people’s “bad faith.” And yet, just like believers incapable of allowing the evidence of apocalyptic prophecy’s failure to enter their consciousness, these people could not admit to themselves or anyone else that the millennial experiment in which they had invested so much (intellectual) energy could have failed.[1]

… these pilgrims proved capable of the most extraordinary ability to ignore whatever anomalies they observed in their terrestrial paradise. George Bernard Shaw’s visit to Moscow in 1931 illustrates some of the psychology involved. A devastating critic of Western capitalism, he checked his skepticism at the border, along with the numerous tins of canned meat that his friends had given him to bring to their starving Russian friends, and arrived oblivious to all that surrounded him, including the dismay of the Russians when he told them about the jettisoned cans of meat since he “knew” there was no famine in the socialist paradise.[5] Russia served not as a case of the “real world,” subject to his penetrating criticism, but the foil for his own dislike of the world he inhabited, no matter how it welcomed the products of his socialist genius. Despite the horror that surrounded him in Russia, he came back with glowing reports. As Russell noted, Shaw “fell victim to adulation of the Soviet government and suddenly lost the power of criticism and of seeing though humbug if it came from Moscow.”[6]

[1]. One of the significant exceptions was Bertrand Russell, who, among other things coined the expression the “fallacy of the superior virtue of the oppressed,” in his 1937 essay “The Superior Virtue of the Oppressed,”Unpopular Essays (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1950). For the broader phenomenon, see  David Caute, The Fellow Travelers: A Postscript to the Enlightenment (New York: Macmillan, 1973); Paul Hollander, Political Pilgrims: Western Intellectuals in Search of the Good Society (New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Publishers, 1998).

[5]. Eugene Lyons, Assignment in Utopia (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1937), 428–35.

[6]. Bertrand Russell, Portraits from Memory (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1956), 59; cited in Hollander, Political Pilgrims, 139.

Now, too late to add to the footnotes, Terry Eagelton, one of the major figures in the abuse of post-modernism for political purposes, comes up with a book entitled Why Marx was Right. I fisk his article for the Chronicle of Higher Education in which he summarizes his argument and tries to rehabilitate Marx for a modern progressive audience. I put Eagelton’s article in bold to distinguish from other quotes I add to this post.

For other excellent critiques, see Ron Radosh, Marx and the American Academy: When Will the High Priests ever Learn? and John Gray, The Return of an Illusion.

April 10, 2011
In Praise of Marx

By Terry Eagleton

Praising Karl Marx might seem as perverse as putting in a good word for the Boston Strangler. Were not Marx’s ideas responsible for despotism, mass murder, labor camps, economic catastrophe, and the loss of liberty for millions of men and women? Was not one of his devoted disciples a paranoid Georgian peasant by the name of Stalin, and another a brutal Chinese dictator who may well have had the blood of some 30 million of his people on his hands?

That’s much more likely 70 million. See Frank Dikötter, Mao’s Great Famine: The History of China’s Most Devastating Catastrophe, 1958-62 (2010) on the “great leap forward” alone which brought on over 45 million untimely deaths. One of the comments Dikötter highlights is the determination of Mao to downplay the number of deaths, something that, even as he pretends to admit the truth, Eagelton continues to do.

Thank you, Edward Saïd: Wikileaks, Linkage, and the Appalling State of Western Understanding of the Arab World

This is an essay I wrote back at the time of Wikileaks, and it got rejected from two different journals. I got distracted by my book, and forgot about it. I just got a nice email from a fan who asked me where I wrote the following:

The problem with middle eastern studies in the USA (a fortiori in Europe) is that it’s been colonized by Muslim and Arab scholars who have politicized the field and intimidated western scholars into ”respecting” Islam (which means giving it the honor that they feel it deserves). this hegemonic discourse makes it impossible to speak of honor-shame, the very hegemonic principle that has made Islamic studies such a retarded field.

If Western academics had done this with their own culture and religion, we’d have no academics. The appalling propaganda that passes for scholarship today — Finkelstein and abu el-Haj come immediately to mind — that would get tenured from faculty and administrators in thrall to a political correct discourse that is, to use the Marxist term, “objectively” a form of cowardice and dhimmitude, is what drives sound people to take extraordinary measures.

Today’s middle eastern studies more closely resembles the kind of atmosphere that dominated the late medieval university (inquisitorial) than a free and meritocratic culture commited to honesty. the only difference is that in pursuing this oppressive and ultimately dishonest form of “academic discourse” the people who admire “scholars” like F and e-H, actually betray the very culture they pretend to uphold.”)

It was in response to an article about tenure in Middle Eastern Studies in Inside Higher Ed. He also asked me if I’ve developed those thoughts, and I wrote back that in addition to my essay on Edward Said, there’s the following essay, which I post here.

Wikileaks, the Middle East and Edward’s Said’s Legacy

One of the most interesting revelations in the cache of recently released Wikileaks  documents concerned Obama’s Middle East policy. Remarks from several and varied Arab countries confirmed in a rather dramatic way, what some experts had claimed earlier: that the Arabs wanted the US to “cut off the head of the snake,” and that for these Arab leaders the head was Iran.

On one level, this wasn’t groundbreaking news; anyone paying attention knew that Sunni Arab leaders were terrified of the power of Shiite Iran.  But somehow this awareness had failed to penetrate Obama’s policy circle, which had consistently argued that in order to gain the support of the Arab world to move against Iran, the US had to “solve” the Palestinian problem. Obama explained this policy of linkage to Netanyahu in their April meeting of 2009: by swiftly reaching a “two-state solution” that gives the Palestinians a viable state, Obama could win the favor of the Arab world and the global community, enabling him to tackle problems like Iran.

Linkage had widespread approval not only in academic and policy circles, and among global “elders” like Jimmy Carter, but also among newspundits like Tom Friedman, who considers it “very logical.” A cynic might call this the narcissistic messianic approach: let’s make everyone love us, have peace prizes all around in Denmark, and then calmly and collectively tell the Iranians: “Oh, behave!”

Of course others have argued against this Rube Goldberg machine (Kramer, Shavit, Ceren, Rubin, Phillips, Weinthal). What strategy would hold urgent diplomacy (Iranian nuclear ambitions) hostage to solving a problem that has resisted the most energetic diplomatic efforts for generations? And just what kind of solution to the Palestinian problem could Obama come up with that would a) leave even a diminished Israel in peace and security and b) so enthuse the Arab world that they’d now rally around America’s banner? It’s one thing to think you can squeeze some kind of grudging truce out of that adamantine conflict; it’s quite another to think you can, in a couple of years, produce a peace that will inspire the Arab world to renounce its resentment of American hegemony.

And (predictably) as soon as Obama implemented linkage, it backfired; indeed the Palestinians saw linkage as a reason to become intransigent: no direct talks without total settlement freeze. Asked why they insisted on this, if the Palestinians had earlier negotiated peace agreements while settlement construction went on throughout the West Bank, Nabil Shaath didn’t claim they said yes (as the MSNM would have us believe), but rather responded, “We have to say ‘no’ sometime” (5:15).

And why just now? Because, as Shaath went on to explain, with linkage the Palestinians saw themselves in a position of strength and Israel in a position of alienating Obama:

Isn’t President Obama impatient with what the Israelis have done? …Wasn’t Mr. [sic] Obama’s strategy that, [by] starting with the Palestinian-Israeli peace, [he] will really get America a better image in our area, will help America achieve what it really wants to do, disentangling itself from Iraq, resolving problems in Pakistan and in Iran and in Lebanon? Isn’t that what he said? Doesn’t that make him impatient of what Mr. Netanyahu has done to him? (6:57-7:30).

Did Obama and his advisors really think that everyone in the Middle East was just waiting for the right gesture, the positive-sum magic that will make everyone happy? Have they contemplated the opposite possibility: that Arab leaders do not want an end to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and that our linkage may play right into their version of linkage: Blame Israel for the misery they themselves inflict. Our linkage – Israeli concessions before and in place of Palestinian concessions – enables and empowers Arab scape-goating; it aggravates the belligerent forces in the region.

Some accordingly argued that Obama should reverse the sequence: If he really wants peace (rather than a quick take-down of Israel) then taking care of the critical problem – Iran – will make it easier for Israel to make the highly risky concessions Obama wants from them. Put the pressure on the most radical and, by the standards of a community committed to peace, the least “rational” actor on the scene, undermine the culture of apocalyptic violence they encourage among their proxies in the region (Hamas, Hizbullah), so that Palestinian moderates, who want to put an end to their own people’s suffering can rally support for the difficult concessions necessary for peace.

So when the Wikileaks documents revealed no hint among the Arab leaders of a Palestinian state as a prerequisite for dealing with Iran, many noted how they undermined the rationale behind Obama’s insistence on a linkage that went, via Israeli concessions, to Arab and world cooperation against Iran. On the contrary, these cables give the impression that Obama had a strong hand to play against Arab intransigence: “if you want me to attack Iran, then these are the things I want from you.”

One might imagine that Obama had his strong hand in mind when, a day before his speech in Egypt, he visited King Abdullah in Saudi Arabia, asking for a gesture towards Israel in response to their concession on settlements. Such a Saudi concession might have a powerful impact on the mood in the Arab and Muslim world; it certainly would have added dramatic luster to his Cairo speech. And yet, when King Abdullah went into a tirade at the mere suggestion, Obama played none of his strong cards. Instead he went to Cairo empty-handed and disgruntled. Tough cop is not a role Obama seems comfortable playing.

Those who follow the honor-shame dynamics here understand that the weaker the Israelis look to the Arabs, the more intransigent they become. One need not be an insider with access to high-level intelligence to understand the basic pattern that the last two decades of peace diplomacy have revealed: Israeli concessions elicit no hint of reciprocity towards a positive-sum solution. On the contrary…

And yet none of this had even a slightly sobering effect on the giddy optimism of the administration. Only two months after Abdulla’s tantrum, in August of 2009, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced a peace settlement within a year, and in January 2010, after four further fruitless months, Presidential envoy George Mitchell prognosticated “within two years.” Either these folks were pulling some clever feint (the predominant belief in the Arab world), or they are genuinely clueless (the most generous reading).

Others, more knowledgeable about the political players can try to figure out why neither Obama nor Clinton (who’s husband got burned by this Peace debacle in a most spectacular fashion in 2000) permitted any of these developments – the Arab urgency about Iran, the king’s temper tantrum about Israel, the backfiring of Israeli concessions – to disturb the main lines of their version of linkage.

Having just reread with students Edward Said’s Orientalism and some of his critics, I was struck by the role that his epigones have played in formulating this counter-intuitive strategy. In The Ivory Tower, Martin Kramer writes about the strong impact the book had on a generation of Western students, eager to dissociate themselves from any participation in American imperialistic hegemony, to empathize with, rather than “other” Arabs.

After all, had not Said, even as he illustrated the point, insisted that to “other” necessarily involves invidious comparison, “either in self congratulation (when one discusses one’s own) or hostility and aggression (when one discusses the “other”)…” Saïd appealed to our “common humanity” to do away with this us-them mentality to shift our attention from “cultural, religious and racial differences” towards “socio-economic categories [and] politico-historical ones (p. 325):

At all costs the, the goal of Orientalizing the Orient [what post-colonialists more generally call “othering” someone, RL] again and again is to be avoided, with consequences that cannot help but refine knowledge and reduce the scholar’s conceit. Without “the Orient” there would be scholars, critics, intellectuals, human beings, for whom the racial, ethnic, and national distinctions were less important than the common enterprise of promoting human community (328).

Never mind that most Oriental scholars had a passion for their subjects and extended far more empathic effort in understanding the objects of their study than did Saïd did in critiquing the Orientalists themselves. And never mind that Arabs tend to “other” on a scale the beggars Saïd’s complaints about Western tendencies.  On the contrary, Saïd, demonstrating his asabiyya, his loyalty and solidarity with the Arab cause, had no problem “othering” those he accused of the sin:

It is therefore correct [sic] that every European, in what he could say about the Orient, was consequently a racist, an imperialist, and almost totally ethnocentric (p.68).

But these flaws had no discernable effect on the enthusiasm with which the field of Middle Eastern studies embraced his critique of its forebears, and remade itself along post-colonial lines. A pervasively flawed book became canonical for a generation, inspiring a paradigm shift that shaped Middle Eastern Studies in the USA.  As a result, the field virtually became committed to not seeing what was before them. They could thus see vibrant civil societies everywhere (Syria!), even in Islamist NGOs (Hamas!), that promised democracy soon. After all, if they were humans like us, why not?

It greatly assisted all these scholars who hailed the thriving proto-democratic, civil-society movements in the Middle East, men and women who could proudly claim they were not Orientalists, that they, like their mentor Saïd, detected few traces of the imperialism that so marks the first thirteen centuries of Islam. It made sense that those who could ignore or downplay the patriarchal ferocity so dominant in the Middle East, could also turn a blind eye the enduring culture of Muslim imperialism, and the strong odor of frustrated ressentiment in the Arab discontent with modernity. For the Saïd’s post-colonial epigones, the Arabs were the innocent subaltern victims of our imperialism; not exasperated failures at implementing their own. History may have gone wrong, but post-Orientalist scholars made a profession of believing that the wrong turn was when Western imperialism prevented Arab societies from being (naturally) free, not that the Arabs had failed to maintain and expand their empire.

This approach, divorced from reality even as it spoke of the “variegated” and “layered” phenomena it tried to represent, ended up anticipating developments and concocting strategies so fantastic, that just contemplating their spread and acceptance in policy circles gives insight into the dynamics of how a certain legendary emperor could parade before his people naked. As “I will make a lot of peace in the Middle East,” the spoof animation inspired by Wikileaks– has the US spokesman say in defense of linkage, “We have consulted with many foreign policy experts, they have many Ph.D.s about the Middle East.” Along with the spectacle of Europeans acclaiming Noam Chomsky as the great American intellectual, few things better illustrate the failings of this generation of Western intelligentsia than Orientalism’s profound impact on Middle Eastern studies and beyond.

Amongst the many noxious effects of Orientalism on our scholars’ ability to understand the Arab world, was the ban it put on discussing “honor-shame” culture, so strong an elective affinity in Arab culture that even Islam’s disapproval has failed to prune back the “honor-killings” of daughters and sisters by their family. Said’s moral scorn for the patent racism involved in this cultural approach made “honor-shame” itself a shameful discourse to hold in academic circles. As Jerrold Green noted “the mere recognition that cultural factors matter labels specialists as anti-scientific heretics by their more dogmatic colleagues.” According to a reliable source, this singularly successful political correctness has even invaded intelligence services, where one had to refrain from suggesting honor-shame motivations in analyzing the data!

The greatest irony of this accomplishment comes from the fact that Saïd himself illustrates the honor-shame dynamic. The second half of his career embodies the very “oriental” traits that he forbade us to discuss. On a very basic level, Orientalism represents an aggressive effort to “save face”: Westerners have no right to look critically at the Arab world. Noted Kramer:

Instead [of serious analysis], Said skimmed across its [Oriental scholarship’s] surface in search of the most offensive quotes, presented as the core or essence of orientalism, whose gravitational field no Westerner could hope to escape.

And the offenses were precisely those that were most wounding to Arab pride.  On some level, Orientalism is a cri de coeur of someone whose amour propre has been wounded by the opinion outsiders have of his people. And the generation of scholars who adopted that book as the Bible (as one of my students described another professor’s attitude), considered their most important task not to upset those for whom honor and shame meant everything.

And yet, if we don’t understand that some cultures (not only Arabic or Islamic ones) accept, expect, even require that one shed someone’s blood for the sake of one’s honor, then we don’t understand how people in those cultures “reason.” Our initial (and abiding) response, coming from a culture that has fought a long hard battle with the tendency towards violent retaliation for insult, views this behavior as irrational, as self-destructive – “their own worst enemies.” But to think along these lines turns us into “the apogee of Orientalist confidence,” guilty of the “racism” Saïd so despised.

For Westerners aspiring to study the Arab world without becoming colonial collaborators, that meant an anti-Orientalism every bit as distorting as the Orientalism Saïd condemned among the scholars. The new, non-“othering” dogma insisted that Arabs can and would behave rationally (i.e., positive-sum), in roughly the same way the Europeans did in creating the European Union.

So why not “land for peace”? It makes sense. This conflict, the “very logical” argument goes, like all others, is about “rational” grievances. Presumably it will respond to the appeal of positive-sum solutions that call for mutual self-sacrifice in order to achieve mutual gain, and bury the hatchet. Israel gives land and the Arabs give recognition and an end to the state of war produces “peace.” Win-win.

In a Saidian conversation, one cannot, without heavy moral opprobrium, suggest that it’s not about boundaries but existence, not about rational grievances, but much more about honor and shame, about the humiliation of a tiny Israel fighting off the combined might of the Arab empire, about the blasphemy of a dhimmi people, throwing off their yoke and daring to be “a free people in our own land,” in the heart of Dar al Islam. I mean, how can you solve a problem like that?

It’s a lot easier to believe that poverty causes terror (rather than vice-versa): at least we know how to generate wealth… and we dare not think about the way some cultures generate poverty. And we certainly dare not ask the obvious question: If they will kill their daughters for shaming them in their communities, and they burn dozens of homes of dhimmi Copts when one of them dates a Muslim woman, imagine what they want to do to Israel for blackening their face and shaming their religion before the eyes of the world community and of history?

Thus we end up with a foreign policy based on fantasy, mired in denial, a community of experts that refuses to process feedback that contradicts cherished truths, people who cling to PC “grand” narratives with the ferocity of true believers. Of course, they might say off the public record, everyone knows about touchy Arab honor, especially when it comes to Israel! Arabs themselves admit that Israel is a psychological problem “in the genes of every Arab.” The very notion that the Arab-Israeli conflict is the most fundamental issue in the Middle East, constitutes a acknowledgment of that massive Arab “hang-up” on an area that is a mere .002 of their own, deeply troubled portion of the globe.

Our experts and academics understand this, and even have policy solutions: do everything to avoid situations where it becomes a problem. That, of course, means leaving Israel out of as many situations as possible. In other words, whenever honor-shame dynamics rear their ugly head, back down. Like Yale University Press or the New York Met, don’t confront, don’t provoke violence.

Similarly, we never confront them on their double speak: When the positive-sum, peace oriented liberal cognitive egocentrists hear Palestinians complain about the occupation, they think “Green line,” while the zero-sum, honor-comes-from-revenge oriented Palestinian spokesmen think “shoreline.” (NB: I’m not essentializing, not talking about “the Arabs,” but specifically about those who are in thrall to an irredentist mind-set that we have difficulty imagining.) If we knew this, and worked around it without confronting it, that might make sense; but to ignore it, to make plans based on our projected understanding, to pressure Israel into concessions based on these fantasies, is either criminal negligence or malice.

Not surprisingly, with such anti-Orientalist flaws at the base of their thinking, the Obama administration’s Middle East foreign policy team got everything wrong. They expected long-term rationality in solving the Arab Israeli conflict (a quick positive-sum solution), and short-term irrationality (we won’t do anything about Iranian nuclear weapons until something is done about Israel). Instead we encountered the opposite: short-term rationality on Iran, long-term irrationality on Israel. Indeed, the take-home message of Arab behavior is that the Arab-Israeli lies at the heart of their most self-defeating behavior: it is the hardest and last thing we’ll resolve, not the first. And the idea that, if only Israel were gone, the self-destructive belligerence of Arab political culture would disappear is as loopy a messianic hope as being carried off by aliens on December 21, 2012 by hanging out in Bugarach, France.

Maybe the cultural relativists are right: Who says Westerners behave rationally?

Women, Journalism, and Violence in the Middle East

The Grey Lady reports on the Egyptian demonstrators’ assault on Laura Logan in Tahrir Square last month and the issue of both violence against women and against journalists in the Middle East (except, of course, Israel, which despite being better by far on these issues, is somehow viewed as worse). Logan shows great courage in discussing these matters, even if she reveals an amazing naivete. (HT: NBH)

CBS Reporter Recounts a ‘Merciless’ Assault

Chester Higgins Jr./The New York Times

Lara Logan, a CBS News reporter, was sexually assaulted while working in Cairo on Feb. 11.

By 
Published: April 28, 2011
Her experience in Cairo underscored the fact that female journalists often face a different kind of violence. While other forms of physical violence affecting journalists are widely covered — the traumatic brain injurysuffered by the ABC News anchor Bob Woodruff in Iraq in 2006 was a front-page story at that time — sexual threats against women are rarely talked about within journalistic circles or in the news media.

There are huge areas of violence and intimidation against journalists that are not reported. We didn’t hear for months that NYT reporter David Rhode had been kidnapped in Afghanistan; and we don’t have any idea how often reporters are abducted in places like Iraq, Pakistan, the Palestinian Territories, etc., for a few hours and then released, thoroughly intimidated (including about speaking about what happened) into the mainstream pool to then report back to us about “what’s going on.”