Category Archives: Cognitive Egocentrism

Desperation or Aspiration: Response to someone from a Facebook Discussion

As so many others, I have been involved in a facebook conversation with people highly critical of Israel’s behavior. In particular, I’ve exchanged a number of comments with someone. Given the problems of responding on facebook (hit the return and it’s over), I’ve decided to answer to a long and thoughtful comment he made here at my blog. I welcome his responses.

I totally agree. Hamas is trying to gain western sympathy through higher body counts. 

If only Israel seemed in any way interested in lifting the blockade that puts Hamas in such a position where they feel they need our sympathy.

You are aware that every time Israel lets in anything that can be turned against her, Hamas will do that, yes? The international community and the NGOs and the UNRWA assured Israel that the tons of cement they allowed in would be used for building structures for the sake of Gazans, and they were instead put in tunnels to Israel whose only function was to kill Israelis by the thousands.

Derfner’s Brand of Kool-Aid: You Gonna Believe me or your Lying Eyes?

Really didn’t want to do this. Have responded thrice in the Spring of 2008 to Dernfer’s rattling his cage about Al Durah – here, here, and here – and I probably should leave him to rattle in peace. But there’s something about his tone which I think is particularly revealing, and that readers should be aware of when they hear it. It’s the sound of a lethal journalist being denied his foundational myth.

And the irony is that, at the end of the article, he concedes major terrain in the argument, even as he maintains his tone of contempt… a little like the naked emperor who, realizing everyone knows he’s naked, continues his charade showing even more disdain for the crowd.

In the following article there is not one substantive argument, only one case where Derfner grapples (unsuccessfully) with the empirical evidence (which I’m beginning to think he hasn’t watched – or watched peremptorily). It’s all about name-calling (when it happens to them, people like Derfner like to use the word “smear,” as in the critics are “Desperately smearing Goldstone“), and circuitous arguments all drawn directly from Charles Enderlin. In some senses, the best parallel to Derfner’s prose is the Vultures, except that Derfner does it in public.

Warning in advance. This is long. I will extract the key issues for an article next week, but each of the elements of Derfner’s article deserve analysis, if only because so many people, especially journalists, share his attitude.

On the al-Dura affair: Israel officially drank the Kool Aid

A look at the right-wing conspiracy-nut thinking that informed this week’s blue-ribbon report on the infamous 2000 killing of a Palestinian boy in Gaza. 

In the 13 years since Muhammad al-Dura was killed in an Israeli-Palestinian shootout in Gaza while cowering behind his father, masses of right-wing Jews have eagerly embraced a conspiracy theory of the 12-year-oid boy’s killing – that it was staged, a hoax perpetrated by Palestinians to blacken Israel’s name. This theory, promoted most avidly by Boston University Prof. Richard Landes and French media analyst Philippe Karsenty, depends on a view of Palestinians being superhumanly clever and fiendish, and a view of reality that comes from the movies.

As I noted at your site: The difference between you and me is you think the journos are too sharp to be fooled by anything unless it’s a major conspiracy, whereas I, looking at the evidence, sadly come to the conclusion that the Palestinians can put out the shoddiest crap (Talal’s pathetic 60 seconds) and our journos (led by the lethal journalists who pass on anything the Palestinians cook up) will gobble it up. Given your long career as one who regularly feeds these Palestinian lethal narratives to your readers as news, it’s probably no surprise that you need to believe in the necessity of conspiracies that can’t exist, in order to keep on trucking.

The mentality here is essentially the same one that drives the 9/11 “truthers,” the anti-Obama “birthers,” those who say the Shin Bet assassinated Rabin, or those who say ultra-rightists assassinated JFK – a fevered imagination activated by political antagonism that knows no bounds. In the right-wing conspiracy theories of the al-Dura shooting, the boundless antagonism goes out to the Palestinians and their supporters.

Aside from comparing the Al Durah scam, where at most a couple of dozen people were necessary to pull it off, with schemes that took massive levels of participants (9-11, Kennedy Assassination), there’s a fascinating reversal embedded in this comment: the boundless antagonism in this conflict comes from the Palestinians, it not only drove the creation of the Al Durah story, but its systematic deployment as an icon of hatred in order to inject a death cult into Palestinian culture. Of course people like me are hostile to this kind of appalling behavior and hostile to people, like you, who, instead of condemning it roundly, constantly run interference for, and encourage it. As often in conspiracy theories, the person accusing the other of secretly evil intentions projects his own behavior and attitudes.

This week, the State of Israel officially joined the movement. Its report on the al-Dura affair adopts the conspiracy theory in full. (To be precise, it adopts the relatively “restrained” conspiracy theory – that the al-Duras were never shot. The other, wholly unrestrained conspiracy theory in circulation holds that the Palestinians killed the boy deliberately to create a martyr.)

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. 

An ABI Response to President Obama’s Liberal Cognitive Egocentrism

I wrote years ago about Condoleeza Rice’s liberal cognitive egocentrism vis-à-vis the Palestinians, and I had planned to fisk the President’s speech to the Israeli students/people during his last visit and Fareed Zakaria’s typically adoring account of that misreading, in precisely these terms. Lacking the time, American-born Israeli Shoshanna Jaskoll’s excellent response will have to do.

Here’s the President telling us we need to take a positive-sum attitude towards the Palestinians, when it’s the miserably zero-sum Palestinian attitude he should be addressing. But then, that’s so far from finding a receptive audience that, apparently, it struck him as more “meaningful” to lecture Jewish Israelis on an attitude they already have deeply embedded in their culture and, alas, from which they have suffered much during the “Oslo Process”, than to begin a conversation with Palestinians about something so far from their cultural priorities that it would be like speaking a foreign language to them.

Mr. President, next time stick to the script.

MARCH 22, 2013, 1:10 PM
Shoshanna Jaskoll
Shoshanna Keats Jaskoll is an American Israeli, mom, dreamer, nonprofit consultant, lover of chocolate and seeker of truth… [More]

In his address to Israelis yesterday, President Obama spoke of Israel’s achievements, its history and its right to security. All the things an expat wants to hear from the President of her native land about her chosen one.

So, when Obama said that he was going ‘off script’ I expected some spontaneous and sincere observation or thought he’d had while traveling the country that he just had to share. But what I heard left me literally slackjawed and yelling at the computer in front of my children.

The President spoke of meeting young Palestinians and said, “I honestly believe that if any Israeli parent sat down with these kids, they’d say, ‘I want these kids to succeed, I want them to prosper, I want them to have opportunities just like my kids do.”

Mr. President, Are you kidding me? ARE YOU KIDDING ME? That is your message to and about millions of Israelis who live this daily?  You came here to give us the epiphany that we should “put ourselves in their shoes” and tell us that you truly believe that if only we could listen to them, we would want Palestinian kids to prosper and have the same opportunities as ours?  Aside from wondering exactly which opportunities you are referring to – surely not air raid sirens, rockets and PTSD, army at 18, fear of being blown up by a terrorist – the implication that we do not already think of their children is horrifically offensive because frankly, nothing could be further from the truth.

As parents of children who are all drafted at age 18, no one wants peace and prosperity for all children of the region more than Israelis. No one wants all kids to have the advantages, options, and fun of youth without thinking of war more than us. The idea that it is our lack of identifying with these kids, our not feeling that they should have the same opportunities as our children, our not wanting them to prosper, that is holding up peace is not only ridiculous, but it is practically libelous.

It is also dangerous. It is dangerous because it places the blame and responsibility for lack of peace on our supposed lack of empathy. It is dangerous because it does not put the blame on those whose job it is  to secure these kids’ future.  It is dangerous because it is overly simplistic and pie in the sky – and that does not bring peace.

You, yourself spoke of all that Israel has done to secure peace, from actual deals with Sadat and Hussein to deals offered to – and rejected by – the Palestinians.

The answer to peace does not lie in Israeli parents wanting good things for Palestinian children. It lies with Palestinian leaders wanting them.

As Golda Meir put it so pithily, so many years ago:

When the Palestinians love their children more than they hate ours, we’ll have peace.

Still so true. And what have you – liberals, progressives, and all the people who pretend to love positive-sum outcomes done to bring the Palestinians around from their revolting priorities? Not Fareed Zakaria, whose comment on the President’s speech takes the offensive quality to new heights:

Oratory aside, Obama has recognized and employed the strongest — and perhaps only — path toward peace and a Palestinian state: an appeal to Israel’s conscience.

And Palestinian conscience? That’s not even a player in this process? Racism anyone?

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.

 

The Disturbing Arab Decade: Fisking Tom Friedman’s Retraction

The Arab Quarter Century

By 
Published: April 9, 2013 210 Comments

I guess it’s official now: The term “Arab Spring” has to be retired.

Now? About two years late.

There is nothing springlike going on. The broader, but still vaguely hopeful, “Arab Awakening” also no longer seems valid, given all that has been awakened.

The operative word here is “Arab” awakening. The riots of 1936-39, in which “awakening” Arabs killed almost as many of their own people as their formal enemies, the British and the Jews, was also billed as an Arab Awakening.

And so the strategist Anthony Cordesman is probably right when he argues: It’s best we now speak of the “Arab Decade” or the “Arab Quarter Century” — a long period of intrastate and intraregional instability, in which a struggle for both the future of Islam and the future of the individual Arab nations blend together into a “clash within a civilization.”

When the Arab Spring first emerged, the easy analogy was the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Easy for a liberal cognitive egocentrist. The other “easy” analogy was the revolutions of 1848 (which were short-term failures and long-term successes).

It appears that the right analogy is a different central European event — the Thirty Years’ War in the 17th century — an awful of mix of religious and political conflict, which eventually produced a new state order.

The first part is good. Warfare in pre-modern Europe. The end of it, the Westphalian State System, inaugurates the modern world of national sovereignties and the beginning of secular politics. The Thirty Years War was the last overtly “religious” conflict in European history. But again, Friedman may be jumping the gun and imagining the secular outcome because he takes that “rational” secular shift as an obvious, even inevitable direction (his own Weberian sociology). It could be the Hundred Years War, which went on between England and France for more than a century.

Some will say: “I told you so. You never should have hoped for this Arab Spring.”

That would be me and many others.

Nonsense. The corrupt autocracies that gave us the previous 50 years of “stability” were just slow-motion disasters.

And the 500 years before that? The idea that the last fifty years are somehow special in the life of Arab political culture is a product of the modern Western developments. What we find intolerable is actually the norm for most pre-modern cultures.

Read the U.N.’s 2002 Arab Human Development Report about what deficits of freedom, women’s empowerment and knowledge did to Arab peoples over the last 50 years. Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Yemen and Syria are not falling apart today because their leaders were toppled. Their leaders were toppled because for too many years they failed too many of their people. Half the women in Egypt still can’t read. That’s what the stability of the last 50 years bought.

This is amazing stuff. As if in 1950 or 1960 women’s literacy were the higher and the “failure” of the leadership somehow pushed them backwards. If there’s anything here that fits within the pattern of Western history, it’s that the Arab world, after kicking out their Jews were like the 16th century Spaniards – all that money pouring through their system like a flash flood in a desert.

Also, “we” did not unleash the Arab Spring, and “we” could not have stopped it. These uprisings began with fearless, authentic quests for dignity by Arab youths, seeking the tools and freedom to realize their full potential in a world where they could see how everyone else was living.

But no sooner did they blow the lids off their societies, seeking governments grounded in real citizenship, than they found themselves competing with other aspirations set loose — aspirations to be more Islamist, more sectarian or to restore the status quo ante.

And you really had no idea of the strength of these “other” aspirations?

Still, two things surprise me. The first is how incompetent the Muslim Brotherhood has been. In Egypt, the Brotherhood has presided over an economic death spiral and a judiciary caught up in idiocies like investigating the comedian Bassem Youssef, Egypt’s Jon Stewart, for allegedly insulting President Mohamed Morsi. (See Stewart’s perfect takedown of Morsi.)

My take on the role of honor-shame in this incident here.

Every time the Brotherhood had a choice of acting in an inclusive way or seizing more power, it seized more power, depriving it now of the broad base needed to make necessary but painful economic reforms.

This is normal pre-modern political behavior: rule or be ruled. What’s surprising that the Muslim Brotherhood, a fascist organization from its inception, would choose this political path. Did you believe the line about their “moderation”? Why do you think modern, Western, positive-sum behavior is some kind of default norm?

The second surprise? How weak the democratic opposition has been. The tragedy of the Arab center-left is a complicated story, notes Marc Lynch, a Middle East expert at George Washington University and the author of “The Arab Uprising: The Unfinished Revolutions of the New Middle East.” Many of the more secular, more pro-Western Egyptian political elites who could lead new center-left parties, he said, had been “co-opted by the old regime” for its own semiofficial parties and therefore “were widely discredited in the eyes of the public.” That left youngsters who had never organized a party, or a grab bag of expatriates, former regime officials, Nasserites and liberal Islamists, whose only shared idea was that the old regime must go.

It could also be because what we consider “secular, pro-Western, liberals” young and old, are only honor-shame facsimiles, who look like and mimic well our Western style, but they’re still prisoners of the world they inhabit, without the “purchase” in individuality to take the road less taken – giving up, for example, the inveterate anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism of their culture.

Since taking power in Egypt, “the Brotherhood has presided over economic failure and political collapse,” said Lynch.

Try reading David Goldman’s analyses to understand that the economic failure was there from the outset. The most sophisticated economic managers would have had an uphill battle.

“They have lost the center, they are feuding with the Salafists, and they are now down to their core 25 percent of support. There is no way they should win a fair election, which is why the opposition should be running in — not boycotting — the next parliamentary elections.” The old line that you have to wait on elections until a moderate civil society can be built is a proven failure. “You can’t teach someone to be a great basketball player by showing them videos,” he said. “They have to play — and the opposition will not become effective until they compete and lose and win again.”

Building democracy by starting with elections is like building a house starting with the roof.

The old sources of stability that held this region together are gone. No iron-fisted outside powers want to occupy these countries anymore, because all you win today is a bill. No iron-fisted dictators can control these countries anymore, because their people have lost their fear.

Nonsense. They lost their fear momentarily. These are societies built on fear.

The first elected governments — led by the Muslim Brotherhood — have the wrong ideas. More Islam is not the answer. More of the Arab Human Development Report is the answer. But the democratic opposition youths don’t yet have leaders to galvanize their people around that vision.

This is more of the “I prefer politics because it moves faster” kind of thinking that I discussed at the time of Romney’s comments on culture. Politics over culture because politics is faster. Start with the roof because… it’s easier?

Given all this, America’s least bad option is to use its economic clout to insist on democratic constitutional rules, regular elections and political openness, and to do all it can to encourage moderate opposition leaders to run for office.

Yeah. Build your democratic towers on sand.

We should support anyone who wants to implement the Arab Human Development Report and oppose anyone who doesn’t. That is the only way these societies can give birth to their only hope: a new generation of decent leaders who can ensure that this “Arab Quarter Century” ends better than it began.

That’s your only hope, not theirs.

Stewart, Youssef, Mursi: A Study in Honor-Shame dynamics

[For those who come here from a link at Fallows' Atlantic Monthly blog, please click here to get to my response to him.]

There’s been a serious brouhahahaha about John Stewart’s takedown of Egypt’s “moderate” Muslim Brotherhood President Mursi’s for imprisoning Egyptian fellow political satirist, Bassem Youssef for making fun of the president. The take down is pretty devastating – from a Western point of view, and even received an endorsing tweet from the US Embassy in Cairo (oops).  The Tablet has a nice summary of some of the issues (HT: Elsie).

I’d like to discuss two honor-shame aspects to this affair, one obvious, the other less so, but both, I think, closely linked.

The first, obvious one, is the reaction of an honor-shame driven leader to having the mickey taken out of him publicly. Associating his own face with both his office and his religion, Mursi took the mockery as a direct assault on the legitimacy of the state. (Psychologists call this ego inflation.) This is classic behavior and explains, among other things, why fascists, who strive to regain the virility that modern values (like free speech) deny them, use the power of the state to suppress dissent.

Note the difference between Bush (Stewart’s target) and Mursi. Although even otherwise highly intelligent people could not stop accusing Bush of (incipient) fascism, somehow we can’t use the appropriate term “Islamofascism” because… it might hurt Mursi’s feelings.

The second aspect concerns one of Stewart’s “gotcha” moments. At one point he shows an earnest Mursi assuring an eagerly attentive Wolf Blitzer that when he’s president, he’ll embrace the whole Egyptian family, and wouldn’t dream of suppressing criticism. Stewart’s implication and our “reading”: what a ludicrous hypocrite.

Here I’d like to introduce an alternative reading. Mursi would not recognize himself as a hypocrite here. When he spoke with Blitzer he was perfectly sincere, and doing what he should do – please the audience by telling them what they want to hear. He was, to coin a term, “polishing his face” in the eyes of the West. In the West we would call this “lying to save face.” Had he told the truth, he would have lost face with his Western audience. But, as my father (definitely of the intergity-guilt school) often put it, “sincerity is the cheapest of virtues.”

However, when confronted with the painful experience of having his personal vanities mocked – the hat! – a different audience and different set of concerns, that cheap virtue proved unbearably light in the face of public mockery. My bet is that if you showed Mursi the interview with Blitzer and asked about Youssef, he wouldn’t see the connection. That’s not what he meant when he made his assurances to CNN and his American audience.

This kind of emotionally-driven dissonance between two different performances is a ubiquitous element of much Arab-West contact. (All of this, of course, analysis forbidden to post-Orientalists.) When Sari Nusseibeh indignantly denounces suicide terror before a Western audience and then praises the mother of a martyr for her son’s sacrifice, he’s sincere both ways. When Islamists deny the Holocaust ever happened and then accuse Israel of being the new Nazis bringing a Holocaust on the Palestinians, they do not see the contradiction. Both statements blacken Israel’s face and strengthen theirs; both offer immense emotional satisfaction and (alas for civil society), a strong resonance with Western infidels who apparently also find such debasing formulas about Jews almost irresistibly attractive.

Such a lack of concern for what would strike Westerners as hypocrisy is not because Mursi doesn’t know about hypocrisy. On the contrary, he and his defenders will readily use the term to accuse foes, including, I’m sure by now, John Stewart and Wolf Blitzer (those Jews who control the Western media). Public hypocrites are quick to throw stones.

But in some cultures where “face” is paramount, the term has a different meaning. I’m told in China, the term is the equivalent of “politeness.” And while Mursi was being polite with Wolff – it was a smashing interview – he expected the same politeness from his public and from his “friends” at the US Embassy. So when they tweeted the take-down, they extended the rude humiliation. (And to think that the field of international diplomacy has a very limited discussion of issues of honor and shame.)

From the perspective of an honor-shame culture (i.e., one in which it is permissible, expected, even required, that a “man” can lie, and even shed blood for the sake of his honor), the hypocrisy is all on Blitzer and Stewart (two of those “Jews who control the media”): from his perspective Blitzer was polite when it suited him, then Stewart stabbed Mursi in the back with Blitzer’s tape. At some level, there is a recognition that this criticism is true. Otherwise it wouldn’t hurt.

But the hurt, the embarrassment, are more powerful than any impartial commitment to equal standards, to conscience.

Which leads me to my final reflection. Why are people who are so easily hurt, so bent of hurting, and why, oh why, do so many Westerners, especially among the elites, cheering them on?

The Mursi-Stewart Controversy: An “Honor-Shame” Guide

There’s been a serious brouhahahaha about John Stewart’s takedown of Egypt’s “moderate” Muslim Brotherhood President Mursi’s for imprisoning Egyptian fellow political satirist, Bassem Youssef for making fun of the president. The take down is pretty devastating – from a Western point of view, and even received an endorsing tweet from the US Embassy in Cairo (oops).  The Tablet has a nice summary of some of the issues (HT: Elsie).

I’d like to discuss two honor-shame aspects to this affair, one obvious, the other less so, but both, I think, closely linked.

The first, obvious one, is the reaction of an honor-shame driven leader to having the mickey taken out of him publicly. Associating his own face with both his office and his religion, Mursi took the mockery as a direct assault on the legitimacy of the state. (Psychologists call this ego inflation.) This is classic behavior and explains, among other things, why fascists, who strive to regain the virility that modern values (like free speech) deny them, use the power of the state to suppress dissent.

Note the difference between Bush (Stewart’s target) and Mursi. Although even otherwise highly intelligent people could not stop accusing Bush of (incipient) fascism, somehow we can’t use the appropriate term “Islamofascism” because… it might hurt Mursi’s feelings.

The second aspect concerns one of Stewart’s “gotcha” moments. At one point he shows an earnest Mursi assuring an eagerly attentive Wolf Blitzer that when he’s president, he’ll embrace the whole Egyptian family, and wouldn’t dream of suppressing criticism. Stewart’s implication and our “reading”: what a ludicrous hypocrite.

Here I’d like to introduce an alternative reading. Mursi would not recognize himself as a hypocrite here. When he spoke with Blitzer he was perfectly sincere, and doing what he should do – please the audience by telling them what they want to hear. He was, to coin a term, “polishing his face” in the eyes of the West. In the West we would call this “lying to save face.” Had he told the truth, he would have lost face with his Western audience. But, as my father (definitely of the intergity-guilt school) often put it, “sincerity is the cheapest of virtues.”

However, when confronted with the painful experience of having his personal vanities mocked – the hat! – a different audience and different set of concerns, that cheap virtue proved unbearably light in the face of public mockery. My bet is that if you showed Mursi the interview with Blitzer and asked about Youssef, he wouldn’t see the connection. That’s not what he meant when he made his assurances to CNN and his American audience.

This kind of emotionally-driven dissonance between two different performances is a ubiquitous element of much Arab-West contact. (All of this, of course, analysis forbidden to post-Orientalists.) When Sari Nusseibeh indignantly denounces suicide terror before a Western audience and then praises the mother of a martyr for her son’s sacrifice, he’s sincere both ways. Both positions enhance his stature or save face.

When Islamists deny the Holocaust ever happened and then accuse Israel of being the new Nazis bringing a Holocaust on the Palestinians, they see no contradiction. Both statements blacken Israel’s face and strengthen theirs; both offer immense emotional satisfaction and (alas for civil society), a strong resonance with Western infidels who apparently also find such debasing formulas about Jews almost irresistibly attractive.

Such a lack of concern for what would strike Westerners as  is this because Mursi doesn’t know about hypocrisy. On the contrary, he and his defenders will readily use the term to accuse foes, including, I’m sure by now, John Stewart and Wolf Blitzer (those Jews who control the Western media). Public hypocrites are quick to throw stones.

But in some cultures where “face” is paramount, the term has a different meaning. I’m told in China, the term is the equivalent of “politeness.” And while Mursi was being polite with Wolff – it was a smashing interview – he expected the same politeness from his public and from his “friends” at the US Embassy. So when they tweeted the take-down, they extended the rude humiliation. (And to think that the field of international diplomacy has a very limited discussion of issues of honor and shame.)

From the perspective of an honor-shame culture (i.e., one in which it is permissible, expected, even required, that a “man” can lie, and even shed blood for the sake of his honor, Mursi’s just done what anyone would do. We’re the ones with the high expectations, which is good, and the inability to understand those who don’t have them, which

Response to Norman Gellman on Empathy for the Palestinian People

A recent post of mine elicited from Norman I. Gellman the following response which, after a short remark on the post, became a coherent argument which, I think, deserves a serious response:

Like Daniel Gordis, Richard Landes makes entirely too much of an expression of sympathy for the people of Gaza.

I read Gordis’s critique of Rabbi Sharon Brous’s remarks. Where he saw moral equivalency and therefore the elevation of universalism as a greater value than solidarity with fellow Jews, I saw a recognition — which I believe is ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY — that there are “rights” on both sides. Raining missiles on Israel is not any kind of right. Ordinary Palestinians should, however, enjoy the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” (in our peculiarly American formulation).

So why should it apply to them? There is no country in the Arab world that comes anywhere near these rights. Indeed, many places in the world, most prominently in the Arab world, find the effort to assure these rights for everyone as a direct threat to their notion of their rights (which are those of dominators).

Both the people of Israel and the ordinary Palestinians of Gaza and the West Bank deserve to live and to seek to prosper under their own flag.

You’ve now used this term twice. What does “ordinary Palestinians” mean? The people who voted for Hamas? The people who regret that they (or their neighbors) voted for Hamas, but don’t have the courage to admit it to our (largely clueless) reporters? The people that sincerely tell reporters they like Hamas?

Is “ordinary Palestinians” your abstract category of folks on the “other side” on whom you feel comfortable projecting liberal mindsets, people who are “just like you and me?” Is this a version of “the vast majority of Palestinians want peace, it’s just the extremists who don’t?

Hamas is the enemy, not the people who become collateral damage when Israel retaliates.

If you have read any of my previous posts on these matters, you’ll know that I think that their damage is not collateral but intended and sought after by Hamas, a strategy that can only work if the West accepts their narrative in which Israel gets blamed. Your formulation, especially in the context of the Gazan’s “rights” focuses way too much on the Israelis. The impediment to their “deserv[ing] to live and seek[ing] to prosper under their own flag” is not Israel, which would like nothing better than to have a neighbor similarly in pursuit of such mutually beneficial prosperity. Hamas is as responsible for the inability of Palestinians to exercise/enjoy their rights as it is for the “collateral” damage caused to their own people.

There will never be peace between Israel and the Palestinians until each side tries to understand the narrative of the other.

Responding to Magid on Culture

In the ongoing debate on culture, Shaul Magid has a piece in the Times of Israel that directly criticizes my WSJ article. The commenters at the site did a fine job pointing out the lack of engagement with my discussion. I actually think this is not really Magid’s thinking so much as a twitch from the politically correct crowd that elicited the kinds of arguments/responses they’ve engaged in for years.

Here’s my fisk-response.

On Palestinian ‘culture’ and Ashkenazi-centrism

Shaul Magid, August 8, 2012

Mitt Romney initiated a robust debate with his comment that “culture” distinguished Israeli economic success and Palestinian economic stagnation. While Saeb Erekat’s labeling of Romney as a “racist” may be premature — I think Romney is generally more klutz than putz — it does demonstrate his insensitivity or perhaps tone deafness to what words can mean.

Premature? They’re ludicrous. There’s nothing in a cultural argument that’s racist. It’s the opposite of racist, just as nurture is the opposite of nature.

More disturbing, however, is how some Jews have risen to Romney’s defense, viewing this as an opening to further justify the extent to which the occupation is, as Yesha Council leader Dani Dayan put it, “not the problem.”

Anyone who listens to what the Palestinians say in Arabic knows that when they say “the occupation is the problem,” they mean the occupation by Zionists of any part of the land from the river to the sea. For them Tel Aviv is “occupied.” For anyone not committed to a political dogma that long ago left the realm of reality testing, the occupation is a symptom of a conflict that long predated 1967, not the cause.

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed on August 5, Richard Landes wrote a defense of Romney’s remarks. Most of the op-ed repeats common themes, e.g., the Arab world’s corrupt leadership, squandering petrodollars, etc.

Most of those were asides, taking up a tiny fraction of the argument.

No mention is made of the impact of colonialism on the Arab world and how colonialism cultivated precisely that kind of leadership.

Wow. As if, before Western colonialism, there was a different kind of leadership… maybe more “democratic.” When were there not imperialists and colonialists dominating this part of the world? The idea that Western imperialism, in its brief period of dominance here is even primarily, let alone solely responsible for the authoritarian nature of Arab political culture defies credulity… except, apparently, post-colonial credulity.

No mention is made of the way the US and the Soviets used their satellites to further their own self-interest in the Cold War, or the way the US propped up the Saudi monarch while refusing to support popular resistance.

And what indicates that that popular resistance would have led to a less authoritarian regime? Do you think that democratic (or demotic/egalitarian) is the default mode? Do you think that, before the Soviet Union and the US, or even the Ottomans, ever existed, Arab rulers were less dictatorial?

This is surely not to say the Arab world has not made and continues to make many mistakes that damage their own self-interest. But the omission of any contributing factors from the West is not up to par with Landes’s scholarly credentials.

Thank you for the back-handed compliment. Op-eds are not the place for scholarly thoroughness. But if I had to rate the contribution of Western influences (and especially American) to Middle East political culture, I’d say they’ve done more to promote democratic elements within a depressingly homogenous authoritarian, hierarchical and intolerant world. Even last month’s favorite “bad dictator,” Mubarak, promoted women’s rights and protected (somewhat) minorities. The new government looks like it will hardly be an improvement.

What really disturbs me about Landes’s essay is what is largely implied, both in it and perhaps in Romney. That is, there is something in Jewish culture lacking in Arab culture that enables one to succeed and the other to stagnate.

This gets to the core of the problem. On the one hand, it’s obviously not politically correct to say something like this, and from the point of therapeutic history (let’s not hurt the feelings of those who come out on the wrong side of this comparison), it seems to be counter-indicated (although I’m not so sure, see below). But it at least addresses an obvious disparity: Israel’s level of development and internalization of a modern ethos far outstrips those of the surrounding Arab nations. (For those who wish to claim “occupation”, just move north south or east and you’ll get non-occupied Arab states whose development trails behind Palestine.

The (invidious) disparity is there. The cultural dimensions cry out for investigation. What are you going to do, ignore them just so as not to hurt the feelings of the Arabs? Isn’t that incredibly condescending and just a bit prejudiced (racist?)?

It reminds me of the time my father had a debate with Kenneth Pomeranz at the Fairbanks center at Harvard. Pomeranz was all “therapeutic” history – China and West neck and neck until 1800, then path-dependent factors favored the West), my father was his politically incorrect self, pointing to the aspects of Chinese culture’s self-limiting traits. Afterwards, the white students went up to Pomeranz to get more material for their therapeutic narrative that would make Chinese feel better about themselves, while the Chinese students went to my father to hear more about what they needed to confront in their own culture to succeed.

Landes writes that Israel “rose to the top of the developed world in a century on culture alone.”

Yes, I do think there are elements in Jewish culture that go back to the origins (embedded in biblical narrative and law) that allow it to succeed, especially under the democratic, meritocratic, egalitarian principles of modern society. That’s true of Jews everywhere, whatever the variants within that designation.

What is this Jewish culture Landes’ refers to? By Jewish culture Landes means secular Zionist culture and by secular Zionist culture he must mean Ashkenazi culture. And by Ashkenazi culture he really means Western European Protestant culture.

Wow. As a friend noted, this reflects what Walter Cohen called a “commitment to arbitrary connectedness.” I neither meant, nor implied, anything of the sort. Obviously, Ashkenazim with a protestant ethic (eg my father: “some people work to live; others live to work”) represent the cutting edge of this modern phenomenon, but I’d never think of restricting it to those Jews.

The culture of the Mizrahi Jews before Zionism and the culture of the Ostjuden (Eastern European Jews) were largely commensurate with the culture of the countries in which they lived.

I find this statement bizarre in the extreme. Maybe they were commensurate in a Marxian sense (poor, rural, primitive agricultural techniques), but certainly not with the “cultures of the countries in which they lived.” Alcohol consumption and literacy alone offer huge contrasts. I think that if you ask any North African Jews if their culture was “largely commensurate with the indigenous culture,” they would ask if you had lost your senses.

And the minute those countries began to move from prime divider to civil society and grant Jews freedom and equal status, the Jews rapidly advanced in every aspect of the new culture. The Jewish community in Iraq in the 1930s had made enormous strides, as it did throughout the Arab world (which explains the hostility of many to the adoption of modern egalitarian rules – ie no more dhimmitude); the majority of the national orchestra was Jewish. Sephardic Jews filled the professions throughout the Arab world. As for Zionism and Communism, the Ostjuden probably contributed more than the Westjuden).

One can see how they were both treated by the westernized “cultured” Zionists when they immigrated to Mandatory Palestine and then Israel. Cases of Yemenite children being taken from their parents to be raised in cultured Zionist youth villages have been documented in scholarly studies. Discrimination against Mizrahi Jews is well-known and remains widespread in Israeli society.

What can you see? I don’t understand here. What does Ashkenazi prejudice against Sephardim have to do with the cultural argument. Actually let me turn this around: You, Shaul, are invoking a very modern (and post-modern) ethos about equality and not being prejudiced. Every culture, every ethnic group, is prejudiced against others. All the groups you designate as the objects of this disdain are players in the game, filled with prejudiced attitudes towards other groups and cultures. Isn’t that the ultimate source of supersessionism?

Modern Western society alone has seen that as a problem and tried to resist it. As a result modern societies are, on the whole, much less prejudiced and engage in considerably lower levels of the bullying of the weak, than pre-modern ones. Indeed, Bernard Lewis pointed to particularly this hostility to social and gender equality in modernity as the major source of Arab failure to develop economically and militarily. If anything Israel has made enormous strides in overcoming these kinds of prejudice; sure they exist, but in comparison with either the surrounding cultures, or even with Europe and the USA, I’d say Israel has an amazingly tolerant and capacious culture.

Indeed, it seems to me that your argument is the prejudiced one, assuming I only meant secular Ashkenazim when in fact, any Jew, whatever ethnicity, and whatever combination of secular and religious. In my essay on demotic religiosity, I lay out the argument for the preconditions to both democracy and economic development, and trace this back to the demotic religiosity of the Bible, as does Joshua Berman (Created Equal).

My son worked for Moshe’s Movers in Manhattan in the 2000s. He told me that the euphemism his Israeli co-workers used for blacks was “Sephardim.”

And this shows what? How many of his co-workers were Sephardim?

But let’s explore this further. Much of anti-Semitic literature in pre-emancipated Europe claimed that Jews were backward because of their religion/culture. The fact that many lived in ghettos with limited resources and opportunities for employment did not seem to be a factor (hint hint).

This illustrates the “political” argument: just change the rules/institutions, and people will respond. My point, is that Jews had been playing by the newly adopted modern rules – literacy, meritocracy, equality before the law, rebuke/self-criticism/dispute, respect for the less powerful – for millennia. They took to modern conditions like fish to water. For other cultures, it was not the same thing.

Theodor Herzl in his “Judenstaadt” and later the Israeli historian and sociologist Jacob Katz noted that Jews in the ghetto developed certain economic talents because of their limited opportunities (i.e., they could not become landed gentry, etc.) that enabled them to prosper exponentially when they were emancipated and the industrial revolution shifted the European economy away from its agrarian roots.

This is a classic argument, espoused my most Jews today, especially the modern, assimilated ones who insist that Jews are just the same as everyone else. I actually think that the Jews’ culture before the exile enabled them to adapt to diaspora conditions, which is why they could survive thousands of years without sovereignty. All the other national and ethnic cultures of antiquity who lost their sovereignty disappeared when faced with the “necessity” of diaspora, even the great and victorious cultues like Persia, Greece and Rome. Your view misses one of the great stories of human history.

Western European, largely secularized Jews in the nineteenth century looked at the Ostjuden  as “uncultured” and wed to superstitious religious practices that stifled their economic success. One can find even harsher language referring to these Ostjuden as lazy, slothful, and uncouth (look at the stereotype of Tevya the Milkman created by the “cultured” Shalom Aleichem who chose to live in Moscow and speak only Russian to his family).

The language of the Ostjuden, Yiddish, was considered uncultured, base, and ugly. The negative rhetoric against the Ostjuden was resisted by Martin Buber and other Jewish romantics in the early twentieth century but the view of the Ostjuden as “Orientals” (read: Arabs) remained.

And yet, those Yiddish-speaking and writing Ostjuden managed to create quite a modern culture of both literature and political movements. I think you’re confusing issues here.

When Adolph Harnack (1851-1930) published his “What is Christianity?” in 1900 he echoed the claim of earlier Protestants such as Julius Wellhausen that the reason Jews were so unsuccessful was that they remained devoted to a primitive religion/culture. In response, Leo Baeck, a student of the great neo-Kantian philosopher Hermann Cohen, wrote a response entitled “The Essence of Judaism” (1905) that argued, among other things, that it was Judaism and not Christianity that was the true “ethical monotheism,” that is, the true religion of Kant.

I think he was right, and that Harnack and Wellhausen were classic proponents of an honor-shame driven supersessionism based on an invidious identity formation: We’re right cause you’re wrong, we’re up cause you’re down, our religion is the true one because yours is false. If only they had obeyed the eleventh commandment: “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s scriptures!” This is not a ne0-Kantian issue, it goes back to the first and second century CE.

This ethical monotheism was not the traditional Judaism of the Ostjuden or Mizrahim but the progressive German Judaism known as Reform.

That reminds me of the joke about the Ashkenazi lamden in the afterlife who invokes the Rambam (Maimonides). His interlocutors bring the Rambam over to judge his argument. The Rambam listens and responds, “It’s interesting, but I never had anything like that in mind.” The Ashkenazi responds to the others listening, “What, you’re going to listen to Sephard tell you what the Rambam meant?”

Who’s the prejudiced one here?

I write all this simply to say that when Landes refers to Jewish/Zionist “culture” he really means Enlightenment Western European Protestant culture that Jews/ Zionists absorbed and then cultivated for their own nationalistic ends.

I try to explain the relationships in my chapter on the Enlightenment in Heaven on Earthwhere I argue that the Enlightenment is a systematic secularization of what I call demotic religiosity (first and most sanely articulated by the Jews), in a millennial form (not often sane), which the French revolution tried to implement.

His defense of Romney’s claim about Palestinian/Arab “culture” is a simple repetition of anti-Semitic tropes and Western European Jewish negative stereotypes of Ostjuden and Mizrahi Jews.

Unworthy.

His comment about Arab culture “emphasizing rote learning and unquestioning respect for those in authority” could be lifted from various Western Jewish denigrations of the Ostjuden or negative appraisals of Hasidim.

That approach will not help you understand why all the Arab universities in the world don’t come near the scholarly output of seven Israeli universities.

When he writes “Arab populations grew and prospered where Jews [I would say Zionists] settled, and remained stagnant and poor where they didn’t,” he echoes many comments made by Zionists about the Yemenite communities who settled in Israeli development towns.

In his “Jew/Arab: History of the Enemy” Gil Anidjar convincingly shows how Christian anti-Semitic stereotypes made Jews into Arabs. This was not only true of Christian anti-Semites but many Ashkenazi Jewish depictions of the Mizrahim. Lamentably, Richard Landes has continued this unfortunate Ashkenazi-centric tradition.

Good grief. I think the problem here is that for you, Shaul, any comparison between culture must be invidious, prejudiced and even racist (this is Saïd’s argument in Orientalism), and therefore the issue has nothing to do with substance (almost entirely lacking in this piece), and everything to do with my stereotyping the poor Arabs.

If there’s a case to be made that PC thinking makes us deny reality, this is exhibit A.

Fisking A.B. Yehoshua’s “Why the Israeli-Palestinian conflict refuses to be resolved”

A few months ago, the famous Israeli novelist A. B. Yehoshua wrote an essay on why the Arab-Israeli conflict is so hard to resolve. In preparation for an essay on this subject, I fisk his answer which at least goes beyond the superficial silliness of the typical liberal (Friedman, Kristof, Beinart), but which fails to get beyond a combination of deep issues tied up in a false parity that leaves the reader as mystified as ever.

Why the Israeli-Palestinian conflict refuses to be resolved

The author argues that peace remains elusive because the conflict is unprecedented in human history.

By A.B. Yehoshua | Apr.26, 2011 | 1:53 AM | 35

The question in the headline should ostensibly be directed to a Middle East expert, a political scientist, or even a foreign historian, not a writer whose expertise is his imagination. But because the question is a real one that is painful to everyone in the region regardless of his nationality, I will try to propose an answer. This question is serious and disturbing for two reasons. First, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one of the longest-running conflicts in the modern era. If we mark its beginning at the start of Zionist settlement in Palestine in the 1880s, the conflict has been active, in blood and fire, for about 130 years.

I think that’s an erroneous approach. It’s been an open conflict since 1936, although it was in formation for a long time before. But the response of the local Arab population to the Jews from the 1880s to the 1930s was too variegated, and often broadly favorable,that it’s inappropriate to date the kind of implacable hostility that characterizes the conflict since the “Great Arab Rebellion.”

Second, this is not a remote conflict in a godforsaken place, but one constantly at the center of international awareness. That means it is one of the most extensively dealt-with conflicts in the world. In the past 45 years alone, the conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis has been the subject of serious attempts at mediation by many countries and respectable [sic, should read “respected”] international organizations. Presidents of the United States have tried to mediate personally between the sides. Heads of government from all over the world devote their attention to it; high-level emissaries come to the region to try their hand at mediation and compromise. All this is on top of tireless initiatives by organizations and individuals on both sides in well-meaning symposia and meetings. Studies, books and innumerable position papers have been written and are being written all the time.

Here’s an interesting thought. Maybe all this “help” have made things worse? Maybe by using techniques intended to get people in civic polities to “get to yes,” without any real understanding of the sources of the conflict (still worse, with the noxious notions behind “Peace and Conflict Studies”), the solutions have backfired. Maybe in engaging in “therapeutic history” where the soi-disant “left” support Palestinian (lethal and delusional) narratives as a way of showing “support for the underdog,” the worst elements of Palestinian culture (scapegoating, hate-mongering, revenge fantasies, conspiracy theory) have been reinforced.

And although the sides have come to partial agreements in direct, secret and open talks, and although the formulas for a solution have seemed clear and acceptable, and even though these are two small nations that are ostensibly subject to international dictates, the conflict still contains an inner core that stubbornly refuses to surrender to peace.

First major mistake: to refer to the Palestinians as a “nation” reflects two erroneous notions: 1) that the people he calls Palestinians represent a distinct nation or have a “national consciousness”, and 2) that its leaders want to be one of two “nations”. The consequences of this conceptual “granting of nationhood” to the Palestinians will become clear later on.

It’s true that there have been many mistakes and missed opportunities on both sides throughout the years. And because this conflict is cyclical rather than linear – in other words, time does not necessarily bring us closer to a solution, but peace approaches and recedes at historical junctions in the past and future – there is reason to wonder what makes this conflict unique compared to other conflicts, what causes it to persevere so zealously. I do not presume to intimate that my answer is the exclusive one, but I will try to put it to the test. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict refuses to be resolved because it is a conflict unprecedented in human history. There is no precedent for a nation that lost its sovereignty 2,000 years ago, was scattered among the nations, and later decided for internal and external reasons to return to its ancient homeland and re-establish sovereignty there. Therefore, if everyone considers the modern return to Zion a unique event in human history, that means the Palestinian people or the Israeli Arabs have also been forced to face a unique phenomenon that no other nation has confronted. In the early 19th century there were only about 5,000 Jews in the Land of Israel, compared with the 250,000 to 300,000 Palestinian Arabs. At the time of the Balfour Declaration in 1917 there were about 50,000 Jews compared with 550,000 Palestinians Arabs. (These numbers are from the Jewish Encyclopedia. ) And by 1948 there were about 600,000 Jews versus 1.3 million Palestinian Arabs.

Note the remarkable population growth of the Arabs. The demography of the region under Ottoman rule had been remarkably stable (and low) for centuries.

The Jewish people thus quickly ingathered from all corners of the world. They did not want to expel the Palestinians, and certainly not to destroy them, but neither did they want to integrate them into Jewish society as other nations did with the local residents.

This is a strange formulation. What does he mean by “nations did with local residents.” Empires need to deal with “local residents,” and they tend to make them subjects. Nations form around a collective identity, and if they’re democratic they try and integrate everyone within a pluralistic (i.e., tolerant) polity. In the period of early Zionism, the Arabs were not part of a nation, but an ethnic and religious identity, and any other religious or ethnic group, like the Jews, or the Maronites, or the Bedouin, neither sought to, nor accepted the notion that they should be “integrated.” On the contrary, under the Turkish rulers, the land was filled with various groups (millets), most of them dhimmis in an elaborate hierarchy (in which the Greek Orthodox were the highest, and the Jews the bottom of that hierarchy). The real problem with the advent of the Zionists was that, as Westerners returning upright (komemiyut), they posed an impossible dilemma to the prevailing pre-nation situation.

Moreover, there was no attempt here to impose a colonial regime, since the Jews had no mother country that had sent them on colonial conquests, as in the case of Britain or France. Here something original and unique in human history took place: A nation arrived in the homeland of another nation [sic] to replace its identity with an ancient-new one.

Now why on earth would Yehoshua identify the position of the inhabitants of this region as a “nation”? Nothing remotely resembling that existed, and even if one wanted to argue that some “proto-nations” existed (Syria, Egypt, Algeria), that had nothing to do with a district that had no separate or unique identity. Note that when the UN partitioned Palestine in 1948, there was no talk of an Israeli and “Palestinian” state. It was to be an “Arab State.” Palestinian “national consciousness,” even among those who might use the term, was only in terms of “all or nothing.” Hence the rejection of a statehood for which there was no cultural framework.

That is why at its most profound level, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not a question of territory, as in the case of many historical conflicts between nations, but a battle over the national identity of the entire homeland – every stone and every part of it.

Here we enter the “both sides” narrative. Very little was particularly sacred to Arabs about this land before the arrival of the Zionists. Even Jerusalem, the “third holiest city in Islam” was neglected as late as under Jordanian rule in the 1950s and early 1960s. Haram al Sharif under Jordanian Rule (1948-1967) HT: Elder of Ziyon

Haram al Sharif, 2007 (no weeds under these worshipper’s fee)

The Islamic/Arab interest in Jerusalem, indeed in “every stone” of the land is a classic case of mimetic desire: you only want it because someone else does. And that has a great deal to do with Islamic supersessionism, which lies at the core of the conflict: Muslims can’t leave Jews alone, because Muslim honor depends of Jewish subjection. In typical Israeli fashion, Yehoshua is here being generous and granting the Palestinian claims as much credibility as Israelis. Mistake, both historical and therapeutic. As Aldous Huxley says, “facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored”… or denied.

For both sides, and mainly for the Palestinians, the size of the nation confronting them is not clear – whether it consists only of Israeli Jews or the entire Jewish diaspora. And the Israelis don’t know whether they are confronting only the Palestinian people or the entire Arab nation. In other words, the demographic boundaries of the two sides are not clear either. This is therefore a fundamental conflict that constantly creates primal and profound mistrust between the two peoples, preventing a possible solution.

Again with the false symmetries. Israelis are dealing with a Palestinian/Arab/Islamic entity (nation is inappropriate) for whom the shore line is the only acceptable border (as in “drive the Jews into the sea”). Israel, while willing to negotiate another, more restricted border in exchange for peace, has no ambitions beyond the Jordan (pace Arab conspiracy theory). This is not about two uncertain claims. It’s about two asymmetrical claims, one of which is incompatible with any other.

Is it still possible to resolve the conflict without ending up in the trap of a binational state? I believe so, but because this is a question I haven’t been asked, I won’t answer it now.

And as far as I can make out, you haven’t begun to answer the question you set out to answer, because, in your therapeutic search for parity, you merely scratched the surface. Alas.

Kershner at NYT does her job as a rogue peace journalist: Levy Commission with outrage everyone (who matters)

Isabel Kershner has drunk the journalist/UN/NGO kool-aid for a long time now. This particular article illustrates nicelythe way that journalists have taken sides in the conflict between Israel and her neighbors.

Validate Settlements, Israeli Panel Suggests

Ariel Schalit/Associated Press

At the unauthorized West Bank outpost of Nofei Nehemya, the children of Jewish settlers found relief from the heat and the sun.

By ISABEL KERSHNER
Published: July 9, 2012
JERUSALEM — Flouting international opinion, an Israeli government-appointed commission of jurists said Monday that Israel ’s presence in the West Bank was not occupation and recommended that the state grant approval for scores of unauthorized Jewish settlement outposts there.
Note the opening phrase. Objection, your honor, journalist is leading the reader. Before the reader even knows what’s going on, he’s been told what to think about the subject. Such a move suggests insecurity, a sense that the reader can’t or shouldn’t think for him or herself, a desire to impose a reading lest….
A government-appointed commission calls for the validation of scores of unauthorized Jewish outposts on the West Bank.
Actually, the commission has many interesting things to say. By selecting the implications for settlements – which is surely part of the commission’s finding – Kershner has the tail wagging the dog. In her world, to her [intended] audience, to the LCEs who adhere, knowingly or unwittingly to the PC Paradigm, the settlements are THE problem. Without them there would be peace. That simple.

The committee’s legal arguments, while nonbinding, could provide backup for the government should it decide to grant the outposts retroactive official status. But such a move would inevitably stir international outrage and deal a significant blow to prospects for an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement. And here’s the payoff. Such a move to legalize the settlements, regardless of the legal principles upon which that move was based, should not happen. The international community will be outraged (no need even to explain why, everyone knows); and it will deal a significant blow to prospects for a peace-settlement.

For those of us who do not live in the twilight world of post-Oslo denial, there is nothing remotely resembling a viable peace-negotiations at the moment. Palestinian – and more broadly Arab – political culture is light years from being able to make the necessary concessions for peace. Incitement to hatred against Israel (and the Jews) pervades the public sphere, with glorified “martyrs” who kill Israeli civilians, glorified, lethal narratives in profusion. “Moderates” (like the PA) assuage radicals (like Hamas) with promises that to use any concession for more aggression (as their way of assuaging the radicals, as in Arafat’s speech in South Africa, months after signing the Oslo Accords). And yet the logic behind the conclusion here presented as a fact, is that the Palestinians are innocent victims who just want a country of their own, eager to negotiate but frustrated by Israeli intransigence. One would assume that any undergraduate, looking at the evidence, would conclude that this paradigm has extensive anomalies. Thus this notion that international outrage would break out at the Israelis damaging the non-existent prospects for a peace settlement embodies the lunacy of the age. Note the use of the word “opinion” rather than “international law.” It bypasses the facts of the case, which are so anomalous and pose so many complex issues to the fairly young field of international law, that they do not allow for anything like the widespread belief that they are “illegal by international law.” In some sense we’re witnessing here a radical application of “constructivist” journalism: fabricated international opinion, never very far from outrage, creates a “reality” which then can be applied to leverage a (far less tractable) reality. Is it any wonder none of these fine folks from the international community can’t solve the problem?

Liberals, Passover, and the Attitude towards the “Other”: The Dilemmas of 21st Century Morality

Jay Michaelson has an interesting essay in the Forward on “why Jews are so liberal?” which he wants to link to the Passover holiday. In some ways, he could not be more right, in others, he could not be more wrong. And why that’s true of both cases gives us an insight into the dilemma of the “liberal” in the 21st century.

NB: Michaelson works on millennial movements and has read my book (or at least knows of it), so in principle he knows about active cataclysmic apocalypticism and the dangers involved in this religious belief, as well as the current wave of apocalyptic Islam. He’s also has written before (2009, after Operation Cast Lead) on these matters, expressing, among others, the dilemma of understanding Israel’s problems defending herself on the one hand, and being pressured to condemn her by his friends and by the images of Israeli might and Palestinian suffering on the other. To judge from this piece, the sloganeering of his “liberal” “friends” has won the day.

Why Are American Jews So Liberal? – The Jewish Daily Forward Published Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Why Are American Jews So Liberal?

Enduring Political Message of the Passover Seder

By Jay Michaelson

Strangers in Strange Land:

American Jews have long since adapted to life in the U.S. So why do they vote like they are just off the boat?   Why are Jews so liberal?

Every few years, the question gets asked, often with the unspoken follow-up “… and what can we do to change that?” This year, Republican super PACs are drooling with anticipation. If you think the attacks on Mitt Romney by Sheldon Adelson — I mean Gingrich — I mean a Super-PAC that theoretically doesn’t co-ordinate with Gingrich — were mean, just wait until the general election. Israel! The war on religion! The Ground Zero mosque! Anything to wake up the Jews and get them to vote Republican.

What’s more, Jews have every reason to vote Republican. In a series of studies, political scientist Sam Abrams (together with Steven M. Cohen and others) has shown how American Jews’ views on helping the needy, on diplomacy versus war, and on other litmus test issues actually line up with the center, maybe even the center-right, rather than with the left.

No link, but I suspect that on helping the needy most Jews end up on the left of the left. Certainly when Madoff went down, every major non-Jewish charity in the Boston area lost because their Jewish donors no longer could keep up their contributions.

Moreover, Jews are, on average, more affluent than most Americans, and political scientists tell us that the more affluent you are, the more likely you are to vote Republican. (More on that below.) When Jews were hawking pickles on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, our Democratic politics made sense. But not now, when we live in gated communities.

This is old stuff. Jews, unlike other immigrant groups, continue to vote against their pocketbook (which is admirable). And in the 21st century, they even vote against their identity (which is not so noble).  

And yet, since Ronald Reagan, no Republican presidential candidate has gotten more than 30% of the Jewish vote. It’s an anomaly.   Abrams has suggested that Jews vote Democrat largely out of identity. Judge Jonah Goldstein, a 1940s Republican from New York, said famously, “The Jews have three veltn (worlds): di velt (this world), yene velt (the next world) and Roosevelt.”

Despite the fact that Roosevelt sent their fellow Jews back to the Nazi killing machine.

No doubt, that is in large part true. But in light of the Passover holiday, I want to suggest a different, perhaps complementary, view: It’s in our religion. The Torah says, many times, that our experience of oppression is meant to lead to ethical political action. “The stranger that dwells with you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers once in the land of Egypt” (Leviticus 19:34). “You shall not mistreat a stranger, nor oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 22:21) “You must open your hand to your poor and needy brother in your land… and you must remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt.” (Deuteronomy 15:11–15).   These are clear, powerful texts. It’s only human that when we have plenty, we lose our sense of empathy for those who have little. So, religion comes to remind us not to do that — in the Jewish case, by remembering the narrative of the Passover story and our shared experience of oppression.

Actually, it goes much deeper than that. This is what one might call the empathic imperative: “do not do onto others as you would have them do onto you” rather than the dominating imperative, “do onto others before they do onto you.” It’s the way that the Exodus leads not to a reversal of relations (the slave becomes master), but it short-circuits that tendency to reverse and prolong the cycle of abuse – do onto someone weaker what someone stronger has done to you – with an empathy for the less powerful. It’s the key to true freedom which involves granting others the same freedoms we wish to exercise.

Now, let’s go back to that political science point from a moment ago, about how wealth and voting Republican tend to correlate. This is a telling point. Republicans tell us that they, too, are living out the mandates of the Bible — this was part of my point in an earlier column, that conservatives also say they have Jewish values. They just say that the best way to help the poor is to get government out of the way, let rich people make more money and then assume that those same rich people will generously make up the difference.   But then, if Republican policies were really for the benefit of everybody, why do wealthy people disproportionately vote Republican? Is it that the richer you get, the more you care about the poor?   No, of course not. Conservative politics are not for the benefit of everybody; that’s just spin. Trickle-down economics, for 30 years a pillar of Republican policy, doesn’t work. A little spending trickles down, but mostly, capital enriches itself. The wealth gap widens. The super-rich take bigger and bigger risks, and are then declared too big to fail. Trickle-down rhetoric — that tax cuts for the rich promote jobs, that taxing millionaire’s estates would hurt small businesses — is just a cover for rich people to pay fewer taxes and keep more of their money.   Which is why rich people vote Republican. Because we are selfish animals, and we want more stuff.

Aside from the superficiality of this analysis (which I largely agree with in as much as it’s partially accurate), the most striking element of this is the reductive and self-congratulatory nature of the invidious comparison. “We” democrats are good people; those republicans are selfish hypocrites. Not being a republican, and no longer being a democrat, this does not push my “us-them” emotions as it’s apparently supposed to.

Except when we remember. We remember, because of the Passover story, that we were slaves in Egypt: slaves, with no freedom, no property and no ability to look the other way from whatever we found unpleasant. And we remember, more recently, our Diaspora Jewish experiences, whether in the Holocaust or during times of anti-Semitism. Or, not too long ago, when we were disempowered peasants in Eastern Europe and new immigrants to America — just like the new immigrants that today’s Republicans want to keep out.

In other words, if we have an appreciation of the good that’s been done by letting us in, we are not to keep out others.

Jews are predominantly liberal because we are still mindful of being outsiders, even when we are insiders, and because we have a tradition that, right at this time of year, reminds us that we should not oppress anyone and must remember that we were once oppressed.

Here’s where we skate close to the edge of something not identified. Apparently Michaelson wants us to view all “Others” as ourselves. But the commandment is to do so with neighbors and strangers. But enemies? That’s not Jewish, that’s Christian, and not even Christian, it’s radical Christian. While Judaism – indeed the Haggadah – reminds us we have enemies, liberals seem to live in a world where evil does not exist: bad things are done by people who have been misunderstood, abused, mistreated; being nice and empathic will make them “good” like us.  

And while this is true, maybe even in a large majority of the cases – depending on how good one’s therapeutic techniques are – in some cases, those where the Other is remorselessly hostile, such openness can render one fatally vulnerable.

Is this Judaism? Or, asserted without nuance, is it a potentially suicidal deviation, a system of thought that insists everyone is basically decent and humane, an approach to human nature that confuses humane with human, one that has far less longevity than the idealistic but also realistic three millennia-long Jewish tradition. Sadism is human. Only a moral imbecile treats a sadist as if he’s humane.

Meditations on Honor-Shame: Were the Nazis to Take Over Again, They Wouldn’t Change a Thing at Wannsee

I recently visited the site of the Wannsee conference in the outskirts of Berlin where third and fourth-level bureaucrats worked out the details of the “final solution”: how to make the extermination of 11 million Jews as profitable as possible. It contains, among other things, the Protocols of the conference, preserved by the Undersecretary of State, Martin Luther, living proof of the deliberate, carefully-planned, and astonishingly lucre-mongering project of genocide. In addition, the exhibition has a review of the history of racist anti-Semitism, profiles of the various participants, and maps of the Jewish population of Europe and the damage done by the Nazis.

As I walked through I realized that in some sense, the exhibit was understated. It worked from the assumption that everyone coming here thinks that the Nazi genocide was a shameful, disgusting event that must  never again occur – Nie wieder. But, it occurred to me, if the Nazis were  to take over Germany again, they probably would change little about this exhibit, including its history of racism. What was presented as obviously bad would, by an alchemy of honor-shame dynamics, become a celebration of the heros who began an as-yet unfinished task.

Reflecting a spurious “shame” that Nazis acknowledged in their attempt to cover the tracks of the Holocaust, even as they held it to be a great deed, Himmler commented in a speech given in Posen, October 6, 1943:

This is a page of glory in our history, which has never been written and is never to be written.

Today’s neo-Nazis express the same ambivalence in their combined efforts to at once deny and resume the genocide. Ahmadinejad’s delight in denying that the Holocaust goes hand in hand with his desire to reproduce it, even if nuking six million Israelis means killing millions of fellow Muslims (even some Shiites). 

Spielberg’s Alien “Other”

The post I wrote for the OUP blog is now officially up. Visit, pass on. Leave comment.

Andrew Sullivan on Breivik’s Epistemic Closure: Left, Right, Not

Now I understand where my persistent, somewhat repetitive, commenter, Chris, comes from. Another illustration of the problem. He comes from Andrew Sullivan who quoted the passage to which Chris objects, disapprovingly. Here’s his post with my comments.

Breivik’s Epistemic Closure

Chris Bertram analyzes it:

We may be, now, in the world that Cass Sunstein worried about, a world where people select themselves into groups which ramp up their more-or-less internally coherent belief systems into increasingly extreme forms by confirming to one another their perceived “truths” (about Islam, or Obama’s birth certificate, or whatever) and shutting out falsifying information. Put an unstable person or a person with a serious personality disorder into an environment like that and you have a formula for something very nasty happening somewhere, sooner or later. Horribly, that somewhere was Norway last Friday.

This is an interesting quote for what it vaguely alludes to in its “whatever.” The whole paragraph is an analysis, quite shrewd indeed, of the epistemological slippery slope to what Damian Thompson calls self-brainwashing. But that depiction applies equally well to those on the other side of the political divide, including (probably – I’m guessing here) to the author of the blog and the person he’s quoting.

In this case, as acute as they are to what’s in the eyes of the “right,” the “left” has a major beam in their eyes that they seem to have difficulty acknowledging. On the contrary, their tone, their style, their rhetoric all express a kind of supreme confidence that treats all dissonant voices as not merely wrong but bad, not merely dismissively, but contemptuously. And yet that “whatever,” can be expanded far wider than the current list of “right wing” examples Bertram offers, starting with 9-11 truthers who swarm within the epistemic clotures of the left far more than birthers do on the right, and not just among the weirdo fringes.

Anders Sandberg urges us to check our cognitive biases when calling Breivik insane and bin Laden an ideologue. Richard Landes (cited in Breivik’s manifesto) tries, but doubles down, in some almost Malkin-worthy rhetoric, on blaming the other side:

Then Sullivan cites me without comment.

All those people who, in the mid-aughts, like Cherie Blair and Jenny Tonge among so many, thought that Palestinian terror was an understandable response to their hopeless condition, for which Israeli was responsible, owe it to themselves to think: what did I to contribute to Breivik’s despair, with my insistence that anyone who sounded the alarm was an Islamophobe?

Now I’ve been told by a close and trusted source that this passage made at least one sympathetic reader wince.  So let me explain.

Spielberg, Super-8 and the ET “Other” since 9-11: Reflections on a Millennial Discourse

[NB: This is a longer version of a blogpost that is now up at the Oxford University Press blog. It extends a discussion that appears in Chapter 13 of Heaven on Earth: The Varieties of the Millennial Experience, entitled, "UFOs: The Narcissistic Millennium" where I discuss Steven Spielberg's contribution to a millennial mentality in our current generation.]

A warm summer night, sitting at the grand opening of the Jerusalem film festival in the Sultan’s Pool just below Saladin’s walls, about to see Super-8 projected onto a giant screen. More than a decade after the second Intifada, it seemed a fitting place to see the latest contribution of one of the greatest storytellers of our age, to his work on Extra-Terrestrials. After all, Stephen Spielberg was one of the great heretics who had challenged the paranoid assumptions pervading all cataclysmic UFO fantasies – they’re coming to get us! As one commentator put it: “No one since Reagan has so demonstrated a belief in the redemptive nature of Hollywood entertainment.”

Indeed, Spielberg was the premier master of the film school of peaceful transformation via UFOs, and gave voice to a generation of transformative millennialists (who date back to the 60s) with Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Richard Dreyfus (Neery) recalled the film’s spiritual message:

We all felt that this particular project had a noble agenda. This was a big idea that Steven was talking about. It wasn’t just a sci-fi movie, it wasn’t about monsters from the id. It was that we are not only not alone, but that we have relatively little to fear. People don’t realize, or it’s hard for people to remember, that Close Encounters was truly the first cultural iconic moment that said, “Calm down we’re okay. They can be our friends.” That really was a huge statement that I and lots of other people wanted to participate in (Interview in Special Features of 2001 DVD edition).

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.”