Category Archives: Envy

Secular Supersessionism: Explaining the Global Left’s Hostility to Israel

This is a video of a talk I gave last April in Bloomington Indiana at a conference organized by Alvin Rosenfeld.

On the Dangers of Conspiracy Theories: Brief Reflections

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

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

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

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

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

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

Honor Shame Readings: Week IV – Envy

In response to Dionissis’ request, I post some of the reading I’ve assigned to my students in my Honor-Shame class. Dionissis, you might be particularly interested in the Walcott readings on ancient Greece.

I also append some of the notes I took while preparing for and during the discussion. I welcome comments. Will post earlier readings over time.

Envy, Jealousy and the Politics of Scarcity (Zero-Sum)


Schoeck, Envy: A Theory of Social Behavior, chap. 1,

Schoeck, Envy, chap. 3

Schoeck, Envy chap. 5 (Envy and Economic Underdevelopment)

Schoeck, Envy, chaps. 7, 11. (Envy in Social Science (7), in Philosophy (11). Interesting material on Nietzsche, who clearly inspired important parts of Schoeck’s thinking.

Schoeck, Envy, chap. 22 (Envy in Human Societies)

Walcott,  The Greeks and Envy chs. 1-3, and

Walcott, The Greeks and Envy chs. 7-9

George Foster, “Anatomy Envy


Douglass C. North, John Joseph Wallis, and Barry R. Weingast, “The Natural State: The Political-Economy Of Non-Development

Landes, The Emotional Logic of Game Theory

Some of the issues raised:

Definition: Envy is an emotion that is essentially both selfish and malevolent. It is aimed at persons, and implies dislike of one who possesses what the envious man himself covets or desires, and a wish to harm him. Graspingness for self and ill-will lie at the basis of it. There is in it also a consciousness of inferiority to the person envied, and a chafing under this consciousness. He who has got what I envy is felt by me to have the advantage of me, and I resent it. Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, ed. James Hastings, (Edinburgh, 1912) vol. 5, p. 322.

Envy is classic zero-sum. Your gain is my loss; your success robs me of my sense of value; admiration for you is humiliation for me.

Envy is malevolent: If you have something that makes me envious, I’d rather harm you than get the object. “I wish Boris’ goat were dead.”

Envy is a ferocious policeman of conformity: any tendency to step out of the conforming group brings retaliation. Key dimension of early social solidarity. Schoeck almost argues that envy is what permit the levels of functioning software of solidarity that first enabled homo faber/sapiens to peel off from the hardwiring of instinct.

Envy is a form of vengeance: retaliating against someone who has robbed you of… (honor, prestige, sense of self-worth, property).

Resentment at another’s success: the desire to do harm

Schadenfreude: joy at another’s failure: To what degree do news media become  Schadenfreude-mongers? “If it bleeds it leads.”

Malignant envy and shame: the invisible force field that inhibits people from seeking success: Crabs in the basket – if we’re all here together it’s somebody else’s fault (the aristocracy, the man,  phallo-logocentric partriarchy, the 1%); if you get out, then I’m at fault (lazy, cowardly, lacking in the necessary qualities).

Envy aims at equals: the narcissism of small differences; but in matters of “human dignity”, everyone is given the right to consider themselves equal, therefore, to be resentful of anyone.

Honor and Envy

Honor a great good: in principle expandable (somewhat); in practice (through envy) zero-sum

Sharing the spotlight: honor/glory a self-limited good: honor of a millionaire in Hollywood or in Welsh village

Aristotle: those who love honor are more envious

The importance of honor – more precious than life: among other things driven to it despite the assault of envy it elicits.

Glory as the ultimate: people remember you when you’re no longer alive

Philotimea (love of honor) is difficult and most productive of envy

Paradigms of Justice:

pre-modern (h-s, prime divider): “my side is always right.” invidious cognitive egocentrism: I envy all better than me, and assume that all worse than me envy me. A world in which one assumes malevolence as the norm. Denial of responsibility and projection of guilt the norm.

modern (integrity-guilt, civic polity): “whoever is right, my side or not.” liberal cognitive egocentrism: i do not wish others ill and presume, at least as an initial default, that others do not wish me ill. Benevolence the norm. Self-criticism and acceptance of responsibility (among other things for failure) necessary.

post/hyper-modern (masochistic omnipotence, hyper-self-criticism, cultural suicide): “their side right or wrong.” Progressive cognitive egocentrism: if I blame myself for everything, others will forgive me and like me, and I can fix anything. Complete denial of envy (and of self) in order to posture as the most moral.

The double edge of envy: emulation and excellence? Or resentment and sabotage? Partly depends on the self-confidence of the person. Looking at the successful and wanting to learn and imitate/adapt reflects self-confidence; feeling inadequate and wanting to tear down and do damage reflects fear of failure (one of the plagues of h-s cultures, since failure is so often punished).

Chinese vs. Arab responses to the West (and to Jews)

Ubiquity of envy: institutions only tell you how a culture manages, not whether there’s envy.

Managing envy, the public secret.

Envy as a brake on economic development (Schoeck, chap. 5): if the headwinds of envy are gale force, few ships will leave harbor of conformity to try innovation.

Zakaria on Capitalism vs. Culture: Master of the Question mal posée

As part of a series of posts about the recent “culture-counts” flap, I’m tackling some of the (many) articles weighing in on the subject, partly as a way of clarifying the meaning of the “culture” argument for those who, for reasons well worth exploring, cannot abide it, partly as a way to address the classic problem of most social “science”, the badly posed question that sets up an unnecessary, even misleading antinomy – this, not that.

I begin with a high profile target, Fareed Zakaria, who ought to reread his own brilliant piece right after 9-11 on why Arab countries had so much trouble adjusting to modernity.

Capitalism, not culture, drives economies

By Fareed Zakaria, Thursday, August 2, 1:40 AM

Mitt Romney has explained that his comments abroad were simply truth-telling. “I tend to tell people what I actually believe,” he said. With regard to one much-debated comment — on the cultural differences between Israelis and Palestinians — many agree with him. The Wall Street Journal editorial page and columnists including Marc A. Thiessen and John Podhoretz all applauded. Podhoretz wrote: “Anyone who publicizes his remark is helping Romney win the election.”

“Culture makes all the difference,” Romney said at a fundraiser in Israel, comparing the country’s economic vitality to Palestinian poverty. Certainly there is a pedigree for this idea. Romney cited David Landes, an economics historian. He could have cited Max Weber, the great German scholar who first made this claim 100 years ago in his book “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism,” which argued that Protestant values were the most important fuel for economic progress.

The problem is that Weber singled out two cultures as being particularly prone to poverty and stagnation, those of China and Japan. But these have been the world’s fastest-growing large economies over the past five decades. Over the past two decades, the other powerhouse has been India, which was also described for years as having a culture incompatible with economic success — hence the phrase “the Hindu rate of growth,” to describe the country’s once-moribund state.

China was stagnant for centuries and then suddenly and seemingly miraculously, in the 1980s, began to industrialize three times faster than the West. What changed was not China’s culture, which presumably was the same in the 1970s as it was in the 1980s. What changed, starting in 1979, were China’s economic policies.

The same is true for Japan and India. Had Romney spent more time reading Milton Friedman, he would have realized that historically the key driver for economic growth has been the adoption of capitalism and its related institutions and policies across diverse cultures.

This is a somewhat facetious line of argument. Chinese ex-pats always showed exceptional talent in economic and entrepreneurial activities. But the important issue Weber addressed in the Protestant Ethic (now available in a great new edition/translation by my colleague Stephen Kalberg) was not “who can develop economically at all?” but how was the West capable of generating a form of economic development never before seen on the planet?

The fact that copying that model took most countries (with the exception of Japan) several centuries merely underlines the exceptional nature of that effort. The question facing us now is not who can generate, but who can take advantage of both the blueprints of development and the massive global economy that beckons any country ready to open the gates. As Zakaria himself noted in his 9-11 essay:

[In] the Arab world, modernity has been one failure after another. Each path followed–socialism, secularism, nationalism–has turned into a dead end. While other countries adjusted to their failures, Arab regimes got stuck in their ways.

Now while Zakaria notes that “Importing the inner stuffings of modern society–a free market, political parties, accountability and the rule of law–is difficult and dangerous,” he does not seem, at least in this (very lite) current essay to realize the “cultural dimension” of that argument. Why is it difficult and dangerous for societies to adopt these “inner stuffings of modern society”? Is it merely because the dictators refuse (as the political model would like to imagine)? Or do the problems permeate the society, as in the strength of honor-murders as a reflection of profound anti-egalitarian patriarchal culture that runs throughout the social and political strata?

Moreover, Weber’s argument, which I know from personal experience had an enormous impact on my father, David Landes’ scholarship, was fundamentally about culture – indeed about religion, more precisely, demotic religiosity. As Weber says at the very start, it’s not about making money but what you do with your wealth. The spirit of capitalism that interests him, Weber notes, does not begin in wealthy Florence with the Medici, but in the backwoods of Pennsylvania with Ben Franklin. Until people stopped turning their fortunes into positions of leisured wealth and political power, and kept reinvesting them in further capital ventures, modern industrialization did not occur.

Norway tries to deal with a wave of Muslims raping Norwegian Infidels

NB: I have received several comments and a letter from a Norwegian journalist questioning the validity of this report. We are checking into it, but as of now, there is no corroboration of the account that Yehuda Bello gives. Will update as soon as I know. (I have added the comments from the journalist below in the comments section.)

UPDATE: Ursula Duba, a writer of great integrity and courage has posted the following.

“The sentence “Norway’s justice minister blames Israel for Muslim rape wave” which is posted on Robert Spencer’s wall on FB (the link has been removed in the meantime, even though the headline  is still on Robert Spencer’s wall) and is also quoted on Professor Richard Landes website The Augean Stables should be considered a lie. The statement by Norway’s justice minister was allegedly quoted in a headline in ARUTZ SHEVA by Gil Ronen. From there it spread around the globe like wildfire. I never saw that headline in Arutz Sheva of Dec 5, 2011. As of yesterday or even earlier, the statement attributed to Norway’s justice minister is nowhere to be found in Arutz Sheva, nor does Gil Ronen offer an explanation as to why he altered the headline to “Muslim ‘Rape Wave’ Reported in Oslo” at Without proof as to when and where the alleged statement by Norway’s justice minister was made, the statement itself should be considered as untrue and as slander.
We owe Norway an apology. I herewith apologize to Norway for this slander. I hope that all decent people will join me in a) apologizing to Norway and b) will make sure that any such statements are in fact TRUE. Quoting a sixth or seventh blog as a source is totally unreliable. This is how lies and defamation run amok on the internet. I will have none of it.”

After more than a week of waiting for the people involved in this story to get back to me about what the real sources are, I have come to the conclusion that this is the most appropriate position to take. I apologize to Norway for running this unverifiable approach, and hope that they show the courage necessary to tackle this grave problem of rape.

Russel, Marx, Envy, Democracy and Communism

In a previous post Sergio quoted Bertrand Russel saying “that envy is the basis of democracy?” I asked for the source, and he responded:


The quote is from his book “The conquest of happiness” (1930).

Wikipedia´s comment on “envy” is also interesting, as it says Russell also thought that envy is the basis of human unhappiness. Also they mentioned two kinds of envy, a malign and a benign one. I quote:

“Bertrand Russell said envy was one of the most potent causes of unhappiness.[4] It is a universal and most unfortunate aspect of human nature because not only is the envious person rendered unhappy by his envy, but also wishes to inflict misfortune on others. Although envy is generally seen as something negative, Russell also believed that envy was a driving force behind the movement towards democracy and must be endured to achieve a more just social system.[5] However, psychologists have recently suggested that there may be two types of envy: malicious envy and benign envy – benign envy being proposed as a type of positive motivational force.[6][7]“

RL: Precisely the distinction that Schoeck makes. Cultures in which anyone else’s gain is “my” loss, are ones in which there is a high price for success, where magic offers the envious means to strike back, where people fear the “evil eye.” Which is why Schadenfreude is so destructive.

Now no one can be “free of envy” (save the rare saint). But you can be careful. Some people are scrupulous on this. I got a call from a friend on a train which was whizzing by the cars stuck in traffic on Route 1 going to Tel Aviv. “Is it okay to feel a little Schadenfreude when I see those stuck motorists?”

I say this about envy in my chapter on Marx in Heaven on Earth:

In an early meditation on “raw” or “crude” Communism (der rohe Communismus), by which he meant the Communism of Babeuf and Buonnaroti, Marx explained its appeal as a universalization of envy. By implication, he distanced himself from it:

Universal envy establishing itself as a power is only the disguised form in which greed re-establishes and satisfies itself in another way. The thought of every piece of private property as such is at the very least turned against richer private property as envy, and the desire to level, so that envy and the desire to level in fact constitute the essence [of the hatred of the results] of competition. Crude communism is only the fulfillment of this envy and leveling on the basis of a preconceived minimum.

This is a highly sophisticated moral discourse that cuts to the quick of the mechanisms of ressentiment parading as idealism. But for all such insight, Marx ended up stoking the very fires he here critiqued. Helmut Schoeck notes: “It is only in Marxism, the abstract and glorified concept of the proletariat, the disinherited and exploited, that a position of implacable envy is fully legitimized.”

Haiku on Arab Exports

It’s now the anniversary of my father’s stroke, and for a while there it looked like he’d checked out. The doctors didn’t help with their extremely cautious prognoses. But he’s improved consistently, and although we knew he followed conversations and “got” what was being said — mostly because he’d laugh in the right places — his articulation was limited. Today he gave me the punch line to this haiku:

    do arabs export
    more oil or hate? and
    which do people value more?

The Psychology of Zero-Sum: Selections from my current manuscript

Part of an ongoing set of posts from my upcoming book subtitled A Medievalist’s Guide to the 21st Century. For close readers of this blog, some of this material may be familiar, but I welcome comments and suggestions. This is, after all, for publication. Footnotes not included.

The Psychology of Zero-Sum: Envy, Schadenfreude, and Mistrust

One of the most difficult aspects of honor-shame cultures for us moderns to fathom is the way in which they tend to view the world as a “limited good” and therefore all transactions and developments as a zero-sum game in which when someone else wins, I lose, and when I win, someone else must lose. While there are obviously cases in our own society where such is also the case – all competitive sports are zero-sum – there are others where the modern economy has, by making economic growth the norm, made it possible for even classic zero-sum situations – competing for a job position, for an A – not so remorselessly zero-sum. Indeed since the “positive-sum” 60s, grade inflation testifies to the strong desire to make even scholarly achievement a fully positive-sum game: everyone is “special,” everyone gets a high grade.

But in a society of scarce resources, like the Bedouins in the desert, or the Karamojong of the arid plains, the very life of the clan depends on their control of oases and pasture land. Here someone else’s gain is your loss, and the competition can get ruthless. Among the Karamajong of Africa, initiation to manhood involved killing someone from the neighboring tribe, man or woman. When the shocked Western visitor objected to killing the women, the tribesman replied: “If we don’t kill their women, they will have more children who will grow up to be warriors and defeat us.”

Zero-sum attitudes have a close relationship to envy: if someone’s success necessarily diminishes others, then any success will elicit envy, and, in many cases, mobilize forces to bring down the haughty ones. Envy, like shame, may be peculiarly human, and play a key role in our evolution. As an individual phenomenon, it is hard to track since, being an admission of inadequacy in relationship to the person envied, few people want to admit to feeling envy. As a social phenomenon – i.e. collective envy – it may play an important role in distribution of wealth by forcing those with a great deal to share. In some tribes, hunter-gatherers hide food and eat it alone at night in order not to lose the “lion’s share” to envious neighbors who demand their share.

There is a joke about a peasant who unearths a magic lamp, rubs it, and out comes a genie who offers him anything, but warns him that his neighbor will get whatever he requests twofold. His answer, “poke out one of my eyes.” Now if this were a chess move rather than a joke, you’d put two exclamation points after it. Why? Because since chess is a zero-sum game, and only the king matters, even a queen sacrifice is acceptable. Here, in one deft move, this peasant has turned a situation in which he would become half a wealthy as his neighbor (had he, say, asked for 1000 head of cattle, or 1000 acres of land) into a spectacular “win” for himself: in the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed is king. With this dramatic queen sacrifice, he has bought his dominion at the price of his self-mutilation.

Envy is a pervasive element of the human psyche and of human societies. The issue then, is how pervasive. What do cultures do with envy – accept it? or struggle against it? The expression “crabs in the basket” refers to the way if one crab tries to escape, the others will pull him down, hence, the tendency of people in poverty to show hostility to someone who, by dint of effort, rises above the collective condition and, by implication, sheds an unflattering light on those he or she leaves behind. This is not always negative. The argument that self-help warrior tribes are egalitarian, even ‘democratic,’ comes from their strong hostility to any single person rising to a position of dominance (kingship), not in any way to our notion that every individual, including women, have equal rights to speak and vote.

The evidence suggests that cultures that take envy as an inevitable and pervasive part of their lives produce societies of “limited good,” and by contrast that cultures that resist envy, even in relatively small but significant amounts, become wealth producing nations. When envy dominates a culture, its members mobilize against success. As the saying goes, “the higher up the pole you get, the more your ass is visible.” On the contrary, when people can tolerate success by others, even rejoice in the success of others, you have conditions for economic development. One might argue that monogamy, as painful as it is for alpha males who want to (are genetically programmed to?) spread their seed, is an effort to control the terrible conflicts of envy between multiple wives, not only for their own status, but for the status of their children. Polygamy, on the other hand, gives full range to both the alpha male’s power, and to a “family life” brimming with the most ferocious competitions at every level.

Those cultures in which envy flourishes, in which hard zero-sum games dominate virtually all relationships have certain characteristics worth keeping in mind when trying to understand them.

    Blaming the other: One of the more important dimensions of honor-shame self-help justice is the negative premium it places on self-criticism. The tendency of those who have been shamed by others is to blame the other for the insult. Public self-criticism registers in all but rare cases not as courage, but as an excuse not to fight, as a sign of weakness, of cowardice. To some degree this holds for almost any culture, even allegedly modern ones. “No one in France will admit to having made a mistake,” an observer told me, a few years ago. “It means you’re weak, and it’s the beginning of the end of your political career.” Rare are the cultures in which public admission of fault redounds to the credit of the confessor. Rather, most people blame, and, in some cases, scapegoat a designated guilty victim. The “other” must be wrong in order to save face.

On Handling the Double Standard: Navon speaks to the French media

Emmanuel Navon teaches Political Science at Tel Aviv University. He was recently interviewed by the major French radio station about Lieberman’s upcoming visit to France.

Thanks for Spoiling the Party

By Emmanuel Navon

I was interviewed today on RFI, France’s international radio. The topic was Avigdor Lieberman’s upcoming visit to Paris. It went, in substance, like this.

Question: How come Lieberman is not officially endorsing the two-state solution?

Answer: Why should Israel support a “solution” that keeps working in theory and failing in practice, and that is systematically rejected by the Palestinians? They rejected partition in 1937 and in 1947, showed no interest in establishing a state between 1949 and 1967, and rejected both the Camp David proposals and the Clinton parameters. They are now partially ruled by Hamas, which denies Israel’s right to exist, and by Fatah, which denies Israel’s right to be Jewish. Creating a Palestinian state while Hamas has the upper hand and Iran is about to become nuclear would pave the way to Israel’s destruction, not to peace. The Palestinians have to choose between the “right of return” and the “two-state solution.” And they will not be inclined to choose realism and compromise while backed, incited and manipulated by a nuclear Iran.


Question: Hmm. Well, Lieberman’s refusal to unequivocally endorse Palestinian statehood is probably why he’s going to get a cold shoulder in Paris. Bernard Kouchner is not going to hold a join press conference with him. Isn’t that understandable?

Answer: I don’t remember your country giving a cold shoulder to a Turkish official for not accepting the creation of a Kurdish state or for not ending the occupation of Cyprus.

Silence # 2 (slightly longer this time).

Question: President Sarkozy will probably not receive Lieberman, obviously because of his views. How do you feel about this?

Answer: Sarkozy had no problem receiving Muammar Gaddafi at the Élysée Palace. How do you feel about that?

Silence # 3 (swiftly replaced by a “thank you very much,” meaning “I think we’ll stop here”).

Note how French diplomats have no trouble humiliating the Israelis in public, but, as Navon so delicately points out, have no trouble groveling before much uglier nations. Alas, if only France took seriously De Gaulle’s comment that “France is not France without its grandeur.”

Lieberman is “guilty” of failing to toe to the party line. The fact that Europe’s “recipe” for Middle East peace has consistently failed in the past fifteen years is irrelevant. And it doesn’t seem to cross Europeans’ minds that Israel might be interested in peace as well (who gets blown up in buses for goodness’s sake?)

But, mostly, Europe feels that Israel should get a taste of China’s medicine. After all, if European leaders can be scolded by China about Tibet and Taiwan, surely Israel can be scolded by Europe about the West Bank? China put Sarkozy in quarantine after he received the Dalai Lama during the French EU Presidency. President Hu Jintao agreed to meet with his French counterpart at the G20 summit in London only after the latter accepted to “recognize” that Tibet is part of China.

This may seem like a contradiction (or a joke — I wouldn’t put it past Navon), since it’s the opposite of what one might expect. The French clearly didn’t like their international humiliations, so why would the obvious thing to do, be turn on someone else. But that expectation reflects liberal cognitive egocentrism: do not do onto others as you don’t want them to do onto you.

The French response, which Navon takes almost as a “rational” policy illustrates nicely the basic principle of hierarchical, honor-shame cultures. Hierarchies at their worst position people in a vertical chain in which you suck up and shit down. The French are good at that: If I’ve been made to suck up, then for sure I’ll find someone I can get away with shitting on. And of course, both because they’re small and they don’t strike back violently, the Israel and the Jews are an ideal target: that “shittly little nation.”

Pressuring Europeans works, because business is business. Why do the Tibetans or the Kurds need a state of their own? Who needs self-determination when Europe’s interests are at stake? Indeed, this “rights of man” thing is really a European idea, and trying to impose it on other cultures is surely another expression of Western arrogance and imperialism (and don’t you dare having the nerve of reminding those wimps that the official ideology of China’s communist party was “made in Europe”). Hence are Kurdish, Irish, and Basque separatists labeled “terrorists” in European media while Hamas killers are mainly “militants.”

In other words, don’t expect moral consistency from European moral discourse. The bottom line is, “Moral Europe is at the ethical cutting edge of the global community, don’t confuse us with the details.” If I had to identify the first “big idea” that came to me after 2000, it’s that people feel very strongly about being seen as moral (a kind of honor-shame integrity thing), and in the case of the Europeans, seeming morally superior to Israel and the US was so powerful a desire that they actually were willing to commit suicide just to engage in the charade.

Europe is entitled to put its interest before its principles. But it should not expect Israel to put its security at risk. If the price for saying the truth is to be snubbed by nerdy hypocrites, may Lieberman have the privilege of being a party pooper in European chancelleries and of spoiling dinner parties in Brussels.

A number of my students in my honor-shame class did papers on the role of honor-shame in schools and gangs. The Europeans are hanging with the honor-shame people and picking on the integrity-guilt people. It may feel good, but unless you’re ready to play hardball — which the Europeans clearly are not — you’re going to lose out in that company.

Ralph Peters on 21st Century Diplomacy and War

Oao has drawn our attention to a piece by Ralph Peters in Security Affairs. I think it’s well worth considering in terms of what has made us so vulnerable. I am personally still convinced that we can do a great deal to fight this enemy in the world of discourse, but that does not mean it does not also include some decisive victories in warfare. But Peters has some harsh words for the Western media as well.

I welcome comments on any aspect of this important think-piece.

Wishful Thinking and Indecisive Wars

Ralph Peters
Security Affairs

The most troubling aspect of international security for the United States is not the killing power of our immediate enemies, which remains modest in historical terms, but our increasingly effete view of warfare. The greatest advantage our opponents enjoy is an uncompromising strength of will, their readiness to “pay any price and bear any burden” to hurt and humble us. As our enemies’ view of what is permissible in war expands apocalyptically, our self-limiting definitions of allowable targets and acceptable casualties—hostile, civilian and our own—continue to narrow fatefully. Our enemies cannot defeat us in direct confrontations, but we appear determined to defeat ourselves.

Much has been made over the past two decades of the emergence of “asymmetric warfare,” in which the ill-equipped confront the superbly armed by changing the rules of the battlefield. Yet, such irregular warfare is not new—it is warfare’s oldest form, the stone against the bronze-tipped spear—and the crucial asymmetry does not lie in weaponry, but in moral courage. While our most resolute current enemies—Islamist extremists—may violate our conceptions of morality and ethics, they also are willing to sacrifice more, suffer more and kill more (even among their own kind) than we are. We become mired in the details of minor missteps, while fanatical holy warriors consecrate their lives to their ultimate vision. They live their cause, but we do not live ours. We have forgotten what warfare means and what it takes to win.

There are multiple reasons for this American amnesia about the cost of victory. First, we, the people, have lived in unprecedented safety for so long (despite the now-faded shock of September 11, 2001) that we simply do not feel endangered; rather, we sense that what nastiness there may be in the world will always occur elsewhere and need not disturb our lifestyles. We like the frisson of feeling a little guilt, but resent all calls to action that require sacrifice.

Second, collective memory has effectively erased the European-sponsored horrors of the last century; yesteryear’s “unthinkable” events have become, well, unthinkable. As someone born only seven years after the ovens of Auschwitz stopped smoking, I am stunned by the common notion, which prevails despite ample evidence to the contrary, that such horrors are impossible today.

Third, ending the draft resulted in a superb military, but an unknowing, detached population. The higher you go in our social caste system, the less grasp you find of the military’s complexity and the greater the expectation that, when employed, our armed forces should be able to fix things promptly and politely.

Fourth, an unholy alliance between the defense industry and academic theorists seduced decisionmakers with a false-messiah catechism of bloodless war. In pursuit of billions in profits, defense contractors made promises impossible to fulfill, while think tank scholars sought acclaim by designing warfare models that excited political leaders anxious to get off cheaply, but which left out factors such as the enemy, human psychology, and 5,000 years of precedents.

Fifth, we have become largely a white-collar, suburban society in which a child’s bloody nose is no longer a routine part of growing up, but grounds for a lawsuit; the privileged among us have lost the sense of grit in daily life. We grow up believing that safety from harm is a right that others are bound to respect as we do. Our rising generation of political leaders assumes that, if anyone wishes to do us harm, it must be the result of a misunderstanding that can be resolved by that lethal narcotic of the chattering classes, dialogue.

Last, but not least, history is no longer taught as a serious subject in America’s schools. As a result, politicians lack perspective; journalists lack meaningful touchstones; and the average person’s sense of warfare has been redefined by media entertainments in which misery, if introduced, is brief.

By 1965, we had already forgotten what it took to defeat Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, and the degeneration of our historical sense has continued to accelerate since then. More Americans died in one afternoon at Cold Harbor during our Civil War than died in six years in Iraq. Three times as many American troops fell during the morning of June 6, 1944, as have been lost in combat in over seven years in Afghanistan. Nonetheless, prize-hunting reporters insist that our losses in Iraq have been catastrophic, while those in Afghanistan are unreasonably high.

We have cheapened the idea of war. We have had wars on poverty, wars on drugs, wars on crime, economic warfare, ratings wars, campaign war chests, bride wars, and price wars in the retail sector. The problem, of course, is that none of these “wars” has anything to do with warfare as soldiers know it. Careless of language and anxious to dramatize our lives and careers, we have elevated policy initiatives, commercial spats and social rivalries to the level of humanity’s most complex, decisive and vital endeavor.

One of the many disheartening results of our willful ignorance has been well-intentioned, inane claims to the effect that “war doesn’t change anything” and that “war isn’t the answer,” that we all need to “give peace a chance.” Who among us would not love to live in such a splendid world? Unfortunately, the world in which we do live remains one in which war is the primary means of resolving humanity’s grandest disagreements, as well as supplying the answer to plenty of questions. As for giving peace a chance, the sentiment is nice, but it does not work when your self-appointed enemy wants to kill you. Gandhi’s campaign of non-violence (often quite violent in its reality) only worked because his opponent was willing to play along. Gandhi would not have survived very long in Nazi Germany, Stalin’s Russia, Mao’s (or today’s) China, Pol Pot’s Cambodia, or Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Effective non-violence is contractual. Where the contract does not exist, Gandhi dies.

Note that my definition of honor-shame culture states: a culture in which a man is allowed, expected to, even required to shed blood for the sake of his honor, and my definition of a civil polity is one which systematically substitutes a discourse of fairness for violence in dispute settlement. We want to act as if the social contract of a civil polity were extended by verbal fiat — a form of wishful thinking — to everyone. Unfortunately, civil behavior is at a big disadvantage where some players do not disarm, and even greater disadvantage when its own leaders are dupes of demopaths.

Be Afraid and Learn the Lessons of Eurabia: Nidra Poller nails it, alas!

I went yesterday night to a talk at a synagogue in Stoughton by Geert Wilder, the Dutch lawmaker now on trial in his homeland for “hate speech” as a result of his movie Fitna, and recently ejected from the UK by an administration cowed by the threat of 10,000 Muslims besieging Parliament if they let Wilder show his movie. No one’s problems better illustrates the pathetic condition of Europe than Wilder.

While this was a last-minute affair with announcements going on a mere days before the talk, the room was full (not just of Jews, Miss Kelley and a number of her friends, appropriately marked with ash on their foreheads were also there); and Wilder got three standing ovations. The talk will be posted on the internet shortly.

His message was: “It’s not 8:55, it’s 11:55… We are in the last stages of islamization of Europe… and it’s closer than we imagine… It could happen very quickly… the USA is losing an ally to an ideology of hatred… the European political and intellectual elites have been intimidated and are now behaving like Dhimmi.”

Wilders has run into problems because, apparently, he called for the Quran to be banned, although according to Bostom that was not so much a serious call for banning the Quran as a ploy to emphasize that if you’re going to ban texts for hate-speech then the Quran should be at the top of the list. In honor of Wilder’s struggle, I post here a thoughtful, eloquent, and hard-hitting piece by Nidra Poller on what the USA can learn from European folly.


Europe’s Woes America’s Warning
by Nidra Poller

It is difficult to imagine how European nations could find the will and the ways to counter the subversive forces they have invited upon themselves and allowed to flourish for more than three decades. The current phase of global jihad, already underway in the much vaunted decolonization process, coalesced with the seizure of power in Iran by Ayatollah Khomenei (who had been living as a pampered refugee in France). But the American reader should be wary of concluding that Europe is lost…and the United States is standing firm.

On the contrary, all of Western civilization is under fire. As promised during the campaign, Barack Hussein Obama is making a radical change in American policy. Not of course the glorious change his worshippers promised themselves, but a troubling shift toward dhimmitude. The newly elected president lost no time in pleading guilty as charged by Muslim authorities and promising to refrain from further rebellion in order to receive their benevolent indulgence.

Similar methods produce similar results. Jihad forces in Europe — and in the United States — used Israel’s Cast Lead operation in Gaza as a pretext to organize virulent, violent pro-Hamas demonstrations. Because Europe is further down the path to surrender, the enraged pro-Hamas mobs were more violent, destructive, and physically threatening here than in the United States. But in both cases they advanced their dominion. This should be recognized as authentic conquest of territory by enraged mobs bearing down on hapless victims in an ominous show of force and not, as claimed and widely accepted, citizen demonstrators exercising their right to free speech.

Absolutely. As I argued almost five years ago, one of the major results of the al Durah affair was to allow the Arab street to take root in Europe. This is just the latest stage, and it’s most worrisome. Anyone reading this as “citizen demonstrators exercising their right to free speech,” is a useful idiot.

If you can carry signs equating the Magen David with the swastika, if you can scream “Jews to the ovens” in the face of Zionists in Ft. Lauderdale Florida, if you can storm into a synagogue in Caracas, Venezuela and terrorize the congregation, if you can bully the police in England, smash up the Place de l’Opéra in Paris, burn Israeli and American flags, shout Allahu Akbar without meeting resolute opposition, it means you can keep going and ultimately fulfill those murderous promises. Do American Jews understand what was acquired by these phony demonstrations that are really paramilitary operations? Wherever those enraged mobs set foot they transformed the streets into de facto waqf territory.

Precisely. This is a war that concerns gangs and territory. We in the West are badly equipped to handle it and (hence) to recognize it (i.e., if we can’t handle a problem, don’t have a solution, then don’t identify it as a problem).

Each successive crisis is an opportunity to ratchet up Jew hatred and the concomitant assault on Western civilization, achieving, step by step, tacit acceptance of the unspeakable. Here is how it works: first, the provocation. Jihadist attacks — thousands of rockets launched against Israel, a few airplanes flown into the WTC, capture and beheading of hostages, roadside bombs, inhuman pizzeria bombers, nuclear weapons programs — finally provoke a riposte. Bingo! The Muslim wailing machine goes into action. It is immediately picked up by complicit Western media and transmitted, with a Good Journalism stamp of approval, to public opinion. Israel, the United States and anyone else who dares to fight back is accused of war crimes, peace crimes, and original sin. This justifies subsequent acts of subversion and aggression against the free world.

It is a brilliant strategy, even if it involves the sacrifice of Muslim lives in order to pull it off. The pathetic, outrageous, inconceivable aspect of it is the role played by our own media.

When the United States used its formidable military force and assumed its international responsibilities, European nations, with rare exceptions, exploited opposition to “the war in Iraq” to undermine the American superpower. This agitation was exploited in turn by jihad interests to advance the Islamization of Europe… and by ricochet to influence domestic politics in the United States as Obamamania surfed on the theme of repairing America’s battered image.

So European resentment causes them to behave in self-destructive ways (striking at the only nation that has and can save them from their folly for what would be a third time), and American insecurity (which I run into among my colleagues all the time), takes European bad faith and cowardice as a model for us to imitate. It’s pretty amazing.

Breath of the Beast explores the deep links between Jihadis and Leftists

Yaakov ben Moshe at Breath of the Beast has a long and profound meditation on what binds Leftists and Jihadis despite their obvious differences (secular, egalitarian, feminist vs. religious patriarchal dominion) and their superficial links (anti-Zionism, anti-Americanism). In the process he plumbs some of the depths of honor-shame culture as it appears in some of the less expected realms.

The Biggest Honor Killing of All

For the past week I have been spinning my wheels on a broader version of the question I posed in my post “Can Public Broadcasting Really be This Contemptible?” The real question, and I am not to first one to have posed it, is “Why do so many otherwise intelligent people ignore and deny the obvious savagery and danger of the Islamist Jihad?” What do the intellectual elite and the chattering classes actually have in common with Hamas, al Qaeda, the Taliban and The Saudis that allows them to accept and even applaud the bloody, violent, misogynist fascist behavior and writings while they revile our elected leaders and condemn our democratic government and its allies as oppressors.

I have written a number of speculations on that question in the past and I was resolved not to just go over old ground but to add something substantial if I could. In firing off that snap reply, I opened the new door I had been looking for.

It is fascinating that, at first glance, the Arab Muslims and The Left appear to have even more reasons to fear and distrust each other as they do points of conflict with Israel, western civilization, capitalism, the military and the business community. After all, the Muslim treatment of women, children and gays and their absolute antagonism (surpassing even their hatred of Jews) for atheists, pagans and agnostics would seem to be deal-killers for any leftist and the anarchic bent of the left is completely at odds with the desire of the Islamists to institute authoritarian Sharia law and a World-wide Caliphate.

But these are only problems of doctrine, theory and logic. If the bond between these two camps seems to make no sense, it is because political doctrine, logic and fact have almost nothing to with it. Caliphate Islam and Communism/Socialism/Progressivism are, after all, both utopian fascist movements. I have quoted Louis Menand in two other posts, writing that in a fascist movement…, “…official ideology can be, and usually is, absurd on its face, and known to be absurd by the leaders who preach it.” Given that absurdity, the actual details of ideology are much less important than the strength of the movement to dictate complete allegiance, the rejection and liquidation of counter-fascists and the conquest of any other nation – especially those that might be more successful or more democratic. Clearly, the left and the Islamists do not see each other as threats- at least not nearly on the same level as the threat they see in Israel, The U.S. and Western Civilization.

They are, of course, correct. One of the few things that can draw together common cause between fascist groups with entirely opposed “official ideologies” is the overwhelming shame of knowing that your movement’s goals and tenets are mistaken, embarrassingly counter-productive and contrary to human nature- and that there is a thriving example of the alternative right next door.

Read the whole post, and leave comments both there and here.

The Palestinians’ Worst Enemy: The Poisoned Gift of European Anti-Semitism

I had a conversation with a remarkable Palestinian advocate of human rights several years ago when I tried to show him the material I had on Pallywood. As we discussed the problem, and his helplessness to even address it, it became clear to me that the single most insidious enemy of the Palestinians is the European loathing of an independent Jewish nation. What seemed to Palestinians like a gift — Europeans’ hostility to Israel — has ended up strengthening the worst aspects of Palestinian culture, its irredentism, its preference for suffering Palestinians, its thirst for hatred.

And this is nowhere more evident than when Palestinians try and go sober, try and kick their addiction to hatred, try to turn from gnawing on old wounds to growing new life. Then they run into their most fearful demon, the sympathetic hater in the West: the old fashioned European anti-semite at last released from his post-Holocaust prison of politically incorrect, the radical, the revolutionary, the morally superior/envious progressive, both Christian and post-Christian, even Jewish. For these people, like those Arab leaders who have treated them so abominably for so long, the moral and symbolic value of the Palestinians lies in their suffering, not in their recovery. The forces that have driven on the astounding, unprecedented, otherwise inexplicable 60-year refugee status for Arabs who fled Israel in 1948, will not be cheated of their most precious possession: a people victim of the Jews. Indeed, I would argue, the media footprint of Jewish misdeeds — true and invented — are the very image of this corrosive need.

For those progressives with enough remaining integrity to look at the current madness over Israel and wonder what’s wrong, I invite them to the following meditation. The behavior of Hamas described below in Belmont Club’s discussion, the deeds of that very same Hamas whose flags German’s successfully petitioned their courts for permission to wave at their anti-war demonstrations, is the karmic product of sixty years of proxy hatreds, now reaching new temperatures. Under a terrifying assault by neighbors driven mad by their own leaders’ mad policies, the Gazans find themselves literally crucified by a reign of terror.

January 21st, 2009 3:31 am
The Grand Inquisitors

Up to a hundred Palestinians in Gaza who have defied house arrest orders have been tortured in children’s hospitals and schools converted into interrogation centers. People have been shot in the legs or had their hands broken. The campaign has been described as a “new massacre”. One victim had his eyes put out. No one was safe from the torturers, not even those attending funerals. When is will the UN act to put a stop to this horror? Won’t President Obama intervene to stop these barbaric acts? Aren’t international human rights monitors going to put a stop to this? When will War Crimes charges be preferred against the perpetrators?


Why? Because Hamas is in charge of the torture and their victims are simply Fatah members. If it were Israel who had done these things, well then … But since it’s Hamas, the same Hamas for whom thousands have been marching in ’solidarity’, it’s a non-story. The Jersualem Post cites reports from Fatah members describing the events.

Of course, that’s Khaled abu Toameh, who, without going to Gaza, tells us more than all the brave Ben Wedemans in their flak jackets or Taghreed el-Khodarys, with their anti-Israel talking points. And yet, many journalists dismiss Toameh because he works for the Jerusalem Post. “He’s not fully reliable, you know,” they say “with a sad wink and a nudge.”

The argument is not without its ironies. After all, imagine an Israeli reporter, reporting dirt on Israel to the readers of Al Jazeera. One can hardly imagine our MSM journalists dismissing his or her information. Come to think of it… that’s more or less the function of Gideon Levy and Amira Hass in the internet, English Ha-Aretz. When’s the last time a journalist airily dismissed their testimony?

Arab Reformer Challenges the West’s Unconscious Racism

“The gift of liberty is like a horse, handsome, strong, and high-spirited. In some it arouses a wish to ride; in many others, on the contrary, it increases the desire to walk.” Massimo d’Azeglio, Italian observer of the failure of the 1848 democratic revolutions.

The indispensable MEMRI put up an article by Omran Salmon, an Arab “reformer” to the implicitly racist assumption that the Arab world is incapable of democracy. It’s an interesting challenge because in some senses it seems to contradict my arguments about cognitive egocentrism in which I claim that by projecting liberal Western attitudes positive-sum attitudes onto Arabs, we automatically assume that they’re capable of democracy when they’re not. That, I contend, is a form of prejudice in which liberals give Arabs a free pass because, assuming Arabs are incapable of democratic values, liberals are afraid to make the demands necessary.

It turns out, Salmon’s attack on the West reflects precisely the problem Arabs have with democracy, and confirm the judgment of pessimistic Westerners. I’ll try and sort out some of the issues by responding to Salmon’s comments [in bold] below.

Special Dispatch – No. 2182
January 9, 2009 No. 2182

Arab Liberal Criticizes European Parliament President for Suggesting That the Middle East Does Not Deserve The Democracy Enjoyed By The West, December 21, 2008.

During a December 20, 2008 visit to the Omani capital Muscat, European Parliament President Hans-Gert Poettering stated that democracy in the Middle Eastmust evolve from within, that it must reflect local traditions and values, and that the West should not pressure the region to adopt a European-style democratic system. This statement sparked criticism among Arab intellectuals; the next day, ‘Omran Salman, editor of the reformist website, [1] posted an article harshly critical of Poettering’s statements.

Following are excerpts from Salman’s article:

Western Officials Would Rather Keep the Middle East Under Dictatorships

“…What is the meaning of statements [such as Poettering’s]… that the democratic system followed in Europe is appropriate for countries all over the world except in the Arab region?

“Naturally, such statements are not innocuous, nor are they for the benefit of these alleged exceptions [i.e. the Arab countries]; rather, they are manifestations of racist tendencies as well as self-serving objectives.

“These people [like Poettering] believe that Arabs deserve nothing better than their present governments – [that is,] they do not deserve the democracy enjoyed by civilized nations. It follows that it is better not to pressure dictatorial regimes but instead to grant their wishes, [and receive] in exchange agreements, money, and profits – while the people there can go to hell.

Not a promising beginning. This indignant charge — which assumes Arabs are perfectly capable of having a democracy — comes close to a conspiracy theory about the West wanting to keep the Arab world run by dictators. A little self-critical humility might have been in order. After all, the Arab world is virtually a universal political failure, and only tiny emirates rolling in petrodollars have even come vaguely close to democracy.

The irony, of course, is that poor President Poettering was just trying to be accommodating, and, rather than make demands on the Arabs, hoped to appease them by not imposing western standards — women’s and minority rights, free press and speech — for which no Arab nation or culture (even in the diaspora) shows much aptitude. This indignation seems a bit misplaced.

A Millennial critique of Rene Girard’s thesis on scapegoating

N.B.: The following is an essay I wrote several years ago while working on early Christian millennialism. It’s a critique of René Girard’s work on the subject, in particular, the ideas he delineated in a book with the modest title of Things Hidden since the Foundation of the World. I’m posting it here partly because Yaakov of Breath of the Beast is working through some of Girard’s ideas and we have come to similar critiques of this seminal thinker’s provocative work. I also welcome any suggestions or criticisms from readers, even though this is not in the main stream of this blog’s focus. The essay is neither polished, nor fully footnoted; consider it a draft.

According to Girard, the New Testament (NT) stands apart from all previous thinking on sacrifice, with the partial exception of Judaism, because, rather than declare the sacrificial victim guilty, the victim is the very image of purity and innocence. Thus a mythical implosion occurs. This unjust sacrifice of the innocent extinguishes the self-regenerating mentality of sacrificing the guilty, thus putting an end to scapegoating. The notion has problems with handling Jewish materials, something especially evident in the work of Hamerton-Kelly, whose anti-Judaic tendencies flourish under his apologetic pen.

What strikes the millennial scholar here, however, is the depiction of Jesus as innocent. Granted Girard is working with the “myth” of Jesus, – indeed, Girard regularly and, I think, revealingly, refers to not to Jesus but to Christ.1 But the myth is self-consciously embedded in a historical discourse about millennial hopes and apocalyptic expectations which – surely much to amazement of all sides at the time were they to know it but not retrospectively to Girard – continues to flourish to this very day.

From the millennial, that is from the historical rather than mythical point of view, Jesus is not “innocent.” On the contrary, he was wrong about the imminence of the apocalypse and, whatever his intentions, dangerous to those who brought their demotic millennial hopes to the surface in a prime divider society profoundly hostile to such sentiments, in the case of Jesus, during the pax romana, whose peace the Romans nailed down, literally, with crucifixion. The kingdom was not at hand, and he got crucified for simple and predictable reasons by Romans who had no doubt of his guilt. There may well have been Jewish aristocrats who shared this perspective, and even invoked the “safety of the people” (given Roman rule), for their conservative, prime-divider politics. The disciples, those who developed the myth as well as those who wrote it down, needed above all to save their faith in their own salvation. And they chose to do so by denying Jesus’ error and in so doing, denying their own continuing and continuously fruitful error of anticipating the end at any moment.

The sacrificial victim in this process of denial was Judaism, especially Pharisaic (later rabbinic) Judaism. This sacrificial Judaism was judged guilty by Christians for the mere fact that they did not accept the divine, blameless and faultless messiah of the Christians. Thus, far from putting an end to scapegoating, NT narratives actually imbedded a new kind of scapegoating into its very history and salvific myth. For Christians, Christ, Jesus sacralized, was innocent, the Jews guilty of the double crime of killing the man and denying the God.

Thus it cannot be “merely” the Saducees who are guilty of killing Jesus, it must be the Pharisees who are responsible for killing Christ. For the sake of saving themselves from the rocky shores of cognitive dissonance, Christians consigned their religious parent to perpetual guilt, and, as we shall see, when Christians gained power, to oppression, prison and death. Girard, despite his usual acuity in such matters, does not perceive any of this disguised sacrificial activity in the text, partly because it is crucial to his own reading of the Crucifixion, partly because his entire effort aims at showing that this text presents the end of sacrificial constructions. Thus he repeatedly refers to and analyzes the “Gospel” and the “text” as if it only needed direct interpretation, not deconstruction for its silent and disguised sacrificial activity.

Pipes on the International Alliance between Islamic Jihad and the Radical Left

Daniel Pipes has an important discussion on the links between forces that consider themselves radical “progressive” or communist (everyone knows they want what’d good for everyone) and Islamist movements, especially as incarnated in the alliance between Iran and Venezuela, an issue we’ve treated here in the past, in particular in the context of conspiracy theories.

Of course, keep your eye on all the balls in the air. Melanie Phillips sees trouble brewing from this toxic combination in Scotland; and people who embrace this worldview teem irrepressibly at Barack Obama’s website. And of course, Khoumeini already did this once to the Communists in 1979 — duped them into supporting his takeover and then turned on them. I guess if the thirst to “bring down the great Satan” overrides even the most formidable intelligences, it wouldn’t have too hard a time with the likes of Cesar Chavez.

There was a recent survey that argued that the top ten intellectuals in the world were Muslim. I can forgive them the vanity. They must look at us the way Bart (Cleavon Little) felt about the white folk he had just duped in Blazing Saddles:

[Pipes, as is his scholarly wont, gives a harvest of links to his text and additional material not available at the National Review version of the piece. Read his account.]

[The Islamist-Leftist] Allied Menace

Daniel Pipes
National Review

“Here are two brother countries, united like a single fist,” said socialist Hugo Chávez during a visit to Tehran last November, celebrating his alliance with Islamist Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Che Guevara’s son Camilo, who also visited Tehran last year, declared that his father would have “supported the country in its current struggle against the United States.” They followed in the footsteps of Fidel Castro, who in a 2001 visit told his hosts that “Iran and Cuba, in cooperation with each other, can bring America to its knees.” For his part, Ilich Ramírez Sánchez (“Carlos the Jackal”) wrote in his book L’islam révolutionnaire (“Revolutionary Islam”) that “only a coalition of Marxists and Islamists can destroy the United States.”

It’s not just Latin American leftists who see potential in Islamism. Ken Livingstone, the Trotskyite mayor of London, literally hugged prominent Islamist thinker Yusuf al-Qaradawi. Ramsey Clark, the former U.S. attorney general, visited Ayatollah Khomeini and offered his support. Noam Chomsky, the MIT professor, visited Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah and endorsed Hezbollah’s keeping its arms. Ella Vogelaar, the Dutch minister for housing, neighborhoods, and integration, is so sympathetic to Islamism that one critic, the Iranian-born professor Afshin Ellian, has called her “the minister of Islamization.”

Dennis Kucinich, during his first presidential campaign in 2004, quoted the Koran and roused a Muslim audience to chant “Allahu akbar” (“God is great”) and he even announced, “I keep a copy of the Koran in my office.” Spark, youth paper of Britain’s Socialist Labour party, praised Asif Mohammed Hanif, the British suicide bomber who attacked a Tel Aviv bar, as a “hero of the revolutionary youth” who had carried out his mission “in the spirit of internationalism.” Workers World, an American Communist newspaper, ran an obituary lauding Hezbollah’s master terrorist, Imad Mughniyeh.

The Prophetic Stream, Conspiracy Theory and Paranoia: What’s Wrong with African-American Preaching

There’s a brouhaha about the Reverend Jeremiah Wright Jr. which deserves close consideration. I have written a good deal about self-criticism, and its origins in the prophetic tradition of the Hebrew Bible. Recently I have been hearing a consistent invocation of this “prophetic tradition” among those explaining (if not justifying and admiring) Reverend Jeremiah Wright Jr.’s preaching style.

Reverend Joseph Lowery explained on CNN that Wright’s sermons were only “divisive” in the sense that they distinguished between people who were in this prophtetic tradition and those who weren’t “in the community of faith” defined by that tradition.

Well, they certainly separate us from the people who are not from the community of faith and who do not subscribe to prophetic preaching. There are hundreds and hundreds of preachers in black churches across this country who may not use identical language, but they have a common theology with Jeremiah Wright. They’re in the prophetic stream.

The prophets of old, the Jeremiahs, the Amos, and they spoke angrily and sometimes with cruel phrases and words, to the rulers and kings of their day. That’s who they were talking to on behalf of the poor and oppressed of their day.

The black church has been a place where black people take their sorrow, their travail and their longing for hope and for deliverance. They expect the preacher and thank the preacher and say, “Amen, hallelujah,” to the preacher, who takes their burden to the Lord. And then they join in a movement to help bring new order and a new day into being. That’s prophetic preaching, and it’s traditionally the black church.

Similar remarks from Randall Bailey:

I often wonder if those who criticize these homiletical strategies of calling the nation to judgment do not read the 8th to 7th C. BCE prophets, such as Amos, Hosea, Micah, Isaiah, and Jeremiah. They delivered judgment speeches against the nations of Israel and Judah and their rulers because of the ways in which they oppressed the poor, perverted justice, and ignored the moral and ethical imperatives of the religion.

As someone who has read the prophetic texts, and thought a good deal about them in the context of the tradition of self-criticism, I think these characterizations of the “prophetic stream” represent a profound misunderstanding. The prophets are ferocious in their criticism of their own people; they have relatively little to say about the real oppressive forces in the world of their day in the 8-7th centuries BCE. When the people of Israel get smashed by the Assyrians and the Babylonians, the prophets don’t go into a rant about how evil these vicious imperialists are; they invoke them as God’s agents in punishing Israel for their sins. When, under more normative conditions, when they chastize rulers and aristocracy for their treatment of the poor, they do so again with vigorous, even violent rhetoric, but they do so in the hopes of changing their people. The prophets, however rough they may be, love the people they chastize, and rebuke them for the sake of their transformation.

Historically, this “prophetic turn” represents something exceptional among ancient peoples, and one of the reasons that the Jews have survived these defeats, while the other nations, once conquered, decimated, sent into exile, tended to disappear. For these rebukes of the prophets aimed at reminding the elites that they had obligations to the poor; that the people of Israel constituted the unit, and that rulers ruled “for the people.” As a result, Jewish communities in the ancient and medieval world had an exceptionally high degree of internal cohesion that permitted them to survive under the most adverse conditions. Among elites in various civilizations — rulers, aristocrats, wealthy — Israelite and Jewish elites have the most highly developed sense of obligation to their commoners. Most nations, once conquered, saw their elites abandon them and join the lower echelons of the imperial administration that now held power. As Abraham Heschel pointed out, the prophets were among the few who denounced “the idolatry of power” with such fervor.

But the core reason for their success comes from the profound attachment that the prophets felt for their people. There is no trace of hatred in their clean anger, no desire to see failure and punishment, no joy in the downfall of the sinners. Indeed, their commitment to the very people they rebuked, in some cases, so savagely, meant that, often enough, those rebuked took them seriously. The very fact that these prophetic denunciations became canonized as sacred scripture — that we hear the shepherd Amos’ version of the tale, not that of the royal priest Amatzia — tells us that not only the prophets, but the leaders of the people shared these values and accepted the prophetic rebukes.

All this is very far from what is here invoked as “Black Liberation Theology” or the “prophetic stream” of African-American churches. There, although Reverend Wright repeatedly speaks about “we,” he really means the white ruling class who, in his mind, deliberately conspire to destroy, even wipe out the blacks, the innocent victims of that malevolence.

Some commentators have complained that Wright’s sermons have been cherry-picked — snippets out of context — for their shock value, and that a longer exposure to his thought gives a significantly different impression. Here is a larger segment of the post-9-11 sermon that Wright gave, so one can get a sense of the context.

The people who posted this did so under the title “FOX Lies!! Barack Obama Pastor Wright”. They apparently think that this longer piece makes the snippet that played — as far as I know it was ABC, not FOX who broke this story — negates the meaning of the snippet. It certainly does show Reverend Wright calling 9-11 “unspeakable” and showing empathy at the tragedy of people — “black people” — throwing themselves out of the burning building. And this may or may not mitigate the appalling expressions of triumphalism — even glee — that Reverend Wright expresses to the delight of the audience, as he hits his “chickens coming home to roost” theme, although it hardly makes a “lie” of the snippet.

Let’s examine some of this larger sermon.

The Mystery of Hate: Can Pallywood have anything to do with it?

Yair Lapid, an Israeli columnist asked a long, painful, and highly relevant question. Why the hate? Not Palestinian hate, but Arab, Muslim? My attempt at the beginning of a answer aftewards.

The Mystery of Hate
by Yair Lapid

Hundreds of years of fighting, six and a half wars, billions of dollars gone with the wind, tens of thousands of victims, not including the boy who laid down next to me on the rocky beach of lake Karon in 1982 and we both watched his guts spilling out. The helicopter took him and until this day I do not know whether he is dead or survived. All this, and one
cannot figure it out.

And its not only what happened but all that did not happen – hospitals that were never built, universities that were never opened, roads that were never paved, the three years that were taken from millions of teenagers for the sake of the army. And despite all the above, we still do not have the beginning of a clue to the mystery of where it all started:

Why do they hate us so much?

The Sweet taste of Moral Schadenfreude: Archbishop of Canterbury Denounces US to Muslim Journal

[Post by Lazar and Richard; hat tip: Roger Simon, who brings it as further proof that Christopher Hitchens was right about religion.]

An interesting article in the London Times by Abul Taher discusses an interview with Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Emel, a British Muslim lifestyle magazine. (Actually the article is itself a fairly editorial write-up of the interview. I wonder how Archbishop Williams feels about it.)

Given that the Times’ article makes Williams’ even more anti-American than (his own words in) the interview, it raises an interesting question we will address at the end of this post. Is the author doing a hatchet job on the Archbishop by making him sound even more ludicrously anti-American than he really was? Or is he trying to spell out for his readership the anti-American lessons that the Archbishop was too subtle to articulate as clearly as the “reporter” wanted?

Archbishop Williams already has a history of anti-American behavior in his own right, and consistently urges the West to understand terrorists, not demonize them. As chaplain of Clare College, Cambridge, Williams was active in anti-nuclear protests at U.S. bases. After 9/11, he said that terrorists can have “serious moral goals“, and that they should not be labeled “evil“. Yet he had no problem calling the impending U.S. invasion of Iraq “immoral”.

In 2002, Dr. Peter Mullen wrote an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal describing the Most Rev. Williams as

    an old-fashioned class warrior, a typical bien-pensant despiser of Western capitalism and the way of life that goes with it. Perhaps this would not matter much in ordinary times, but when the future of Western civilization itself is under threat, such posturing is suicidal. What havoc this man might wreak from the throne of Canterbury.

US is ‘worst’ imperialist: Archbishop
The Sunday Times
November 25, 2007

THE Archbishop of Canterbury has said that the United States wields its power in a way that is worse than Britain during its imperial heyday.

“Imperial heyday” is Taher’s term. Williams actually did not make this point in his article, although he could fairly be construed to have made it. After all, this kind of thinking is so common in Europe today — the Anti-Zionist variant holds that Israeli imperialism is far worse than, say, French imperialism in Algeria — that the Archbishop could well have made it without any awareness of how facetious it is, how, in a matter of days, British imperial troops and policies killed more “natives” — men, women and children, than the number killed by Americans in any of their recent wars, or the Israelis in the last century.

Michael N: Reflections on Europe’s Moral Dilemma

In response to a long exchange of thoughts commenting on two posts, one on the Oxford Union’s bizarre notion of serious debate, and one on the issues raised by that post by Sophia, Michael N. wrote the following set of reflections which I think worthy of a post all to itself on the problem of Europeans and moral envy.

It began with a brief remark by MN on the hostility of the Europeans to the USA:

I think that if America DID act more like a traditional empire-building superpower, we might even resent it less here; it would not then compare so favourably with our own record!

That caught my eye since one of the things I think is going on right now about Zionism is that with moral perfectionists like Michael Lerner and the extraordinary self-restraint and self-sacrifice exercised by the IDF (e.g., at Jenin), the Israelis are driving people crazy with their moral standards so far in excess of that of their neighbors. Therefore, one of the reasons why Israel gets demonized is to cut it down to size (i.e., the Jenin “Massacre”). So I responded by asking MN to elaborate:

rl: that’s an extremely interesting final remark. there’s no doubt in my mind that if israel were more brutal, there would be less verbal and physical aggression against them. they just don’t have it in them, and then they get attacked for being brutal.

your comment suggests that the real problem is moral envy, a particularly pernicious form of envy that thrives on some appalling moral “thinking” that includes the kind of moral hysteria we hear from people for whom abu ghraib is far worse then saddam’s (or any other arabs’) prisons, the crimes of israel far worse than, say, darfur.

do you really think this is the operative factor?

because if so, then there’s an inverse relationship between how badly (or well) the usa (and israel) behave, and how roundly the europeans (and the “left”) denounce them.

This is Michael N.’s response, which I think takes the discussion in very interesting directions:

Europe, America, and moral envy. The situation is so multi-layered it’s almost impossible to say that moral envy represents the primary operative factor.

It is perhaps something else closely related; a hatred of obligations. Europe owes America, and it knows it owes America. It is therefore rushing as quickly as it can to forget what and why it owes America.

Or, as I learned from trying to teach my kids, it’s almost as hard to say, “Thank you,” as it is to say, “i’m sorry.” Both involve the implication of obligation.