Category Archives: Syria

Gitlin comes to the Defense of Butler’s Diasporic Non-Violence: Red Meat for the Vegan Crowd

The Butler controversy continues. For some reason Todd Gitlin, whom even people who disagree with him consider “nuanced,” comes out with a defense of his colleague at Columbia, Judith Butler. Despite the obvious daylight between him and Judith, he frames this as part of a schoolyard fight where he’s defending his friend, and is just one stage before, “I’m rubber and your glue…”

Not what I’d call a serious contribution to the issues at hand.

The Trouble With Judith Butler—and Her Critics

September 4, 2012, 2:24 pm

By Todd Gitlin

Whatever one wants to say about the philosopher Judith Butler’s contribution to contemporary thought, I suspect that not even her most devoted disciple would call her a lucid writer. In her introduction to an early book, Gender Trouble, she writes:

  • There is a new venue for theory, necessarily impure, where it emerges in and as the very event of cultural translation. This is not the displacement of theory by historicism, nor a simple historicization of theory that exposes the contingent limits of its more generalizable claims. It is, rather, the emergence of theory at the site where cultural horizons meet, where the demand for translation is acute and its promise of success, uncertain.

What we have here, and throughout Butler’s writings, are not so much [sic?] sentences that carry propositions as a whiff of the burning of incense before an idol called “theory.” There are some in the academy who find this practice “emancipating.” I do not.

I agree (nice image), although this is hardly the most impenetrable of her smoke columns. It actually brushes close to comprehensibility.

Be that as it may, the author of those unilluminating sentences is soon to receive the City of Frankfurt’s triennial Theodor W. Adorno Prize, named for the brilliant, prolific, vastly complex, often tangled, so-called Frankfurt School German-Jewish thinker genius who was himself given to wild overstatement of the sort that Butler, in fact, quotes in the epigraph to another one of her books: “The value of thought is measured by its distance from the continuity of the familiar.” A moment’s reflection shows this to be nonsense. Adorno had bad days, too.

Actually it’s one of the unspoken goals of most academics who want to make an original contribution: the counter-intuitive truth. Who wants to spend a lifetime regurgitating Vérités de la Palice?

The politics of “theory” and prize committees would be interesting subjects on their own, but the focus of vehement attack by The Jerusalem Post and organizations devoted to My-Israel-Right-or-Wrong politics is a more specific claim.

This is an interesting trope that one runs across often: “my Israel right or wrong” or the “Israel firsters.” It’s an effort to dismiss as some kind of primitive incarnation of an “us-them” mentality, people who defend Israel against calumnies. Most people identified as Israel-firsters are not. They are capable of both recognizing legitimate criticism and even articulating it.

But we draw lines between constructive criticism and destructive, between criticizing policies soberly and demonizing, between concerned tochachah and existential hatred. Most people who dismiss defenders of Israel as Israel-firsters, on the other hand, are “Israel is wrong firsters,” who, like Judith Butler, have no trouble finding their full-throated voices when criticizing Israel in no uncertain terms and based on highly uncertain sources, but somehow mumble and fumble when it comes to denouncing her ferocious enemies.

In the context of a battle with an enemy that has one of the most regressive ”my side right or wrong” attitudes – “love my side and hate everyone else” – which is constantly being reinforced by the opposite “progressive” meme of “your side right or wrong” that must accept the epistemological priority of the subaltern “Other” (as does Helena Cobban), it’s a pretty ugly accusation. It goes hand in hand with the common trope, “any criticism of Israel is considered anti-Semitic,” which Butler and her convulsively anti-Israel colleagues uses constantly as a smokescreen for vicious criticism.

In the words of the Post’s Benjamin Weinthal, Butler “advocates a sweeping boycott of ties with Israel’s cultural and academic establishment and has defended Hezbollah and Hamas as progressive organizations.”

This slovenly slash-and-burn propaganda, masquerading as journalism, has occasioned a crisp reply by Butler:

Wow. This is pretty amazing. Weinthal’s piece is slash and burn propaganda, while her long, rambling, and insubstantial reply is “crisp”? Surely a scholar of nuance, like Todd Gitlin can do better. This is red-meat language for the carnivore “progressive” choir.

Assadwashing: On the Distinction between Supporting Palestinian/Arab Rights and Denying Israeli Rights

I recently noted this hit piece on me. Normally I wouldn’t bother responding, but in this case a) it’s from a BU student, and b) it so embodies everything that’s wrong-headed about Palestinian “advocacy” that it’s actually an invitation to explore both the moral rhetoric and argument of the BDS movement. Fisking ahead.

Pointing to Syria to divert attention from Israel’s crimes

20 April 2012

Why aren’t pseudo-supporters of Syrian human rights actively lobbying Israel to stop the occupation of the Golan Heights?

(Yin Dongxun / Xinhua)

Answer: Maybe because the Druse of the Golan have far more human rights under Israeli rule than under the butcher of Damascus.

The very fact that one could seriously ask such a question shows the fundamentally “us-them” mentality involved in this formulation. No matter how viciously “we” Arabs treat our own people (e.g., Assad in Syria today), we want the human rights community to support putting Arabs (not even – Druze) under Arab sovereignty… is this a kind of “right of dictatorship”?

The Israeli government and its supporters have long utilized a wide range of propaganda tools to sugarcoat Israel’s atrocities against the Palestinians.

I like the use of the term “atrocity.” Nothing in the widely inflated thesaurus of accusations against Israel so carefully collected by Electronic Intifada and their allies (e.g., al Awda) comes close to what the Arabs do to their own people (torture, civilian massacres, systematic throttling of free press). But it’s Israeli “atrocities” that drive these activists wild with indignation. Here again we encounter the honor-shame, us-them mentality: what Arabs do to Arabs is not nearly as problematic, no matter how bad, as what Israelis do to Arabs. In other words, no matter how slight the offense, Israeli inflicted Palestinian suffering is an unbearable humiliation. Indeed, in some versions of the story, it is even responsible for preventing Arabs from creating democracies.

In addition to pinkwashing (using Israel’s relative support of gay rights to sugarcoat the country’s apartheid nature) and greenwashing (perpetuating the perception that Israel has environmentally-friendly policies to do the same), Zionist advocates are now using a different method: Assadwashing.

The problems with the “pinkwashing accusations” was widely addressed at the time the NYT shamefully published the editorial. Assadwashing is a worthy successor in the category of inane moral arguments.

But I find (again) the author’s use of “relative support” to characterize Israel’s defense of gay rights, to be especially amusing. Tell it to the Palestinian homosexuals who, for decades, have been fleeing to Israel for that culture’s “relative” tolerance. Jamil makes a grudging concession, which he swiftly brushes aside; and yet, in this matter, Israel shows a double tolerance neither of which one detects in the Arab world: a) for homosexuals, and b) for the “other,” even the hostile “other.” Hard to find a better case of a not “us-them” mentality than Israel’s treatment of Palestinian gays.

Such observations have actually led some gay progressives to praise Israel. Understandably, this infuriates the zero-sum activists for Palestinian “rights,” like Jamil.

As the Syrian uprising moves into its second year and Bashar al-Assad’s regime continues its brutal crackdown, the pro-Israel camp has breathed a sigh of relief and put on an indignant grin. Zionists now feel justified in pointing to Israel’s northeastern neighbor and exploiting the Syrian people’s suffering and resistance in order to further their own political agenda, depicting Israel as a “vibrant democracy” in comparison to Syria.

Ummm, yes. Can you imagine the equivalent of an Ahmad Tibi or Hanin Zouabi in any Arab country… say, an Iraqi or Iranian Jew who loudly and publicly denounced the regime as anti-Semitic and oppressive and openly called for its overthrow? On the contrary, even Muslims who show any support for Israel are under penalty of death.

To follow Jamil’s logic here, pointing out the obvious (and important) is forbidden lest it benefit ‘the [evil] enemy.’  Truth means nothing in the face of solidarity, if the truth works against “us.” That makes sense from a purely “us-them” mentality, but hardly seems like it should fly in a moral conversation. As Pierre Bourdieu, the French sociologist who studied North African honor-shame cultures noted:

The ethos of honour is fundamentally opposed to a universal and formal morality which affirms the equality in dignity of all men and consequently the equality of their rights and duties. Not only do the rules imposed upon men differ from those imposed upon women, and the duties towards men differ from those towards women, but also the dictates of honour, directly applied to the individual case and varying according to the situation, are in no way capable of being made universal. 

So one should not, by this logic, apply the same standards to everyone, both to perpetrators (Israel vs. Syria) or to victims (Palestinians vs. Syrians). Eyes on the prize.

Perversely, to Zionist propagandists, Assad’s pernicious brutality comes not as a tragedy but as a savior.

Or, alternatively, and possibly still more perversely, to anti-Zionist propagandists, the global revelations of Assad’s pernicious brutality come not as a tragedy for the Arabs who are, and have been, the recipients of this brutality, but as an embarrassment/tragedy for Palestinian efforts to depict Israel as an apartheid-practicing tyranny.