Category Archives: Top Media Analysis

MSNM to Israel: We’re a force of nature, deal with it.

The latest developments from Silwan, and a brilliant spoof on the MSNM by Latma (below) prompt me to report a conversation I had last summer with a journalist who is the Middle East Correspondent for a major Western news outlet. I was speaking to him about my concern that the MSNM had behaved very badly over the previous decade, much to the detriment, not just of Israel but of the West and societies that try and guarantee the freedom of speech and the press. In particular I emphasized the skewed epistemology whereby they treated Palestinian claims as true until proven false, and Israeli claims as false until proven true, and when the evidence eventually favored the Israelis, they tended to fall silent.

His response was that Israeli complaints (whining) about the media being unfair is like a general who complains about rain on the field of battle. I didn’t bother pursuing the point that in no case does the rain only fall on one army alone. What interested me more was the implication of this (repeated) comment, namely that he (and apparently many others) saw the media as a force of nature, an unalterable force, immune to reason or rebuke. They would just do their thing, and let the Israelis deal with it.

I think that some of this comes from an attitude of sympathy towards the underdog. Bob Simon, in treating the Al Durah story, commented that “in the Middle East, one picture can be worth a thousand weapons.” Over time, a number of journalists (off the record) agreed with the formula: “The Israelis have all the weapons, so why not let the Palestinians have the PR victory? It’s a way of leveling the playing field.”

But what about fake stories? Like Muhammad al Durah? In subsequent years, I heard (especially European/French) journalists shrug and say, weapons of the weak, as if somehow that made it alright. In this sense, Enderlin’s response to my observation that most of the action sequences from Talal abu Rahmah were framed — “Oh, they do that all the time, it’s a cultural thing” — represents the journalist’s off-the-record Orientalist indulgence of a culture foreign to everything that Western journalism is supposed to be about.

Now, I can understand some journalists coming to this conclusion, deciding that somehow the underdog status of the Palestinians allowed them to invent what Nidra Poller has aptly called “lethal narratives” but not everyone.  And yet, my friend the journalist (who few would consider a particularly nasty anti-Israel writer) tells me that a majority of the journalists stationed in Israel would be far more harsh in their treatment of Israel were it not for their editors at home.

I think I understand why he presents the MSNM as a force of nature, impermeable to change: they’re going to handicap Israel by raining on their troop positions. It’s not only the “moral” thing to do (level the playing field, side with the underdog), but it’s also a show of power. They will be the Lilliputians that tie the giant Gulliver down.

Talking to him, listening to his reasoning, to his explanations for things (like explaining the precipitous drop in Hamas’ suicide bombings in recent years as a response to the disapproval of Muslims worldwide), to his disappointment that Israel is not more in line with his own liberal/progressive thinking (alas, they reacted to suicide attacks by becoming more right-wing), to his selective empathy, I begin to realize how tight the grip of what Charles Jacobs calls the Human Rights Complex is on our journalists, and their party-buddies, the UN workers and “Human Rights” NGOs who hang together in Jerusalem. It produces the “herd of independent minds” that characterizes today’s Middle East journalism.

And of course, if you adopt this point of view, you never have to deal with the problem of what happens if you report stuff that’s not acceptable to the Palestinians/Arabs/Muslims. So they can, in all good conscience, look you straight in the eye and say, “There’s no intimidation here.” Try writing some stories on the culture of genocidal hatred that has pride of place in Palestinian pulpits and airways, and see if there isn’t some pushback.

But then, that would be supplying Israel with PR weapons, and we wouldn’t want that.

All of this is a long and rather elaborate introduction to a brilliant satire put out by Latma on precisely this subject. Enjoy. Imnsho, it’s right on.

Ignoring Taguieff: Al Durah, Judeophobia, and the Success of Islamism in Europe

Pierre-André Taguieff sent me two links to articles that deal with the omerta of the French media about Taguieff’s book, « La nouvelle propagande anti juive ». I have already posted on this issue when Robert Redeker lost his position as book reviewer for a small Luxembourgeois paper for daring to review it favorably. Now two articles, including one in the Nouvel Observateur have taken up the cudgels for Taguieff.

Both point to Taguieff’s work on the Al Durah case as one of the main causes of the silence of the MSNM on his work. I reproduce the two passages on Al Durah below.

Note also an interesting incident in the French Senate during hearings for the new head of France2, in which a Senator put the appointee on the spot about the Al Durah story. This story is covered in still greater detail by the indefatigable Veronique Chemla in which she points out that a) the Senator in question (Plancade) gave the new head of France2 (Pflimlin) Taguieff’s book; and b) that none of the MSNM mentioned Plancade’s intervention. (HT/Eliyahu)

Vladimir Vladimirovitch A Lire

Par ailleurs il décrit et démontre la complicité des médias dans le processus précédent. En s’appuyant noatamment sur l’affaire Al Dourah qui lui permet de décrire par quels processus la classe médiatique, au mépris de toute déontologie, a manifesté sa solidarité avec Charles Enderlin, auteur du reportage contesté dans sa véracité (bien qu’il n’ait pas été présent au moment des faits). Israël ne pouvant être que coupable et les Palestiniens des victimes, il n’était en effet pas possible de revenir sur cette version des faits présentant les soldats israéliens comme des tueurs d’enfants palestiniens sans défense. Pourtant bien des éléments méritent qu’une enquête soit menée sur la validité de ce reportage. Ce qu’ont fait d’ailleurs des journalistes allemands demontant point par point la thèse d’Enderlin.

[Among other things he describes and demonstrates the complicity of the media in the preceding process (i.e., the alliance between the left and the islamists – rl). He emphasizes the al Durah affair to describe the way the “media class” (information professionals – rl), acting in violation of all professional ethics, showed its solidarity with Charles Enderlin, author of the contested report (even though he wasn’t present at the time of the events). Since Israel can only be guilty and the Palestinians only victims, it was impossible to revise this version of events in which the Israeli soldiers were killers of defenseless Palestinian children. And yet many aspects of the case indicate that an investigation be carried out on the validity of the report… which German journalists did, dismantling point by point Enderlin’s contentions.]

Les médias ne présenteront donc pas ce livre. Parce qu’il les met en cause et parce qu’il navigue à contre courant en démontrant que cette nouvelle propagande antijuive dont ils sont les porteurs constitue une arme de l’islamisme non pas contre Israël simplement, mais contre les démocraties. Ouvrage donc iconoclaste.

[The media will therefore not present this book. Because it questions them, and because it sails against the prevailing winds, dhowing that this new anti-Jewish propaganda of which they are the carriers constitutes an arm of Islamism not only aimed at Israel, but against democracies. Therefore, an iconoclastic work.]

Tarnero’s article is longer, published in a relatively new and iconoclastic publication, Causeur, which has taken on the Al Durah case already. Again, I only cite the segment directly concerned with Al Durah.

Walter Cronkite: Avuncular Advocacy Journalist and the Origins of the MSNM’s Augean Stables

There’s been much to-do about Walter Cronkite’s recent decease, and I’m getting emails with articles from a wide range of perspectives, from the adulatory “mainstream” and the disgruntled “right”, people who think he was a wonderful model of what journalism should be like — trusted and trustworthy — and people who think that, behind his verneer of “objectivity,” lay a committed World Federalist eager to put an end to “The American Century” and move on to a UN-run one-world government.

The kudos come from journalists who considered him their model (Mike Wallace, Bob Schieffer, Dan Rather), and from people like President Obama:

He invited us to believe in him, and he never let us down… This country has lost an icon and a dear friend, and he will be truly miss.

Icon indeed, and well worth a bit of criticism, particularly since we now live with the toxic waste of his interventionist, advocacy reporting. I highly recommend the carefully researched posts of Neo-Con on this subject, posts she had put up a couple of years ago, and has now updated to reflect Cronkite’s passing. Below some choice passages:

Cronkite earned his trust the hard way: by reporting the unvarnished news. In this 2002 radio interview (well worth listening to for insight into his thought process at the time) Cronkite describes his orientation towards his job prior to that watershed moment of the Tet offensive broadcast.

Previously the top brass at CBS, as well as the reporters there, had understood their function to be reporting “the facts, just the facts.” Editorializing was kept strictly separate; at CBS, it was a function of Eric Sevareid, and clearly labeled as such.

The president of CBS news, Dick Salant, was a man of almost fanatical devotion to the principles of non-editorializing journalism, according to Cronkite’s interview. Cronkite said that, till Tet, he “almost wouldn’t let us put an adjective in a sentence” when reporting, he’d been such a stickler for “just the facts.”

But, according to Cronkite, as the Vietnamese War had worn on, and because of the confusion of the American people about the war, reflected in letters to the station, Salant sent Cronkite on a trip to Vietnam with the idea of doing a piece of opinion journalism when he came back, in order to help the American people “understand” what was going on by explicitly editorializing and advising them.

One can speculate long and hard about why Salant decided it was time to make such a drastic change. From Cronkite’s interview, it appears that the brass at CBS was part of the turmoil of the 60s with its “question authority” ethos. If you listen to Cronkite (and he expresses not a moment’s ambivalence about his actions), you may hear, as I did, an anger at a military that seemed heedless of the difficulties of the Vietnam endeavor, and too sanguine–similar to the “cakewalk” accusation towards the present Iraq War.

Arabs Advise Obama on the Workings of Honor-Shame Culture: Rubin parses MEMRI collection

I was planning to do a post on this collection of comments posted by MEMRI, but Barry Rubin beat me to it, and since he knows the players well, I’ll just repost his with my additional comments.

Don’t Just Take My Word for It: Arab Moderates Warn About Mistaken Western Policies

What do moderate Arabs think about what Westerners think about the Middle East? Usually, such matters are raised only in private conversation with those of long acquaintance in whom the speaker has personal trust. But now we have several statements by respected Arabs who are relatively liberal but also part of the intellectual establishment.

This is an important point. As James C. Scott pointed out in his classic, Domination and the Arts of Resistance, there are public transcripts and private ones. It’s rare to get a view of the private transcript, the one that undermines the public, official line.

Thanks to MEMRI for gathering and translating these remarks. They could be just about the most important things you read about the Middle East this year.

As you go along, imagine the reaction of the conventional wisdom types if another American or European had said these things.

First up is Tareq al-Homayed, chief editor of al-Sharq al-Awsat, which might just be the best Arab newspaper in the world today. It combines the unusual characteristics of being both Saudi-owned yet relatively liberal.

Homayed explained that if the West is too lenient to extremists this is a grave mistake. Once you start talking to Hizballah you might as well negotiate with al-Qaida. “Openness for the sake of openness,” he concluded, “makes the situation more complicated and sends the wrong message.

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.

Just How Bad can the NYT Get? Jeffrey Woolf fisks Ethan Bronner on Religion and the IDF

I was just at a panel discussion at Boston College about “Israel Apartheid Week” (about which more later). One of the questions posed (in part in response to Dexter van Zile’s comment that the “Apartheid Narrative” scapegoated Israel for the world’s ills) ran somewhat as follows: “Don’t you think that Israel participated in its own scapegoating by not letting in the Western press.

As part of my answer, I tried to explain how, if Western journalists actually did their job, it would have been good to have them in Gaza, but that given how wedded (read: addicted) they are to the framing story of Israeli Goliath / Palestinian David, the chances that they would actually reveal to the West just how systematically Hamas sought to victimize its own people and literally create a humanitarian crisis were pretty slim.

Most people don’t realize just how bad the MSM is in its coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflict, how reluctant they are, for a variety of reasons that span the spectrum from ideological to venal to cowardice, to reveal to their audiences the moral depravity of the Palestinian side. The best current example of the obsession of the Western press with every blemish of the Israelis and their corresponding obliviousness to the Palestinians is probably the work of Ethan Bronner, the NYT mideast correspondent.

Here, Jeffrey Woolf fisks Bronner on the topic of the impact of religious impulses in the Israeli army during the Gaza war. One can easily imagine that the Palestinian version of this article would involve discussing their genocidal ideology, and a host of other problems that would make his remarks — even before Woolf’s corrections — pale in comparison. Alas, don’t expect them anytime soon.

Fisking Bronner on Religious Soldiers
[There is so much wrong with this piece, I decided to pull an Augean Stables.]

    A religious war within the Israeli Army

    By Ethan Bronner
    Sunday, March 22, 2009

    JERUSALEM: The publication late last week of eyewitness accounts by Israeli soldiers alleging acute mistreatment of Palestinian civilians in the recent Gaza fighting highlights a debate here about the rules of war. But it also exposes something else: the clash between secular liberals and religious nationalists for control over the army and society.

The credibility of these charges has since been seriously impugned and they are, in any event, extremely distorted. See here.

    Several of the testimonies, published by an institute that runs a premilitary course and is affiliated with the left-leaning secular kibbutz movement, showed a distinct impatience with religious soldiers, portraying them as self-appointed holy warriors.

    A soldier, identified by the pseudonym Ram, is quoted as saying that in Gaza, “the rabbinate brought in a lot of booklets and articles and their message was very clear: We are the Jewish people, we came to this land by a miracle, God brought us back to this land and now we need to fight to expel the non-Jews who are interfering with our conquest of this holy land. This was the main message, and the whole sense many soldiers had in this operation was of a religious war.”

The quote is second hand, therefore, suspect. Even if accurate, though, Ram obviously did not understand that מלחמת מצוה does not mean jihad. It refers to a war to defend Jews from attack or to conquer the land of Israel. The booklets do not stress the latter, only the former. Furthermore, since when is it bad to believe in God, in His Providence or in His promise of the Land of Israel to the People of Israel?

PC, Prohibited Analysis, and the “Arab Mind”: More from Green’s thesis

In the version I’m revising for publication, this section is now called “Discouraged Analysis.” This section is taken from a chapter called “Flawed Assumptions and a Poor Understanding of the Threat”, which opens by explaining that the National Security Strategy (2006) is based on some PC, but probably incorrect notions about Islam. Hence the below…

PROHIBITED ANALYSIS

The national security strategists do not make their assumptions in a vacuum. They do so in the context of an intellectual environment that pre-ordains some conclusions and discourages others. In essence, there are accepted judgments Westerners may levy with or without support, and there are judgments deemed unacceptable despite support. It is the unintended byproduct of a benevolent, intellectual environment designed to correct a human history filled with uninformed, unjustified, and unfortunate bigotry. However, rather than removing moral judgments from intellectual pursuits altogether — and this would be a prudent philosophy for achieving objectivity — Western intelligentsia, including mainstream media and academia, allows penetrating, sometimes derisive critiques of its own culture while disallowing it of other cultures.

Raphael Patai’s The Arab Mind has to be the most enduring example of a solid, if imperfect, work routinely rejected by modern scholars as “emblematic of a bygone era,” Orientalist á la Edward Said’s definition, racist, “lurid,” and, like Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations, too general to be accurate or of any use. Critics deride neo-conservatives in the current administration for reading it; some of the more polemic critics claim it “…provided the intellectual backdrop for the torture and sexual abuse that took place at Abu Ghraib.”[1]

Rejecting Patai’s work as a disfavored “type of thinking,” one anthropologist ironically dismisses it as “culture talk,” while another claims “[Patai] can no longer be taken seriously.” In true, universalist form, critic Emram Qureshi suggests, “Rather than plumbing some mythical ‘Arab mind,’ we should affirm the shared humanity that transcends our differences and binds us all together.” Lee Smith, whom National Public Radio interviewed without contest, eloquently demonstrates the accepted discourse on Patai:

The very title of The Arab Mind suggests that it’s possible, and desirable, to reduce a set of cultural ideas and circumstances to a single concept. Patai’s term is more than the vulgar shorthand of mass politics (e.g., “the black community”). It belongs to an old tradition that classified races according to their ostensibly characteristic traits, a field pioneered by 19th-century European writers and shared by, among others, T.E. Lawrence. “They were a limited, narrow-minded people, whose inert intellects lay fallow in incurious resignation.”[2]

Racism-driven inquiry certainly did leave an indelible mark on “the academic mind.” The rejection of obviously flawed and bigoted analysis from the 19th century, however, has produced its own problems. Analysts are now required to assume the universality of human character and prohibited from inquiries like Patai’s, lest they be lumped in with the likes of 19th century bigots.

The problem, of course, is that there are differences between cultures and religions that affect behavior and judgments—this cannot be gainsaid. Moreover, it deprives such terms as “Arab” and “Western” of any utility by picking them apart with incessant particularization. It could be inappropriate to use the term American, for instance, because there are fifty diverse states, hundreds of counties in some of them, thousands of towns and cities, as well as a wealth of cultures and subcultures — in the United States alone. Because it would be difficult to find many U.S. citizens who conform to every character trait considered quintessentially American, the term American can have no use, so the argument goes.

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.

MARCH 2009 OUTPOST NOW ONLINE

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.

What’s Wrong with the MSM on Gaza: James Kirchick details the dysfunctional thinking

James Kirchick has an excellent piece in City Journal about how some commentators minimize the threat that Hamas poses to Israel. This is actually part of a larger, and extremely dangerous tendency among the intelligentsia in the West to downplay the threat of global Jihad, and I think one of the major dimensions to this “policitically correct” moral and intellectual insanity derive from a seemingly irrepressible desire to dump on Israel. The only way to make Israeli responses disproportionate is to make Hamas and other Palestinian and Arab (Hizbullah) provocations slight. As soon as one recognizes the dangers of Jihad, then it becomes so much harder to crack down on Israel’s disproporionate responses.

I know some of the people cited in this article are intellectual lightweights — as their quotations indicate — but they’re widely read lightweights. What to do?

James Kirchick
Downplaying Hamas
The persistence of rationalizing terrorism against Israel
18 February 2009

Whenever Israel responds to terrorist attacks, it can rely on international bureaucrats, liberal politicians, and humanitarian aid groups to criticize the Jewish state for its “disproportionate” response. The reaction to Operation Cast Lead—launched in late December after three years of incessant rocket attacks on Israeli population centers—has been even harsher than the reaction to Israel’s response to the Second Intifada of the early 2000s. Back then, Palestinian terrorism’s preferred method was dispatching suicide bombers to buses and cafés. The carnage these attacks wrought, visible almost daily, made Israel’s case for self-defense more reasonable in the eyes of Americans who had recently witnessed the immolation of 3,000 of their own countrymen.

When Israel erected a security fence and imposed a blockade on the Gaza Strip following its withdrawal from the territory in 2005, Palestinian terrorists had to find other means of killing Jews. Hamas chose crude rockets, which, while occasionally injuring and even killing Israeli civilians, were not nearly as lethal as men detonating themselves in crowded shopping malls. Because of this supposed asymmetry in the metrics of the decades-old Arab-Israel conflict, commentators from around the world have declared Israel’s response to Hamas’s provocations “disproportionate.” Yet the attempt to downplay the significance of Hamas terrorism and the expectation that Israel not respond militarily obscure the real suffering of individual Israelis, as well as the strategic cost to Israel of unanswered aggression.

In order to make the “disproportionate” argument, Israel’s critics must first minimize the threat that Israel responded to in the first place. “Before proceeding, let me state that the Gaza rocket attacks are human rights crimes, and Israel has the right to defend itself,” Mother Jones writer David Corn wrote—before proceeding to explain why Israel didn’t have a right to defend itself: “But that does not mean that in retaliation for about a dozen deaths caused by the rockets from 2004 on, the Israeli Defense Force ought to blow up schools and hospitals in Gaza and kill scores of civilians.” Note how casually Corn dismisses the cold-blooded and unprovoked murder of 12 innocent people, as if they were expendable in the greater quest for a nonexistent “peace process” with a terrorist organization constitutionally committed to Israel’s destruction. Note, too, that Corn neglects to mention that the Israeli military takes great pains to avoid civilian casualties. Israel does so not only on moral grounds, but because it understands that too many people like Corn eagerly await the next opportunity to hold it to an outrageous double standard.

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.

Sounds of Sanity I: AB Yehoshua Rebukes Gideon Levy

A fine lesson in the self-critical nature of the Israeli left. Gideon Levy has no sense of boundaries; AB Yehoshua does.

A.B. Yehoshua / An open letter to Gideon Levy (HT: JW, JL)

By A.B. Yehoshua

Dear Gideon,

You remember that in recent years I called you occasionally to praise you for your articles and your writing about the wrongs done to the Palestinians in the administered territories, whether by the army or by the settlers. Physical wrongs, land expropriations, acts of abuse, perversions of justice and so on. I told you that it is very difficult to read what you write, because it weighs on our conscience, but that the work you are doing and the voice you are sounding are extremely important. I was also concerned about your physical safety, knowing that you risked your life by visiting such hostile places.

I did not ask you why you did not visit Israeli hospitals in order to tell the painful stories of Israeli citizens who were hurt in terrorist attacks. I accepted your position that there are plenty of other journalists doing this and that you had taken on the crucial mission of telling the story of the afflictions of the other side, our enemies today and our neighbors tomorrow. Accordingly, it is from this position of respect that I find it necessary to respond to your recent articles on the war in which we are engaged today, so that you will be able to preserve the moral validity of your distinctive voice for the future.

A few years ago, when the Hatuel family – a mother and her four children, of blessed memory – were killed on the way to one of the settlements in Gush Katif, I believed that this terrible death pained you as it did all of us but that like many of us you said in your heart: Why should these Israelis endanger their children by living provocatively, hopelessly, dangerously and immorally in Gush Katif? By what right do 8,000 Jews expropriate a sizable area in the densely overcrowded Gaza Strip in order to build blossoming villages before the eyes of hundreds of thousands of refugees living in such abysmal conditions? You were angry, as I was, at the parents and at those who sent them. And even though I believe that like all of us you felt the pain of the children who were killed, you did not brand the leaders of Hamas “war criminals” as you did the Israeli leaders, and you did not demand the establishment of an international tribunal to try them.

When I asked you after the disengagement from Gaza, Gideon, explain to me why they are firing missiles at us, you replied that they want us to open the crossings. I asked you whether you truly believe that if they fire missiles the crossings will be opened, or the opposite. And whether you truly believe that it is right and just to open crossings into Israel for those who declare openly and sincerely that they want to destroy our country. I did not get an answer from you.

I wonder why.

The Apocalyptic Origins of Suicide Terrorism

I want to apologize to those readers who have been following this blog for the extensive lapse in postings for the last two months. I have been working on my book about milennialism and have found it difficult to switch gears. But it has occurred to me that I have failed to use a great resource — my readers — in preparing my book. As a result, I would like to post some of the passages from my book to get your feedback.

The first posting I’m putting up is a section that I’m not sure I will keep in the book. It comes from the last chapter on Global Jihad as an apocalyptic movement. I’m not sure that I can make this argument well — it’s a huge and problematic literature, riddled with functionalist retrospective explanations that’s hard to combat effectively without doing my own research. Any suggestions, including other sources, would be most appreciated.

The Apocalyptic Origins of Suicide Terrorism

The marginal quality of apocalyptic thinking and the kinds of violent actions that it inspired comes across quite clearly in the issue of suicide terrorism against Israeli civilians. Predatory martyrdom – killing yourself as part of a Jihad against enemy soldiers – has plenty of Qur’anic support, even though it is not a “constant” of Muslim history.[1] Nor is it uniquely Muslim. Kamikaze pilots had already shown the world how warriors, who would rather die with honor in battle than survive in shame, deal with certain defeat. This kind of suicidal attack on enemy troops first appeared in the Middle East as part of the new global Jihad, when Hizbullah chased the Americans out of Lebanon with two massive suicide operations in 1983.[2]

Suicide terrorism – attacks deliberately targeting civilians – has a different ethos. Here, any claim to warrior’s honor fails. As Sheik of Al-Azhar, Muhammad Tantawi wrote:

Any explosion that leads to the death of innocent women and children is a criminal act, carried out only by people who are base, cowards and traitors, because a rational man with just a bit of respect and manliness, refrains from such operations altogether.[3]

Few warrior traditions do not condemn attacks on civilians, a fortiori, a monotheistic religion claiming to serve a merciful God and to treasure every human life as a universe. The ideologue of modern, apocalyptic Jihad, Sayyid Qutb, cited the Qur’an and insisted:

Do not kill any women, children or elderly people (Muhammad’s successor Abu Bakr).” “Fight for the cause of God those who fight against you, but do not commit aggression. God does not love aggressors (Qur’an 2:190).”

These principles had to be strictly observed, even with those enemies who had persecuted them and inflicted unspeakable atrocities on them.[4]

To commit suicide while targeting innocent women and children, then, as some bombers did starting in 1993, demands a major transgression, one that offends basic civilized norms.[5] People do not readily commit suicide, much less send their children to do so, much less, to kill children.[6] First, as a basic issue of Islamic Sharia, there is a commandment not to kill the defenseless civilians among one’s enemy unless they kill yours.[7] Indeed, one disciple of Abdullah Azzam claimed that what distinguished his master from Osama bin Laden, was precisely this issue:

[T]here is no way that a real Mujahid, a ‘man’ like Abdullah Azzam, who was fond of the Salafi creed, the companions and Ibn Taimiyyah, would lower himself to the methods that Ibn Laden used and advocated or even condone such terrible acts and deviation from the true jihad. How can a Mujahid like him end up killing women and children, attacking civilian non-Muslims, blowing up places of worship…[8]

When, in the early 1990s, Hamas first introduced suicide terrorism – martyrdom operations – opposition came even from their own ranks.[9] To explain it, one must not only explain how marginal activists and theologians defend it, but how a public embraces it. When the IRA tried suicide terrorism, the opprobrium that ensued guaranteed that that was the last such attempt. Suicide terrorism needs public approval to move from the margins to the center.

The academic literature on the origins of suicide bombing works almost exclusively ex post facto and has a heavy functionalist bias.[10] Once it has become popular, once the suicides are praised by their families, acclaimed as “martyrs” by the Imams and the public alike, once TV sequences show the gorgeous, unveiled, eager female sexual partners that await the dead man in heaven – once it has become socially normalized – then one can posit some more pedestrian motivations for suicide bombing… like humiliating check points, or peer pressure, or resistance to occupation, or even “despair at not having hope.”[11] But long before that can happen, many inhibitions – religious, cultural, human – must all fall victim to something still more powerful.

To explore the phenomenon ex post ante, as turkey rather than bat historians, let us look more closely at the millennial stakes at play in its origins. Rather than invoke public opinion as a key explanation, we need to ask: What drove some men to develop a theology of suicide terrorism? And what made it so popular? To do so, we must consider the situation of Hamas and their Palestinian constituency when they made the “leap.” From a millennial perspective, it makes sense that it would occur in Gaza, by an apocalyptic group dedicated to global Jihad, during the “Oslo Peace Process.”[12]

Oslo created an apocalyptic crisis for both Israeli and Arab activist millennials – for the messianic settlers, disciples of Zvi Yehuda Kook, it meant reversing the wheels of destiny: giving back sacred territory defied their apocalyptic scenario in which that land’s conquest was part of a redemptive historical process. Similarly, to those radicals committed to Jihad against Israel and the West, the very idea of compromise represented a humiliation and a renunciation of the claim to the entire Waqf of the land of Israel.

Such a collapse of one’s redemptive historical scenario provokes a crisis of faith: supremely confident while things go their way,such reversals often trigger the trip switch from passive to active, transformational to violent. Such shifts in turn intensified the apocalyptic dynamic of “one person’s messiah is another’s Antichrist.” Each side saw the other increasingly as an implacable enemy, and in addition to longstanding free-lance Arab violence against Israeli civilians which intensified throughout the early 1990s, religious Jews engaged in unprecedented violence – an intentional massacre of Arab civilians (Baruch Goldstein, Hebron, February 1994); and the first assassination of an Israeli Prime Minister (November, 1995). [13]

For the apocalyptic Muslims, as well, Oslo defied sacred history. Dedicated at their core to the irredentist scenario, they could view negotiations only as betrayal, treason against all three circles of the apocalyptic “us” – Palestinians, Arabs, and Muslims.[14] With the PLO pursuing negotiations (regardless of whether in good faith or not), and even a fair number of Palestinians expressing optimism in resolving the conflict without eliminating the Israeli presence, Hamas found itself faced with a contradiction to its faith in the juggernaut of its total victory, a development that left them temporarily speechless.[15]

One response, among the more “conventional thinkers” was to justify the truce and “move away” from the theme of the destruction of Israel. The Hamas intellectual, Bassam Jirrar pursued this option with a very popular book, in which he created an apocalyptic extender, a temporal buffer between “now” and the Endtime in a popular book, Israel’s Destruction in 2022. Cook notes how this relatively moderate Muslim apocalyptic writer – little of the characteristic anti-Semitism and ferocious violence in his works – created a possibility for temporary moderation: “If God has really decreed the destruction of Israel in that year, it is sacrilegious to attempt to destroy it beforehand. Hence Hamas’ willingness to speak about a truce with Israel.”[16]

But while conditions of growing cognitive dissonance produce face-saving formulas, they also, as we have seen, encourage coercive purity and still more indiscriminate violence. Already as the first Intifada faltered in the early 1990s, Hamas apocalyptic cult of blood and death intensified as the exorbitant hopes of destroying Israel it had inspired, collapsed. And this upping of the ante came partly as a response to the fragility of Hamas’ own apocalyptic Endtimes prophecies failed.

At the same time, however, the turn toward the End… showed the Intifada under severe threat, its truth revealed only in ecstatic obliteration – precisely the logic of the suicide bomber who would save his world by blowing it up.[17]

The Oslo Process (1993-2000) took matters still further in the wrong direction. Giving up on war now was bad enough, but making peace with the intolerable enemy? Impossible. Each negotiation, therefore, brought its harvest of martyrs who gave their lives to assure that the peace process would “collapse.” A Hamas operative exulted over the results the Ninth round of the Peace Negotiations:
In little more than eighteen days the number of martyrs has gone to thirty-five, and this number did not exist in the past, and we have never seen a number like this except under the shadow of negotiations…”[18]

Oliver and Steinberg’s study illustrates the world of belief in which the Palestinians turned to suicide terror – the apocalyptic religious world of the highest stakes: “no” to any compromise, “yes” to every violence, anything to provoke Armaggedon, anything destruction to save the world.[19] Where 19th-century anarchists declared: “God is dead, everything is permitted, the apocalyptic Jihadi of the late 20th century declared, “Allah wills it, everything is permitted.”[20]

Endnotes

[1] The first case was a Christian Palestinian woman from *** who blew herself up near Israeli soldiers in 1982.
[2] The Tamil Tigers were the first to copy Hizbullah; see Mia Bloom, Dying to Kill: The Allure of Suicide Terror (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005), pp. 60-75.
[3] MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis Series – No. 53, May 2001.
[4] Cited in Berman, Terror and Liberalism, p. 98. See also, Al-Gama’a Al-Islamiyya’s renunciation of violence: Al-Musawwar (Egypt), June 28, 2002. Cited in MEMRI, Inquiry and Analysis Series – No. 309, December 22, 2006.
[5] On the Islamic prohibitions, see Lewis, “License to Kill.” Qaradawhi condemned 9-11, invoking this principle of not attacking innocent civilians (from BBC Newsnight, July 8, 2004).
[6] One of the great weaknesses of the Palestinian movie Paradise Now (2005) is the lack of real emotion, motivation and preparation behind the two men’s determination to undertake a suicide mission. Overall, one does not get the impression that the religious dimension holds much significance for the director, Hany Abu-Assad.
[7] On the prohibitions, see Lewis, “License to Kill;” Qaradawhi condemned 9-11, invoking this principle of not attacking innocent civilians (from BBC Newsnight, July 8, 2004).
[8] Jalal Adualrub, comment at a thread on condemnations of Bin Laden by other Muslim authorities at Islam Life. The author is an active Jihadi warrior. 10-Feb-07]
[9] Cook “Muslim Fears or the Year 2000,” Middle East Quarterly 5:2 (June, 1998); Understanding Jihad, pp. 142-7. On the legal restraints on killing civilians in Jihad, see Bernard Lewis, “License to Kill: Usama bin Ladin’s Declaration of Jihad,” Foreign Affairs 77 (1998), p. 19; on the problems for Islamic theology posed by suicide terror, see the earliest study on the issue, Re’uven Paz, Hit’abdut ve-G’ihad ba-Islam ha-radiḳali ha-Palestini: ha-pan ha-ra’yoni (Tel Aviv: Merkaz Mosheh Dayan le-limude ha-Mizrah ha-tokhon ve-Afriḳah, Universiṭat Tel-Aviv, 1998).
[10] See above all, Robert Pape’s Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic to Suicide Terrorism (New York: Random House, 2005) which pushes the functionalist “rational choice” paradigm to its extreme.
[11] See Mia Bloom, Dying to Kill, pp. 19-44, specifically in the context of the Palestinian case.
[12] For a study of the apocalyptic setting of Hamas and suicide terrorism in the mid 1990s, see Paul Steinberg and Anne-Marie Oliver, The Road to Martyrs’ Square: A Journey into the World of the Suicide Bomber.
[13] On the impact of the Oslo Process on the apocalyptic thinking of the post-’67 Kookists, see Gershom Gorenberg, The End of Days. It produced two unprecedented acts of violence from those circles, Baruch Goldstein’s attack on the Muslim worshippers in Hebron and Yigal Amir’s assassination of Yithak Rabin: see Ehud Sprinzak, Brother Against Brother: Violence and Extremism in Israeli Politics from Altalena to the Rabin Assassination (New York: Free Press, 1999). See also below, n. 233.
[14] See Hamas Charter (above, n. 46), article 14 (The Three Circles); article 13 (Peaceful Solutions and International Conferences).
[15] “The Oslo accords of September 1993—in which Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization agreed on a set of terms—marked a turning point for apocalyptic writers, leaving them temporarily speechless. But quickly they ascribed the whole process to a plot by the dajjal. In Jericho: the Cursed City, Muhammad ‘Izzat ‘Arif wrote that the Jews had given Jericho (which together with Gaza was the first piece of land Israel withdrew from) to the Palestinians because of a curse in Joshua 6:26 against anyone “who undertakes to rebuild this city, Jericho.'”
[16] Cook, Contemporary Muslim Apocalyptic, pp. 120-22; Gold, The Fight for Jerusalem, pp. 237-8
[17] Oliver and Steinberg, Martyrs Square, p.110.
[18] Oliver and Steinberg, Martyrs Square, p.179.
[19] Ibid., pp. 114-81. In this sense, Timothy McVeigh, Baruch Goldstein and the Hamas suicide bombers shared a common apocalyptic logic (Gorenberg, pp. 203-8).
[20] Muravich,

Washington Post’s Subtle Bias

National Review Online’s The Campaign Spot blog found a fine example of media bias at the Washington Post. It is subtle, but once it is pointed out, the bias is beyond question.

Here is how the Post quoted Barack Obama on September 17:

He chided Sen. John McCain some at both. “Yesterday, John McCain actually said that if he’s president, he’ll take on the, quote, old boys’ network in Washington,” Obama said in Elko.

“I am not making this up. This is someone who’s been in Congress for 26 years – who put seven of the most powerful Washington lobbyists in charge of his campaign – and now he’s the one who will take on the old boy network?” Obama continued. “The old boy network? In the McCain campaign, that’s called a staff meeting.”

Here is the Post quoting Sarah Palin on the same day:

“John? John?” Sarah Palin called to John McCain. “Can I add somethin’?” …
One woman wanted to give her the chance to address those who say Palin can’t be a mother and vice president. “Well, let’s prove ’em wrong,” Palin said to cheers.

She talked about her role if the ticket is elected: “Let me tell you, I know a little bit about energy. That’s gonna be my baby when I get to Washington, D.C.”

Notice anything?

 Whereas Obama was quoted with correctly spelled language, Palin is quoted as saying “somethin'”, “’em”, and “gonna”. It a subtle way of reinforcing her image as a boorish hunter from small town Alaska who has no business being on the national stage.

What the Media’s Coverage of Palin Tells Us About Them

John McCain’s pick of Sarah Palin has certainly thrown the political and journalistic worlds for a loop. Initially, the coverage of Palin reflected the astonishment and the degree of unpreparedness of the MSM in McCain’s selection. Then, as the media recovered, and went about its work of covering the heretofore little-known Palin. Does their coverage of Palin reflect something about the media in this country? What can we learn?

How Did It Happen? Kagan on Realists as Dupes of Demopaths

Robert Kagan, a Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and an informal adviser to the McCain campaign, whose most recent book is The Return of History and the End of Dreams, has an excellent piece in the Wall Street Journal on the bizarre turn that our “realist” thinkers have taken in recent years. It’s as if the “realists,” who should in principle line up with the Honor-Shame Jihad Paradigm (HSJP), have somehow adopted the Politically Correct Paradigm (PCP) — whose principles are as un-“realistic” as one could imagine, and then turned that paradigm against the only culture that makes PCP a viable option, the civil polities of the democratic West. Although Kagan focuses on the anomaly, my comments attempt to explain how this bizarre turn of events could happen. It’s got to do with the Moebius Strip of cognitive egocentrism, something no “realist” has any business falling prey to.

Power Play
The nature of nations, like people, never changes. Today’s political realists say economics rather than military might has become the guiding principle of countries, but the conflict in Georgia shows otherwise, argues Robert Kagan.
By ROBERT KAGAN
August 30, 2008; Page W1

convoy of russian tanks
Associated Press
A convoy of Russian troops drives toward the Abkhazian border in western Georgia.

Where are the realists? When Russian tanks rolled into Georgia, it ought to have been their moment. Here was Vladimir Putin, a cold-eyed realist if ever there was one, taking advantage of a favorable opportunity to shift the European balance of power in his favor — a 21st century Frederick the Great or Bismarck, launching a small but decisive war on a weaker neighbor while a surprised and dumbfounded world looked on helplessly. Here was a man and a nation pursuing “interest defined as power,” to use the famous phrase of Hans Morgenthau, acting in obedience to what Mr. Morgenthau called the “objective law” of international power politics. Yet where are Mr. Morgenthau’s disciples to remind us that Russia’s latest military action is neither extraordinary nor unexpected nor aberrant but entirely normal and natural, that it is but a harbinger of what is yet to come because the behavior of nations, like human nature, is unchanging?

This “objective law” is what Eli Sagan calls the “paranoid imperative.” Rule or be ruled… Do onto others before they do onto you. According to Sagan, this principle has prevailed in virtually all international relations between polities, and domestic relations between incumbent elites and commoners from the early centuries of the agricultural revolution. The dominance of this principle produces what I’ve called “prime divider societies.” I refer to this principle as the “dominating imperative” partly because when I spoke to colleagues in political science about it, they responded, “that’s not paranoid, it’s realistic”; and partly because I prefer saving the paranoid imperative for “exterminate or be exterminated.”

The significance of Sagan’s perspective, however, comes out when we understand the role of overcoming the paranoid imperative in creating civil polities. Only when a critical mass of autonomous moral agents can commit to renouncing the dominating imperative and trusting that others will as well, can a society create a democratic polity. I recently reread Mill’s words in an article by Alain de Botton on “The Nanny State”

    “The only freedom which deserves the name is that of pursuing our own good, in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to obtain it … The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised community against his will is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not sufficient warrant.”

When I first read those principles in high school, it all seemed fairly straightforward. I didn’t realize how much they appeal to what I now understand is “liberal cognitive egocentrism” (LCE) that the zero-sum games that people play for emotional reasons make Mill’s eminently reasonable-sounding conditions extremely rare to achieve at a social level.

Our problem, as a democratic culture committed to the principles of civil polities, is that we fail to appreciate how exceptionally difficult it is to achieve these levels of tolerance and good will towards others, and as a result we get profoundly confused about both the ability of other cultures to achieve the same levels (PCP 1) and about our achievements (hyper-self-criticism and PCP 2). This goes back at least to the late 60s (when I first encountered the phenomenon): if we can have civil polities based on mutual trust and mutual freedoms, why can’t we do that with the whole world? (This is, by the way, an unspoken axiom of Chomsky’s thinking.) In some senses, the UN was created precisely with this model in mind, and the legislation of universal human rights was its quintessential expression.

Today’s “realists,” who we’re told are locked in some titanic struggle with “neoconservatives” on issues ranging from Iraq, Iran and the Middle East to China and North Korea, would be almost unrecognizable to their forebears. Rather than talk about power, they talk about the United Nations, world opinion and international law. They propose vast new international conferences, a la Woodrow Wilson, to solve intractable, decades-old problems. They argue that the United States should negotiate with adversaries not because America is strong but because it is weak. Power is no answer to the vast majority of the challenges we face, they insist, and, indeed, is counterproductive because it undermines the possibility of international consensus.

Maybe the key here lies in the phrase “some titanic struggle with neoconservatives.” Among the many elements of zero-sum thinking is a bizarre (and highly emotional) force-field that distorts judgment. Like Bush Derangement Syndrome (or its many relatives, like Israel Derangement Syndrome), people so dislike someone or thing that they adopt positions that are self-destructive just so that the object of their hatred, resentment, or irritation, can suffer. From zero-sum to negative sum.

This is where we enter the Moebius Strip of Cognitive Egocentrism. We project our good intentions on demopaths (“realism” rephrased as “idealism”), demopaths project their bad intentions on us, and with the help of some hyper-self-criticism, we accept their profoundly dishonest and hypocritical accusations of not living up to standards they themselves hold in contempt (attacking the realists as racists for pointing out profound cultural differences).

They are fond of citing Dean Acheson, Reinhold Niebuhr and George Kennan as their intellectual forebears, but those gentlemen would have found most of their prescriptions naive. Mr. Acheson, as Harry Truman’s Secretary of State, had nothing but disdain for the United Nations and for most international efforts to solve world problems. As his biographer, Robert L. Beisner, has shown, he considered such efforts evidence of the naive hopefulness of “people who could not face the truth about human nature” and “preferred to preserve their illusions intact.” He strongly supported the NATO alliance but ultimately put his faith not in international institutions but in “the continued moral, military and economic power of the United States.” He aimed to build a “preponderance of power” and to create “situations of strength” around the world. Until the United States acquired this predominant power, he believed, negotiations and international conferences with adversaries such as the Soviet Union were worthless. He opposed talks with Moscow throughout his entire time in office.

Edwards, the MSM and the Sounds of Silence: More Poop on the Augean MSM

Among the elements of MSM control, perhaps the most important is their role as gateway to the public sphere: one of their most important functions is deciding what gets “published” and what doesn’t. Unlike some critics of the MSM, I think this is a perfectly legitimate function: not only does the MSM have the right to do this; it has the obligation. Indeed, the mainstream media is precisely there to make sure that it filters out the wild and crazy and often terribly destructive “information” that circulates freely in less presitigious arenas.

But like all such matters, this power — and it is an enormous one — comes with an accordingly heavy responsibility. Abusing this power to keep legitimate news out, or by letting illegitimate news in, or by refusing to correct the inevitable errors that any MSM will commit over time, constitutes one of the worst abuses of journalistic privilege on record. In the Al Durah Affair, for example, we see all three errors/felonies: 1) allowing/pushing in a story that should have received a great deal more vetting before running it; 2) keeping any effort to correct the record out, thus perpetuating the original error; and 3) refusing to even cover newsworthy events like the decision of the court in Paris which would have served to correct the record (e.g., the NYT), or at least to make the public aware that there’s a disagreement about something the MSM was — and still is, tacitly — in consensus about — i.e., that Muhammad al Durah was killed by Israelis on September 30, 2000.

Of course just because the MSM is egregiously misbehaved where Israel is concerned, doesn’t mean it doesn’t misbehave elsewhere. As Lord Acton so memorably noted, “Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.” And until the advent of the blogosphere in the 21st century, the MSM was not only a “fourth estate” without any checks and balances, but, with pictures and video, an increasingly powerful player in the cultural scene. As far as the MSM seems to be concerned, if a major event happens and no one hears it, it didn’t happen. “We will decide what is important and not important.”

The most recent and glaring example of MSM misbehavior comes in its treatment of the Edwards Affair (pardon the pun). I personally don’t pay much attention to these matters, and found Republican behavior around the Lewinsky Affair to be appalling. But I am interested in how the MSM handles these issues which are clearly important to the larger public (for a variety of reasons, good and bad). The following post at Contentions by Jennifer Rubin offers some valuable insights into the process.

The MSM’s Latest Embarrassment
JENNIFER RUBIN – 08.10.2008 – 10:05 AM

Tim Rutten, taking to task his own Los Angeles Times and other MSM outlets, writes:

    When John Edwards admitted Friday that he lied about his affair with filmmaker Rielle Hunter, a former employee of his campaign, he may have ended his public life but he certainly ratified an end to the era in which traditional media set the agenda for national political journalism. From the start, the Edwards scandal has belonged entirely to the alternative and new media. The tabloid National Enquirer has done all the significant reporting on it — reporting that turns out to be largely correct — and bloggers and online commentators have refused to let the story sputter into oblivion. . . It’s interesting that what finally forced Edwards into telling the truth was a mainstream media organization. ABC News began investigating the Edwards affair in October, but really began to push after the Beverly Hilton allegations. When ABC confronted Edwards with its story (which confirmed “95% to 96%” of the tabloid’s reporting, according to the network), he admitted his deception. With that admission, the illusion that traditional print and broadcast news organizations can establish the limits of acceptable political journalism joined the passenger pigeon on the roster of extinct Americana.

We also have the obligatory column from Clark Hoyt admitting that the New York Times was wrong, but denying that their reticence to cover the Edward story was the result of liberal bias. Yes, who could imagine such a thing of the paper which ran a front-page, uncorroborated story of the Republican nominee’s alleged relationship with a lobbyist some nine years ago?

The Edwards mess is the most recent and visible, but hardly unique, example of the mainstream media’s hear no evil/see no evil approach to newsgathering. How many other stories has the MSM missed, denied or avoided? From Rathergate to Reverend Wright to the success of the surge, the pattern is the same: MSM stalls, shuffles its collective feet, and doggedly ignores information for as long as possible until they can no longer do so with a straight face. The fact that these stories without exception work to the detriment of Democrats is apparently a grand coincidence.

My father — in the days before computer driven restaurant bills — would always do the addition himself. “Amazing,” he commented to us, “the mistakes are almost always in favor of the house.”

And the notion that they are upholding some “journalistic standard” is rendered absurd. Edwards’ story wasn’t important on Thursday, but it was on Friday because he confessed? No, the level of proof changed, but the story’s relevance did not. If it wasn’t worthy of investigation before the ABC interview then it was unworthy of mention afterwards. Their explanation for their editorial decision-making is no more credible than . . . well than Edwards himself.

I’m not sure I follow this reasoning. If I understand the MSM’s excuse was that they needed more proof before going ahead. So the confession does change matters. But the hollowness of that argument appears as soon as one sets it side-by-side with their treatment of McCain (see below).

There is a reason why the news media’s trustworthiness is rated so low. MSM news reporting by and large has not improved or become more rigorous with the advent of so many alternative news outlets. (To the contrary, the 24-hour landscape of cable news has sent them scurrying for their niche audience, wary of any mildly opposing views that might offend their target audience.)

However, because of this and other similar episodes, the public now fully appreciates just how deficient most of the MSM outlets are. That’s generally a good thing (the public should know what they’re reading and watching is a pale and shaded immitation of reality), but it would be even better if the MSM engaged in some real introspection and cleaned up their act.

I think Rubin may be jumping the gun here. My general sense of the public’s attitude towards the MSM is something like that of children towards parents, or maybe towards an uncle — they don’t want to believe that they’re being systematically manipulated, that they are really on their own in a world of information affluence, looking for reliable — accurate and relevant — information. On the contrary, just as in the case of the Al Durah affair, when every new blow to the credibility of Enderlin was greeted with a “now we’ve reached a dramatic conclusion,” an obvious slam-dunk doesn’t necessarily mean 2, much less 3 points. My sense is, that like children or spouses with abusive parents, it takes a great deal of time and many bitter disappointments before people will declare themselves “free.”

On the contrary, unless we want to spend a life of websurfing looking for reliable information, we desperately want to believe that the MSM is reliable, and like someone drugged who briefly wakes up, we rapidly fall back asleep at the first occasion. Like people who hear about the HSJP and glimpse, briefly, that the seemingly pacific PCP not only won’t work but will backfire, the immediate response to being told that the MSM doesn’t do its job… and that on a massive scale, is to say, “so what’s your solution.” And when the solution, in the case of getting reliable news means active participation in news consumption, the hair in the ears closes up, the eyelids drop, and it’s back to same old, same old.

So I think this process of the demise of the MSM (as currently operating — i.e., the Augean MSM), will take much more time. And we should not get too discouraged when the process takes longer than we’d like.

The two things we can do best in the meantime are:
1) document carefully the extent of MSM misbehavior
2) provide the most accurate and relevant information possible.

In an age of information affluence, the future belongs to those who provide the most reliable information.

Pitfalls of Redemptive Fallacies: Nidra Poller on EurObamania

I first met Nidra Poller in the summer of 2003 in Paris where she lives. She introduced me to the al Durah material and guided me through the tangled thorns of the French intellectual scene al Durah has done so much to corrupt. She writes for the Wall Street Journal, and as I read this I thought, this is unusually bold (and long), “even” for the WSJ. Then I realized this was a post at Atlas Shrugged. Few things illustrate the value of the blogosphere than this laser-sharp analysis.

EURABIAN OBAMANIA

If European Obamaniacs had their way, they’d steal every American’s right to vote and elect BHO president of the USA, the world, and the heavens above.

Nidra Poller
Paris, July 28 2008

The flames of French Obamania leaped skyward last week when the once and future president, glowing from his mass rally in Berlin, stopped in Paris on his way to London. Pushing past the statistics—a recent poll showed over 80% of the French would vote for him if only they could—what does this wishful thinking reveal about the expectations aroused by the charismatic candidate? While Obama worshippers the world over clamor for a right to vote in the November elections, their enthusiasm should reciprocally help Americans understand what is at stake. Two interlocking redemptive fallacies, focused on Obama’s enhanced racial value and the international dividends this will incur, are clarified in the light of European incandescence.

I just want to draw attention to the value of this expression “redemptive fallacy.” I’ve googled it and Nidra’s is the only place I find it used. It’s an enormously important concept to keep in mind. People motivate themselves to superhuman efforts because they think they’ve found the way to salvation by an analysis of what’s fundamentally wrong, and how striving to eliminate that “evil” can redeem us/them/the world/the universe. I spoke of one of the redemptive fantasies in my previous post about the Human Rights activists who believe that if Israel goes, it will be a great blow for human rights in the Middle East.

The Zionist notion that if only the Jews had their own state and were therefore “normal”, then anti-semitism would vanish was an remarkably fruitful redemptive fallacy. (Palestine is the only territory to go from the bottom of the third world in the early 20th century to the top of the first world by century’s end). The communist notion that if only we eliminate private property then the natural “comrade” will emerge and participate in a perfect society, was an enormously destructive redemptive fallacy that led to the death of tens of millions and the mental bondage of hundreds of millions.

Transposed to France, where 99.99% of the media are rooting for the “first black American president,” the Obama look-alike would not be a slim trim sexy Antillean intellectual. He would be a Muslim, a real Muslim, not a Christian convert. Modern, of course, with no ostentatious religious symbols that could disturb resolutely secular French voters, but Muslim in heart and soul, arisen from the beleaguered immigrant class and placed on high to prove that France, too, has atoned for its sins of racism and colonialism. Only a Muslim could fulfill this role. No other minorities—Chinese, Jewish, Brazilian, etc. —need apply.

You wouldn’t know it but France already has a dashing young diversity president. Nicolas Sarkozy’s father is Hungarian, his maternal grandfather was a Jewish immigrant from Salonika (who converted to Catholicism in 1917 to marry his French sweetheart), and his son Jean is reportedly converting to Judaism before his marriage with a Jewish girl. But Sarkozy gets no credit for his origins, and no applause for including three Muslim women— Fadela Amara, Rachida Dati, and Rama Yade–in his government. The French president has been ground to mincemeat by the media though his government is rapidly implementing the major reforms promised during the campaign. He was trashed for a three-day post-election jaunt on a rich man’s yacht, bashed for vacationing in Kennebunkport and eating barbecued hot dogs chez the arch-criminal Bush, and run through the wringer for having too much personal life.

Mocked as an over-excited omni-president who leaps from photo-ops to grandstanding interventions, Sarkozy is dismissed as a shallow show off one-man government, an elected monarch, a versatile back slapper… Along comes Barack Obama and the adjectives are shined up and pinned on his chest like medals. Oh la la le rock star! Cameras caress his private jet. His toothy smile is an expression of political brilliance, his glad hand is evidence of extraordinary diplomatic skill, his outstretched arm at Berlin’s Victory Tower promises miracles. The screeches of his international groupies were relayed with exceptional indulgence and his deliberate snubbing of Socialist politicians (presumably to avoid guilt by association) did not raise an eyebrow.

That last point is interesting. It’s as if the French understand what the American Muslims who complained bitterly that Obama’s staff dissed them by keeping them off the platform don’t — keep a low profile while he aligns himself in the center. Your day will come later. It’ suggests that for the French left, Obama is an enormously important object of redemptive desire.

Bad News Bears: Gerstenfeld and Colleagues Show How Bad Spin Works against Anyone

I just heard a talk from an American historian working on the history of “spin.” His conceptualization of the problem has me thinking about the phenomenon in new ways. I actually think that a history of spin might shed interesting light on the media coverage of the Middle East. It’s not that spin is bad, or even dishonest. One describes one’s house differently to the tax assessor from how one presents it to a prospective buyer, and there’s nothing necessarily dishonest about it — especially since both the assessor and the buyer know what you’re up to. But like all those checks we get at restaurants that have mistakes, if the errors are consistently in favor of the house, you know you’re up against something less than honest.

And spin is identifiable, possibly even quantifiable. Wikipedia defines it as follows:

    In public relations, spin is a sometimes pejorative term signifying a heavily biased portrayal in one’s own favor of an event or situation. While traditional public relations may also rely on creative presentation of the facts, “spin” often, though not always, implies disingenuous, deceptive and/or highly manipulative tactics. Politicians are often accused of spin by commentators and political opponents, when they produce a counter argument or position.
    The techniques of “spin” include:

  • Selectively presenting facts and quotes that support one’s position (cherry picking)
  • Non-denial denial
  • Phrasing in a way that assumes unproven truths
  • Euphemisms to disguise or promote one’s agenda
  • Ambiguity
  • Skirting
  • Rejecting the validity of hypotheticals
  • Appealing to internal policies

None of these are outright dishonest. Everyone selects evidence; they have to. Most people assume unproven truths, often thinking them proven. Most people use euphemisms and ambiguity, and skirt difficult material, etc. By this definition it would be hard not to be accused of spin.

On the other hand, there are ways to determine just how heavy the spin, and how consistently it favors one side, as in Steve Erlanger’s journalism. Interestingly enough, the definition assumes that spin is “in favor of one’s side,” which raises the question: Why would journalists spin, and particularly why would they spin hard? Whose side are they on?

Again, I don’t have too much of a problem with journalists from civil societies who benefit from a culture that prizes and guarantees freedom of the press, spinning in favor of civic players, and against tyrants of various kinds. The real puzzle, as with Erlanger and so much of the Western press is why they so favor the most regressive elements in the Palestinian world.

In any case, I imagine that it would be possible to define, even quantify spin (e.g., leaving out significant details that any impartial reader/viewer might want to know in order to make an intelligent and informed judgment, like the data on Sderot without which one cannot undestand Israeli actions against Gaza). And if one tried to develop an impartial means of quantifying the data — never certain, but capable of giving a general sense of the tendencies — I think one would find that the media systematically spin against Israel, presenting negative news as often as possible. Indeed, if we were to give a scale to the degree of spin, one might find that their treatment approaches the level of “character assassination.”

Manfred Gerstenfeld, the indefatigable prober of anti-Israel sentiment, especially in Europe, but also in academia and the media, has launched an interesting project that gets at the core of this problem. By presenting negative news about other countries, he shows a number of important phenomena:

1) How easy it is to make a country look bad.
2) How little people like it when their country is portrayed in the media in so negative a light.
3) How rarely the media engage in the kind of character assassination when it comes to other democracies.

As Gerstenfeld noted in an earlier piece on his project:

The Dutch haven’t quite developed the thick skin that we have as Israelis to outside acrimonious criticism. Maybe that’s why the seminar is generating such interest there,” Gerstenfeld suggested. “And by successfully blackening Holland’s name despite its positive image abroad, we are demonstrating how easy it is to portray any country as a brutal police state.

When one realizes that a “moderate” Arab county will imprison its own academics for “tarnishing the image” of his own country, one can begin to understand how thin a skin some countries have. Again, the exceptional self-criticism of Israelis who are often proud to be ashamed of their country, skews the field and creates an epistemological confusion among outside observers who don’t understand how much the information they get is skewed by the profoundly different cultures from which it emanates.

Cnaan Liphshiz, who already wrote a piece on this project has a follow-up in today’s Ha-Aretz.

Ha-Aretz

Bad News Bloggers bid to beat press bias
By Cnaan Liphshiz

What began six months ago as a brazen attempt to counter a perceived anti-Israel slant in the Dutch media, has evolved into a network monitoring the media in eight countries across the world. The idea is simple: Beat press bias at its own game by advertising only bad news about one place.

Over the past months, seven activists from Israel and elsewhere have been exposing online readers to scandalous yet accurate reports from media in Britain (violent drunk teens), France (high homeless mortality), Norway (serial child molesters), Finland (sexual harassment in parliament), Sweden (soaring suicide rates), The Netherlands (menacing Muslim unrest), Mexico (rampaging flood victims) and Los Angeles (drive-by killings).

The seven bad-news activists visit one another’s online blogs and have incorporated links referring the dozens of surfers who visit their pages every day to sister-sites. Though they all act out of a desire to counter what they see as media bias against Israel, they operate independently and have little communication with one another. Some of them rely on friends to send them interesting bits of bad news.

“This project demonstrates how media coverage can degrade any country’s image by using selective news without context,” explains media analyst Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld from Jerusalem. His seminar last summer, entitled “Bad News about the Netherlands,” became the kernel of his blog.