I recently posted my responses to policy question posed to me by a classmate. In it I referred repeatedly to the Honor-Shame-Jihad paradigm (HSJP) that I think handles the reality here far better
Jon Dyson who blogs at Arguement4Israel recently posted a long response to my BBC and Own-Goal Lethal Journalism piece. It is very important, and disagrees with me in valuable ways. So I’m posting it
For Malgorzata Koraszewska’s Polish translation, see here.
I have often lamented the lack of Arab self-criticism (and the surfeit of Jewish self-criticism). About a year ago, Lebanese journalist Hisham Melhem wrote a devastating piece about the current state (meltdown) of Arab culture across the boards. He repeatedly insists that this cannot be explained by any one factor. Below, I go through his article and attempt to show how honor-shame dynamics, in the peculiarly pathological form they have taken in the Arab world since the victories of Israel against the Arab onslaught have led to this nadir.
NB: I do not, by this post, mean to insult Arabs – although I realize that much of what both Melhem and I have to say will strike some Arabs as insulting. But in the spirit of self-criticism, I offer these reflections as sober appraisals of an undoubtedly painful reality that we all – Arabs above all – need to think about. The learning curve begins when one dives into self-criticism, rather than violently flees it.
In recent weeks and months I tried in this space to critique an Arab political culture that continues to reproduce the values of patriarchy, mythmaking, conspiracy theories, sectarianism, autocracy and apolitical/cultural discourse that denies human agency and tolerates the persistence of the old order.
Note the importance in this description of the Arab world, of denying human agency, which is something that Western liberals comply with on a regular basis, treating Arabs and the Muslims as forces of nature that have no moral agency: Sharon visits the Temple Mount, of course they start an Intifada; say Islam inherently violent, of course they riot in protest. It’s our fault for provoking them, not theirs for having no self-control. Have a thousands of Muslim citizens of Western democracies take off to join savage jihadi armies? It’s the fault of Western racism and Islamophobia.
Of course, this is merely the adoption by Westerners of the logic of the very Arab world Hashem is criticizing: if attractive women make testosteronic men horny, then cover the woman, don’t tell the men to learn self control. News headlines regularly adopt this principle of not attributing agency to Arabs, especially in describing the conflict of Israel with her neighbors: Stones pelt Israelis;Israelis shoot Palestinians.
The article in which I said that the ailing Arab body politic had created the ISIS cancer, and a subsequent article published in Politico Magazine generated a huge response and sparked debates on Twitter and the blogosphere.
The overwhelming response was positive, even though my analysis of Arab reality was bleak and my prognosis of the immediate future was negative. Yet, these articles were not a call for despair, far from it; they are acris de Coeur for Arabs, particularly intellectuals, activists and opinion makers, to first recognize that they are in the main responsible for their tragic conditions, that they have to own their problems before they rely on their human agency to make the painful decisions needed to transcend their predicament.
One of the insiders of the Nobel Peace Prize Committee just expressed regrets that the Committee had awarded Obama the prize shortly after becoming president and, as Christopher Hitchens pointed out in a hilarious interview, before he did anything but express good intentions. Apparently that was enough for the committee who gave him the award on the basis of “his vision for nuclear disarmament and increased international diplomacy.”
Turns out that not only did Obama use diplomacy to increase nuclear armament, but he did so at the expense of millions of Syrian civilians who needed his help, but who were on the wrong side of Syrian “president” Bashar Assad’s ally, Iran. (HT/YM)
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I was meeting with high-level Obama administration officials in Washington, D.C., two months after escaping Syria in February 2014, and I had just described to them all the horrors I had seen: the torture of protesters, the rape of women, the bombardment of civilians, the barrel bombs, the massacres, the sieges, the starvation, and the gassing of hundreds of innocents with sarin in August 2013. I had recounted how I barely survived those sarin attacks and the siege of my hometown, Moadamiya, near Damascus; and how, by some miracle, I managed to trick the regime into letting me leave Syria.
Now, I was asking the officials to take simple steps, to do something, anything, that would protect the millions of civilians I had left behind from further starvation and slaughter. But as I pressed these officials for answers, their replies grew increasingly divorced from the Syrian conflict:
Sweden’s generous immigration policies are essential to the image of a country that (like Canada) prides itself as a moral superpower.
Note the role of “image” and “pride” in the choice of policies. In order to parade on the global scene as a “moral superpower,” Sweden adopts policies it can’t sustain, indeed that threaten the fabric of their extraordinary civil society.
I suspect that a fair amount of the secular supersessionism that motivates much “leftist” anti-Zionism, and that finds so nurturing environment in Scandinavia, can be located in this suicidal sense of being the cutting edge of the global community. “We are good because we’re so open and empathic and generous. You Israelis are bad because you’re mean to the poor Palestinians. QED we’re morally superior.”
Congrats on your self-coronation. How’s that going? Painted cakes do not satisfy, though sometimes they can poison.
I’m preparing a post on an interview with Tuvia Tenenbom by I24 reporter Yael Lavie that took place October 8, 2014. Even though it’s old, it illustrates a key dimension of the cogwar against Israel and how even Israeli journalists participate. Below, for further reference, is a transcript of the interview with some brief notes (h/t Sarah Chin).
I welcome any further information or thoughts on what I think is a transcript immensely revealing of current Israeli journalism’s dysfunctions.
Reporter: Welcome back, it is still Wednesday October 8, 2014, this is still the morning edition on i24, where you should be and I am still Yael Lavie last I checked, thank you for staying with us and onto our next topic. Now our next story combines 2 of the core narratives of Israel and the Jewish people, the Holocaust and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As research for his new book, Catch a Jew, author and German journalist Tuvia Tenenbom interviewed Attaf abu a-Rub, field researcher for Israeli human rights NGO B’tselem. Abu a-Rub has denied the Holocaust. First let’s take this, let’s take a look at this controversial bit and then meet the author himself.
[Clip showing Arab interviewees denying holocaust]
Reporter: Tuvia Tenenbom is with us in studio, first of all thank you so much for joining us.
Tenenbom: thank you for having me, morning
Reporter: Good morning good morning to you, first of all I have a question to you. You actually walk around the West Bank you know and you speak to Palestinians, but yknow the man you spoke with, the B’tselem volunteer [sic] did not know what you were really doing there right?
the implication here is that the revelation is illegitimate because Nutch-al-Rub doesn’t know that it will be reported because Tenenbom is “on the other side.”
Tenenbom: all he knows is this, I was working on this book, that came out in Israel now,
Reporter: To Catch a Jew
Tenenbom: To Catch a Jew, tfoos haeyhudi which means to catch a Jew, and I asked B’tselem at the time if they can, I said I wanted to see as they do an operation from beginning all the way to the end, as they do research, as they collect data and all that stuff. And I spoke to Sarit Michaeli who is the spokesperson of…
Tenenbom: (continuing) of Btselem and Sarit said to me she’s gonna give me the best, her top researcher and his name is Attif,
Tenenbom: I went to meet Attif, we went to Jenin, and we drove to Jordan valley, and then we met people and then he says what he says, he says a lot of things, this is one of them, you know for example if we are to
interruption here at point where more of Attif’s problematic attitudes were about to come out.
Reporter: what did you say to Sarit Michaeli and B’tselem people when you said that you want to join them from the beginning, that you were doing this what for? Did you explain what…
Sorry TT interrupts here, but she was about to accuse him of illegitimately failing to inform B’tselem that he was not sympathetic to them. Implication of such an accusation: B’tselem has a right to keep secrets from the public. Enderlin took precisely the same approach with his tapes of Talal.
Tenenbom: I explained everything, I said I am writing for the German media, I am writing for a paper called Die Zeit, I am writing and the purpose of this one is I’m writing a book for the publishing company in Germany called Suhrkamp, it’s one of the best in Germany and I’m writing about the issues here and I would like to meet and I would like to see, everybody knows B’tselem, I would like to see how it happens
Reporter: but when you set out to start writing the book the premise was actually, that the Palestinian people are anti-Semitic, that was your premise to begin with
in other words you found what you were looking for?
Tenenbom: never ever, this is one of the lies that you have all over, never ever. Actually when I came here
here’s a clash of narratives. YL is here articulating the “word” from the “left” aimed at discrediting the contents of TT’s book. TT’s response – lies – is a sign of how widespread the campaign. whether it’s lies or just misinformation, conjecture presented as facts, is another matter.
Reporter: it’s not the lies, I mean I’m asking you straightforward
protect the conjecture.
Tenenbom: I did not come here because you know I’ve seen it somewhere, I did not come here with any agenda, political, I didn’t even know where I’m going. My commission was, the basic idea was go to Israel because I did already a book a year before that yknow..
Tenenbom: I slept in Hitler’s room, says name in Hebrew, I don’t have it here,
Reporter: but that was also…
Tenenbom: it was the same thing, you go to Germany, for 6 months, talk to people and then come up with what it is, what I found out was…
Reporter: the premise of that book was also about anti-Semitism..
Tenenbom: it came out that to be antisemitism, but this was not the idea before,
Reporter: mmm hhhmm
Tenenbom: when I started the subject you have to understand, first of all the two books, were not my ideas. It’s not like I had a guide, a reason, I was chasing something I tried to find something out, no, in both cases there were German companies, publishers, who asked me to do it because they read my articles in Zeit,
Reporter: there’s something you know, the German um uh the German you know editors ask you to write the book, there’s so many things I can say about that
as an interviewer shouldn’t it be “i could ask about that”? Instead, she’s out for bear and passing up moose.
but here’s my question to you, you know you though and I’m just wondering you claim actually your claim is that the Palestinian people are, what, are anti-Semitic?
has she read the book? I think not. Framing telling: are they or aren’t they anti-semitic? a frame only someone in denial might make. Real question based on extensive evidence: how far has the officially sanctioned anti-semitism permeated the society… an answer TT is far more empirically equipped to answer than YL.
Tenenbom: this is not what I claim, this is not this is not what the book is about, the book is about what happens here. One of the things that happens here what the book is exposing is
Tenenbom: is things I did not know when I started it, what the book is exposing is there are 1000s upon 1000s and millions upon millions of euros invested by Europeans. I thought when I came here there were two people here, the Arabs and the Jews, and this is the conflict between them, during my travels here, and you have to understand, 7 days a week 14 hours a day,
Reporter: no I understand but (unintelligible)
Tenenbom: everywhere I go I see especially in the Palestinian areas you know I see European NGOs, operating NGOs, and Israeli NGOs FINANCED by Europeans, and some Americans but mostly Europeans, some of it by European governments for the most part
Reporter: I get but the NGO thought Btselem that you interviewed, Btselem had a response, I’m gonna read it out to you:
this is an interesting moment, since the statement essentially acknowledges the seriousness of the allegation and promises to investigate. Strangely YL doesn’t read the part of the statement that includes B’tselem’s firing of Abu-a-Rub for both saying it, and lying about it.
Reporter: I mean what is your claim then about Btselem, that one guy, one of their researchers, yknow which by the way a Holocaust Denier, I feel again, I can say this, I come from a family of Holocaust victims, of you know most of, I’m a German Jew, most of my family perished in the holocaust, you know that guy, really doesn’t is not gonna take away anything of my existence, I have to say and I don’t think it projects on the organization itself….
Possibly the most astonishing statement in the interview. Would her ancestors who died in the H agree with her dismissal of the significance of TT’s identifying a denier of the Holocaust.
The man is a major conduit of information about the behavior of Israelis and the suffering of Palestinians on the West Bank, and his denial of the Holocaust (ie his inability to analyze evidence) doesn’t matter? and shouldn’t reflect on B’tselem? Even B’tselem disagreed.
Tenenbom: no no no this is where you are wrong, I don’t care what Attaf thinks, most Palestinians think there was no Holocaust, I don’t care what Attaf thinks, Attaf is entitled, entitled to his opinion, and I don’t care what Attaf thinks…
Reporter: and many Israelis don’t think there was ever a Palestine or there should be a Palestine…
?!!! comparing denying there ever was a [presumably Arab] Palestine – there never was – or there should be a Palestine – political position – to Holocaust denial. Every side has their “narrative”, same-same, he-said-she-said. YL’s comment reveals a massive disorder in the ability to handle empirical information.
Tenenbom: but..let’s not mix the issues here, I don’t care what Attaf thinks, he’s entitled to his opinion, he’s a nice guy, what I care about, is a (Hebrew) he’s a researcher for Btselem, he’s the guy who’s supposed to come out
Reporter: a researcher for B’tselem is someone who walks around, who walks around with a camera (Tenenbom trying to speak)
Tenenbom: all what B’tselem is what is B’tselem, they have 11 researchers, what is the big issue with B’tselem, they have 11 researchers, all of them Palestinians, ok, all the names you have around it, its nothing to do
in other words, just as happened at Netzarim junction on Sept. 30, 2000, no westerners, israelis are around to cover what goes on in B’tselem’s “information” (really “narrative” acquisition.
Reporter: because that is at the core what btselem does,…
Tenenbom: what I think now if you have a researcher who thinks that there was no holocaust, this is what his own research came up with, you know, how can you rely on other research that he says, when the first time that the clip came out, on channel 2 of Israel, btselem claimed that channel 2 added to the video, they claim that I am lying, that Btselem is lying, when the first time
interruption regularly when TT starts hitting hard.
Reporter: again I have to read I have to read the response they claim (Tenenbom trying to talk) that the btselem employee did in fact make the statement of his own volition
he lied. got caught when more tape made available.
Tenenbom: just a second, let me get there, when the Lech, the Facebook, by a woman named Milach, put the whole, video that you see here, the first response of Btselem was this proves…
Reporter: but you know what we are doing right now, we are doing the same thing that yknow that maybe I think people that have an axe to grind (Tenenbom goes to speak, points finger in his face) let me finish, you know are doing, let’s say you know he’s a holocaust denier this this and that, what does it help, seriously, what does it help, you know, in the agenda of trying to progress a peace process because this is now a battle between you and an NGO, I don’t think he necessarily represents all of the Palestinian people
complete loss of any pretension to be a journalist. and here we see the real framework in which TT’s evidence is ground to dust: what (do i, and my friends) think leads to peace, and what (do i etc) thinks will impede peace. B’tselem, against settlements for peace. You battle B’tselem. Your evidence means nothing in the bigger picture, it doesn’t “represent all of the Palestinian people.”
Tenenbom: this is not a battle between me and an NGO, these are the facts, they know, they denied it, they denied and denied and denied, and after Haaretz said this is what he said, you know they came out, B’tselem finally said
Reporter: but what does it mean, what do you think it means?
Tenenbom: what it means is that they employ people who hate the Jews, who thinks of the Jews…
Reporter: you know there are Israelis who hate Arabs as well
another interruption just as he gets to the point YL has been trying to undermine.
Tenenbom: no of course but you know what, if they had an attack on Iran, and a researcher, a researcher who said that all the Arabs are bad people, or something like that there is no Palestine, never was, B’tselem would have fired that guy or that lady in a second
Reporter: no but the thing is…
Tenenbom: it shows you the mindset of Btselem, you have a mindset and this is what I find, not just B’tselem, I find Shalom Achshav, peace now, I find it in many other left-wing organizations,
Reporter: (trying to interrupt) but that’s because they oppose you opinions,
in other words, whatever you say about the left is just because they don’t share your opinion. hermeneutic seal.
Tenenbom: they are so much with self-haters
Reporter: but to call people whose opinions differ from you that they are self-hating Jews is somewhat doing the same thing as denying their opinion or denying any…
master of narrative relativism. anything but consider the problem TT’s pointing to, which is the zealous masochism of some Israelis leads them to poison the world they think they’re helping.
Tenenbom: they are, everybody is entitled to their opinions, I’m not saying they are not entitled to their opinion, they are entitled to their opinions
Reporter: but they are self-hating Jews
Tenenbom: they are self-hating Jews, if they have the facts, look if you employ these people, and you call them researcher you have a problem with this, and again I have no problem with Attaf, I have no problem with Tamar who goes around paid by the EU, paid by the EU, goes around to….
Reporter: I’m going to stop you right there only because we have a completely different segment coming up. And again I’m glad you joined me because I respect your opinion
Tenenbom: thank you very much and I respect yours
Reporter: even though I might be a self-hating Jew
One hears often the complaint that “right and left” are not good terms for describing and categorizing various thinkers in today’s world. But all the complaints barely make a dent in the widespread use of this dichotomy as a key to identifying the “players” in today’s public sphere: journals, public intellectuals, academic fields, politicians, movements, NGOs, think-tanks, are all labeled along a continuum with such nodal identifiers as far- or center- right/left.
Indeed a peculiar dynamic has taken shape over the last two decades: a kind of western “narcissism of small differences,” between right and left wing in which each speaks of the other in strident terms and limits any serious discussion with the other,on the one hand, and the application of left and right to political cultures where they have no possible corresponding meaning, on the other hand. When, 2006, Judith Butler acknowledged that Hamas and Hizbullah, two groups of the most regressive religious zealots, were part of the “global progressive left,” she rendered the term meaningless. Or so one would think. And yet, right and left continue to be used extensively to identify and either include or exclude some voice in the public sphere.
Whatever the problems involved beforehand, in the 21st century, the designations “right” and “left” as they are used, have become a polemical shorthand that dis-informs, rather than informs. Part of this relates to sociability patterns in which “left” and “right” wingers hang together, and view the other as of questionable legitimacy. Readers who accept the labels right and left as indicators of the reliability of the source, tend to dismiss writings labeled the “other side,” as biased and propagandistic. The mutual ostracism that “right” and “left” have accomplished has an increasingly deleterious impact on the discussion in the public sphere.
One of the places where this impact has been most deleterious is in our ability to think about the Muslim and Arab world, the source of some of the most regressive religious forces on the planet, in its most extreme form, a millennial vision of world conquest. And yet despite how much the values of Islamism contradict progressive principles, the closest allies that Jihadis have, in the Western public sphere that they plan to take over, are people self-consciously identified as “the global progressive left.” Judith Butler’s defense of that alliance emphasized the shared bond of anti-imperialism. Dubbed the “anti-imperialism of fools,” by Michael Totten, this leftist embrace of Jihadi groups brought some of the most ferocious imperialists on the planet into the allegedly “anti-imperialist” camp.
Back in the aughts, the irony of siding with imperialists in an “anti-imperial” struggle, might escape a viewer unfamiliar with, say, Muqtada al Sadr’s messianic sadism:
Democratic National Convention, Denver Colorado, 2008
Today, the contradiction is no longer even hidden:
What does it mean that Western Europeans are the people with the least affiliation with Christianity, and yet, outside the Muslim world, express the most pervasive supersessionist hostility towards sovereign Jews? Secular, progressive supersessionism?
In the mid-18th century, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, then one of the more radical thinkers of the enlightenment, made the following argument about Jews and their opinions. (HT/AP)
If someone dared to publish among us books that openly favored Judaism, we would punish the author, the publisher, the book dealer. That arrangement is a convenient and sure way to always be right. There is a pleasure in refuting people who do not dare speak… [When] conversing with Jews… The unfortunates feel themselves at our mercy. The tyranny practiced against them makes them fearful… I will never believe that I have rightly heard the Jews’ reasoning as long as they do not have a free state, schools, universities where they might speak and argue without risk. (Emile, Book IV, 618-20).
The reason why Jews were “at the mercy” of their monotheistic dependents (Christianity and Islam) for so many centuries was because of the profoundly immature and insecure doctrine of supersessionism, the Oedipal, zero-sum claim that the offspring monotheistic faiths were so superior to their parent(s), that they replaced, erased them in God’s singular affections. Christianity was the “New Israel” and the Jews were cast out; Islam was the true religion and Judaism and Christianity were inferior. In order to make such a remarkable, unnecessary, and mean-spirited claim, they had to make sure that the predecessor monotheism was publicly humiliated, visibly put down. (Hence Rousseau’s comment on the “pleasure of refuting people who dare not speak.”)
In a recent op-ed in Ha-aretz, “Rabbi” Eric Yoffie illustrated the joke that the real name of the paper is “Dibat Ha-aretz” (libel of the land, or, Ha-aretz’ libel), in a rant about recent violence in Israel. (I refuse to link to such a poisonous piece.)
(HT: Pedro Zuquette, Elder of Zion, Jeffrey Bale, Arnold Roth, Daled Amos, et al.)
The reason for Jewish terror is Torah. It is not territories and occupation that are to blame, although they are part of the picture. It is not racism or hatred of Arabs that are at fault, although they play a role. The heart of the problem is Torah, the sacred teachings of Judaism.
It’s hard to imagine a more lacerating piece of self-criticism than this, especially from someone trained in the study of the Torah. And it’s harder to imagine a statement that would warm the cockles of the souls of Jew-haters the world over. Hitler was right, as too many Arabs in this neighborhood tend to say.
He then proceeds to make two further related claims: 1) though not yet found, the killers of the Palestinian baby killed in an arson attack are surely religious Jews, inspired to their actions by their religious beliefs, and 2) they deliberately murdered that child. Although the first claim may be true, it seems a bit premature to indict an entire religious teaching on the basis of a series of unproven presumptions; and the second claim – to attribute the deliberate desire to murder an infant to that religious teaching when there is no evidence that the death of the child was premeditated rather than the unintended consequence of reckless violence – seems itself, the height of recklessness. Indeed, that most tenuous presumption of intention to murder an infant, plays a critical role in the intensity of Yoffie’s anger and indignation.
What would drive a rabbi to such hasty and vicious (self-)accusations (on behalf of his fellow Jews), and drive a newspaper to publishing them? Masochistic Omnipotence Syndrome (MOS)? Self-abasement as a means of dealing with shame? Boundless hatred of those who shame him?
The following is an only slightly edited version of my farewell lecture at Boston University, April 27, 2015.
The essay is only partially linked. As I reread it, I see numerous jumps in reasoning which make it a difficult read. It in some ways runs the gamut of my research, putting together apocalyptic types, honor-shame, zero- vs. positive-sum, and the huge dilemma we’re in today, where we can’t talk about the most serious threat to global peace (not kidding), and instead, we talk endlessly about the flaws of the Jews, individually and collectively.
Apocalyptic and Gratuitous Hatreds:
The Revival of Jew Hatred in the 21st Century
The rabbis attribute the destruction of the Second Temple to sinat chinam, causeless, or gratuitous hatred between Jews. The most elaborate example used to illustrate the point, tells the story of the confusion of a certain a-Kamtza, an invited guest to a wedding, and Bar Kamza, the mistakenly invited man whom the host dislikes intensely. The host, discovering Bar Kamtza at his feast, demands he leave, and refuses to relent even when Bar Kamtza offers to pay for the full feast. Angry and resentful, Bar Kamtza plots to use the Romans to take vengeance, not only against the host, but the rabbis who stood about and did not intervene while he was being unbearably humiliated. Deeply knowledgeable about both the halacha and the proclivities of its interpreters, and determined to take vengeance, Bar Kamtza sets off a chain of events that ultimately led Rome to destroy the Temple.
Josephus, the historian, tells a different tale. Although it failed, that failure was hardly fore-ordained, and had it succeeded, it would rank as the first successful blow against the juggernaut of Roman hegemony that dominated the previous centuries of Mediterranean history. In Josephus’ account, there were plenty of hatreds, and some – like the Zealots who burned the besieged city’s supplies – clearly contributed to the failure of the Jewish revolt. In historical terms, Josephus is both more embedded in events, and confirmed by outside sources which show a vast range of prophetic/messianic behavior among individuals acting before receptive crowds. Far from gratuitous, the passions that drove the Jewish Revolt might best be considered apocalyptic: in other words, for the participants, the things at stake in these hatreds, were cosmic; this was the final battle.
These believers, whom I call roosters, who live in apocalyptic time, in the certainty that the culmination of history is underway, can behave at once enthusiastically and self-destructively, like the Xhosa in what became South Africa in the mid-19th century. Told by an adolescent girl to slaughter their cattle in preparation for redemption, many Xhosa, including their greatest chief slaughtered their precious herds in anticipation, and each time that anticipation disappointed, they killed even more systematically. They followed this pattern of doubling down so determinedly that they went from voluntary sacrifice (believers killing their own cattle) into coercive purity (killing the cattle of non-believers). In the end, they slaughtered hundreds of thousands of cattle, and tens of thousands of Xhosa starved.[i]
Academics like to think of themselves as autonomous thinkers. Academia – literally the protected realm of free speech – give professors enormous privileges, not only the right to speak their minds, but also not to lose their livelihood by displeasing those more powerful. Few members of even developed democracies enjoy the exceptional privileges of freedom given to academics: to speak out, dissent, criticize, to “speak truth to power” with relative impunity. Try getting such individuated folks to all toe one line? Try herding cats.
The very fact that civil polities treasure such safe spaces for free speech, attests to their progressive bona fides. Historically, power elites suffocate dissent; yet modern democracies invest heavily in a free academy. Especially in our times, when new social networks can turn ominously feral, one might hope that academics and their institutions, especially small face-to-face communities, could return that investment and resist such anonymous, predatory, crowd behavior.
The Pessin Affair, Connecticut College Spring Semester 2015
In a previous post from 2010, I proposed the term Peacock-Rhinos to describe a tendency on the “left” of people like Judge Richard Goldstone and members of the international “human rights” organizations, who thought of themselves as truly good, caring, empathic people who nonetheless had grown the hide of the Rhinoceros that Ionesco so devastatingly describes among those who gave in to fascism’s collective appeal.
The Pessin Affair and Peacock-Rhinos
In preparing some essays on the Pessin Affair, I wanted to use the term Peacock-Rhino to describe the group who attacked Pessin by claiming deep personal pain even trauma at reading his Facebook post. In rereading the post where I first proposed the term, I realize the phenomenon, best exemplified by the star of this particular staged emergency, Lamiya Khandaker, varies considerably from that of Goldstone. What I emphasized in an earlier post was the rhinos’ hide, their thick skin, their imperviousness to empirical reality and reasoned argument, their willingness to run over anything that gets in their way. But in the Pessin Affair, this trait exists alongside another, seemingly contradictory one – an exquisitely thin skin.
At least one species of Peacock Rhinos has very thin skins, and almost anything will set off deeply-felt responses. In modern terminology, they have very bad anger management skills. An affront can trigger a violent tirade; words can ever harm them. In some cases, this is true of people who are simply rhinos, like the Jihadis who go bonkers at the very sight of a picture of Muhammad, no matter how anodine and slaughter blasphemers in response. In 2006, for example, at false news that the Pope had called Islam inherently violent – apparently an unbearable insult to the faithful – set thousands of Muslims the world over to rioting in protests that killed dozens of people. Rather than laugh at the childish absurdity of people violently objecting to being called violent, most Western commentators, both journalistic and political, pressured the pope to apologize.
As there, so in many other places, the guardians of the Western public sphere call for systemic placation. To crudely summarize the prevailing attitude one finds among not just diplomats but journalists and policy advisors: Don’t piss them off. As a result of this pervasive placation of cries of injury, those thin-skinned folks who bruise easily and have problems with anger management get to lead with their glass chin. If you will, they manage an elaborate intimidation/protection racket, carried out in the name of sensitivity. The widespread belief that drawing pictures of Muhammad is somehow “punching down” and in bad taste because it hurts the feelings of over a billion Muslims illustrates the dynamic.
At Connecticut College, however, we find a special breed of Peacock Rhino. There the activist students used this aggressive sensitivity to maximum effect by expressing it as a vulnerability. Everywhere in this affair, one hears of the wounded, anxious, unsafe, deeply hurt, students, whose trauma at encountering Pessin’s Facebook post, triggered and sustained the entire episode. The gaping wound their deliberate misreading of his piece provoked, provided the occasion and sustenance of revolutionary time.
I was just on a panel at the IDC Herzliya Conference about BDS and Europe. [My remarks made to the panel treated BDS as a cogwar campaign to destroy Israel, one of the most coveted desires of the apocalyptic millennial set (and many other Arabs and Muslims, alas).]
This is the second such discussion I’ve been in (the previous one, on Wednesday past is here in French), and below are some of the thoughts they both have inspired.
If Others Think It’s Our Fault, It Is.
People who identify themselves as “left” consistently pooh-pooh the problem on the one hand, and then turn around to say, “and if we [Israel] weren’t so bad, if our behavior didn’t seem so close to South African apartheid, then we wouldn’t be having these problems.” So on the one hand, “it’s not a big deal,” and on the other hand, “it’s our fault.”
Of course what they mean by “our fault,” is not their fault, but the “right’s” fault – Bibi, Hotovely, Bennett, the settlements, the occupation, and any other Israeli action that provokes anger among outsiders, whether they be Arab or Western. “As long as the ‘right’ keeps talking and acting the way it does, it’s impossible to win the fight against BDS. If we uprooted the settlements, then the BDS advocates wouldn’t find so sympathetic an audience.” To paraphrase Roland Freudenstein, a foreign panelist, most sympathetic to Israel, “explain and defend everything you do, including the wall, including the occupation. But building settlements?!? Seriously, Settlements?!”
As for disagreements with figures like Obama and Kerry, their perception, even if false, trumps our sense of reality. One Israeli panelist at the IDC actually dismissed the Levy Commission’s ruling on the legality of the settlements, by invoking Ban Ki Moon, “certainly no anti-Semite” (and also, no lawyer). The invocation of Moon was not about legal reasoning, but about international perception. If that’s the way the world thinks, don’t fight it. If the world sees the settlements as an illegal move that prevents peace, then it’s up to Israel to bend. As one of my (former) colleagues once said to me during the early years of the intifada, “I support Israel, but Sharon! ShaRON!.”
The situation, as I see it, is the opposite. It’s not the right that’s responsible for the loss to BDS, but the progressive left, which should have won this particular battle against the demonization of Israel handily. Indeed, the attitude of submission that it argues we Israelis should take – if the “vast majority” (apparently a favorite meme in more than one place) believes we shouldn’t have settlements, then so be it – is the reason why progressives have folded in the face of aggressive Islamist demands.
In this student email to Pessin, a member of the Student Government Association describes how the body was pressured into throwing out procedure and rushing through a condemnation of Pessin. Later, Aparna Gopalian, editor of opinion page of College Voice and member of the SGA, reflected on how successfully they bent that body to their activist will.
As those following this blog know, I’ve been uploading documents on the Pessin Affair, a remarkable and terrifying moment when Connecticut College became Salem on the Thames.
As I sift through the evidence, the arguments employed by faculty when discussing the issue offer interesting insights into the kind of discourses that allowed the public sphere in the college be seized by cognitive Jihadis, driving an entire university community, with only the dimmest awareness of what they were doing, to conduct a human sacrifice in the name of inclusivity. Post modern shades of Rene Girard’s theory of sacrifice.
One of the memes much in use is that of the “equality of all cultures.” What this allegedly multi-cultural sentiment actually means in practice, however, is a dogmatic projection of a Western culture which has, by and large, renounced violence, encouraged individuality and diversity, and chosen to resolve disputes through public discussion. Combined with “moral equivalence,” this notion of cultural equality permits critics to equate acts that have vastly different moral and cultural settings and meanings.
This projection, which had something of a dogmatic sanctity to it, operated on two critical planes during the Pessin episode, granting to the “hurt students” all respect and concern for their feelings, despite the fact that they tendentiously interpreted Pessin’s remarks, and were “coming from a place” of war and not peace.
On a second plane, it operated to equate Israeli/Jewish culture and Palestinian/Muslim. Following up on comments outlining the wide range of beliefs and attitudes within the variegated Jewish community (i.e., opening up a place for Jewish colleagues to dissent from Pessin’s tone and opinions), a colleague insisted that everyone also should acknowledge the same for
… the much larger populations of Arab and non-Arab Muslims and Arab Christians worldwide who are nearly as diverse in their political and religious affiliations as culture itself. We must take care not to conflate these groups or essentialize them in our social / political / religious discourse.
Would this were true. On the contrary, the near-total homogeneity of the 1.6 billion Muslims on the planet when it comes to the political issue of Israel is nothing short of astonishing. There is vastly more variety of political opinion about the Arab-Israeli conflict, openly expressed, in .2% of the global population (12 million Jews), than there is in almost 20% of the global population (1.6 billion Muslims) about Israel. If this astonishing uniformity of opinion is a form of “essentializing,” then Muslims essentialize themselves by peer pressure and policing the narrow borders of dissent with violence, both state- and sect- driven.
Ironically, this professor’s advice not to conflate or essentialize contradicts his empirical assertions: he conflates Muslim and Jewish culture as “equally diverse in political matters,” and thus fails to understand the very dynamics that make this conflict so adamantine.
I wish to focus today on BDS as a Cognitive War campaign of Global Jihad, more specifically, since it’s the topic of our panel, a campaign for the conquest of Europe for Islam. My remarks, therefore, do not refer to all Muslims or to Islam as a whole, but on a particular salvific (i.e. millennial) movement within Islam for world conquest, one best called Global Jihad. In the Jihadi strategy for Islamizing the world, Israel plays a key role, both strategically and practically. To grasp its significance, however, one must view this from the perspective of their cognitive war against infidels. The goal of cogwar is for a weaker combatant to defeat a much stronger enemy by getting him not to use his superior strength. Historically, from the Maccabees to the Vietcong, most cogwar has been defensive, striving to kick out invaders. Today, Global Jihad conducts an imperialist cogwar designed to get the West not to resist an invasion of its own culture. The following is a brief analysis of Global Jihad’s cogwar strategy with particular attention to the role of BDS in its European theater of war.
Strategically speaking, the elimination of Israel constitutes the primary initial military goal for global jihad. Israel represents the most painful slap in the face of Arab and Muslim honor, a global humiliation, a Naqba, the symbol of Arab and Muslim impotence in the modern age. Destroying Israel would whiten the Arab world’s blackened face and restore its honor, its manhood. And with Jerusalem finally, again, in Muslim hands, the apocalyptic process of world redemption will advance. No single event would more powerfully drive Muslim faithful to join the apocalyptic Jihad for world conquest, than the fall of Israel. By the same logic, nothing would be more counter-indicated for the West than to support the Jihadi campaign to destroy Israel.
And yet that is precisely what has happened over the first 15 years of the 21st century in two major theatres of war: Israel, and Western democracies (primarily Europe). On the Israeli front, Palestinian Jihadis deliberately provoke IDF reactions that inevitably hurt Palestinian civilians, and then count on the MSNM to blame Israel for the Palestinian suffering whose images they run 24/7. Fired by the lethal narratives fed them as news by journalists and NGOs, including self-accusing Jewish and Israeli ones, world outrage forces Israel to withdraw, sparing the Jihadis who then rearm.
The following are the comments Pessin made at a panel on January 22, on the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris at the beginning of the month. It initiated a series of email exchanges with Lamiya Khandaker in February, which preceded the full-fledged assault in March.
Notes for Hebdo comments 1/22/15
Of the many issues, questions, problems in play here, one particularly strikes me:
“moral relativism” … in particular, the profound moral differences in play between distinct cultures/subcultures …
–in the academic bubble we live in we are firm believers in tolerance and diversity … which leads to a strong default inclination toward a kind of relativism — different societies and cultures and religions are all equally valuable, equally legitimate, equally ‘correct’ in their own way — at the very least we are in no justified position to critique their differences … it’s imperialistic, colonialistic, to impose our values on other cultures … shades of European imperialism, colonialism, conquest, domination etc….
–the fascinating irony of course is that these ideas of tolerance, diversity, individual liberties etc. are profoundly European ideas in the first place …
–helping to support these ideas is that it can be very difficult to distinguish “cultural” differences from “moral” differences … of COURSE differences in dress, and language, and cuisine, and customs, etc. should be tolerated, celebrated … so that bleeds over into tolerating/celebrating the diversity of practices that begin spilling into moral practices — the role/status of women, FGM, the role/status of gays, freedoms of the individual (speech, assembly, religion) etc….
–and it is instances like Hebdo which show just profoundly problematic this strongly relativistic attitude is … which reveal just how profoundly different are the value systems in play …
–for most of “us,” OF COURSE Hebdo had the right to satirize religion (not just islam but pretty nasty toward Christianity and Judaism too) … perhaps we find it offensive, in bad taste, maybe even “wrong” in some sense — but in no sense deserving of execution
–but for many of “them” (leaving that undefined!) OF COURSE Hebdo did not have that right, and WAS deserving of execution …. (demonstrations all over the world AGAINST Hebdo, incl riots and deaths against Hebdo … Nigeria (burning churches), Pakistan, Gaza…) ….
–tho I am very skeptical of sharp black/white distinctions, of us/them distinctions — they’re generally not accurate and not helpful to productive discussion — I use the distinction here only to demarcate a strong moral dividing point — either you condemn the Hebdo shootings simpliciter or you don’t … events like this force you finally to make a choice … and I’m using ‘us’ to indicate the former and ‘them’ to indicate the latter, regardless of race/ethnicity/religion etc.
–[and note I’m not even talking about the shooting of the Jews here — separate issue(s) — just focusing on the Hebdo]
–it’s easy to be tolerant and celebrate the diverse practices when “they” are “over there” “elsewhere” — but the world is getting smaller, now they are right “here” … so what can and should you do?
–can you “tolerate” those who don’t want to tolerate you?
–can you “coexist” with people who want to kill you?
–how is it possible to affirm your commitment to “individual liberty, freedom, diversity” when “sub-cultures” within your culture want to overthrow you and your values?
–this also shows up “between” cultures — eg how do states go to war justly, morally (by their own standards) against non-state entities that don’t play by the same rules (eg re protecting civilians) …
–I have no answers, to either the theoretical or practical problems raised here … but I do suspect one thing, regrettably, in both domains — that whatever the answer is, it might well involve re-examining and articulating far more precisely the nature and limits of the key notions (liberty freedom diversity tolerance) we celebrate …. Or to articulate it more precisely: the great challenge for societies committed to liberal democratic values is how to maintain those values, to maximize those values, even toward those who don’t share those values, who are so opposed to those values that they attack them with violence ….