Sunday, September 12, 2010

A Parochial Place

More than the usual suspects are after Marty Peretz. The New Republic's Editor-In-Chief has long been accused of regarding Arabs and Muslims, and Palestinians in particular, with Orientalist disdain. But a week ago Peretz published a blog post in which he crossed his own rubicon:
... no one has shown that a single serious demonstration against Muslims and Arabs, against their beliefs and behavior can be raised in this country... In fact, there has not been a single rally or demonstration in America aimed at Muslim or Arab interests or their commitments to foreign governments and, more likely, to foreign insurgencies and, yes, quite alien philosophies.

As an indicator of the health of our liberal democracy, we might be heartened that horror at the spectacle of lunatic pastor Terry Jones roasting Korans stirred the unwise intervention of General Petraeus, Hillary Clinton, Robert Gates and the President of the United States. But while Peretz denounced Jones' plans as "satanic" in a follow-up post that reads like damage control, he initially mused that non-Muslims are less cowed in Europe, where people do protest the "Pakis".

I'm no fan of Edward Said, but the foppish apologist for Eastern illiberalism is consistently borne out in his observation that the modes of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are the same. How precisely Peretz's charge of Muslim "commitments to foreign governments and, more likely, to foreign insurgencies and, yes, quite alien philosophies" echoes anti-Jewish boilerplate! I can't help thinking Peretz uses caesura -- the interrupting "yes" -- to intimate an impish awareness of this.

Now prestige commentators like Nicholas Kristof and James Fallows are calling him out. That's because, rather than sublimating his hostility into invidious delectation of rugs, Peretz is being too blunt about what he wants: protest "against Muslims and Arabs" -- not just radical Muslims and their ideas and beliefs. Peretz thinks we in the US are effete because we lack what he alludes to in another context as a "Walpurgisnacht" instinct -- the exuberant drive to protest "Pakis".

As is customary with ideological racism, this is fueled in part by corrupted concern for human rights. Peretz has long lamented illiberalism in the Third World, particularly among Muslims and Arabs and especially as it manifests in eliminationist hatred of Jews and Israel. And he is right to oppose this illiberalism as a coterminous defense of liberal democracy. At least as much as his Jewishness, that explains his view that "support for Israel is deep down, an expression of America's best view of itself." What is so odious about the neo-realist Left's embrace of Walt and Mearsheimer is the failure of these putative anti-fascists to see that American and Israeli interests unite in defense of the open society.

The problem is human rights obviously are a universalist concern. Violent intellectuals make Manichaean claims against people whose alterity threatens to corrode and destroy the society of which these ideologues appoint themselves the vanguard. In the words of Jack Shafer, Peretz envisions Muslims and Arabs as "an undifferentiated mass, consumed by antique tribal hatreds, fated to fratricide, torn asunder by their religious sectarianism." They must churn a ceaseless series of 9/11s. When humanism is scoped down to nationalism, it loses its humanitarian potential. You can't stake a claim against illiberal menace from a parochial place. That is not concern for the open society; it is concern for your own society. Peretz merely takes a side in a tribal contest.

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Saturday, September 11, 2010