Saturday, February 20, 2010

To Harness History

As an analyst of the ideas behind New Antisemitism, I spend a lot of time trawling the oily floors of anti-Israel seas in search of stinking treasures. A good deal of what I pull up is amateur opinion material that I completely ignore. It would be boring to dwell on childish and sub-literate screeds, and I don't want to turn this blog into a medium of complaint or disproportionate outrage.

I'll violate my policy in this case, not only because the prose is breathtakingly dumb -- a notable outlier in an already squalid medium; the author can't even spell "vagina" -- but more because it nicely exhibits an important feature of utopian thought.

Let us put the debate of "is homosexuality nature or nurture" aside for the moment. There is a need to protect all minorities; however, there is clear distinction between legal protection, and aggressively encourage something. It is difficult to fathom, why homosexuality is increasingly pushed in our heterosexual faces, to the detriment of the majority and more importantly, the danger it poses to the survival of human race. Similarly, why the constant noise about the suffering of Jews in 1945, as if they have a monopoly over this issue? It was the Japanese, the Germans and the Russians who suffered most during the Second World War. If the Israeli-Zionists were really victims of a holocaust, how can they murder innocent Palestinian civilians en masse? How can victims exhibit such heartless and cruel behaviour towards innocent civilians, who had no connection with Nazi Germany?

As stultifying as this stuff is, reading as much of it as you can take is helpful because it presents so many of the clinical signs of totalitarian stupidity. There is the embrace of counterknowledge in the form of Holocaust denial; there is the catatonic reflex of absurd historical analogy; there is the conspiracist thinking. And of course the piece is a breviary of Jew-hatred -- note the arcane reference to the "Talmudic ethos of ethnic cleansing".

What I especially want you to notice is how such a wicked and imbecilic screed masquerades as human rights rhetoric. This Yamin Zakaria stages a passion play whose drama unfolds locally and internationally. There is the intrinsic threat to Islam posed by the homosexual lobby. There is the extrinsic threat posed by the Jews. The Muslims are a people of light who are "[gagged]" by "[cabals]" that seek to control our thought. While "there is a need to protect all minorities," homosexuals and Jews have an unnatural and parasitical drive to spread "annihilation" and "servitude". The inversion of human rights ethics is fundamental to utopian politics -- read Mein Kampf, or Osama bin Laden's public writings. This is perhaps what is most perverse about the "anti-imperialist" collaboration between left-wing and Islamist groups.

Millenarian thought seeks to stop history. Left-wing millenarians wish to harness and drive it toward a future utopia. Right-wing millenarians wish to harness and drive it back to a glorious past. Religious millenarians wish to destroy us and themselves to create paradise in place of the worldly purgatory. In this they are more dangerous than their totalitarian antecedents.

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Monday, February 15, 2010

The Poverty of Rationalism

Stephen Walt is a guy who probably shouldn't begin a blog post by admitting:
My copy of Mein Kampf sits on a shelf in my study...

But as I've taken pains to point out, Walt is an Israel-critical foreign policy realist; calling him an antisemite, as many do, is not only wrong but harmful. Walt ledes with this admission because he wishes to communicate his support for freedom of speech. He unfurls the truisms that bad ideas sink themselves in the marketplace of ideas, but censorship can plug holes in their hulls by conferring a mystique on them.

What I find interesting is this passage:
Books like Mein Kampf remind us that bizarre, incoherent, and hateful ideas can sometimes win over enough people to sway a nation and ultimately help lead to the deaths of millions. When you actually look at the the book, and read about the history of Nazism, it may be hard to believe that serious people in an advanced society could be persuaded by arguments of this sort. But they were.

Innumerable volumes have tried to crack the koan of what made ordinary Germans support the millenarian ideology of Nazism and genocide. There are a few rationalist theses based on the Versailles Effect and Marxist critiques of capitalism, but most analyses acknowledge a factor of irrationality -- an "unrealism" in German politics.

Walt concurs. He departs from his realist orthodoxy and admits that "hateful ideas" can become an engine of history, citing John Hagee as a possibly pending example. That's interesting, because in today's foreign policy debate, Walt bills himself as "a realist in an ideological age" -- i.e. the rational antipode to the idealistic neocons, who interpret the War on Terror as an epic battle between democratic good and totalitarian evil. In another, typical post, Walt writes:

... the real issue is to ask why groups like al Qaeda want to attack us in the first place... pundits just assume "terrorists" are inherently evil and that’s why they do evil things... But we really do need to spend some time asking why terrorists are targeting us, and whether we could alleviate (though not eliminate) the problem by adjusting some aspects of U.S. foreign policy."

Remarkably Walt is talking about Al Qaeda and other terrorists; he's not making the more standard appeal on behalf of the common people who may support them owing to Israeli violence. Maybe, as the unoriginality of Walt's piece on Mein Kampf suggests, the mandate to maintain a pulse of posts led him to publish without reflecting. But it's not a little weird that a commentator who acknowledges the irrationality of Nazi Germany has made a cottage industry out of depicting Islamists as rational actors -- that we might find an accommodation with them by lessening or breaking our alliance with Israel. Not to put too fine a point on it: Islamists often base their worldview on the insane belief that the Holocaust didn't happen.

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Sunday, February 14, 2010

A Freemasonry of Filth

Modernityblog records lunatic Jew-hater Gilad Atzmon's latest low.
The Protocols is widely considered a forgery. It is a manual for a prospective new member of the “Elders”, describing how they will run the world through control of the media and finance, replacing the traditional social order with one based on mass manipulation. Though the book is considered a hoax by most experts and regarded as a vile anti-Semitic text, it is impossible to ignore its prophetic qualities and its capacity to describe both the century unfolding and the political reality in which we live I am referring here to: AIPAC, the Credit Crunch, Lehman Brothers, Neocon wars, interventionist ideology, a British Foreign Secretary listed as an Israeli Propaganda (Hasbara) author trying to amend Britain’s ethical stand, a Zionist by admission put on an inquiry panel to investigate why Britain launched a Zionist war and so on.

I wonder if Chomsky facsimile and Tourettic Israel-trasher Dennis Perrin knows whose authority he's appealing to in this lament about the growing sadism of the Jews.

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Saturday, February 13, 2010

Calling Bullshit -- The Pilot Episode

I've been writing publicly since late 2002 about utopian and totalitarian ideas, mostly as they find expression in antisemitic reaction to Israel and Zionism. For unusual reasons I haven't fully articulated, I've tapped out an oeuvre that is largely consonant with the stance of the pro-Israel "community", as it were. You may not be awed by these credentials, but I hope they qualify me as someone who might briefly restore your interest in a tattered topic: the difference between criticism of Israel and abuse of Jews.

Leon Wieseltier, the literary editor of The New Republic, has composed a leviathan libel of Andrew Sullivan, all but calling him an anti-Semite.
Criticism of Israeli policy, and sympathy for the Palestinians, and support for a two-state solution, do not require, as their condition or their corollary, this intellectual shabbiness, this venomous hostility toward Israel and Jews. I have striven for Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation, and territorial compromise, and two states, for many decades now, but Sullivan’s variety of such right thinking is completely repugnant to me. There are decent and indecent ways to advocate change. About the Jews, is Sullivan a bigot, or is he just moronically insensitive? To me, he looks increasingly like the Buchanan of the left.

Inevitably this has generated a lot of heat, earning angry responses from Matthew Yglesias, Brad DeLong, Gawker, of all things, and many others.

I have for a while been wanting to start a Calling Bullshit series about episodes like this, when oversensitive or oversearching friends-of-Israel decide to show-trial enemies-of-the-Jews. Otherwise perspicacious commentators, even brilliant ones like Wieseltier, can be seduced by the provocative crudeness of Israel's enemies, and the complex spectrum of ideological reaction to Israel, into launching McCarthyite counterattacks. And interpretation can be a carnivorous jungle when three political types, interrelated on the subject of Israel, overlap. These are the antisemite, the non-interventionist, and the foreign policy realist who has judged Israel harmful to the US.

It's important to combat confusion arising from these complexities, as well as callow and partisan accusations of antisemitism, and the effort should be led from within the ranks. New Antisemitism really does exist, and decreasing numbers of people believe that when non-antisemites are smeared. Also, real enemies of Israel or Jews use these moments to exonerate themselves, to immunize themselves against future criticism, and to enlist supporters among people offended by political correctness and identity politics.

Wieseltier's confusion is expressed in the last sentence of the passage I quoted above. He calls Sullivan a "Buchanan of the left". This seeming absurdity makes sense to those familiar enough with the material. Invoking Buchanan is often metonymy for isolationism*, and in the context of Israel one stained by Lindberghian anti-Semitism. Andrew Sullivan was a foreign policy neoconservative, and like most regretful true believers, he has been making up for it publicly by raking his scalp with conch shells. Predictably, his post-neocon writings on Israel have been a furnace of debate over the merits of Israel-critical foreign-policy realism and non-interventionism, stoked by outrage at Operation Cast Lead.

This returns us to an important topic I've written about. Non-interventionists and antisemites are implicated groups, but they are not the same. They both hate, or at least fear, Israel, but the former is not necessarily hostile to Jews. To the extent that the non-interventionist in public discourse is even identified, most people can’t distinguish him from uncomplicated Jew-haters on the subject of Israel. This is owing to some rhetorical overlap -- the very term "anti-Semite" was invented by Jew-haters wanting to sound respectable -- and also the figure of Charles Lindbergh, who combined both personas. So people default to branding as anti-Semites non-interventionist Israel-phobes like Glenn Greenwald, because the dogma that generates their vilification of Israel is not well understood.

Confusion is compounded by further rhetorical overlap of these with Israel-critical foreign policy realists. For many Israel advocates, it is beyond dispute that Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer have recapitulated The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. But again this is a mistake: Walt and Mearsheimer's critique is shoddy, dubious and above all illiberal, but it is not antisemitic. (Ironically, the Lobby portion of their critique is probably its least antisemitic element.) Wieseltier loses his grip on this distinction in another revelatory passage:
These days the self-congratulatory motto above his blog is ‘Of No Party or Clique,’ but in fact Sullivan belongs to the party of Mearsheimer and the clique of Walt (whom he cites frequently and deferentially), to the herd of fearless dissidents who proclaim in all seriousness, without in any way being haunted by the history of such an idea, that Jews control Washington.

Mearsheimer and Walt don’t believe the Jews control Washington; antisemites believe that. Mearsheimer and Walt believe the US is wrong to ally with Israel, because doing so brings us little benefit, and great harm in the form of terrorist blowback. Further, like all such analysts, they don't credit enough the power of irrationalism -- "unrealism", if you will -- in politics, and are indifferent to arguments based on the consanguinity of liberal democracies.

To muddy the waters one last time, non-interventionism is an illiberal doctrine that can be interpreted as antisemitic, and not only because of its anti-Israel excesses. The abiding theme of this blog is antisemitism is the engine of millenarian movements. So you do the math. Israel today is the Masada of the open society, under siege by Left, Right and especially genocidal Islamist forces. Moreover if Israel is compromised or destroyed, it is not only the Jews who will suffer. Complacency about antisemitism is a dangerous indulgence for all.

Maybe making these distinctions will be unsatisfying in a medium that is vexed by distance from Manichaean neatness. Inevitably, all organic and powerful movements produce a gestural simulacrum of themselves. This process is complete with the enterprise to identify and combat New Antisemitism. But it's too important to surrender it wholly to that historical imperative. Andrew Sullivan developed a touch of Israel-phobia during the hairshirt years of his anti-neocon penitence. He is not an antisemite.

* Isolationism comprises two related doctrines: military non-interventionism and economic protectionism. Even though the terms "isolationism" and "non-interventionism" are often used interchangeably, it is only the latter that is relevant to this piece.

Update: Here's Sullivan's cri de coeur.

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