Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Nir Rosen and Totalitarian Stupidity

One snowy day back in college, I was returning from class to my dorm and I began to cross a small intersection. A woman was waiting at the stop sign in a large, gray vehicle. As I began to pass in front of it, she suddenly drove forward into me. I banged on the hood, she came to and stopped, and I barked some remark about using her eyes. More startling than injurious, so I continued on.

I entered my dorm and saw my friend in the main gathering room, so I went to him and breathlessly unloaded what had just happened. While narrating I referred in my 21 year-old shorthand to the woman driver as "this chick". A girl I hadn't seen sitting nearby exploded: "CHICK? What the FUCK is THAT?" I marveled to myself: I was just nearly run over by a car, and her moral priority is to police my language.

As I've argued, a possibly clinical emotional idiocy underpins extremism. Conspiracy theories about America and the Jews, the embrace of "counterknowledge", an attraction to totalitarian thinking -- these are some criteria for diagnosis. Above all we have the moral stupidity, the bent priorities of the true believer, the eggs which need to be broken to make the omelet of the radiant tomorrow.

Out of today's noxious lineup of anti-war extremists steps Nir Rosen. During the celebration that erupted when Hosni Mubarak stepped down in the face of Egyptian popular revolt, Lara Logan, a CBS News correspondent, was ambushed, beaten and sexually assaulted. In response, Nir Rosen tweeted:
Lara Logan had to outdo Anderson. Where was her buddy McCrystal.

Yes yes its wrong what happened to her. Of course. I don’t support that. But, it would have been funny if it happened to Anderson too

Jesus Christ, at a moment when she is going to become a martyr and glorified we should at least remember her role as a major war monger

A fuller log is available here.

Rosen is a war correspondent whose reductive anti-imperialism rivals Ward Churchill's. Yet he's been successful and celebrated, thanks to the comparative complexity of his subject matter and Bush's bungling of Iraq. Besides the acute viciousness of his attack on a woman who might have been gang-raped, what's interesting is this is hardly the first time Rosen has made vile public statements. It's just the first time he's been called out on it by more than a few people.

Predictably in pitch with his totalitarian stupidity, Rosen often targets Israel. Here are some examples from Twitter and his public Facebook "Wall".

Here in a Facebook Wall post entitled "Fuck Israel," Rosen links to a five year-old case in which a (non-Jewish) IDF soldier was acquitted of murdering a 13 year-old Palestinian girl. Rosen ignorantly mistook the tragic story as recent and intoned [emphasis mine]:
he shot a 13 year old girl, or ordered her to be shot, and was exhonerated [sic]. and nothing will happen because she isnt jewish. israel's existence is an abomination

And here Rosen lays it out in the Manichaean terms native to the totalitarian mind:

Because it was individual, the odiousness of Rosen's attack on Lara Logan surpasses his public fantasizing about Israel's destruction. But the latter didn't provoke outrage, or much response at all, which shows how acceptable that line of thought has become. Trusted, popular writers like Marc Lynch and Glenn Greenwald have praised Rosen throughout.

Rosen is being crushed under the weight of tardy opprobrium. He's given a Michael Richards-style interview in which he doesn't do himself any favors, explaining:
A part of me was bothered by how celebrities, especially white ones, get so much attention, and before I realized it was a sexual assault I was sort of anticipating a return to the old theme about unleashed brown natives attacking a white woman. Another part of me was bothered by the knowledge that Arab victims would never get attention, that this would detract from everything else that was happening, and that most victims of sexual assault, whether in Egypt or the US will never get attention.

A woman was just beaten and sexually assaulted by a gang, and Rosen's moral priority is policing our emotional response, lest it be racist or focused on the wrong victim.

People lament the damage Twitter has done to the art of written communication, but I appreciate the economy of language it enforces. The great poet Richard Wilbur wrote, "The strength of the genie comes from being in a bottle." Twitter proleptically forced Rosen into an apt summary of his downfall:
thanks to twitter i can destroy my career 140 characters at a time.

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