Girl Power: 9/11, the Middle East and the West

The following essay (originally published at The New Republic on Oct. 8, 2001) was co-written by Richard Landes and his father David LandesDavid passed away last month at the age of 89.


David Landes

Among the popular explanations for September 11′s cunning, devastating attacks on the United States is American support for Israel. The argument runs like this: If the United States had not aided and abetted the Muslim world’s primary enemy, we would not have become Islam’s enemy ourselves, and therefore would not have been a target for reprisals. That argument, however, is a dodge. Even if there were no Israel, the Muslim world would still likely feel deep and deepening hostility toward the West.

That hostility predates the formation of the Jewish State, and has its roots in the West’s growing cultural, political, economic, and military dominance over the lands of Islam, a dominance that has been building for centuries but was by no means inevitable, and which many Muslims find baffling and infuriating. Hundreds of years ago, Islamic civilization stood at the pinnacle of global achievement, politically and intellectually.

Muslim empires ruled over the Middle East, stretched west to Spain and Portugal and east to India and the borderlands of China. Islam was deservedly reputed for its ecumenism, its ability to learn from and assimilate other societies. And then something went wrong.

In the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, Islamic theologians shut down liberal philosophical schools. As a result of this banishing of “heresy” from an increasingly dogmatic Islam, the high culture lost its capaciousness and, hence, its adaptability. In the succeeding centuries, reactionary features of Islamic society hardened: slavery; the exclusion of women from public life; the vast gap of wealth and power separating elites from an impoverished population. At the same time new competitors sprang up in the West, committed by Christianity to an anti-Islamic position and by national ambitions to anti-Muslim warfare. As Muslims lost territory and technological superiority, they sought solace in the truths of yesteryear, in a refusal to sell out to the lies of the infidel.

The industrial revolution only made the imbalance worse. By the end of the nineteenth century, Western power had reduced the Middle East to a sandy piece of worldwide European empire. This formal dominion was later reversed, but by voluntary European retreat, not Muslim force of arms. In fact, the West no longer needed formal empire to profit from its technological and economic superiority. By the second half of the twentieth century, the difference between standards of living in the West and in the Muslim world had grown startlingly manifest and unbearably humiliating.

Why did muslim societies fall behind? Given the diversity of Islamic civilizations, of course, and the complexity of historical change, there are many, many answers. But one that has received too little attention–both in the West and in the Islamic world–is the evolution of Islamic societies’ treatment of women. That treatment, needless to say, differs in different parts of the Muslim world. Indeed, to take just one example of Islamic society’s openness to female power, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Turkey, and Indonesia have all been ruled in recent years by women. But nonetheless, compared to the West, the lives of women in most of the Muslim world are remarkably circumscribed. While Christian theology has, to a significant degree, reformed its backward views of women, Islamic theology has been much slower to do so. Muslim women are excluded from much of public space and, according to the Hadith, Mohammad said, “I was shown the hellfire and that the majority of its dwellers are women.” This fundamental inequality makes Muslim societies substantially less productive–not only by denying opportunity to women, but by inhibiting a meritocratic spirit among men.

And the oppression of women may not only help explain why Islamic societies have fallen behind the West. It may also help explain why they find the West so culturally threatening. Israel–where women don bikinis on the beach, attend university in large numbers, and are required to serve in the military–represents a deeply subversive example for many of its Middle Eastern neighbors. Osama bin Laden, in particular, has voiced outrage at the presence of American women soldiers on Saudi soil. Might he be worried that the women of the Gulf are watching them and taking note? For bin Laden and his followers, these are not mere cultural differences. They are evidence of Islam’s purity and the West’s corruption, and part of an apocalyptic struggle for universal salvation through Muslim dominion. The stakes are cosmic, ultimate; and the duty of all Muslims is not only to reject the adversary but also to destroy him.

Given the depth of Islam’s conflict with the West, trading Israel for Syria’s or Iran’s help in the reprisals against bin Laden will win us no real friends; it will only convince the Muslim world that America can be brought to betray its allies with the right combinations of threats and face-saving formulas. The real work–and, sadly, it will take far longer than even the war against terrorism–must take place within Islam itself. Self-criticism rather than blaming others, receptivity rather than dogmatic aggression, especially to their own women–these are some of the difficult steps Islam needs to take if it wants to regain the glory for which it so desperately longs.

The Dead Baby War: Fisking Max Fisher

Cross posted by Richard Landes at Augean Stables under the full title: “The Dead Baby War: Reflections on Palestinian Thanatography and Western Stupefication”.

Max Fisher, formerly of the Atlantic Monthly, now the WaPo’s “foreign policy advisor,”  just posted a reflection on the war of images in the current Gaza operation. In it he makes every effort to be “even-handed.” And in the end, comes up empty-handed. A remarkable example of how intelligent people can look carefully at evidence and learn nothing. If I didn’t know better (which I don’t), I might think he was doing some “damage control,” if not for Hamas (in which case, presumably it would be unconscious), then for the paradigm that permits him not to acknowledge Hamas’ character.

The Israeli-Palestinian politics of a bloodied child’s photo

Posted by Max Fisher on November 16, 2012 at 3:17 pm


Left, a journalist for BBC Arabic holds his son’s body. Center, an emergency worker carries an Israeli infant from the site of a rocket strike. Right, Egypt’s prime minister and a Hamas official bend over a young boy’s body. (AP, Reuters, Reuters)

Wars are often defined by their images, and the renewed fighting between Israel and Gaza-based Hamas has already produced three such photographs in as many days. In the first, displayed on the front page of Thursday’s Washington Post, BBC journalist Jihad Misharawi carries the body of his 11-month-old son, killed when a munition landed on his Gaza home. An almost parallel image shows an emergency worker carrying an Israeli infant, bloody but alive, from the scene of a rocket attack that had killed three adults. The third, from Friday, captures Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Kandil, in his visit to a Gazan hospital, resting his hand on the head of a boy killed in an airstrike.

Each tells a similar story: a child’s body, struck by a heartless enemy, held by those who must go on. It’s a narrative that speaks to the pain of a grieving people, to the anger at those responsible, and to a determination for the world to bear witness. But the conversations around these photos, and around the stories that they tell, are themselves a microcosm of the distrust and feelings of victimhood that have long plagued the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Studiously even-handed. One of my favorite memes: “both sides…”

The old arguments of the Middle East are so entrenched that the photos, for all their emotional power, were almost immediately pressed into the service of one side or another.

Actually, there’s a huge difference between the sides. Israel has, over the years, shown enormous reluctance to use the photos of their dead and wounded to appeal for public sympathy; whereas Palestinians have actually created victims in order to parade their suffering in front of the public. Indeed, Palestinian TV revels in pictures of the dead (so much so, that when my daughter wanted to help me with some logging of PLO TV footage, I had to decline lest she be brutalized by the material). They systematically use the media to both arouse sympathy from an “empathic” West, and to arouse hatred and a desire for revenge among Arabs and Muslims. Nothing uglier.

Israel, on the other hand, studiously avoids pictures of the dead, and only a shocking incident like Ramallah can break those taboos. They were so reluctant to exploit these images that, even at the height of the suicide campaign (2002-3) they refused to release pictures of the dead victims. The two cultures could not be more different on this score, and yet, Fisher has no problem finding his symmetry.

To obfuscate this fundamental difference with a pleasing even-handedness symbolizes the literal stupefication of our culture that necessarily accompanies the politically correct paradigm (PCP1), founded on a dogmatic cognitive egocentrism. It forces one not to see critical information. It’s as if we were under orders to not notice everything that a good detective should pick up on, as if we were required to assist the clean-up crews that want to frame the story to their advantage. In such a world, the protagonists of the Mentalist, Lie to Me, Elementary, CSI, House, are not merely unwelcome, they are banished.

Muslim Anti-Semitism, Israel, and the Dynamics of Self-Destructive Scapegoating

Cross posted by Richard Landes, who blogs at Augean Stables

One of my daughters recently wrote me:

“I was speaking to a friend of mine who had been dating a very, very, anti Israel activist for about a year. We don’t usually breech the topic but she asked me if most of the Muslim antisemitism in Europe wasn’t based on their dislike of what is going on in Israel and not so much on religion.”

This is a widely held belief among not only anti-Zionists, but among liberals in general. It takes a number of forms, all of which serve to explain the explosive and virulent hatreds of the Muslim world for Israel and the Jews (who support it), as a function of the evil that Israel has done to the Palestinians. It includes the widely held assumption that suicide bombings were a response to the despair that Palestinians felt because Israel denied them independence and dignity. It is also directly related to the problem of “Islamophobia is the new Anti-Semitism,” in which speaking of Muslim anti-Semitism becomes a new form of anti-Semitism.

I won’t so much argue against this approach – it has some data points to deploy – as I will argue an alternative approach to the problem, then discuss the consequences of (mis)reading the situation by either approach, and let readers decide for themselves which makes more sense.

From my point of view (medievalist familiar with Christian anti-Semitic words and deeds, and a student of the current scene), the argument works exactly in the opposite direction: Palestinian anti-Semites have produced the images – icons of hatred – that, through modern media, have spread the virus throughout the Muslim world. The violence that Israel does against the Palestinians – a fraction of the violence that Arab leaders do towards their own people with far less provocation – responds to Palestinian attacks inspired by anti-Semitc propaganda.

Because the Western mainstream news media (MSNM) has mainstreamed some of this propaganda (inexcusably but pervasively), many people, including my daughter’s friend – whose only data points are the TV images of terrible violence Israelis do to Palestinians, and TV images of Palestinian hatred – assume that the hatreds are at least in part justified. The number is legion of French Jews in the early “aughts,” under assault from a wave of hostility, who heard some variant of “no wonder French Muslims hate you, look at what your brethren in Israel do to their cousins in Palestine.”

Of course, let’s grant the news media everything they claim – that Israelis “massacred” hundreds of Palestinians in Jenin (2002), that they devastated Lebanon in 2006, that they killed over 1400 Gazans mostly civilians in Operation Cast Lead. This is nothing in comparison with what toxic Arab dictators do to their own people, the over million Muslims that Saddam Hussein killed in his career, the tens of thousands that Hafez al Assad killed a matter of weeks in the city of Hama (1982), even the brutal behavior that marks the current authorities in the Arab world, despite the watchful gaze of the world. And yet we have nothing resembling the thorough “critique” of Zionism in the Arab world that tackles the far older and more widespread problem of authoritarianism in Arab political culture. In a sense, anyone who “grants” the Palestinians and other Muslims “permission” to hate the Jews “given what Israel does to them,” just reveals their unthinking racism: “I don’t really expect anything remotely rational or balanced from these folks. If you piss them off, you deserve their rage.”

But to return to the main issue, the silence of the MSNM about the pervasiveness of a grotesque hatred: it is guilty in two senses here. In addition to reporting Palestinian lethal narratives bordering on blood libels as news, they did not report the hatreds that lay behind such narratives. In the summer of 2000, before the collapse of the Oslo Peace talks at Camp David, months before the intifada, the PA was blasting hatred of Israel and calls to war on its media. Perhaps the MSNM, like Clinton and Barak, were surprised by Arafat’s “no” at Camp David because they did not listen to – or heed – what he and his friends were saying in Arabic. On the contrary, driven by a (soft millennial) belief that peace was around the corner, they felt that dwelling on such bad news would queer the peace process. I still remember someone in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem telling me they would not allow Itamar Markus to present his material (what Palestinians say in Arabic), to the foreign media, “because Israel is officially in favor of the peace process.” As if denying the problem were somehow going to bring peace.

Nor did this change once war broke out. On October 12, 2000, Palestinians shouting “Revenge for the blood of Muhammad al Durah!” tore two Israeli reservists apart with their bare hands and paraded them through the streets. The next day, Sheikh Halabiya gave a sermon calling on Muslims to slaughter the Jews (NB Jews, not Israelis) wherever they see them. Two weeks later, NYT veteran reporter William Orme wrote a piece assessing the Israeli claim that the horrendous violence of the intifada – the attacks on Israelis on both sides of the Green Line – came from the incitement of the Palestinian media. In it he never discussed the al Durah case (which he had specifically covered, and which was the most explosive component in the campaign of incitement, and which his Palestinian informant alluded to when he claimed (dishonestly) claimed that “we have no fabricated pictures, and no fabricated stories”); and when it came time to quote a passage to illustrate incitement, he quoted the genocidal Halabiya as saying, “Labor, Likud, they’re all Jews.” How could a consumer of the MSNM – much less the anti-Zionist media – know any of this?

As a result, the ferocious strain of anti-Semitism in Palestinian irredentism, from the Mufti – who visited Hitler in Berlin 70 years ago today, discussed his contribution to the “final solution,” and pumped the Arab world with Nazi propaganda – to the escaped Nazis who fled to Egypt and Syria to continue their work, to Arafat and his pseudo-secular patter of “national liberation,” to Hamas’ apocalyptic paranoia, has gone largely undocumented and unknown to the average observer of what’s quaintly known as the “Middle East conflict.” Nor is this merely a quirk of journalism, but a widespread practice of the “post-colonial” field of Middle East studies in the wake of Edward Said’s masterpiece of cognitive warfare forbidding Westerners from “othering” Muslims.

Why the Arab/Muslim anti-Semitism? In a book published in the 1986, Bernard Lewis noted that by and large, even though Arabs adopted anti-Semitic material from the worst European sources as part of an anti-Zionist campaign, they remained friendly to Jews personally: 9-5 anti-semitism of the workplace.

No longer. Jews have been driven from places like Egypt, and now “democracy” crowds rallied by the Obama-administration-designated “moderate” Muslim Brotherhood chant, “One day we will kill all Jews.” (As Barry Rubin noted, does that make them “moderate” because they don’t want to do it this week?) Since 2000, Arab and Muslim news media have been awash with gory video depictions of the Elders of Zion carrying out their blood sacrifices of innocent Muslim youth. Specialists disagree over whether this is primarily an import from the worst of European hate-mongering, especially the Nazis, or an indigenous growth with roots in the Qur’an.

From a the point of view of a medievalist who studies millennialism, both these sources share a single genealogy, that of supersessionist, invidious identity formation activated by honor-shame insecurity. Both Islam and Christianity arise as apocalyptic offshoots of Judaism – Jesus and Muhammad were both “roosters” announcing in the former case, the imminent arrival of the kingdom of heaven, in the latter, the imminent Last Judgment. In both cases, early on, the founding prophets included Jews in their scope of those to whom they preached in the hopes of winning them over into apocalyptic time. In both cases their effort to win over the Jews and their prophecies failed: still today, neither kingdom of heaven, nor the Last Judgment have occurred. In both cases, one strain of belief blamed the Jews for the apocalyptic failure.

In both cases, the newer religions developed a replacement theology whereby they did not just become a new and additional chosen people, but had to replace the previous claimant(s). I make myself look bigger by making others (in this case, people I have been directly inspired by) look smaller. I can only be chosen of God if He has rejected you.

In the honor-shame, zero-sum variant of monotheism, one proves the superiority of one’s beliefs by subjecting those who do not share it to humiliations. Christianity took this attitude towards the Jewish minority in their midst (centuries before shariah law of dhimmis, Theodosius forbade Jews to build new synagogues or to have any synagogue higher than the Christian churches); and Muslims took the same honor-shame attitude towards both Christians and Jews under their power. And, not surprisingly, Christians and Muslims fought it out as only imperialist monotheists can do for well over a millennium.

As Gavin Langmuir pointed out decades ago, virulent anti-Semitism (which he distinguished from garden-variety anti-Judaism or dislike of Jews, but rather a demonization of the supernaturally evil Jews) arises when the supersessionist religion has a crisis of faith and becomes radically insecure. This can be provoked by a variety of circumstances – in the case Langmuir studied, it was a theological crises around the high medieval doctrine of transubstantiation (i.e., the wine and the wafer actually become the blood and body of Christ in the course of the mass). In any case, insecurity denied and weaponized can lead to apocalyptic paranoia and its genocidal hatreds.

In the current case of Islam, the realization that the West has far outstripped the Muslim world in technology and power, that Islam stands humiliated in the world scene, that modernity threatens to castrate Islam, and the belief that the Jews stand at the heart of modernity, has led to a virulent strain of not just anti-Zionism – itself the ultimate insult of modernity, a tiny bunch of should-be dhimmi who defeat Arab armies ten times their size – but of anti-Semitism.

Thus the Jewish slap on the faces of the Christians continues, who apparently enjoy and allow this sort of humiliation and attack, and give them their other cheek so that the Jew can continue to slap the Christians—just as we see—ruling them in Europe through the Masons who dig the grave of Western civilization through corruption and promiscuity. The Crusader West continues like a whore who is screwed sadistically, and does not derive any pleasure from the act until after she is struck and humiliated, even by her pimps—the Jews in Christian Europe. Soon they will be under the rubble as a result of the Jewish conspiracy. (Arif, Nihayat al-Yahud , 85, cited in Cook, Contemporary Muslim Apocalyptic, 220; discussed in Landes, Heaven on Earth, pp. 455-57).

European anti-Zionist may like their fantasy that their attitude is not anti-Semitic, but in the case of the Arab and Muslim world, the slide from opposing Israel to ranting about “al Yahud” everywhere is effortless.

Given the power of genocidal anti-Semitic sentiments in the Arab and Muslim world – press and TV, mosques, public officials – one might wonder why the Western silence on the subject. Indeed it is so deafening, so understudied and underreported, that a less-well informed person might think that it doesn’t exist and my complaint is really just paranoia. It’s not enough to point to the degree of intimidation that pervades journalism in the Palestinian territories (and other places where state terrorists dominate the scene), an intimidation that came through loud and clear in the aftermath of the Ramallah lynch affair. Although that explains much of the behavior of journalists on the scene, like NYT reporter Steven Erlanger who waited until he left the region before – at long last – mentioning the problem in an article.

It’s also related to a particularly dangerous form of political correctness, in which speaking badly of Muslims is the new form of Anti-Semitism. As a colleague said to me in Paris, “The experience of the Muslims in Europe today is exactly the same as the Jews a century ago.” Of course, that’s not the case at all: both in terms of the wildly different behavior of the two minorities, and in terms of how the European elites behaved and behave towards them. By that (completely erroneous historical) logic, however, any attack on Islam is immediately comparable to a 19th century attack on Jews. To claim that Muslims want to take over Europe is the same as believeing the Protocols of the Elders of Zion; to accuse them of planning terror attacks, is the same as believing in the blood libel. Little matter that Islamists themselves say they want to take over Europe, and they want to bring a holocaust on the European infidel, that they actually do carry out terror attacks. The triumph of the will over reality.

This problem is everywhere. Even Jewish organizations designed to protect Jews from anti-Semitism spend much more of their time sponsoring inter-religious dialogues, opposing Islamism, and applauding human rights initiatives, than even discussing, much less mobilizing against Muslim Anti-Semitism. In the USA, the once legendary ADL has become a 20th century relic in the 21st century, still pursuing the nice, liberal policy of protecting everyone’s rights in the (dashed) hopes that others will come to their defense when they need it. A recent study shows that only 1.3% of the ADL’s 4269 press releases (1995-present) focused on Islamic extremism and another 1.3% on Arab anti-Semitism. Of the 57 press releases devoted to Islamic extremism, only 13, about .005 were issued in the ten years since September 11, 2001, precisely when the threat to Jews from Islamic extremism dramatically increased. (That’s almost as small as the percentage of Jews in the world, or the percentage of the Arab world “occupied” by Israel – .002.)

In Germany, the Zentrum für Antisemitismusforschung in Berlin actually held a conference whose main theme was the close identity of Islamophobia and Judeophobia. Challenged, they replied indignantly that the mafioso tactics of their opponents (public criticism) were intolerable. A German colleague was surprised when I told him that Hamas is much closer to the Nazi attitude towards Jews than the neo-Nazis. These latter are closer to violent but garden variety xenophobes, and Jews barely register on their list of concerns, while Hamas shares the same fevered (apocalyptic) paranoia and genocidal loathing of Jews that the Nazis did.

Which brings us to the dilemma that faces the Western observer, especially the one who believes that moral behavior matters, and wants to support those who behave well and oppose those who behave badly. We are faced with two opposing narratives: one in which the Muslims (especially the Palestinians) are victims who might be forgiven their hatred of the imperialist Israelis, one in which the Israelis are victims, who might be forgiven their violent resistance to Palestinian and Muslim anti-Semitic assaults.

Why not toss a coin?

Because (aside from the fact that in so doing one would greatly increase support for the imperialist Zionists to 50%), there are serious consequences to misreading this situation. If I am wrong, and Palestinian hatred is merely a result of the “occupation”, then concessions from the Israelis should lead to a lessening of Palestinian hatred, and the road to peace. As Stephen Bronner, prominent scholar of Anti-Semitism noted in an article on the Protocols,

Nevertheless, it makes sense to believe that an anti-Semitism that has only grown with the success of Israeli imperialist policy will diminish with a change in that policy.

This is the prevailing paradigm that currently dominates thinking about the Arab-Israeli conflict. It projects a kind of positive-sum rationality on Arab political culture, and assumes that if something’s wrong, it is the fault of the stronger party unwilling to compromise (Israel). It’s the same mentality that gives us the universal and universally wrong excitement of the MSNM about the “Arab Spring” – get rid of a dictator… get democracy. No?No.

Of course, if the Palestinians really are rational, really want their own state (rather than to destroy Israel), then they should, in principle, be amenable to making some important moves towards reconciliation, like, say, cutting off the hate incitement on TV, and building settlements in the land they control (Area A of the West Bank and all of Gaza) to resettle their refugees. No? No.

But if I’m right, if it’s a profoundly rooted anti-Semitism among Arabs today, one that has been “cooking” for over a century, got jacked up on steroids during the Nazi period, and hit a rolling boil in 2000 with the al Durah blood libel, then it’s another story entirely. If I’m right, then “solving the refugee problem” by allowing these poor victims of war to have a real home is not on the Palestinian agenda – even if they got their state. On the contrary, these “refugees” are designated victim-weapons in a war of annihilation.

If I’m right, then every time Israel makes concessions, it encourages further aggressions. Thus, despite what the politically correct paradigm, based on projecting our own liberal mentality on others, anticipated, every time Israel engaged in anti-imperialist activities – like withdrawing from most of the West Bank (1994-2000), all of southern Lebanon (2000) and all of Gaza (including uprooting 8000 settlers) – the result was more and more vicious aggression.

Nor is this merely a problem faced by Israel. (I know there are many anti-Zionists out there who treasure the thought that if only they throw Israel into the maw of the beast, that they’ll be spared, but that too is a piece of cognitive egocentrism in which their imagined distinction between the West (us) and despised Israel (them) is shared by the Jihadis.) Israel is to Europe dealing with Jihadi Islam what the Sudetenland was to the French and English in dealing with the Nazis. The difference is that, thankfully for the West, Israel is armed and refuses to commit suicide – even though that infuriates those who would prefer they do so quietly.

For ultimately, the problem of anti-Semitism is not a Jewish but a gentile problem. Granted the Jews suffer from anti-Semitism, indeed they’re often the first to suffer. But the ultimate price is paid by those foolish enough to either get sucked into the world of hatred and paranoia that anti-Semites peddle, or ignore its presence as a sad but inevitable part of life.  As any historian of World War II can tell you, if six million Jews were murdered, more than ten (!) times as many non-Jews died in that madness.

The Arab world in the latter half of the 20th century offers a striking parallel to Spain in the 16th century. Both worlds had expelled their Jews (Spain in 1492, Arabs in 1948); both experienced a flood of wealth (Spain got New World gold and the Arabs got Petrodollars); and both were failed societies unable to parlay that wealth into a thriving culture that made life better for all its people.  As Ruth Wisse put it recently: “Arab leaders do not yet acknowledge that they sealed the doom of their societies in 1948 when they organized their politics against the Jewish state rather than toward the improvement of their countries.” And they’re doing it again, this time not from the top down, but from the bottom up.

In a recent article, Jeffrey Goldberg tried to acknowledge the problem of anti-Semitic sentiments pervading the “Arab Spring” all the while preserving the belief that “The people of the Middle East are finally awakening to the promise of liberty.” But the two are intimately related. The Judeophobia of these alleged “liberty-seekers” isn’t some deplorable but ultimately separate issue. The Judeophobia is not the problem, but the symptom. It’s the conspiracy thinking that blames every problem on the “other”: Muslims attack Copts? It’s the Jews. Police turn violently on the crowds? It’s the Jews. Arab Spring turning into Islamist Winter? It’s the Jews (or, if you’re on the BBC, “”). How can one possibly inaugurate, foster, and sustain a democratic culture of freedom, one that, the in words of Isaiah Berlin, considers it “shameful not to grant to others the freedom one wants to exercise oneself,” without an ?

Anti-Semitism is everyone’s problem, especially the Muslims. And the sooner the “progressives” who want to help them, stop feeding their anti-Semitic vulnerabilities by joining them in demonizing Israel, and help them deal with the problem of self-criticism (a virtue to which the “left” could well afford to renew its commitments), the sooner we are likely to see a real Arab Spring, one that benevolent people the world over can sincerely cheer. Of course that would mean that anti-Zionists would have to overcome their own scapegoating fantasies.

Liberal Cognitive Egocentrism: Arab mothers are just like everyone.

This is cross posted at Augean Stables by Richard Landes.  His latest book, Heaven on Earth: The Varieties of the Millennial Experience, was published by Oxford University Press.

In an article in Ha-Aretz, where he argues a stylish pomo-poco case that the prisoner exchange reveals Israel’s racism, Alon Idan makes a number of statements that reveal the counter-empirical assertions that necessarily underly his argument:

Yet behind this feeling of superiority [at how much Israelis value life more than Palestinians] lurked a murky, inverted truth. The fact is, the release of one Israeli soldier for 1,027 Palestinian prisoners is not normal; certainly it does not represent an inferior love felt by a Palestinian mother for her son compared to an Israeli mother…. This equation derives from the way we, not Hamas, view reality: 1,027 Palestinians are worth one Jewish life not because the Palestinians minimize the importance of their own lives, but because we diminish the value of their lives.

Certainly. I remember hearing the same from Ted Koppel at the outbreak of the intifada. Hosting a program in which he had to have the Israelis separated from the Palestinians – on the insistence of the Palestinians – he responded to one Israeli claiming that the Palestinians wanted war: “I don’t believe that for a minute. A Palestinian mother cares about her children every bit as much as an Israeli mother.”

It was indeed these dogmatic kinds of politically correct statements that led me to formulate the expression “liberal cognitive egocentrism.” This kind of thinking, which Edward Saïd insisted we – not the Arabs – adopt, is a major element in the cognitive war that Islam wages against us, and creates an extensive epistemological confusion in which we cannot identify the problems or analyze how to resolve them. The editors of the NYT, and their major columnists like FriedmanKristof, and Cohen, all participate in this liberal, PC dogma, and accordingly, find themselves constantly ignoring reality and coming up with ludicrous solutions. (As Pierre Taguieff pointed out long ago, when all the fishes swim in the same direction it’s because they’re dead.”)

Indeed, as long as you believe that the Palestinians are “just like us” and all they want is a state of their own, and their terror is a sign of the desperation at not getting what everyone else has (rather than aspiration to destroy someone else’s), then obviously, Bibi  (and any other Israeli leader who doesn’t retreat to the 67 boundaries) is responsible for the impass which – everyone knows – could be resolved, in the words of one BBC commentator, by email. Never mind that in the real world, people who pursue these satisfying if fantastic solution end up looking – at best – like keystone cops.

Elder of Ziyon catches the latest of the depressingly long list of examples that say something radically different about Palestinian culture.

 The Islamic Jihad website Saraya has an article about Khansa Fatima Sheikh Khalil, a Gaza mother who has had five of her terrorist sons killed “in martyrdom.” She is looking forward to joining her sons in paradise. The article says that she did not cry for more than five minutes upon news of her son Ahmad’s death on Saturday. She expressed joy and praised Allah for what happened, and expressed hope that her sons are all accepted into Paradise where they would be, presumably, happily screwing a bunch of virgins for eternity. Khalil also expressed her fervent wish that Islamic Jihad continue to create Jewish widows and orphans. She called on Allah to grant success to the “resistance” and to defeat the Jews for “our land.” She has two more sons left, as well as two daughters. Ahmed also leaves behind three wives. One of Ahmad’s remaining brothers said “we always expected him to be killed.”

Khansa Fatima Sheikh Khalil and her dead sons (in heaven, for sure)

Now will someone please show me a mother in Israel today (cf. 2 Maccabees, 7) who would be proud about not crying for her dead children, and eager to send more to their death if only she could create widows and orphans among the Arabs? Even if some mother felt so, she would not express such emotions openly: for Israelis such overriding desire for revenge is shameful.

And if you wish to argue that this mother doesn’t really feel these things, she’s just responding to social pressures, from a moral point of view you’ve jumped from the frying pan into the fire: what culture demands that its mothers not mourn their dead children, indeed, that in some cases, mothers kill their own daughters?

Amira Qaoud who killed her daughter (raped by two of her sons) so that the community would accept the family.

The problem here runs deep. Ever since I debated some ISMers in 2002, I’ve become familiar refrain that if you talk about what’s wrong with the Palestinians you’re a racist. But I’ve come to realize that it’s the liberals who don’t think Palestinians (or Arabs, or Muslims) can handle serious criticism, who are the racists, and they defend themselves by pretending that “they’re just like us” and demonizing anyone who disagrees. In the words of Simon Deng, a freed Sudanese slave, it’s not only “absurd, it’s immoral.”

We need a spatial term to correspond to the chronological term anachronism. Just as we tend to project our contemporary experience and attitudes on people who lived in the past, so we do that to people who live in other cultures. It may make us feel good for not passing judgments on others, for cleaving to moral equality, but one has to wonder at what price we are willing to indulge. It makes us easy marks for demopaths.

Better dead than [considered a] racist?

How… honor-shame, and how utterly wasteful!

In an exchange with Paul Halsall at Facebook, he encouraged me to make the following clarification.

Paul wrote: “I think your problem is that that you have got into some sort of circular thought pattern, and are now not showing that you are able to see the common humanity of actual individual Palestinians.”

I respond: I have no problem seeing the common humanity of actual individual Palestinians. I’m all for those kinds of friendships, and it’s clear that a real friendship with Arabs is not a dull affair. My problem is with Palestinian culture right now, with what’s permitted and encouraged in the public sphere. Are there mothers who secretly grieve? I’ll bet many, most. But they can’t show it because of a dominating, disgusting political culture that runs right down from the religious and secular tyrants to the alpha males who dominate their women – daughters and wives – with death threats in the service of their honor. That’s what we should be criticizing as progressives, not reinforcing that predatory patriarchal elite by buying into their scapegoating of Israel to distract from their terrible deeds (eg the Palestinian refugees).

The Hostage-Prisoner Exchange and the world of imaginative sympathy

This is cross posted by Richard Landes, who blogs at Augean Stables. Landes is the author of: “Heaven on Earth: The Varieties of the Millennial Experience“.

One of the supreme ironies among the European moral stances has to do with their discourse on the “death penalty.” It’s a standard trope of European contempt for the USA that it still has a death penalty, a sign of its cowboy nature and its retardation in the moral progress of nations. At least when it comes to the death penalty, America is still in the 20th century. “Moral Europe,” on the other hand, stands at the vanguard of the global community of nations and its appreciation of the value of human life undergirds its horror at the execution of criminals, no matter what their deeds.

And yet when that same moral entity turns its gaze on the Middle East, the country they have the most contempt for is the only country in the entire region to reject capital punishment, and they have the most admiration for a country that among a widespread political culture that extensively uses torture and execution for the maintenance of public order, shows perhaps the most contempt for the lives of its own peoples and its enemies.

Normally, this would not be even worth mentioning. Most people would just roll their eyes while others complain about Zionist imperialists trying to divert attention from their oppression of the Palestinians. But if you want to understand the “hostage-for-prisoner-exchange” that just took place in Israel and the Western media’s coverage of the event, then you need to pay attention to the issue.

Israel first outlawed the death in 1954, thus reversing the Mandate Law, which, in most other instances, Israel took over from the British. They based themselves both on rabbinic precedent (concerns for both respecting the image of God in man and the unattainable burden of proof) and modern liberal sentiment (Robespierre initially opposed the death penalty). In doing so, they became the first modern Western democracy after Germany (1949) to ban the death penalty, followed a decade later by Britain (1965), Sweden (1972), Canada (1976) and France (1981).

Note that Israel passed this law five years after the creation of a polity dedicated to equality before the law for all its citizens, a move that earned them the ferocious hostility of their neighbors in the Arab Muslim world. Normally, when countries attempt these egalitarian revolutions and find themselves surrounded by hostile enemies, they have, by year five, descended into mass executions of their own citizens (French Revolution in their fourth year, Russians, Chinese, Cambodians, almost immediately). Israel, on the other hand, outlawed the death penalty even for Arab terrorists who were captured while killing Israeli civilians. Israel has only executed one person, Adolph Eichmann, held responsible for the extermination of millions of Jews during the Holocaust.

If the Israelis had hundreds of terrorists in their prisons, in some cases serving multiple life sentences, available to trade for Gilad Shalit, a soldier kidnapped from Israeli soil by Hamas combatants five years ago, it’s because of this attitude towards human life, both their own and those of the Palestinians. And that attitude was on full display throughout this exchange, with people agonizing over endangering future Israelis from releasing these men, and the profound commitment to getting Gilad Shalit back. Some Arabs recognized the unflattering light this shed on their own culture, while others reveled in it.

The Palestinians, on the other hand, represent almost the polar opposite. This is a culture in which killing daughters and wives and homosexuals for shaming the family with (even suspected and loosely interpreted) inappropriate sexual behavior is a regular feature of society, where “collaborators” are summarily executed, where official statistics for executions put the PA at a rate of formal, legal execution that cedes only to China, Iran, N. Korea, Yemen and Libya.

The trade of over a thousand Palestinians for one Israeli highlights the radical differences between the cultures, themselves outlined often in a triumphalist statement of superiority by the Palestinians (and others in the name of Islam):

“In as much as you love life, the Muslim loves death and martyrdom. There is a great difference between he who loves the hereafter and he who loves this world. The Muslim loves death and [strives for] martyrdom.”

As Hizbullah’s Nasrullah put it after a prison exchange in 2004:

“We have discovered how to hit the Jews where they are the most vulnerable. The Jews love life, so that is what we shall take away from them. We are going to win, because they love life and we love death.”

These are not mere abstractions or rhetorical verbiage. Palestinian culture inculcates a culture of hatred, murder of enemies, contempt for life. In a chilling exchange at the height of the intifada, one sweet 12 year old girl told an approving TV interviewer:

“Shahada [martyrdom through suicide bombing] is a very, very, beautiful thing. Everyone yearns for Shahada. What can be more beautiful than going to heaven.” 

As one Israeli observer noted in commenting on a op-ed by Palestinian Bassem Nasser complaining that it’s inappropriate to depict those released as convicted “terrorist murderers” because they are heroes in Gaza.

The picture Nasser so proudly paints of Palestinian society, glaringly clarifies to all that the leaders of Gaza and its citizenry as a whole comprise one of the most despicable and detestable societies in the history of Man. No Hollywood studio has ever created a villain as evil as the likes of Khaled Mashaal, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini or Hassan Nassrallah.

No Hollywood writer has ever written a script about an entire society of evil, millions of devout clones of a murderous, deviant ideology and eschatology.

The reality of Gaza today, and most of the Arab world, is too strange for fiction.

If a European, concerned about the nature of the aggressive Islam that has begun to crop up in and around his or her cities, claiming for example Sharia-zones, wanted to understand the nature of the Arab-Israeli conflict, he might spend a moment visiting the sites of Palestinian anti-Zionists, where this profoundly perverse culture teems.

But of course, that would be politically incorrect. To spend any time pointing out the problems here constitutes the highest level of politically-incorrect Islamophobia. How dare one essentialize an entire culture as morally repugnant? How demeaning to Palestinians, how insulting to Islam. Little matter that they openly embrace these values. After all, “who are we to judge?”

So instead of helping Europeans understand what’s at stake here, most of the media and the NGO community (like Amnesty International) have done their best to spin this story as one of violations of human rights on “both sides” with a heavy focus on Israeli misdeeds. The prisoners were considered as “equal,” and Israeli primarily held accountable by the Geneva Convention for the treatment of enemy combatants when, in reality, the only one protected under these conditions was Shalit, a uniformed soldier kidnapped on his own soil in non-combat situation, and the thousand Palestinian prisoners where convicted in a court, primarily of crimes related to terror attacks on civilians (an, alas, necessary redundancy in these days of sophism).

Thus, the NYT’s Robert Mackee could speak glibly about the “joy of parents on both sides” at the return of prisoners, and the UN could voice its concern that the prisoners Israel released might be subject to illegal forced transfer.

“Returning people to places other than their habitual places of residence is in contradiction to international humanitarian law.”

The UN’s exquisite concern for the full exercise of free will by convicted mass murderers illustrates the problem. Humanitarian discourse has been turned on its head to protect the ugliest players in this particular game, threatened by ugly forces within their own society, all the while implying that Israel, in its haste to get its own soldier back, trampled their rights and violated humanitarian law. Not surprisingly this led Ban Ki Moon to a moment of moral vertigo where he denounced the violation of everyone’s rights.

Of course, in order to present the moral equivalence (if not inversion) of all the “prisoners” in the swap, one has to play down the heinous nature of the crimes and personalities of the Palestinian prisoners released. BBC Correspondent Jon Donnison showed the extent of ignorance and laziness among the supposedly professional news media by interviewing a man in prison for organizing and abetting several suicide bombings. (Because the attacks only injured but did not kill, he did not receive life sentences.)

You are 31 years old, 10 years in prison, serving a life sentence for being a member of Hamas, I mean, how do you feel today?”

BBC viewers could be excused for sympathizing with a political prisoner, inhumanly incarcerated for belonging to an opposition party, free at last.

A still more disgusting example concerns the Sbarro Pizza bombing, one of the most revolting of all the suicide attacks because it explicitly sought to kill as many little children as possible (and succeeded). Palestinian students celebrated its anniversary with an astonishing exhibition, recreating in papier mache the moment of detonation so viewers could savor their Schadenfreude.

The parents of one of the girls killed in the attack, Malki Roth, objected to the release of Ahlam Tamimi, who not only planned the attack meticulously as an attack on religious children, but, in prisonshowed not only no remorse, but real pleasure at the news that she had killed 8, not just 3 children.  Many in the media preferred “driver of the suicide bomber,” thus making the Roths look petty for objecting to her freedom. Meantime, the “moderate” Jordanians celebrated her release with a ceremony at the Family Court in Amann.

So, if one might ask the question, “Will the world ask: ‘Why do Palestinians celebrate murder?’” the answer is, “no.” Even those who know that’s what they’re doing, will have had any moral indignation bleached out of their awareness long before they’ve had a chance to ponder the variables.

In acquiescing with a Palestinian narrative in which hatred and child mass murder are considered legitimate expressions of “resistance” to “occupation,” Western human rights activists – including too many journalists – have degraded humanitarian language at the same time as they have allowed into the public sphere a discourse of genocidal hatred, they have excluded any sympathy for Israelis who defend themselves from the onslaught they have shut out from their, and their audiences’ consciousness. As Leon Wieseltier put it in a different context, this all reflects “the new heartlessness toward Israel. A whole country and a whole people have been expelled from the realm of imaginative sympathy.”

It may seem cost-free to Westerners who, for one reason or another, don’t like pushy Jewish overachievers, but it’s not. In misreading the nature of the threat Israel faces, in adopting a degraded language of human rights to protect the greatest enemies of human rights on the planet, in adopting a  that masquerades as empirically accurate, they embrace  all the kinds of techniques that put them in danger when faced with the same enemy.

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The al-Dura hoax, and a true hero of our time

This is cross posted by David Solway at Front Page Magazine:  (For more background on the al-Dura hoax, see Richard Landes’s blog, Augean Stables.)


Philippe Karsenty



In 1839, the Russian novelist Mikhail Lermontov published A Hero of our Time, the tale of a melancholy romantic by the name of Grigory Pechorin. In the preface to the book, Lermontov explains that his protagonist is “a portrait, but not of one man. It is a portrait built up of our own generation’s vices.” Pechorin is presented as a self-indulgent cynic, prone to bouts of dejection, world-weariness and pre-Existential nihilism. “What do I expect from the future?” he asks, and replies, “nothing at all.”

It was my great privilege to meet recently another kind of “hero of our time,” one who has nothing in common with Pechorin with whom he differs in two crucial ways. To begin with, he most certainly is not a representative figure of our pusillanimous epoch but a singular presence, very much in the courageous mold of Geert Wilders, who holds the era to account. And secondly, there is nothing of the cynic about him; on the contrary, he is a man notable for his sense of justice, crusading energy, and his belief in the eventual triumph of the truth—a man who expects everything from the future.

I’m speaking of Philippe Karsenty, who delivered a talk in Montreal on October 13 of this year dealing with the infamous Mohammad al-Dura hoax perpetrated by France 2 TV. Karsenty, deputy mayor of Neuilly-sur-Seine and director of the Paris-based analysis firm Media-Ratings, has become justly celebrated as the man who single-handedly defied the entire French media, political establishment and intellectual synod which closed ranks to defend the official version of what happened on September 30, 2000 at the Netzarim junction in Gaza. The episode and its aftermath are by this time widely known, but a brief recapitulation would not be out of place.

Jamal al-Dura, a native of Gaza, and his 12-year-old son Mohammad, were filmed supposedly caught in a crossfire between Palestinian operatives and Israeli soldiers at the Netzarim junction, approximately five kilometers from Gaza City. According to Israeli-French journalist Charles Enderlin, France 2 TV’s Jerusalem correspondent who edited and narrated the clip, and his cameraman Talal Abu Rhama who bore witness to the event, the Israelis deliberately targeted the two victims for a full forty-five minutes, wounding the father and killing the son. An expurgated version of the film circulated around the globe, and the international media, with scarcely an exception, condemned the Israelis as child killers. With the collusion of the Western press, the Palestinians had invented yet another martyr to grace their faux hagiography.

Indeed, it did not take long before Palestinian national poet Mahmoud Darwish published his Requiem for Muhammad al-Dura, a piece of versified hogwash which became an instant hit and continues to this day to resonate. “Mohammad,” Darwish writes, “hunters are gunning down angels, and the only witness/is a camera’s eye…” Postage stamps commemorating the event were issued throughout the Islamic world, monuments were erected, the Second Intifada which had only just begun took on a second wind, journalist Daniel Pearl was beheaded in revenge and Israeli citizens were murdered in the streets by Palestinian suicide bombers. No one doubted the official story of Israeli barbarism and Palestinian innocence. Even the Israeli political and military establishment did not contest world opinion and issued a hurried apology. But there was a serious problem with the universally accepted transcript of the “firefight.” The only significant “shooting” was done by the camera crew.

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