Added by Mira Vogel on December 10, 2008 12:19:12 AM.
In Democratiya Inna Tysoe reviews Greg Levey's Shut Up, I'm Talking and Other Diplomacy Lessons I Learned in the Israeli Government, and concludes:
"When Israeli officials cannot be reached, nor articulate the word atonement (much less Israel's interests), and when on questions of national interest they turn to the US for advice, not the other way around, then maybe Greg Levey's Shut Up, I'm Talking is the better guide to 'the Israel Lobby' and Walt and Mearsheimer's the funnier book."
Added by David Hirsh on December 08, 2008 03:31:05 PM.
Matthias Küntzel’s work should be more widely read and respected than it is. It is obvious that there has been a significant market for antisemitic anti-imperialist worldviews in the Middle East, both left and Islamist, since the period of the Second World War. Küntzel, particularly in Jihad and Jew-Hatred has shown how the Nazis attempted to satisfy that demand and he has argued that Nazi influence was significant in the emergence of antisemitic Islamist political currents.
So when he tells us that he is worried that the Berlin Centre for Research on Antisemitism is ‘going astray’, we should take that seriously. I don’t know whether Matthias is right about the Berlin centre, but I do want to question some of the arguments upon which he relies.
“The Berlin center adopts the neologism ‘Islamophobia’ without any reservation. This term is misleading because it mixes two different phenomena -- unjust hatred against Muslims and necessary criticism of political Islam -- and condemns both equally.”
I agree that etymologically speaking the word Islamophobia is problematic but in this respect it is not unusual. The word antisemitism is in this sense also problematic, as are, for example, the words Holocaust and Shoah. When a word becomes generally recognized to have a particular meaning, it is normal to use it in that received sense without worrying too much about its literal derivation. We need to argue about what is important rather than about definitions.
There is nothing more tedious, for example, than the clever-cloggs who declares that antisemitism is also racism against Arabs, who are also ‘semites’. This pedantic reasoning is used to deny the legitimacy of the word which has come to mean ‘racism against Jews’. In general, I am content that if people won’t argue with antisemitism then I won’t argue Islamophobia. Neither word is etymologically logical but they have come to mean ‘racism against Jews’ and ‘racism against Muslims’ respectively. Unfortunately there is currently a pressing need for terms which refer to these phenomena.
Matthias argues that this is not the sense in which the word Islamophobia is usually used. He argues that the term is used to conflate ‘unjust hatred against Muslims’ with ‘necessary criticism of political Islam’ in order to condemn both. In other words he alleges that Islamophobia has become a charge which is used to de-legitimize criticism of political Islam by accusing the critics of anti-Muslim racism.
The structure of Matthias’ argument here is similar to what I have called the Livingstone Formulation. This formulation is a means of accusing people who are worried about antisemitism of really only being concerned to de-legitimize criticism of Israeli human rights abuses. Ken Livingstone wrote:
‘For far too long the accusation of antisemitism has been used against anyone who is critical of the policies of the Israeli government, as I have been.’
His formulation, which is routinely raised as a response to an allegation of antisemitism, conflates criticism of Israeli policy with what we might call ‘demonization’ of Israel – with the claims that Israel is a unique evil, essentially racist, apartheid, Nazi, a keystone global imperialism, a child-killing state – and also with the campaign to exclude Israelis from the economic, intellectual, artistic and sporting life of humanity.
Matthias is arguing that the use of the term Islamophobia to refer to racism against Muslims necessarily conflates legitimate criticism of political Islam with anti-Muslim racism in order to de-legitimize the former.
In both these kinds of cases we need to use our judgment. Criticism of Israel is sometimes legitimate and is sometimes antisemitic. Criticism of Islam is sometimes legitimate and is sometimes racist. Criticism of Hilary Clinton is sometimes legitimate and is sometimes misogynist. Criticism of Robert Mugabe is sometimes legitimate and sometimes racist. The problem is actually very straightforward and quotidian. Political people, antiracists, intellectuals, usually learn how to make criticism which is not, and which cannot be understood to be, bigoted. We learn how to make a distinction between criticism and demonization.
For sure, Jihadi Islamist movements constitute a huge threat, firstly to Muslims, also to Jews and Christians, also to democracy and secularism, also to women and to LGBT communities, also to people who would be victims of its murderous terrorism. It is a threat which needs to be militantly criticized and opposed and such opposition is certainly not anti-Muslim.
We need to use our political judgment to know when hostility to Islamism or hostility to Israel becomes threatening to Muslims in general or to Jews in general. No formulation of words can substitute for political judgment.
What is interesting is that it has become so common for otherwise politically sophisticated people to lose the ability to make certain critical distinctions. More and more, there are people who are unable to see the difference between criticizing this or that Israeli policy on the one hand and damning Israel and Israelis on the other.
Many people seem also to be losing the ability to make the distinction between opposing Islamist political movements on the one hand, and damning Muslims in general on the other. Some of them tend to turn a blind eye to the demonization of Muslims; some of them tend to turn a blind eye to the potentially totalitarian politics of Jihadi movements.
Matthias criticizes the Berlin Centre for using the term Islamophobia but justifies the criticism, in the first instance, by reference to inappropriate Islamist use of the term. We need to be clear about the distinction between an inappropriate concept on the one hand and the inappropriate use of a concept on the other. He goes on to enumerate a number of senses in which he thinks we should not understand antisemitism and Islamophobia to be similar.
Firstly, he argues, they should not be in the same category because the charge of conspiracy is particular to antisemitism and does not apply to racism; he thus, incidentally, makes it clear that he does not consider antisemitism to be a form of racism. It is true that all bigotries rely on distinct narratives of demonization but I am not convinced that conspiracy makes antisemitism unique. Some antisemitism in history has sought Jewish extermination in order to combat the conspiracy while most has not. It is not unusual for bigotries to construct the particular object of their wrath as being a unique block to world peace and happiness – and therefore a global problem.
His second point is more seriously problematic. He writes:
‘while we must reject any general suspicion of Muslims, it is impossible to ignore the fact that reservations about Muslims are based on real mass murder committed by some Muslims in the name of Islam. Events such as 9/11 or the murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh have no counterpart in Jewish tradition.’
‘Reservations about Muslims’ is being used here are a euphemism for anti-Muslim racism. In spite of the disclaimer, the idea that Islamist terrorism is in some sense at the root of racism against Muslims is absolutely to be resisted. It is an argument which is entirely of the same structure as that of Caroline Lucas, who argues that we must ‘understand’ Israeli human rights abuses to be one of the ultimate causes of the kind of terror which we saw in Mumbai. But for Matthias, antisemitism and its relationship to hostility to Israel is quite different:
‘The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is often used to explain Muslim hatred of Jews. But Israel's policies are not causing anti-Semitism. Rather, the way those policies are distorted and demonized in the Muslim world, and increasingly in Europe, is a new expression of this old hatred.’
But the occupation, and the violence and humiliation which are necessary to sustain it are real, and cannot be understood only as antisemitic misrepresentations of reality. The point is not that the violence of the occupation is ‘the same as’ the violence of Islamist terrorism – neither that it is more or less ‘understandable’. The point is that the responsibility for racism rests with the racists – whether the racism presents itself as a response to the occupation or to terrorism or to anything else.
Matthias’ claim that ‘no-one wants to erase a Muslim country from the map’ is just strange – given that I see no mention of the sovereign state of Palestine on my map.
As I said, I do not know to what extent Matthias’ criticisms of the Berlin Centre’s yearbook are justified. It is also clear that antisemitism and Islamophobia are not ‘the same’. In discussions about similarity and difference it is necessary to focus on what is at stake, since everything is both similar and different to everything else.
What is similar is that both are real and pressing problems in today’s world. Both are expressed and represented in terms which are not usually transparently racist and which are not recognizable to all as being racist. Sometimes difficult work of interpretation and judgment is necessary to recognize these racisms. Many of the tropes of antisemitism and of Islamophobia are strikingly similar.
What is different is that very often people who show great sophistication and sensitivity in recognizing and opposing one find themselves entirely unable to recognize and oppose the other.
Of course there is Muslim antisemitism and there is Jewish Islamophobia. That they are both significant is incontestable, although their own internal dynamics are not necessarily the same. But this fact disrupts a simple ‘antiracist’ alliance between the victims of antisemitism and Islamophobia.
There is a very significant difference between what is called ‘Zionism’ and Jihadi Islamism. People are usually labeled as ‘Zionists’ if they believe that Israel should exist and that an aspect of its existence should include the ability of Jews in the Middle East to defend themselves. ‘Zionism’ in this sense is entirely reasonable and is also a small local project for Jews. Jihadi Islamism, by contrast, the project of creating Islamist rule across the globe is neither reasonable nor bounded. Hostility to Zionism is, therefore not the same thing as hostility to Islamism.
One has to be careful making parallels, analogies and comparisons; they always break down, they are always incomplete they are never perfect. But it seems clear to me that Islamophobia and antisemitism have enough in common with each other both to be understood as racisms. This is crucial because it makes clear the importance of opposing both as part of a more general project of opposing racism. Opposition to antisemitism which is soft on racism against Muslims is internally incoherent and is politically counterproductive. Opposition to Islamophobia which is soft on antisemitism is similar.
Added by Mira Vogel on December 07, 2008 06:56:12 PM.
Two joint Israeli and Palestinian visual documentary projects - Frames of Reality and Gaza/Sderot - complicate the usual narratives about Israel and Palestine.
"Frames of Reality", a joint initiative of the Peres Center for Peace and "Local Testimony", aims to cultivate personal and professional dialogue between Palestinian and Israeli photojournalists. The six-month project culiminated with an exhibition at the Amiad Gallery in Jaffa, the photographs from which you can see in the online gallery. Luay Sababa's work captures the claustrophobic containment of Palestinians at borders and crossing points. Yehuda Raizner photographed the Shvut Ami outpost settlement in the West Bank, populated by ultra-nationalist boys and girls in their early to mid teens. He writes, "In the 10 months of its existence, the outpost was evacuated about 12 times; the last time the police stayed there to prevent settlers from going back. The youth set up a similar outpost on the other side of the road and are waiting for the policemen to leave, before they go back to "their home" as they define it." Tess Scheflan's pictures are of the small boys who work in the Machne Yehuda market on the east side of Jerusalem's Old City. Yesterday while reporting from Hebron Tess Scheflan was punched in the face and beaten by an IDF soldier (who is now under investigation). Muhammed Muhaisen's work documents the squalor and exhaustion of forced child labour. Veteran conflict photographer Quique Kierszenbaum photographed 'equals' - pairs of Jewish and Arab children and teachers at a bilingual school in Jerusalem. And there are many more beautiful, provoking photographs than I can do justice here.
Another must-see is the Gaza/Sderot video documentary project set up by ARTE (French-German cultural TV station), which is currently showing 60 two-minute videos shot in Gaza and Sderot. The videos are organised by day and shown in pairs - Gaza on one side of your screen and Sderot from the same time on the other - so you get a sense of the two populations as contemporaries as well as neighbours. The Gaza and Sderot in these videos are not the Gaza and Sderot of the news nor of the anti-Israel campaign we comment on at Engage. When Israel and Hamas interfere with the supply of power and fuel, Gaza at night is a land of dark homes, naked flames, effort to accomplish simply domestic tasks, and conversations about food - so it was on December 5th. On the other side of the screen a Moroccan-Israeli couple prepare for the wedding of their daughter and reminisce about when they first met. And you can go back, day by day, for two months. On the 4th a Gazan father called Amjad managed to make brief video contact with his friend on the web. "What has happened to your hair?[??]", his friend asks incredulously. "You go bald quickly in this country" Amjad laughs. On the other side a father and daughter take an evening walk in the hills outside Sderot, talking about the daughter's draft to the IDF and their sense of embattlement and picking up bits of shrapnel from the '67 war. On the 3rd two Gazan students shop for clothes talking about their imminent exam and speculating about when and whether the electricity will come back. On the 2nd, a Sderot babysitter takes her charges to the world's only bomb-sheltered playground - the shelters are giant yellow snakes. On the 1st a disconsolate Gazan market gardener gazes at her strawberries in despair that she will be able to make a living from them. Gaza/Sderot - go and have a look. ...
There is no hierarchy of the dead. The slaughtered are the slaughtered. This is not always what the slaughterers think. For those who kill in the name of religion their killing answers to deserts – a casual bullet in the face if you're a poor Hindu, a more selective punishment if you're American or British, a slow, luxuriating torture if you happen to be a Jew. In reward for which, their religion tells them, they themselves will be arranged according to degree in heaven: the more assiduous their killing in God's name, the closer to His right hand they will sit. They are cruelly mistaken. No rewards await them in another world. Just as no restitution according to degree of suffering awaits their victims. In death there is no hierarchy.
So I mean nothing hierarchical when I talk about the Jewish victims of the Mumbai massacre. I sorrow no more for them than I do for the impoverished Bihari migrant workers waiting to catch trains home, innocent of any involvement in the mythical cause the gunmen had been brainwashed into believing they must kill for. I allude to the Jewish aspect of this tragedy, not because I am Jewish myself and know a little about the outreach programme in which the murdered Jews were involved – the provision of kosher food and a place of prayer for Jewish tourists in Mumbai – but because it bears on the blame game which, with the usual unseemly haste and ignorance, has already begun in this country.
As it was after 9/11 so it has been after Mumbai – hearts going out to the victims, necessity of bringing perpetrators to justice, blah blah, and in the same breath the moral exculpation of those perpetrators in one of those acts of "understanding" which in fact understand nothing but give the speaker the opportunity to inveigh piously against our presence in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Israel's presence anywhere. Even before the bodies had been recovered from the towers, contributors to Question Time were laying the blame for 9/11on us. After Mumbai, before the blood on the streets had dried, they were doing the same on Any Questions?. It's not the programmes' fault. They merely hold the mirror up to nature. Though you might ask how the BBC always manages to have the appropriately sanctimonious speaker on hand to remind us that, whatever the calamity in whatever part of the world, we in the West in general, and Israel in particular, are responsible.
It was Caroline Lucas who, unlike the Bihari migrant workers, happened on this occasion to be in the right place at the right time. Caroline Lucas, should the name mean nothing to you, is the elfin leader of the Green Party. But she could, as far as attributing the usual culpability is concerned, have been anyone at that end of British politics. Reader, I could have gone on the programme and said what she said for her. To wit, Iraq and Afghanistan prove we can't bring peace at the end of a gun (though it would seem that "understanding" can be found at the end of a terrorist's gun), many people see the "war on terror" as a war on Muslims (a point that fails to distinguish between what people choose to "see" and what is the truth of the matter), and, in her actual words, "if we are to defeat extremism we have to go to the root causes of it – we have to look in particular at countries like Palestine".
We are not unsubtle in this column. We understand that a simmering resentment will not always express itself rationally or fairly. In frustration, the angry often kill the wrong people in the wrong places. But to argue that Palestine fuelled the massacre at Mumbai, that the Hindu waiter shot in the forehead after serving water to a terrorist was paying for the inequities of Gaza, that he wasn't already, in the eyes of that terrorist, expendable enough as an unbeliever, as one who had stolen Kashmir, or simply as a spot of target practice en route to a mad and misguided martyrdom, is not only preposterous, it is irresponsible.
I don't doubt that the terrorists' moral education included lessons about the vileness of Jews, along with lessons about the vileness of everyone else in the west, but we cannot be responsible for the lies people tell about us. Vileness of the Jews, note, not vileness of the Israelis. However carefully Caroline Lucas distinguishes between Jews and Israelis in her frequent newsletters and platform speeches on these and other "Green" issues; whatever her hurt at being accused of anti-Semitism when it is only a Jewish country, for God's sake, and not Jews themselves she abominates – it would appear she has not succeeded in communicating this nice distinction to the Mumbai terrorists.
Frankly, my dear, they don't give a damn. The Chabad Centre in Mumbai was a Jewish organisation, not an Israeli one. Its occupants were tortured and killed for being Jews, not for being complicit in the "strangulation" of Gaza, unless all Jews are held to be complicit in the strangulation of Gaza, in which case Caroline Lucas must be very careful where and in what language she lays blame. If she is right that the perception of a great wrong in Palestine motivates such murders as those in Mumbai, then it behoves her, as one who influences perception, to be scrupulous in her observations.
Scrupulous, I say, not discreet. I would not wish her, in caution's name, to speak other than the truth. But truth is hard to find. I have visited Israel several times recently, making a documentary about Jesus, travelling in the company of Israelis of all parties and persuasions. The "Green" view is that there are good Israelis and bad Israelis, the good being those who oppose the occupation. Nothing could be more simplistic. I encountered extreme left-wingers who could not bear what their government was doing, but understood its sometime necessity; I met right-wingers who had no sympathy with settlers, and could not wait to live in peace with Palestinians; all wanted change, all were frightened, all loathed the naive, ahistoric sentimentalism that paints them as brutal invaders of a foreign land, and not as fellow combatants in a long and tragic struggle for safety and self-determination.
Whatever doesn't tell that story is propaganda – the institution of a falsehood into truth. And propaganda, by Caroline Lucas's own account, kills. Come the next massacre, when she is looking around for someone other than the perpetrators to blame, she might ask how much of their hatred she has stoked. When the world is a tinder box, it is a crime to play with matches.
Added by David Hirsh on December 01, 2008 01:37:45 AM.
On BBC radio's Any Questions, Caroline Lucas, the leader of the Green Party was asked the following question (about four minutes in to the programme):
"We've just seen over the past two days on the news about the terrorist attacks in India. This follows the terrorist attacks of 9/11, 7/7, the Madrid bombings, Bali bombings and many others. Can extremist ever be defeated."
Here is her answer:
"Let me first say in response to the situation in Mumbai that it's clearly a terrible act of terror, our thoughts are very much with the families there. It's a criminal act and the perpetrators must be brought to justice. In terms of whether there is a way of defeating extremism, my answer very clearly would be not by military means. I think all the evidence we've seen from Iraq and Afghanistan right across the board that you don't bring peace through the barrel of a gun. I think that when you see many people seeing that the war on terror hasn't made us safer - it's been interpreted by many as a war on Muslims and I think that's enormously damaging. I think what we should be doing is looking at some of the root causes of some of the terrorist acts we see - not to condone it but I do think that we have to try to understand it, and I think that the situation in Palestine for example, with the ongoing Israeli occupation with the absolute strangulation of Gaza with this siege on Gaza - essentially this economic blockade - is really feeding so much anger right across the world and it means that there is more of a fertile breeding ground then for extremists to flourish. So I think that if we are to defeat extremism then we have to go to the root causes of it - we have to look in particular at how marginalised communities are being treated, we have to look in particular about countries like Palestine."
Caroline Lucas says we need to "understand" but she doesn't, herself, show any evidence of understanding. In the past, Lucas has claimed that Israel hides behind a bad faith accusation of antisemitism which it throws at "all who criticise its policies". Now, Lucas is responding to a number of terrorist murders which include the antisemitic murder of Jews, targetted as Jews, with reference to what she calls the "strangulation of Gaza".
This is a serious misrepresentation. Not primarily because "strangulation" is an inadequate description of what is going on in Gaza. But because even if it wasn't, it would not explain why anger at Israeli policy was mystified into a racist anger against Jews.
Usually we hold racists and other bigots responsible for their hateful propaganda and their hateful actions. We understand racism as being a grossly unfair and unreasonable response to things that happen in the real world.
We don't "understand" a woman wearing a short skirt as being one of the causes of her rape.
We don't "understand" black kids' involvement in street crime as being one of the causes of racism against black people.
And we don't "understand" Israeli policy as being one of the causes of racism against Jews.
Caroline Lucas is right to want to try to "understand". But she isn't going to understand racism so long as she believes that racism against Jews is a trick, played by Israel against the world with the intention of covering their evil Jewish crimes.
Usually antiracists have little difficulty in condemning racism as being wholly wrong-headed and morally vile. Usually we don't accept the reasons given by the racists for their hatred as being worthy of much serious consideration or "understanding". Antisemitism should be no different. So why is it different for some antiracists? ...