Tag Archives: Zeitgeist

Twenty five years on from Rushdie we are too frightened to say we are scared

Warped Mirror PMB:

A powerful post from Nick Cohen — and a must-read if you think we have freedom of the press and freedom of speech.

Originally posted on Nick Cohen: Writing from London:

British publishing is now such a neurotic and hypocritical business there are stories it cannot cover. Nor should it try. When journalists, writers and artists can’t be honest with their audience, when they can’t even be honest with themselves, silence is preferable to the damage their double-standards bring.

Last month our media commemorated the imminent anniversary of the fatwa against Salman Rushdie by trying and failing to report the threats to the life of Maajid Nawaz, the chief executive of Quilliam Foundation. In a vindication of Kipling’s “once you have paid him the Dane-geld/you never get rid of the Dane” fanatics are after Nawaz not because he satirised the founding myths of Islam, as Rushdie did, or projected sexist verses from the Koran on to a naked woman’s body, as Theo van Gogh and Ayaan Hirsi Ali did, but because – brace yourselves – he tweeted a picture of Jesus…

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The art of politically-correct Holocaust commemoration in Germany

This past Friday, people in Cologne had the chance to participate in a unique “performance” sponsored by the “Impulse Theater Biennale 2013:” mimicking Israeli practice on Yom HaShoah, people in Cologne were invited to observe “Two Minutes of Standstill” in order to “pause and think about the history and our future. About what it means to be German today, what it means to live in Germany as an immigrant, what the consequences of the Holocaust and its instrumentalisation are today.”

This “performance” was the idea of award-winning Israeli-born artist Yael Bartana, whose work “challenges the national consciousness … propagated by her native country Israel.”

But not everyone is impressed with Bartana’s record as an artist and her awards: writing in “Die Welt,” Alan Posener observed sarcastically that any Israeli artist in search of a business plan that can work irrespective of talent should consider Israel-bashing as a safe choice. What irked Posener in particular was Bartana’s entirely predictable attempt to employ all sorts of worn-out slogans and clichés to endow her project with a supposedly deeper meaning.

Thus, Bartana explains in the official announcement of her project for the Cologne event:

“the Third Reich and the Holocaust are not just historical events – they also have long-term global chain effects that reach into the present day. Not only is the founding of the State of Israel based on a UN-decision such a consequence, but so is the Palestinian “Nakba” in 1948. As are escape and expulsion in Europe and the Middle East […] This history is written, but the future depends on our acting.

 And so, “Two Minutes of Standstill” is not only commemoration and performance but also a challenge to change the present. It is a proposal for a wide-reaching debate in Cologne and beyond, about what active remembering should look like today. A day of protest against violence and injustice today and tomorrow.”

Bartana also repeatedly highlighted the murders and other crimes committed by a small terror group that called itself “National Socialist Underground” (NSU). The group may have had a handful of supporters, but it consisted of only three known members and seems to have been active between 2000 and 2011, when two of the terrorists killed themselves as they were cornered by police after a bank robbery. The group’s only surviving member turned herself in and is awaiting trial.

Bartana apparently considers the NSU a part of “the chain of effects caused by the Second World War.” When asked in an interview if there wasn’t “a danger of relativizing the crimes and horrors committed by Germany during the NS-regime when you connect them this way with other events such as the murders of the NSU,” Bartana replied:

“It seems that for some people in Germany drawing a line between the NS [Nazis] to the NSU is politically incorrect. Just as it seems to be impossible to commemorate Jews, Roma, homosexuals together as victims of National Socialism. Maybe it’s true, and each group needs its own memorial. And of course this will continue to be an important discussion: How to commemorate without relativizing. But also without exclusion. After all, it is not about numbers. The NSU is an active fascist movement in today’s Germany. So we are talking about an ideology that still is alive.”

Of course you have to argue that “it is not about numbers” if you want to claim that a terror group consisting of three people and perhaps a few dozen supporters constitutes “an active fascist movement in today’s Germany” and represents “an ideology that still is alive” – even if two of the terrorists are dead and the third one is in custody awaiting trial. To be sure, the fact that the terror trio could carry on for years and commit a series of murders targeting mostly immigrants reflects a spectacular failure of German law enforcement and security agencies. But the existence of such a small group in a country of some 80 million people does not indicate that Nazism and fascism are “alive” in Germany.

However, there are other reasons for concerns about the legacy of Nazism in Germany – which can of course be conveniently ignored by somebody like Bartana who isn’t interested in numbers. Consider for example the findings of studies showing that at least 20 percent of Germans harbor antisemitic attitudes, and that more than 40 percent of Germans endorse antisemitic “criticism” of Israel such as comparing Israeli treatment of Palestinians with the Nazi treatment of Jews.

But anyone really concerned about Nazi-inspired hatred that “still is alive” today would have to bring up the pervasive Jew-hatred in the Middle East. As the renowned expert Robert Wistrich has argued:

“Islamic antisemitism is by far the most dynamic and threatening form of antisemitism existing at present in the contemporary world. It combines the scourge of Islamist terrorism, the spread of jihad, hatred of the West, Holocaust denial, and the genocidal “anti-Zionism” which is state-sanctioned in Iran. The dramatic triumph of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the alarming growth of militant Salafist movements across the Arab Middle East have greatly increased the level of threat worldwide.”

Commenting on the historic connection between European fascism and Islamism, Wistrich has pointed out:

“The Muslim Brotherhood, founded in Egypt in 1928 by Hassan al-Banna, had a radical totalitarian vision of societal transformation, a leadership cult, and visceral hatred of Jews not so different from that of fascism and National Socialism. Moreover, the charismatic founder of the Palestinian Arab national movement, Haj Amin el-Husseini, was a fanatical genocidal anti-Semite who actively collaborated with Adolf Hitler during World War II. This “annihilationist” tradition of Jew-hatred has continued in the Palestinian Hamas movement (an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood) to this very day. Its Sacred Covenant is one of the most nakedly anti-Jewish texts of the entire post-Holocaust era.”

While much has already been written about Husseini’s collaboration with the Nazis, a new book on “Nazis, Islamists, and the Making of the Modern Middle East” by Barry Rubin and Wolfgang G. Schwanitz will be available early next year, offering “new insight on the intertwined development of Nazism and Islamism and its impact on the modern Middle East.”

Nazis and Islamists

Admittedly, it wouldn’t be a good career move for Yael Bartana to incorporate this important subject into any of her future projects in Germany. It’s so much easier to offer a glib “Holocaust for all” which – as a critical article in the taz puts it – transforms the Nazi genocide into a “European feel-good project.”

However, Bartana’s “performance” in Cologne was also attended by a few people who didn’t feel so good about it. As initiated by blogger “Tapfer im Nirgendwo” (Brave in the nowhere), they sang Hatikva and some carried Israeli flags – which led some high-school students who had been sent by their teachers to attend the “performance” to respond with shouts of “Viva Palestine!”

If I could have joined “Tapfer im Nirgendwo”, I would have played the famous recording of survivors of Bergen Belsen concentration camp singing HaTikva shortly after the camp’s liberation in April 1945.

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First published on my JPost blog on June 29, 2013.

 

Quote of the day

“Classical anti-Semitism, it should be remembered, proclaimed the Jews as a minority group to be an existential menace to a given nation—a danger to its internal homogeneity, unity, religious values, and racial purity. Postwar anti-Zionism, on the other hand, sees the nation of Israel above all as a deadly threat to world peace and the international order. This was the verdict of nearly 60 percent of Europeans polled in a Euro-Barometery Survey in October 2003, when Israel reached the number-one spot in the hit parade of nations that imperil universal tranquility and brotherhood. Yet the change is not as deep as one might assume.

Democratic Europe in the 21st century trades in characterizations not so different from the pre-1939 Fascist myth of ‘warmongering Jews’ or the Communist libels in the 1970s about the militarist, expansionist ‘essence’ of Zionism. For a growing segment of the Western liberal intelligentsia, Zionist Israel is caricatured as a fascist, racist, warmongering state that must be isolated from the community of nations. Today, long after the demise of Communism, democratic intellectuals and academic elites are reproducing some of the worst Soviet clichés about Israel. In that respect, they remind us of the ‘post-Christian’ late-19th-century racist anti-Semites who demonized the Jews in ways reminiscent of the clerical bigots whom they denounced.”

Professor Robert S. Wistrich, “The Changing Face of Anti-Semitism” – an essay based on a presentation to a forum of the European parliament in the summer of 2012.

 

Molad – or: what’s wrong with the Israeli left

In a post entitled “Confessions of a lapsed leftist,” I tried to explain more than a year ago why my lifelong allegiance to the left had begun to crumble. Of course, many Israelis who had supported “Peace Now” in the 1990s and who had hoped that the negotiations at Camp David and Taba would result in a peace agreement went through a similar experience in view of the fact that the Palestinians chose to respond to Israel’s offers with the long and bloody “Al Aqsa”-Intifada.

The historian Benny Morris has repeatedly described the unfortunate learning process that many of us went through, most recently last fall in a long interview with Ha’aretz. The problem is that Israel’s left – which represented the peace camp – has not been able or willing to go through the same learning process. As a result, there are lots of politically homeless people like me in Israel, and I think the dizzying proliferation of new parties over the past few years is at least in part a reflection of this widespread homelessness.

Personally, I can’t say that I find any of the new options attractive or politically convincing and sound, and it is perhaps for this reason that I felt particular frustration when I recently discovered that a new left-wing Israeli think tank that had been established a year ago is apparently resolved to continue the left’s head-in-the-sand-approach. The two posts I wrote about the new organization were first published in The Algemeiner and on my Jerusalem Post blog; they are cross-posted below with some minor changes. Continue reading

News from Israel’s Islamist neighborhood

If it was a western president or prime minister – let alone an Israeli one – who had made utterly bigoted and hate-filled remarks about Muslims not long before he took office, it sure would be a top news item all over the world. But when it turns out that some two years ago, the man who is now Egypt’s president called “the Zionists” “blood-suckers,” “warmongers,” and “the descendants of apes and pigs,” most of the mainstream media (MSM) seem to think it should be politely ignored.

In a way one could actually argue that this really isn’t newsworthy, because if the MSM accurately reported on Islamist ideology, everyone would already know that implacable Jew-hatred is an integral part of the Muslim Brotherhood’s views and agenda. After all, Morsi’s statements from 2010, which were recently translated by MEMRI, faithfully echo themes that are all too familiar from the Hamas Charter, and similar views are regularly propagated by well-respected Muslim scholars.

The question why this torrent of loathsome statements by influential and widely respected figures who clearly shape and represent mainstream views is studiously ignored in the MSM was recently addressed by Pat Condell, who focused on the Palestinians and argued that this kind of “political correctness” reflected a patronizing and ultimately racist attitude.

While I largely agree with Pat Condell’s broader argument, I think there are also other important factors at work – first and foremost perhaps the western mantra that other societies should be approached as “people like us.” The problem with this approach is that, while it is always true on an individual level – we can meet people we personally like and get along with anywhere –, it is not true for societies.  A society where the reactionary and bigoted views of Islamists like the Muslim Brotherhood are mainstream is simply not like a society where it is mainstream to reject and even loathe comparably reactionary and bigoted views.

Ali Abunimah hopes Obama will make history [updated]

No, the title of this post doesn’t mean that Ali Abunimah of the Electronic Intifada hopes President Obama will achieve an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement in his second term. After all, like most “pro-Palestinian” activists, Abunimah is not primarily interested in the establishment of a Palestinian state, but rather in getting rid of the Jewish State.

Yet, as much as so-called pro-Palestinian activists may hate Israel, they often also have plenty of other resentments that add up to an utterly unhinged world view. There is perhaps no better way to examine the fringe views that are so popular in “pro-Palestinian” circles than to follow Ali Abunimah on Twitter.

Consider this recent tweet by Abunimah:

Abunimah on Obama

To be sure, once upon a time, Abunimah had a much more favorable view of Obama – but that was of course when Obama would “attend events in the Palestinian community in Chicago all the time.”

By now, Abunimah seems thoroughly disenchanted, not just with Barack Obama, but even with the Democratic Party in general:

Abunimah on US parties

It is noteworthy that in this tweet, support for Israel ranks only third in the list of Democratic faults.

That is because Abunimah was also tweeting a Reuters report published by the Palestinian Ma’an News Agency that described how some Pakistanis reacted to Obama’s re-election.

Abunimah on Pakistan

Of course, Ali Abunimah doesn’t usually care all that much what’s going on in Pakistan, and he certainly wouldn’t like it if people started to compare all the attention the Palestinians are getting to the disgraceful neglect of the Baloch struggle against Pakistan’s murderous oppression of their aspirations for freedom.

However, Abunimah’s concern for Pakistani victims of American drone strikes is apparently due to his view that both the US and Israel should be condemned for fighting against Islamist terrorism. It was therefore hardly a surprise when Abunimah retweeted a complaint that General Petraeus had resigned because of an extramarital affair, and not because “he murdered innocent people.”

Abunimah on Petraeus

Elaborating on this issue at the Electronic Intifada, Abunimah not only reminded his readers that Petraeus once made a controversial remark blaming the unresolved Israeli-Palestinian conflict for fuelling the flames of Arab hatred for America, but also claimed that this remark was motivated by “the same cold calculation of how to maintain and advance US imperial domination that allowed him [Petraeus] to oversee – on behalf of the president – wars, occupations and murders of children and teenagers and other civilians all over the world using drones.”

So in the world of Ali Abunimah and his many fans, the US president and the generals who serve in the US army are all just murderers and criminals.

Needless to say, this is even more true when it comes to Israel. Here is Ali Abunimah’s take on the recent aggression from Hamas-ruled Gaza:

Abunimah Gaza resistance Abunimah PalDefForces

Amazingly, there are still people who apparently think Abunimah should somehow be taken seriously. Last March, The Forward published a fairly sympathetic profile of him, which concluded with the remark that Abunimah feels that the criticism he gets proves that people “are paying attention” to him. The Forward profile ended by quoting Abunimah:

“I am not a professor at a big university. I don’t have a think tank behind me. I don’t have a title, and yet I am able to influence in one way or another the way people think and the way that they act […] As much as the opposition would like to ignore me, they can’t, and that is not because of any title I carry.”

Well, with all this influence Abunimah fancies himself having, Obama has already one leg in prison… Of course, there may be severe overcrowding, since most US generals should probably also be there, and let’s not forget George W. Bush and all Israeli leaders and generals and whoever else isn’t in favor of the glorious “resistance” put up by Islamist terrorists in the Middle East and elsewhere.

* * *

This is a belated cross-posted from my JPost blog.

UPDATE:

In response to this post, G-Nice‏@ArikSharon alerted me to an interesting piece written by the widely respected Palestinian* commentator Hussein Ibish a few years ago. Under the title “What does Ali Abunimah really believe?,” Ibish notes that he and Abunimah wrote “numerous articles and monographs” together, but that Abunimah’s views “have shifted radically in recent years.” Ibish also points out something I’ve often noticed when reading Abunimah’s output: namely, that he “tailors his statements to appeal to different audiences in different media at different times” – which perhaps indicates that he is aware that openly standing by the unhinged views with which he fires up his fans would come with the price of not being taken serious by a less partisan audience.

Needless to say, I fully agree with Ibish’s view that “its not really possible to fully understand what Abunimah’s real thinking is without consulting [his] tweets in which he has been letting his guard down and allowing those who pay attention to get a close glimpse of his actual agenda, which is decidedly not a pretty picture.”

But since Ibish uses the term “agenda,” it’s worth highlighting that Abunimah combines his enthusiastic cheerleading for Hamas and Islamic Jihad with a relentless demonization of Israel, passing it off not only as “pro-Palestinian”, but also as a progressive defense of human rights.

This is of course exactly the kind of “pro-Palestinian” activism that has done so much to poison progressive politics.

Whether or not Abunimah’s activism can be described as “pro-Palestinian,” it sure qualifies as obsessively anti-Israel. Yet, as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has demonstrated with his recent speech at the UN to much applause, it indeed seems that championing the “Palestinian cause” is generally understood as requiring harsh denunciations of Israel.

But it is too often overlooked that the most fervent anti-Israel ideologues show symptoms that are hard to distinguish from those that Walter Russell Mead has repeatedly described so well for antisemitism. As Mead put it:

“Jew haters don’t understand how the world works; anti-Semitism is both a cause and a consequence of a basic failure to comprehend the way pluralistic and liberal societies behave. As a result, nations and political establishments warped by this hatred tend to make one dumb decision after another.”

Those who are consumed by hate for the world’s only Jewish state and dedicate themselves single-mindedly to the goal of undoing its establishment tend to exhibit similar failures of comprehension – which is arguably no coincidence given the often observed overlap between anti-Zionism and antisemitism.

But as Mead rightly noted in a post on “The Hate That Dares Not Speak Its Name,” “many of today’s anti-Semites like to think of themselves as enlightened, modern people and [they] get all huffy and hissy if anyone accuses them of prejudice in any form.”

This is certainly true for Ali Abunimah and many of his fellow activists and followers. Yet, while Abunimah has repeatedly tried to distance himself from activists who propagated antisemitic tropes all too openly, there is no denying that the politics of the supposedly “progressive” down-with-Israel crowd differs very little from the hate-filled visions of antisemites.

As hard as Abunimah may try to pose as a progressive anti-racist and defender of human rights, his enthusiastic cheerleading for Hamas and groups like Islamic Jihad ultimately means going along with the seething Jew-hatred expressed in the Hamas Charter and in countless jihadi pronouncements.

But there is arguably more to it, because – as I tried to illustrate by highlighting Abunimah’s views on Obama – dedicated anti-Israel activists like Abunimah tend to have radical fringe-views not only on Israel, but also on many other issues. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the down-with-Israel-crowd also hates a lot about America and the West in general – and this hate is so all-consuming that there seems to be little else.

Those who happily subscribe to these fervent resentments will therefore usually be unable or unwilling to see the Middle East and the Muslim world as anything but victims of Western depravity. Whatever might be wrong there is not deemed worthy of attention given the enormity of Western wrong-doing.

To be sure, this version of “The White Man’s Burden” has long been a widely accepted part of the supposedly progressive world view that elevates the “Palestinian cause” to the all-important issue of our time. While the latent antisemitism that is so frequently an integral part of this “progressive” activism certainly helps to explain some of the bizarre positions that are so enthusiastically embraced by “pro-Palestinian” campaigners, it is also very interesting to look at this as a broader manifestation of the Zeitgeist. Some of the writings by Richard Landes are particularly interesting in this context. He has coined the term “Masochistic Omnipotence Syndrome,” arguing:

“Without self-criticism and its accompanying learning curve, there is little progress. Hence progressives rightly emphasize self-criticism. […] In some cases, however, self-critical progressives can take this strategy so far that they fall into the trap of taking most or all of the responsibility for something when it is not primarily of their doing. To some extent, this unusual generosity reflects the notion that it takes a “big man” to admit fault, and that if we progressives are stronger, we should make the first, second and even third moves of concession and apology, in order to encourage those with whom we find ourselves in dispute. Combining inflated rhetoric with a therapeutic notion that the disadvantaged should not be held to the same exacting standards (moral equivalence) leads one to fall into self-critical pathologies.

In the most extreme cases, we encounter Masochistic Omnipotence Syndrome (MOS): “it is all our fault; and if we can only be better, we can fix anything/everything.” This hyper-critical attitude can be seen with particular clarity in the response of some progressives and radicals to both the 9-11 attack in 2001 in the US, and the 7-7 attack in 2005 in London. For many, “What did we do to make them hate us?” trumped “What are they telling themselves that makes them hate us so?” In a sense, the very preference for the former question underlines our desire to be in control. Maybe we can fix what it is that we do to them, so they’ll not hate us so. Maybe even, they’ll like us. […]

The tendency to hyper-self-criticize leads to a kind of moral self-absorption in which one loses any sense of the other side of any conflict as moral agent. […] the real tragedy here comes with the unconscious racism involved in such a moral argument. The proponents of such thinking fail to grant the “other side” any moral agency. “Their behavior is entirely reactive, a response to our bad deeds. If only we would stop, they would stop.” This approach, which gives us, among other things, the current policy of appeasement in the West, also operates on assumptions that the “other” — in this case, the global Jihadis and the Muslim cultures from which they draw their recruits — are not autonomous moral agents. In other words, they, like animals, can’t help themselves. Hence, we make no moral demands on them, indeed, we lower ourselves to their moral level with our equivalences.”

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*Correction: Somebody on Twitter protested my description of Ibish as Palestinian, and indeed it seems I was mistaken. There is only very little information on Ibish’s family background available, but a 2003 obituary of his father, Professor Yusuf Hussein Ibish, indicates that he came from a Syrian-Kurdish family while his mother Joan Schenck was apparently European or American.

How to stoke Islamophobia [updated]

Addressing Congress just a few days after the devastating terrorist attacks on 9/11, President George W. Bush repeatedly emphasized the need to distinguish between the peaceful teachings of Islam and the fanaticism of those “who commit evil in the name of Allah.” The terrorists who had struck on 9/11, were, Bush asserted, “traitors to their own faith, trying, in effect, to hijack Islam itself.”

Even Bush’s most vitriolic critics would echo this view for years. Writing in the Washington Post in July 2007, John L. Esposito, Founding Director of Georgetown University’s Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding – which in 2005 was renamed The HRH Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding – insisted: “In our post-9/11 world, the ability to distinguish between Islam itself and Muslim extremism will be critical.”

But soon enough, this was no longer good enough. With a new administration in Washington trying to distance itself from Bush’s “war on terror” at least rhetorically, there were determined efforts to avoid any reference to Islam.

By now, however, it seems clear that this avoidance strategy hasn’t been helpful in any way.

In a scathing essay peppered with lots of sarcasm, Walter Russell Mead recently commented on the “War That Nobody Wants,” arguing:

“But roads paved with good intentions don’t always take you where you want to go, and denial does not look like an effective or sustainable strategy in the current state of what is and remains a multi-theater war against a set of armed religious fanatics and bigoted zealots with a crazed world view and the capacity to make a lot of trouble in a lot of places at the same time. […]

If you want to stoke Islamophobia, don’t level with the people about the nature of the problems we face. […] sometimes truth needs to be told. […] We are fighting a battle first to contain and then to defeat a vicious ideology of murder and hate that masks itself as religious zeal. We are fighting this war both at home and abroad, and there is not an inhabited continent anywhere on Planet Earth where this threat is not a serious concern. All Muslims are not our enemies — far from it, and many of our most important allies and associates are decent, pious, enlightened Muslims who loathe the hate-spewing murderers as much as anybody else — but all of our enemies claim to be fighting in the name of Islam.”

Unfortunately it seems that Mead’s common sense arguments won’t be welcomed by those who prefer to complain loudly about “Islamophobia” while they themselves dismiss the distinction between Muslims and violent extremists who justify savage acts of terrorism in the name of Islam.

As the recent controversy about ads in several US cities that denounce violent jihad as “savage” illustrates, we apparently live in a time when it is “anti-Muslim” to feel it is “savage” that self-described jihadists would consider videos of beheadings “very, very important” tools for recruiting volunteers to their ranks. And apparently, it’s also beyond the pale to recoil at the savagery of Muslim fanatics who proudly announce that they will keep trying to kill a fourteen-year old girl that they already injured grievously to silence her demands for education, respect and dignity.

The prominent Egyptian-American writer Mona Eltahawy, who is widely considered a liberal activist, has done much to publicize the controversy about the ads denouncing violent jihad as “savage.” As I have documented, she responded to the ads by declaring herself a “proud savage;” she then proceeded to deface one of the ads and, in the aftermath of being arrested and charged with misdemeanor and criminal mischief, she started a very successful publicity campaign to style herself as a latter-day heroine of the Civil Rights movement – while boasting at the same time that she and her supporters succeeded in getting the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) to announce revised advertising guidelines.

After all this agitation, Eltahawy has now decided that it was finally time to do what one could have expected from a prominent writer long ago, and she has taken to the pages of the Guardian’s Comment is Free (CiF) website to make her case in writing.

It is quite obviously a weak case. The headline of her post announces “If anti-Muslim ads are protected, so must be my free speech right to protest” – but the text reveals that even Eltahawy is aware that her act of vandalism wasn’t really an exercise of free speech, because she admits: “I broke the law, yes.”

But Eltahawy adds defiantly: “So what? I broke it to make a point of principle. Eleven years after the 9/11 attacks, American Muslims are still being bullied and vilified.”

Indeed, Eltahawy tries hard to make the case that there is at least some “coincidental correlation” between the ads that denounce violent jihad as savage and various incidents of anti-Muslim violence and bigotry. Her article opens with a reference to a recent arson attack on the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo:

“Five days after I spraypainted over a racist and bigoted advertisement in the New York subway, a man set fire to my brother’s local mosque. He struck just a few hours after the mosque’s kindergarten had been filled with children at Sunday school, including my four nieces and nephews.

It was a coincidental correlation but there was nothing casual about either the hate speech on the walls of the subway […] or the arson in Ohio, which was described as an ‘act of terrorism’ by officials who announced federal hate crime charges against the suspect.”

Leaving aside the fact that Eltahawy of course knows full well that the accused arsonist was reportedly motivated by his anger about recent anti-American violence in the Middle East, it is noteworthy that it apparently wouldn’t occur to her that, due to the fanaticism of violent jihadists, hundreds of thousands of Israeli children live daily under the threat that her nieces and nephews might have faced attending Sunday school in a mosque in Ohio.

One could also recall in this context the terrorist attack on a religious seminary in Jerusalem in spring 2008 that resulted in the killing of eight students and the wounding of 11 others – a result that was cheered and celebrated by Hamas supporters in Gaza.

In the world of Mona Eltahawy, it is “anti-Muslim” to denounce any of this as savage. And in Mona Eltahawy’s world it is also “anti-Muslim” to point out that there is not just a “coincidental” but a very direct “correlation” between the thousands of rockets aimed at Israeli civilians as well as the many brutal terrorist attacks and the ringing endorsements of a divinely ordained genocidal battle against the Jews by leading clerics like Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who – according to Eltahawy herself – is “mainstream” and “commands a huge audience on and off the satellite channels.”

While Eltahawy would not hesitate to express her loathing of Qaradawi’s views on women in the strongest terms, she apparently takes no offense when Qaradawi tells his “huge audience” of followers that the extermination of Jews by Muslims is divinely ordained – so much so that even the “stones and trees” will do their part by betraying any Jew who might hide behind them.

Whether Eltahawy and her supporters like it or not, the kind of Jew-hating jihad preached by Qaradawi and recently threatened by the Supreme Guide of Egypt’s  Muslim Brotherhood is indeed savage in the context of 21st century civilization.

The claim that it is “anti-Muslim” to say so unfortunately makes sense only if one accepts that Qaradawi’s Jew-hatred is and should be part of mainstream Muslim beliefs. Mona Eltahawy seems to accept that when she rails against the condemnation of jihad as savage and adopts the hashtag #ProudSavage, but fails to even acknowledge the appalling ideology and acts of the violent jihadists of our time.

Rather bizarrely, she concludes her CiF-article by emphasizing that her nieces – who apparently live in the US – “will not grow up to be scared or apologetic for being Muslim, or Egyptian, or brown.” She also praises the “refusal to be intimidated by bullies” shown by many young Muslims who “were just 10 or 11 when 9/11 happened, and […who] refuse to apologise for something they had nothing to do with.”

Very different from what Eltahawy suggests, nobody who wants to be taken serious will demand that young Muslims apologize for “something they had nothing to do with.” But it is entirely reasonable and justified to expect Muslims – whether younger or older – to understand that demands to ignore the horrors advocated and perpetrated by violent jihadists won’t do much to combat anti-Muslim bigotry.

Mona Eltahawy clearly doesn’t understand that and concludes her article declaring: “The only hashtag I will consider is #ProudSavage.”

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This post was first published at my JPost blog and, under a slightly different title, cross-posted on CiFWatch.

Update:

Only after I published this post, I saw that the Wall Street Journal had an article on this issue on October 1. The brilliant title says it all: “Call a Terrorist a ‘Savage’? How Uncivilized.”

Here is one of the examples highlighted in the WSJ to illustrate that the description “savage” is justified:

“This is a Reuters photo that ran on the New York Times front page for Sept. 1, 2004. It shows an Israeli bus after it had been blown up by a suicide bomber. Neither bloody nor gory, the photo is nonetheless deeply disturbing, because it shows the lifeless body of a young woman hanging out a window.

The Times news story added this detail about the reaction to that attack. “In Gaza,” ran the report, “thousands of supporters of Hamas celebrated in the streets, and the Associated Press reported that one of the bombers’ widows hailed the attack as ‘heroic’ and said her husband’s soul was ‘happy in heaven.’” What part of any of this is not savage?”

Some three weeks have passed since the controversy about the ads denouncing violent jihad as savage erupted, and neither Mona Eltahawy nor her fans and supporters have bothered to explain why they object to this. I have asked this question a few times on Twitter, but either I didn’t get any answer – which actually was sort of the best-case scenario – or I got blocked (this was Mona Eltahawy’s response) or I had some abuse hurled at me. Sad times for self-described progressives: it seems they can function only in a well-insulated echo-chamber.

In any case, I’ve in the meantime also come across a report on reason.com about Mona Eltahawy’s defacing of one of the ads, which notes:

“Eltahawy is not a raving lunatic. In the past she has made some fairly intelligent criticisms of extremists. But even allowing that few people keep cool heads while getting handcuffed by burly cops, she has obviously gone off the deep end here.”

Following the links provided here leads to two articles by Mona Eltahawy. The first was written in July 2005, shortly after the 7/7 London bombings; the second one is from January 2006 and comments on the riots staged by Muslims in response to some cartoons published in an obscure Danish newspaper. In both articles Eltahawy expresses views she apparently no longer holds – because if she did, it’s hard to see why she would have been so incensed by the denunciation of violent jihad as savage.

Consider these statements from Eltahawy’s commentary on the cartoon riots:

“the cartoon incident belongs at the very center of the kind of debate that Muslims must have in the European countries where they live – particularly after the Madrid train bombings of 2003 and the London subway bombings of 2005. While right-wing anti-immigration groups whip up Islamophobia in Denmark, Muslim communities wallow in denial over the increasing role of their own extremists.

As just one example, last August Fadi Abdullatif, the spokesman for the Danish branch of the militant Hizb-ut-Tahrir organization, was charged with calling for the killing of members of the Danish government. He distributed leaflets calling on Muslims in Denmark to go to Fallujah in Iraq and fight the Americans, and to kill their own leaders if they obstructed them. […]

Not only does Hizb-ut-Tahrir, an organization banned in many Muslim countries, have a branch in Denmark, but Abdullatif has a history of calling for violence that he then justifies by referring to freedom of speech – the very notion the Danish newspaper made use of to publish the cartoons. In October 2002, Abdullatif was found guilty of distributing racist propaganda after Hizb-ut-Tahrir handed out leaflets that made threats against Jews by citing verses from the Koran. He was given a 60-day suspended sentence.

Abdullatif used the Koran to justify incitement to violence! And we still wonder why people associate Islam with violence?

Muslims must honestly examine why there is such a huge gap between the way we imagine Islam and our prophet, and the way both are seen by others. Our offended sensibilities must not be limited to the Danish newspaper or the cartoonist, but [must extend] to those like Fadi Abdullatif whose actions should be regarded as just as offensive to Islam and to our reverence for the prophet.”

I sure couldn’t agree more – indeed, about a year ago, I argued in a post asking “Who’s defaming Islam?”:

“efforts to shield Islam from defamation by non-Muslims will inevitably look like an attempt to proscribe free speech as long as authorities that claim a leading role in the Muslim world as well as mainstream Muslim groups and widely revered Muslim scholars come out with statements that sound quite ‘Islamophobic’ when quoted as representative of mainstream Muslim views.”

However, in the meantime, Mona Eltahawy seems to have changed her views. She apparently no longer thinks it is worthwhile to make demands on her fellow Muslims and prefers instead to add her voice to the chorus of complaints about western “Islamophobia” and styling herself as a potential victim by declaring herself a “proud savage.”

But while Muslim extremism and militancy remain as much of a problem today as they were on 9/11, we know that the charges about “Islamophobia” have been greatly exaggerated. As Jonathan S. Tobin pointed out in a post entitled “FBI Statistics Belie Islamophobia Hysteria:”

“It has become an accepted trope of contemporary journalism that American Muslims are under siege and beset by hatred and prejudice. But the evidence for this conventional wisdom is lacking. The story line of Muslim persecution in the United States has always been a matter of anecdotes and perception, not facts. That truth was confirmed this week when the FBI released their annual crime statistics report which showed once again that hate crimes against Muslims remain rare and are far outnumbered by attacks on Jews. […]

Because the far greater number of attacks on Jews is not viewed […] as proof the country is boiling with hatred for Jews, how can anyone rationally argue that the far fewer number of assaults on Muslims can justify the conclusion that Islamophobia is rampant?”

Tobin, however, is making the same mistake that I made: he wrongly assumes this is a rational debate. But it isn’t a rational debate – and as far as Mona Eltahawy is concerned, it shouldn’t be a rational debate. Indeed, it seems she feels that as long as she has some 165 000 followers on Twitter, rational argument is just a waste of time.

Mona Eltahawy claims victory for vandalism [updated]

Last week, opponents of free speech had a great time in New York City.

During the annual UN General Assembly meeting, some Arab and Muslim leaders, including the head of the Arab League, Nabil Elaraby, took advantage of recent Muslim riots against a hyped YouTube clip denigrating Islam’s Prophet Muhammad to revive longstanding efforts to impose a global ban on anything deemed offensive to religion. According to the secretary-general of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), it was now time for the international community to “come out of hiding from behind the excuse of freedom of expression.”

While the representatives of OIC member states took to the UN podium to demand restrictions on freedom of expression, one of the organization’s member states had the great satisfaction to see one of its nationals demonstrating right there in New York that there was always something to offend Islam.

Incensed by an ad in the New York subway that denounced violent jihad as “savage” and called for supporting Israel, the prominent Egyptian-American writer Mona Eltahawy decided to register her objections to the ad. She did so, however, not – as one might have expected – by writing an article explaining her objections and her apparent identification with violent jihadis, but by seeking out one of the ten posted ads and defacing it with spray paint. A brawl ensued when Eltahawy encountered a woman who tried to stop her from defacing the ad, and Eltahawy was arrested and held overnight to face a criminal mischief charge in court on the following day.

Given that she has a large following on Twitter, it was hardly surprising that, as soon as the news of her arrest spread, her supporters started a campaign with the hashtag #FreeMona. It was then that it first became clear that Egypt’s ruling Muslim Brotherhood was pleased with Eltahawy’s actions: Ikhwanweb, which represents the “official opinions of the Muslim Brotherhood,” posted a tweet in support of the #FreeMona campaign.

When Eltahawy was informed about this after her release, she, in turn, seemed pleased enough to retweet it.

A day later, an Egyptian newspaper reported that President Morsi had instructed Egypt’s consul general in New York “to closely follow the case of Egyptian-American journalist and human rights activist Mona Eltahawy.”

Responding on Twitter, Eltahawy ultimately rejected Morsi’s concern, advising the Egyptian president that he had enough challenges at home and that there was no need to worry about her.

But apparently, Eltahawy didn’t bother to ponder the question why Morsi and the Brotherhood had been so eager to show support for her.

After all, she had made a name for herself as a “heroine of the Arab Spring” by being very open about the physical and sexual abuse she suffered when she was arrested while covering demonstrations in Cairo in November 2011. Half a year later, she caused a heated controversy with a feature essay in Foreign Policy magazine. Under the title “Why Do They Hate Us?,” Eltahawy asserted that there was a “war on women” in the Middle East and that “Arab societies hate women;” she also sharply criticized the views of the Muslim Brotherhood and its spiritual leader Yusuf al-Qaradawi on female genital mutilation.

While we can safely assume that the Brotherhood didn’t appreciate that at all, they were of course astute enough to warmly embrace Eltahawy now when she was acting in a way that was obviously very useful for the OIC’s efforts to push for restrictions to free speech.

Indeed, completely absorbed in her own breathless efforts to style herself as a latter-day heroine of the Civil Rights movement – helped along greatly by a truly disproportionate and uncritical media coverage of her “protest” that included an eight-minute segment on CNN International – Eltahawy proudly announced on Twitter that her act of vandalism had been vindicated: “Thanks to all who defaced those racist piece of shit ads: MTA Amends Rules After Pro-Israel Ads Draw Controversy http://nyti.ms/QY0KzG.”

This is of course exactly what Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz foresaw when he was asked by The Algemeiner to assess the revised advertising guidelines announced by the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA). Dershowitz described the change not only as “clearly unconstitutional,” but emphasized that “it incentivizes people to engage in violence. What it says to people, is that if they don’t like ads, just engage in violence and then we’ll take the ads down. It’s very bad policy […] and it’s just plain dumb, because it is going to encourage violence.”

Indeed, Mona Eltahawy has repeatedly emphasized that she was proud of her actions (and, presumably, their success) and that she wouldn’t hesitate to do the same again.

At the same time, she has so far avoided to use her freedom of speech and her many possibilities as a prominent writer to explain why she would take offense when violent jihad is described as savage, and why she is so outraged by Qaradawi’s views on women, but apparently unperturbed by his glorification of genocidal jihad against the Jews.

* * *

UPDATE:

This post was originally published in The Algemeiner. In the meantime, The Guardian’s Comment is Free site has published a piece by Mona Eltahawy, claiming: “If anti-Muslim ads are protected, so must be my free speech right to protest.

Asserting once again that the ads she defaced were “racist and bigoted” and suggesting a “coincidental correlation” to various instances of anti-Muslim violence and verbal abuse hurled against her (who loves to hurl verbal abuse against others), Eltahawy fails again to explain why condemning violent jihad as “savage” is “anti-Muslim,” but she does repeat her identification as a #ProudSavage.

In any case, my headline here – “Mona Eltahawy claims victory for vandalism” – remains sadly appropriate. As a new Washington Post article by Jonathan Turley notes:

“Free speech is dying in the Western world. […] A willingness to confine free speech in the name of social pluralism can be seen at various levels of authority and government.”

Referring specifically to the “savage jihad”-ads and the change of advertising rules celebrated by Eltahawy as a victory for those who defaced the ads, Turley writes:

“Such efforts focus not on the right to speak but on the possible reaction to speech — a fundamental change in the treatment of free speech in the West. The much-misconstrued statement of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes that free speech does not give you the right to shout fire in a crowded theater is now being used to curtail speech that might provoke a violence-prone minority. Our entire society is being treated as a crowded theater, and talking about whole subjects is now akin to shouting ‘fire!’”

Read the whole piece to see how far free speech has already been undermined. Turley concludes grimly:

“The very right that laid the foundation for Western civilization is increasingly viewed as a nuisance, if not a threat. Whether speech is deemed inflammatory or hateful or discriminatory or simply false, society is denying speech rights in the name of tolerance, enforcing mutual respect through categorical censorship.”

 

Shoddy history and the anti-imperialism of fools

Under the title “The Professor’s Shoddy History,” James Kirchick argues in an excellent essay in Tablet that “Berlin’s Jewish Museum gave Judith Butler and Germans permission to indulge dangerous political impulses.” Kirchick offers not only interesting observations about German ambitions to show off a principled pacifism to prove that the country learned the right lessons from its terrible Nazi-past, but he also touches upon the role of fashionable “anti-imperialism:”

“[Günter] Grass’ fundamental conceit—that Israel, and not the countries threatening to wipe it off the map, will be responsible should war erupt once again in the Middle East—is the same as [Judith] Butler’s. Both rely on naïve and simplistic conceptions of “imperialism” and “anti-imperialism” and on a belief that power inevitably leads to oppression. […] Butler—who, as a Jew, is uninhibited in what she can say about Israel in Germany—has said what Grass declared in his poem: Israel is the problem. The Israeli “state violence” she complains about exists in a vacuum; Iran’s march to nuclear weapons does not concern her, and the violence of Hamas and Hezbollah is all but ignored.

[…]

Following World War II, many Germans internalized pacifism as a fundamental political value, and it is this central belief—as well as the ability to sit in judgment of the Middle East from comfortable, prosperous Europe—that informs much of German attitudes toward Israel. Joschka Fischer, the erstwhile left-wing student activist who rose to become Germany’s first Green Party foreign minister in 1998, used to say that there were two principles that formed his political consciousness: “Never Again War” and “Never Again Auschwitz.” But when the possibility of genocide returned to the European continent during his tenure, in the form of Serb ethnic cleansing in the Balkans, these mantras came into conflict. If preventing another Auschwitz on European soil required war, the breed of German leftists embodied by Fischer argued, then it was the duty of the German left to get over its aversion to force and support war.

As the Iranian regime, which denies the Holocaust while promising another, continues its nuclear weapons program unabated, the German penchant for peace may once again be confronted by reality and historic obligation. […] An irony of Germany’s admirable confrontation with its horrific past is that many Germans have learned their history so well they have learned the wrong lessons—and Judith Butler validates their grave misinterpretation. That Berlin’s Jewish Museum lent a platform for such views betrays precisely the history it is meant to impart.”

As my own post on this issue illustrates, I fully agree with Kirchick’s criticism of Berlin’s Jewish Museum. The only minor point I would raise here is that, when he says that both Grass and Butler “rely on naïve and simplistic conceptions of ‘imperialism’ and ‘anti-imperialism’ and on a belief that power inevitably leads to oppression,” one should perhaps highlight very clearly that, as far as Grass and Butler are concerned, it is of course only Western power that is seen as so inevitably oppressive.

While this is already implied when Kirchick points to their “naïve and simplistic conceptions of ‘imperialism’ and ‘anti-imperialism,’” it is crucially important to understand the patronizing attitude that hides behind these supposedly “naïve and simplistic conceptions:” Only the West has agency and the power to do evil, while the non-West is reduced to passivity and the role of the victim.

It’s equally important to understand that this notion is also very popular in the Middle East – indeed, it arguably feeds much of the chronic sense of offense that prevents the region from developing a much needed capacity for self-criticism. Michael Young tackled this issue in a recent op-ed under the almost blasphemous title “When imperialists happen to be Muslim,” where he wrote:

“It never ceases to amaze how Arab eyes are forever on the lookout for some manifestation of Western hegemonic intent or condescension toward the Arab world, and how this vigilance seems to breaks down whenever it involves non-Western states behaving the same way. […]

Iran has never hidden its sense of neo-imperial entitlement in the Middle East, despite its claims to speak for the oppressed of the earth and to represent a bulwark against imperialism. Leaders in Tehran look upon their country as a natural regional dominator, and such thinking helps explain why they feel that they have a right to develop nuclear weapons […]

The Middle Eastern lexicon today fails to properly express that the impulse for regional domination is as strong among non-Western Muslim states as among Western states, if not more so. How odd, given that most of the empires ruling over what would become the modern Arab world were native to the region – Egyptian, Sassanid, Umayyad, Abbasid and Ottoman, to name the more obvious ones.”

Last but by no means least, I’d like to quote here Michael Totten’s excellent post on Judith Butler’s “Anti-Imperialism of Fools,” where Totten concludes:

“Hezbollah is notoriously hostile to every social value liberals and progressives hold dear, from women’s rights to gay rights, with one exception. Hezbollah says the United States and Israel are the Great Satan and the Little Satan. That’s it. That, all by itself, is enough to get a socially retrograde totalitarian terrorist organization labeled ‘progressive’ even by a professor who adheres to non-violent politics.

But the city of Frankfurt can give her a prize if it wants, and it can do so on September 11. Supporting European fascism is a crime now in Germany, but supporting the Middle Eastern variety is apparently fine.”

The Zeitgeist in a nutshell

In his new book “The Liberal Case for Israel,” Jonathan Miller takes on what he describes so well as “the Orwellian dystopia that is our political discourse today.” I was reminded of Miller’s great formulation when I came across an admirably succinct summary of how this Orwellian dystopia developed in a recent blog post by Gil Troy. Addressing the still ongoing controversy about Mitt Romney’s reference to culture as an explanation for Israel’s economic success, Troy tackles the question “Why Can’t We Talk About Culture?”

“For centuries, a triumphalist narrative dominated Western civilization. Europeans, Americans, and Australians took great pride in their culture as the cause of their political stability, widespread freedoms, economic success, overall sophistication, and world power. Unfortunately, that narrative fed an arrogance that encouraged some of the Western world’s great sins, including racism, colonialism and imperialism. Following World War II, and particularly during the 1960s, there was a welcome backlash against these Western crimes.

But this salutary revolution, like so many revolutions, overstepped, and resulted in the Great Inversion. Many Western elites, who once believed their civilization could do no wrong, started believing their culture could do no right. Simultaneously, […] Israel went from being perceived as a country that was above reproach to being broadly considered a country that was beneath contempt. This new Western phenomenon of self-criticism, built on a strong Jewish orientation toward internalizing guilt, was easy prey for an equal and opposite Third World and Arab orientation toward assigning blame.”

I have some reservations about describing racism, colonialism and imperialism as “the Western world’s great sins” – and therefore I also wouldn’t think in terms of a “welcome backlash against these Western crimes.” Since I’ve had the chance to see quite a bit of the world, I’m absolutely sure that racism isn’t just a Western sin; similarly, while colonialism and imperialism are modern terms that are generally used for Western conquests or subjugations in the past four centuries, it is obvious that there were empires long before the modern West emerged and that non-Western empires also existed after Western powers expanded. Moreover, since this blog’s focus is on Israel and the Middle East, it’s worthwhile noting that there was of course such a thing as Islamic imperialism; indeed, judging from a campaign rally for Egypt’s new president, it seems that there are still lots of people who dream of an Islamic Caliphate.

One could argue that by describing racism, colonialism and imperialism as “the Western world’s great sins,” Gil Troy demonstrates that he himself is affected by the double standards that he outlines so succinctly. Yet, I think he managed to capture in these few lines a crucial dynamic that remains a powerful influence on the Zeitgeist.

Troy offers another gem by quoting Daniel Patrick Moynihan on the question of the role of culture for the success of a society:

“The central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of a society. The central liberal truth is that politics can change a culture and save it from itself.”