Category Archives: Quote of the day

Quote of the day

“The person who comes out of all this looking smartest is Samuel Huntington. His book on the ‘clash of civilizations’ was widely and unfairly trashed as predicting an inevitable conflict between Islam and the west, and he was also accused of ‘demonizing’ Islam. That’s not what I get from his book. As I understand it, Huntington’s core thesis was that while good relations between countries and people with roots in different civilizations are possible and ought to be promoted, civilizational fault lines often lead to misunderstandings and tensions that can (not must, but can) lead to violence and when conflicts do occur, civilizational differences can make those conflicts worse.

The last few days are a textbook example of the forces he warned about.”

Walter Russell Mead, The Middle East Mess Part One: Over There. I’m really glad that Professor Mead has seized this opportunity to remind us of Huntington’s important book and to highlight his view – with which I fully agree – that the “Clash of Civilizations” has been unfairly maligned. I think there can be little doubt that many of the negative reactions to Huntington’s book were motivated by a “political correctness” which took it for granted that it was the West’s responsibility to prevent a “clash of civilizations” — and part of this prevention was to decry Huntington’s analysis.

As I have pointed out previously, one of the best illustrations of this mindset was provided just a few days after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, when French foreign minister Hubert Vedrine reportedly declared: “We have to avoid a clash of civilizations at all costs.” According to Vedrine, such a clash was a “huge […] monstrous trap” that had been “conceived by the instigators of the assault.”

In a way, the notion of the “monstrous trap” also seems reflected in Mead’s observations – but importantly, he makes clear that this is first and foremost an inner-Islamic issue:

“Unfortunately, Islamic radicals are deliberately hoping to promote a clash of civilizations in the belief that a climate of polarization will strengthen their political power in the world of Islam. Attacking the embassy in Cairo is an effort to push Egyptian opinion in a more radical direction, but the radicals hope that this is part of a larger push that will bring them to power across the Islamic world. Like Boko Haram in Nigeria, which hopes to provoke a religious war with the Christians partly in order to achieve power in the Muslim North, radicals use the prospect of a clash of civilizations to further their own cause throughout the troubled Islamic world.

The US and more generally the west (including Russia, so perhaps I should say the ‘Christian world’ instead) has tried several approaches to this situation and so far we haven’t been happy with the results. Confrontation, reconciliation, cooperation: there are good arguments to be made for them all, but in practice none of them seem to make the problem go away.”

There is a simple explanation why it is so hard to make this “problem” go away: Islamic radicals have more popular support among Muslims than western commentators and analysts like to acknowledge, and hostility to America and the West is enormously popular throughout the Arab and Muslim world. As Husain Haqqani recently emphasized in his excellent commentary on “Manipulated Outrage and Misplaced Fury:”

“At the heart of Muslim street violence is the frustration of the world’s Muslims over their steady decline for three centuries, a decline that has coincided with the rise and spread of the West’s military, economic and intellectual prowess.”

Haqqani goes on to argue:

“Once the Muslim world embraces freedom of expression, it will be able to recognize the value of that freedom even for those who offend Muslim sensibilities. More important: Only in a free democratic environment will the world’s Muslims be able to debate the causes of their powerlessness, which stirs in them greater anger than any specific action on the part of Islam’s Western detractors.

Until then, the U.S. would do well to remember Osama bin Laden’s comment not long after the Sept. 11 attacks: ‘When people see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature they will like the strong horse.’ America should do nothing that enables Islamists to portray the nation as the weak horse.”

 

Quote of the day

“One needs to look no further than the Hamas constitution to see the protocols of the Elders of Zion baked into the text verbatim. Egyptian TV shows profligate conspiracy theories thick with vast webs of shadowy individuals, often Zionist, who are responsible for every misfortune that befalls Egypt.

These beliefs should not be dismissed as fringe, or just explained away as cultural relativism. The public powerlessness at the hands of powerful conspiratorial others breeds victimhood, xenophobia and hate.

These beliefs are just as toxic and noxious as racism, yet they receive far less attention. While the ugliness of racism is spotted and condemned, these beliefs are often seen as kooky and tangential. This complacency is dooming generation after generation, whether in their countries of origin or newfound Western homes, to a culture of victimhood and irresponsibility. How can I be to blame for the misfortunes that befall me if there is always someone else, hiding behind a curtain of secrecy, to blame?”

Jewish conspiracy theories and anti-Semitism, an excellent guest post by Joel Braunold at Harry’s Place; also available at Braunold’s blog and at Ha’aretz.

I couldn’t agree more with Braunold’s view that the anti-Jewish conspiracy theories that are so popular in the Middle East are too often ignored, and the very real poisonous effects they are having are generally underestimated. I’ve repeatedly written on conspiracy theories; one of my older JPost entries, entitled “Ugly lies and ugly truths”, includes several examples of commentaries that do explain the crucial role of conspiracy theories – here are the relevant paragraphs:

“It has long been one of the Arab world’s favorite memes: whenever there is any criticism of anything Arab, respond with criticizing or blaming the US and Israel. One of the most memorable examples of this reflex was provided a few years ago in an interview conducted by a Swiss magazine with the editor-in-chief of Al-Jazeera. Back then, in December 2006, Jeff Weintraub highlighted this interview as an example for the widespread Arab view that Israel is really the root cause for all the Middle East’s problems.

Weintraub argued that “when mass delusions come to occupy such a central role in a political culture, they have real effects, and generally pernicious ones. Furthermore, by dint of endless repetition, this delusional world-view is coming to take on the status of ‘common sense’ in western discussions of the Middle East as well.”

Fast forward a few years to January 2011, and you have a choice of articles that read like a sequel to Weintraub’s observations.

In the Wall Street Journal, Bret Stephens commented on the various conspiracy theories that recently circulated in Egypt. He argued that “the ultimate source of Arab backwardness […] lies in the debasement of the Arab mind. When the only diagnosis Egyptians can offer for their various predicaments – ranging from sectarian terrorism to a recent spate of freak shark attacks at a Sinai beach resort – is that it’s all a Zionist plot, you know that the country is in very deep trouble.”

In Tablet Magazine, Lee Smith focused on the widespread tendency of Western media to uncritically report even the most absurd accusations leveled against Israel as if the charges were based on well-established facts. In his conclusion, Smith argued:

“[The] Arabs are not winning an information war against Israel, nor anything else for that matter. Rather, the stories and lies they tell to delegitimize the Jewish state are part and parcel of the war that they have been waging against themselves, and with stunning success. The tragedy is that everyone knows where the Arabs are heading, because the signs of failure and self-destructiveness couldn’t be clearer—poverty, violence, despotism, illiteracy, mistreatment of women, and the persecution of confessional minorities, like Egypt’s Coptic Christian population. The Western journalists and NGOs who repeat and credential these lies are doing no honor to either the values of their own society or those of the Arabs; they’re merely helping a culture kill itself.”

The problem is that it’s not about values: ugly lies about Israel will remain popular wherever it seems advantageous – ideologically, politically, or economically – to suppress ugly truths about the Arab world.

Quote of the day

“Since 1979, the Islamic Republic of Iran has designated the last Friday of Ramadan “Al-Quds Day,” leading worldwide protests calling for the destruction of Israel. In that spirit, over 1,000 protesters […]  marched through downtown Berlin on Saturday denouncing Israel and praising Hezbollah, Iran’s proxy army in Lebanon.

Unlike the neo-Nazis rocking out to “white power” music in a secluded cornfield [during a NPD event at a remote location a week earlier], the Islamists calling for the destruction of the Jewish state in the heart of the German capital did not stir the consciences of the country’s major political parties. As opposed to the 2,000 people who trekked out to Mecklenburg-Vorpommern [to protest the NPD event], only 300 or so anti-Islamist protesters, the majority of them affiliated with Jewish organizations, held a separate counter-demonstration, where the only political figure to speak was a former member of the German Bundestag.

In a free society, extremists ought to be able to say whatever they like. But a graver issue was highlighted by last Saturday’s open support for Hezbollah. The European Union, unlike its allies in Australia, Canada and the United States, refuses to treat the faction as a terrorist group, allowing it to organize and raise funds. The New York Times describes Germany as “a center of activity” for the group.

[…] Sixty-five years after the end of World War II, it’s reassuring to know that Germany has “no place for Neonazis.” A more pressing question is why it has room for those carrying on their legacy.”

James Kirchick in a Ha’aretz article entitled “A perverse quid pro quo.” This title (which may well have been chosen by Ha’aretz editors) refers to Kirchick’s argument that “European governments have fashioned a perverse quid pro quo whereby they permit a foreign terrorist organization to operate on their soil, provided that its targets are Israeli, not European.” However, this point is arguably secondary to Kirchick’s much more important argument that both German officials and the German public can be counted on to take a firm stand against German neo-Nazis,  while remaining apparently oblivious to the Nazi-style antisemitism that is so openly championed by the Iranian regime and its allies like Hezbollah.

Reading through any list of statements by Iranian officials on Israel will quickly reveal that, just as Nazi propaganda relentlessly repeated the slogan “Die Juden sind unser Unglück!” – i.e. the Jews are our misfortune –, Iranian regime officials relentlessly incite hatred and revulsion against the Jewish state.  Yet, supporters and allies of this regime can freely march through Germany’s capital to celebrate a day dedicated to anticipating the annihilation of the world’s only Jewish state.

Quote of the day

Rubin: In view of all this, how to explain the great optimism of the Western media beginning with the Arab spring in January 2011 concerning the prospects of the democratic-revolutionary movement — the dawn of a new glorious age?

Laqueur: I wish I had an answer. To read now the comments of the correspondents of the New York Times reminds one of Alice in Wonderland. They were so utterly mistaken. It is probably unfair to single out one specific newspaper because the illusions were so widely shared even by the experts. In part, the roots of the misunderstandings were, of course, psychological. For so long, reports from the Middle East had been negative and depressing: autocratic governments, riots, terrorism, corruption, civil wars, and so on. And now suddenly, there was this great, intoxicating promise of freedom and progress — a beacon of light to the whole world….

There was a total misreading of the Egyptian situation and the prospect and the reasons should be examined very, very carefully.”

Barry Rubin, An Interview with Historian Walter Laqueur on the Arab Spring.

Laqueur may be right to argue that it would be important to critically examine the pre-dominant “Alice-in-Wonderland”-reporting and commentary on the so-called “Arab Spring,” but there is little reason to think that there will really be serious efforts to do so – not least because a more realistic view of the Middle East would shatter some of the most cherished media “narratives” about the Arab conflict with Israel.

However, the BBC did have an investigation of its “Arab Spring” coverage, which reportedly uncovered only relatively minor shortcomings. By contrast, we will probably never know the findings of the 2004 Balen Report on the BBC’s coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, because the BBC fought – and won – a long and costly legal battle to keep the report from being published.

 

Quote of the day

“[It] should be obvious by now to all reasonable observers that Iran is an unstable regime shot through with dangerous anti-Semitic impulses, apocalyptic fantasy and convoluted conspiracy thinking that has no business anywhere near nuclear weapons. In this regard, much ink has been spilled over whether the mullahs are “rational actors” or not–i.e. whether they would bomb Israel even if this would result in devastating retaliation–but Via Meadia thinks that such speculation misses an important point: anti-Semitism is never a rational policy, yet it persists. Infamously, Hitler and the Nazis exiled their own best physicists because they were Jewish, enabling the US to win the nuclear arms race and ultimately World War II. History is replete with stories of countries driving productive citizens into exile because Jew-hatred is an irrational passion that overmasters common sense and destroys the ability to perceive ones own best interests.”

Walter Russell Mead on “Iran and the Bomb” – the most recent post of many in which Mead speaks out about contemporary antisemitism.

Quote of the day

“We can tell that this hostility to Israel is as artificially constructed as any antisemitism by looking at the list of theatre groups [performing at the Globe Theatre World Shakespeare Festival in London] against which the enlightened ones organized no boycott. Antizionists have created a whole new ‘-ism’, a worldview, around their campaign against Israel. Within it, a caricature of Israel is endowed with huge symbolic significance which relates only here and there to the actual state, to the complex conflict and to the diversity of existing Israelis. If the Palestinians stand, in the antizionist imagination, as symbolic of all the victims of ‘the west’ or ‘imperialism’ then Israel is thrust into the centre of the world as being symbolic of oppression everywhere. Like antisemitism, antizionism imagines Jews as being central to all that is bad in the world.”

From the truly brilliant reflections by David Hirsh on the Habima Theatre’s performance of “The Merchant of Venice” in London. David prefaces his post with the often debated question: “Is the Merchant of Venice an antisemitic play or is it a play which intimately depicts the anatomy of persecution, exclusion and bullying?” The way David tackles this question is particularly powerful because he combines his impressions from the play with his thoughts about the BDS protesters who tried to disrupt the performance.

Update:

At CiFWatch, Adam Levick has an excellent post on the review of the Habima production by the Guardian’s theatre critic, who, unsurprisingly, happens to be an enthusiastic admirer of Caryl Churchill’s antisemitic play “Seven Jewish Children.” It’s only natural then that the Guardian’s theatre critic can’t help herself when she sees the broken Shylock at the end of the play: why mention anything about antisemitism if you feel so strongly that it’s “impossible not to think of other displaced people, too, most particularly the Palestinians”…

Quote of the day

“You can find various editions of Mein Kampf and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion in any modest sidewalk bookstand, but you won’t find John Locke’s Second Treatise on Government or Plato’s Republic in Cairo’s biggest bookstores. (And if you do, it will be either in English or an unreadable Arabic translation.) Meantime, Islamist teaching is ubiquitous in schools and mosques, on bumper-stickers and YouTube videos. […]

Islamism will not die out in the face of free voting or economic liberalism or Twitter. It is one of the most formidable ideologies in history, the success of which does not depend on electoral bribes or the ignorance of the average voter. Rather, it stands on thousands of books containing the wisdom of one of the greatest civilizations in history. It comprises serious ideas and ideals that, although they might be diametrically opposed to those of the West, are no less compelling. Most important, Islamism runs on millions of dedicated adherents who are willing to endure imprisonment, exile, unspeakable torture, and even death to uphold what they deem right.

Amr Bargisi, a liberal Egyptian activist, in a must-read piece at Tablet Magazine with the depressing title “An Egyptian Democrat Gives Up.” Particularly important in my view are Bargisi’s comments on the misconceptions that dominate so much of Western reactions to the rise of Islamists – and yes, to my great delight, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman gets mentioned, too… As I’ve argued before, Islamists are not the Muslim equivalent of Europe’s Christian Democrats.

Anyone interested in additional reading should check out Sohrab Ahmari’s critical take on “The Failure of Arab Liberals” in the May issue of Commentary Magazine (which may be accessible for free only for a limited time).

Quote of the day

“we took to the road in an effort to see the country afresh. Beginning two years ago, […] we spent days and nights with ultra-Orthodox Jews in Beit Shemesh, Russian immigrants in Ashdod, Palestinian Israelis in Nazareth, Mizrahim in Yerucham, Bedouin in the neighboring unrecognized village of Rachma, settlers in Kfar Etzion and Palestinians in Beit Jallah. We travelled to Efrat, Uhm el-Fahm, Tirat Carmel, Ein Hud, Haifa and Jerusalem. When the summer protests produced tent camps across the country, we visited them from Kiryat Shemona in the north to Dimona in the south.

Through these travels, we observed a great and growing discrepancy between the way Israeli politics and society are discussed, at home and abroad, and the way they operate for real. The dichotomies that so many of us have for so long believed define the country – Ashkenazi vs. Mizrahi, Jew vs. Arab, secular vs. religious, center vs. periphery, native vs. immigrant, left vs. right – no longer reflect the complexity of Israeli society. There are commonalities in values and in visions that have gone largely unnoticed, and in these things that we share one find seeds of a common future characterized not by conflict, but by community.

One commonality, often overlooked, is a shared wish to be part of the world in which we live, and take responsibility for it. […]

Everywhere we found Israelis who believe that the ability of each of us to live a good life depends upon the ability of our neighbors to live a decent life. […] We are unwilling to accept that to get ahead, others [must] be left behind. To most of us, social solidarity matters, just like salary.

We found that, alongside disgust for the politics of today, there is great thirst for a new sort of politics of tomorrow. […]

For those able to look with a careful eye, a future is unfolding that is more decent than we usually allow ourselves to see. The truth is, it takes no great act of imagination to envision an Israel at 100 that is decent and sustaining for all Israelis, at peace with its neighbors and at home in the world.”

Noah Efron and Nazier Magally, At 64, Israel’s future is brighter than you might think.

While I largely share the observations and the resulting optimism in this article, I’m afraid I have one reservation: Israel always wanted very much to live at peace with its neighbors, but so far, our neighbors didn’t want. The developments of the past year provide little reason to think that this will change any time soon – and it may not even change soon enough for Israel’s 100th anniversary. The Islamists now taking power in much of the Middle East will not be easily dislodged, as the example of Iran suggests. And there is little reason to think that the rule of the Arab Islamists will prove more beneficial than the rule of the Iranian Islamists. The observation that many Israelis believe that “the ability of each of us to live a good life depends upon the ability of our neighbors to live a decent life” is arguably also applicable beyond Israel’s borders – and our neighbors will not live a decent life under Islamist rule.

Quote of the day

“At a time when the prospects of a negotiated settlement to the conflict between Jews and Arabs in Palestine are dim, the desire of liberal Jews outside of Israel “to do something” is understandable. But the desire to do something cannot justify doing something wrong.

The Zionist left should focus on keeping the conditions for a two-state solution alive. But to do so, all the major obstacles on the road to peace need be addressed. The settlements in the West Bank are an obstacle to peace but, as far as obstacles go, the settlements rank a distant fifth to Arab rejection of the legitimacy of the Jewish claim to any part of the land of Israel, to the systematic inflation of the number of Palestinians refugees, to the hawking of illusion of a “right of return” and to shameful Arab incitement.”

Einat Wilf in the Huffington Post, responding to Peter Beinart’s recent proposal for a boycott of Israeli settlements. The whole piece is worth reading, because Wilf shines a harsh spotlight on some of the most important but least talked about reasons why an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal has proven so elusive. Wilf is a Member of Knesset with a very impressive CV; additional information about her and her writings (including two books) as well as her political activities is available on her website.

Quote of the day

“If the standard for being fired was being wrong on a story, I would have been fired long ago,” Hersh told the Progressive in 1998. That Hersh has continued to rise, rather than suffer professional admonishment for his perennial falsehoods, is a testament to the ideological usefulness of his deceits to the people who publish him and the people who praise him. The disgrace is one in which Hersh’s editors and legions of readers are also complicit, and will continue to be for as long as “the last great American reporter” goes on telling them the lies they want to hear.

James Kirchick in a must-read Commentary essay on “The Deceits of Seymour Hersh.”