Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Keep us out of it

If I had to provide a succinct definition of anti-Semitism, I'd define it as conceiving/writing/speaking of "the Jews" rather than "Jews." As using "the Jews" to make a point about an issue in which Jews play at most a negligible role.

Traditionally one refers to the situations (the majority, obviously) in which Jews-as-symbols come out poorly as anti-Semitism, the ones where "the Jews" are looked upon as a force of good as philo-Semitism, but, as Adam Kirsch correctly notes, same difference. I do see where Micha is coming from, that "it's better to be loved than hated," but disagree with him on the "even for the wrong reasons" part. While philo-Semitism's easier to take than anti-, I'd rather hear a Palestinian's legitimate criticisms of Israeli policy or even of the existence of the Jewish state, than get an earful from a Northern European lunatic who feels some kind of solidarity with "the Jews" in his self-styled medieval crusade against Muslims in his own country. In other words, I'd classify any use of "the Jews" to serve political purposes unrelated or near-unrelated to Jews - and a Norwegian Christian's beef with Muslims counts, if anything does - in the same way.

This is why, even if the Norway killer was in a pro-Jew mood at the time of his manifesto-writing (which he was and wasn't, depending whether he was swinging more 'Make Blond Babies' or 'Down With Islam' at a given moment - 1,500 pages is space enough for all kinds of contradictory views), we may still classify him as anti-Semitic. He's an ethnic-Norwegian Norwegian (and here we must all pause to congratulate him for having been born with blond hair, obviously a sign that he's owed a leadership position) worked up about the presence of Muslims in the West. This is leaving aside the admittedly also-relevant question of whether his obsession with Muslim minorities is out-of-proportion to their influence/unity, and whether perhaps he and those from whom he gets his inspiration intentionally underestimate the desire of minorities in the West to assimilate, because to them quite frankly anyone who looks foreign just is foreign, whatever their behavior. If the killer is worked-up about "the Muslims," it's a heck of a stretch to say that Jews, of whom Norway has few, enter into it.

This brings up a couple issues. One is that it's also anti-Semitic, by my definition, to interpret the killer's actions or even ideology through a "the Jews" lens. Thus the excitement of some white-supremacists (seems they don't all just get along) in denouncing the killer as a Zionist. It's problematic to claim that the killer was acting on behalf of "the Jews," as it would be to suggest that the real victims here are Jews, although I can't say I've seen anyone suggesting the latter. Jews, however, get a pass, insofar is not anti-Semitic for someone who is Jewish to consider the Jewish angle of a situation in which Jews play only a minor role; if that approach were such a problem, every last ethnic press would have to be shut down, because that's kind of how it works. Every minority group gets the equivalent pass. However, given the extent to which Jews in particular are constantly finding our importance in various matters inflated, we're probably best-off not digging for a Jewish angle unless one has already presented itself. But at the same time, ideally Jews take the lead in determining what is or is not relevant to Jews, so if a Jewish newspaper or blog wants to hone in on the Jewish angle of whichever issue, so be it. Anyway, in this particular case, the extent to which "the Jews" had already been dragged into it made it tough for (some) Jews (named Phoebe) not to do what we could to set the record straight.

Another issue here is that it can be difficult to refute "the-Jews" discourse, because frequently, the topic at hand, whatever it is, will relate, albeit in a minor and tangential way, to Jews. Failing to acknowledge the role of Jews in whichever is then framed as giving Jews special treatment. More specifically, with any conflict anywhere in which either or both parties' motivation can be in whatever obscure way related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we're expected to take the time to consider how Israel's policies contributed to whichever far-off mess. If we point out that Israel had near-zilch to do with the conflict at hand, we're accused of ignoring the flaws of that country.

Furthermore, what happens often enough (see, along with the example above, French Algeria) is, all this "the-Jews" ideology actually contributes to giving Jews a central role in some conflict that otherwise had little to do with them. Once a distant conflict is cast in this way, real-life Jews end up getting involved, and, as with all engagement, they will act in ways one might legitimately criticize. The catch: if Jews had just said, look, we'll stay out of this, fight amongst yourselves, but we'll stay home with our latkes/Sephardic delicacies, there'd have been complaints about our failure to participate. And so on.

37 comments:

Micha said...

When I said that I preferred to be loved for the wrong reasons than hated, I wasn't referring to someone like this murderer. I was thinking more of people like evangelicals, neo-cons, maybe even people like Wilders. I don't think Israel should rebuff their statements of friendship for Israel, even if their motives for liking Israel are not always the right motives. But Israel should make it politely and diplomatically clear that while it is happy for their friendship, it does not espouse their politics (or anybody else's for that matter) and that it doesn't want to be involved in internal political arguments in other countries.

Since it seems inevitable that attitudes toward Israel or Jews have a strong emotional component, we have no choice but to tolerate certain levels of irrationality.

Phoebe said...

Micha,

It's one thing, if you're Israeli (which you've mentioned you are), to say that a Sarah Palin is an ally, and to look the other way if her domestic policies aren't what you'd want for Israel. (Not sure I'd go along with this, but that's a different story.) It's another if you're an American Jew, and you're voting/choosing allies on the basis of many issues that have nothing to do with Israel. Including evangelicals and right-wingers as allies in that case means sacrificing all your other beliefs about what's best for America. And there are absolutely issues on which left and right differ more in the States than they do on Israel. So unless you think there will literally no longer be a Jewish state if the Democrats are in power, which I don't think too many reasonable people think, you're better off staying left-of-center and advocating to keep the U.S. left from getting as anti-Israel as the various European lefts.

In Europe, things are complicated for other reasons. European Jews probably do have more to fear from the left in their countries than do American Jews from the American left, but they also have more to fear from the right. If support for Israel comes from anti-Muslim sentiment that, in turn, comes from a desire to see a racially "pure" country/continent, or if it seems that way to Jews themselves, it would be tough for Jews to vote for anti-immigrant populists, however pro-Israel.

Micha said...

Oh, I think American and European Jews should vote according to their own opinions and conscience. If Israel is one of the issues that matters to them they should add it to the general list of reason to vote or not to vote for someone. I don't expect American Jews to vote Palin because she's pro-Israeli or not vote Obama if he seems less for Israel. I assume that if someone has egregiously anti-Israel views people shouldn't vote for him as a matter of conscious, just as they wouldn't vote for a racist even if they supported his fiscal policy.

Beyond that, I assume that if Palin had a benefit concert for African children and invited liberals, Jewish or otherwise, they would at least consider cooperating with her on this issue even if they agree with her on others.

What I don't want is a situation where Israel becomes a partisan issue in the US.

But from an Israeli point of view it would be bad policy to not be as welcoming of Palin's friendship as of Obama's because of her opinions, so long as she doesn't try to impose her opinions on Israel.

Some people like to point out that evangelicals are for Israel because they see it as a step in the 2nd coming. Since I don't believe in the 2nd coming, I don't see it as a reason not to accept their support, so long as it is not perceived as Israeli support of their opinions on gays or anything like that.

Phoebe said...

Micha,

"so long as it is not perceived as Israeli support of their opinions on gays or anything like that."

This is where I think these sorts of allegiances run into trouble. More so for American Jews, if the issue is evangelical support, but also for Israelis. When representatives of illiberalism end up for whatever reason happening to support Israel, it's a tough order to separate out their support from the rest of their platforms. They'll probably want something in exchange, or at least in order to support them, Jews in or outside of Israel will feel that they have to provide something close to full support. I mean, if you're really convinced that Palin (to stick with that example) is a friend of Israel, and you want to cultivate (as opposed to simply not outright reject) that friendship, then you have to reject the Democrats.

Britta said...

Micha,
I think your viewpoints make sense and are natural--anyone is going to view a foreign politician primarily through the lens of how that person's foreign policy affects one's own nation, rather than that person's domestic politics. Also, it's not like there are tons of nations supporting Israel, so I can see where the appeal is to take support where you can get it.

However, not that you were advocating this, there comes a point when someone's general repugnance outstrips any benefit their support for you might provide. To take this guy as an extreme example, he has no problems with Jews as long as they're extremist nutbags who share a desire to exterminate Muslims and no desire *not* to live in Israel. He has a problem with most European and American Jews, because they tend to be "Multicultural Marxists," aka, vote Democratic or center-left. Moreover, he also has problems with Jews who want to live outside Israel as Jews (those who are willing to convert to Christianity and totally assimilate can be tolerated in small numbers). If support for Israel is predicated on the belief that Jews should be allowed to live nowhere else, should his support still be welcomed by Israel? If his support is predicated on you accepting the dominance of the Israeli right wing or a radical pro-Jewish dictatorship, is that support worth it?

From a different perspective, as a Scandinavian, there have been a fair number of people claiming to "support" and "like" us. These people wax rhapsodic about the attractiveness of Scandinavians and the greatness of our culture, etc, however, that support actually comes at the cost of accepting living under a right wing dictatorship where those who dissent in any minor way are murdered, and with putting up with a bunch of policies which are both constraining to freedom and which most people would find repugnant. White supremacy looks *a lot* less attractive, even to the blondest blond, when one realizes the end result for those "lucky" racially superior folks is living in a totalitarian dystopian nightmare, where any sign of discomfort or discontent is rewarded with death. (And in response to Phoebe's question below, this is why this guy is more Nazi rather than just slightly more xenophobic than the average conservative Scandinavian. Plenty of Scandinavians feel like there's too much immigration, or that foreigners aren't willing to assimilate and should be deported, or even that there are too many non blonds on the street for their liking, however, garden variety xenophobes do NOT think that the solution is to eliminate liberal democracy and put Scandinavia under a military dictatorship of some fanatic where women are primarily there to produce blond babies and men are there to kill Muslims, and an extreme form of national chauvinist Christianity is mandatory. Garden variety xenophobes feel like Muslim immigrants are a threat to democracy and the famed "open liberal" societies of Scandinavia. They'd rather roll back the clock to the 60s and 70s, when they were peaceful, prosperous, and homogenous, not live under constant fear of death in a dictatorship run by some nut job. I don't know if you got to the baby farm part of his manifesto, but somehow forced procreation in a eugenics farm to make sure birth rates don't drop below a certain rate sounds like a dystopia out of a George Orwell novel, not something that Norwegians who don't like the sight of minarets would be all gung ho about.)

Phoebe said...

Britta,

I see how dictatorships and baby farms go above and beyond what the typical armchair bigot would advocate. But wasn't the typical Nazi supporter just an armchair bigot until someone came along and told them their dreams would come true - all the minarets, as it were, would disappear, and the peaceful homogeneous society would return - if only they helped get this new political party in power? Nazism and the like got their support from masses that were nostalgic for a half-century prior, give or take. And if those individuals had been asked, in 1925, what they thought of anti-Jewish genocide and life for themselves in a warmonger's dictatorship, they probably would have been horrified, and explained that they only just wanted to see fewer Jewish-owned shops, fewer Jewish bylines, etc.

Let me be clear: I don't see any reason to think Norway would be any worse in this regard than any other once-more-homogeneous country, except that there's already this myth of Nordic superiority hovering around, and extending across national borders, whereas in most of the world, whatever sense of superiority there is is only held in the country itself. And I certainly don't think this killer is about to mobilize Norway the way Hitler did Germany. What I'm wondering is only whether "neo-Nazi" is the appropriate thing to call this, uh, quacking duck, if there are also self-identified neo-Nazis whose platform is reasonably different from his. I'm totally OK with labeling him as such in order to stigmatize his actions, but the problem is that so much of the manifesto appears not nearly as radical as the actions the ideas apparently inspired. This is something we need to confront, given that we have non-genocidal, not even that extreme, conservatives skipping over the baby-farms angle and seeing their own views in what remains.

Anyway, re: your response to Micha, agreed that there's an awkwardness, for those who are Nordic-looking, of being "liked" for that quality. When it was first reported that the killer was "blond," this struck me as a premature attempt at explaining his motives, as though surely a blond killer was some kind of "Aryan" supremacist. And... in this case, perhaps so, but I'm sure most naturally-blond criminals have no such motivation.

Britta said...

Phoebe,
I agree that Nazism primarily came about in Germany through the support/lack of resistance from many a garden variety conservative or armchair bigot rather than because Germans are all foaming at the mouth genocidal maniacs, which is IMO why we shouldn't be lackadaisical about populist movements of resentment anywhere, because, even if very few people openly desire or delight in awful things, somehow awful things seem to happen.

With this guy, I guess my primary concern is that more of this could come. He possibly was not acting alone, and he seems disciplined enough to have thought out a pretty comprehensive plan of attack, if that's what his motives are. I'm also worried that stuff like that could trigger similar sorts of right wing stuff in the US or elsewhere, or that on some level he's a harbinger of a more violent period to come. I'm not horribly worried that Norway is going to turn into some racially homogeneous totalitarian dictatorship

On his actual beliefs, I'd say he's more like the actual Nazis than neo-Nazis, who tend to be uneducated thugs who primarily hate immigrants and Jews and like snazzy uniforms, but with nothing more coherent going on. This guy is much more ambitious, has a much more coherent agenda, and seems much more able to bring something about. Also, if you read Carl Schmitt (which I have to do for my quals), the parallels between this guy and the philosophical justification for an illiberal state as put forward by a Nazi are striking. What's throwing people off is that rather than directly following Nazism, i.e. using a Swastika, liking Hitler, virulently hating "the Jews," etc, he's drawing very similar ideas to create something updated and much more apropos of the 21st century. I think that makes him more scary than if a bunch of neo-Nazis had done this. This guy has tapped into current right wing hysteria, which in Europe and the US is primarily focused on Muslims. The parts of his manifesto that seem "reasonable" reveal that he's tapped into anxieties felt across "the West" and would be better able to exploit them. He also seems willing to resort to any violent means necessary to bring about his dictatorship, but rather than in a random way, in a controlled way. This is bad news for Muslims, but equally bad news for liberals or socialists, of which I consider myself to be one. I mean, in that sense, I think this is a different incarnation of Nazism that shares many of the key attitudes towards violence, democracy, the ability to decide which people deserve to live and die, the creation of an eternal, existential enemy, hatred of traitors stronger than the hatred of the other, etc., which really I think makes it more Nazi-istic than even all the blond hair rah rah stuff.

I mean, the extent to which this stuff has worked is that people are now starting to make points like, "Well, he is good looking" or "His views aren't all that extreme. Maybe Muslims are causing problems in Norway." or "If there weren't so many immigrants, then he wouldn't have done this" or "It's funny someone so mainstream would be so violent." (Of course, there are STILL people blaming brown Muslims. At a coffee shop the other day, I had the misfortune of sharing a table with a guy who, after creepily hitting on me, decided that, as someone with a Scandinavian connection, I would be interested in hearing that this guy was actually a set up as part of Obama's secret socialist Muslim plot to make violent rightwingers look bad.)

Phoebe said...

Britta,

This explanation of how the massacres could be a harbinger of a new variant of something akin to Nazism does, unfortunately, make sense. It's precisely that he's tapped into the dark side of what many otherwise-reasonable people think that's scary - the stuff about blondness is, when you think about it, the less scary bit, because that's not within the bounds of acceptable right-wing discourse.

My only quibble is that I'm not sure it means he's succeeded at anything that people say, "'It's funny someone so mainstream would be so violent.'" I mean, I've been saying a variant of this, because it really does seem like there's a discrepancy between how relatively mainstream the gist of his views is (leaving out the fact that we're talking about a manifesto-writing nut, who we might expect would throw in nutty extras) and how beyond-the-pale his actions ultimately were. But I think you've actually answered this in the earlier part of your comment - this is precisely what's frightening, the killer's fusion of ideas that are mainstream (complaining that academia's too liberal!) and a call to/an instance of violent action. Which also comes back to my point re: armchair bigots. I think what we've both sorted out here, unfortunately, is that this tragedy is actually more unnerving than it would have been had it been committed principally in the name of straightforward, extreme-right, neo-Nazi hate.

Withywindle said...

Britta: Oh, you keep baiting me. It's been a few years since I read Schmitt, but I recollect that Schmitt = Nazi is inexact at best. Fundamentally, I agree with him: the world is divided into friends and enemies, and every state makes that distinction ultimately. As I recollect, however, he says it is the liberal states, because based on principle, who are most likely to turn enemies into foes (or is it the other way round?), hence to be exterminated. I suspect Schmitt would say that our Norwegian killer was too liberal. Now, you doubtless have Schmitt at your fingertips, as I do not, but I just want to note for the readership that one can contest the interpretation of the name you are dropping.

Britta said...

Oh Withywindle,
Look, I think you and I see the world very differently, and possibly repeatedly butting heads isn't going to get anywhere but make Phoebe's comment space unpleasant. You like Schmitt, I find him scary. I'm not sure however, if I could think of any way that this guy could not be considered a Nazi.

Withywindle said...

Yeah, but he was a conservative Catholic in the 1920s when he wrote his interesting stuff, and (as I recollect the introduction to the works I read) he was interested in having the Weimar Republic use emergency powers to suppress the Nazis. When that didn't work out, he conformed with abandon. Sure, he was a Nazi, but it's difficult to fill your head with thinkers from after 1917 who weren't tainted with either Nazism or Communism to some extent. More to the point, I think he's correct about a good deal of stuff, regardless of his personal biography. I think there are formidable implications to his thought--"scary"--but not think it any less true.

Gil said...

Britta, in response to your recounting of the incident with the guy in the coffee shop and his Obama conspiracy theory: There are far more conspiracy loons looking to pin this on..Israel, Mossad, the Jews etc. Even from bloggers in a mainstream newspaper in the UK. Whereas most of them (but not all) are too clever to accuse Israel directly, those that are making insinuations are bad enough.

And the common element these people share? They are from the Left/Liberal (so called Liberal in my opinion) side of the spectrum. Not the Right.

Go figure.

Phoebe said...

Gil,

My sense is the main scapegoats here are... Muslims, whether at first, when that's who was blamed, or once we knew the story, with some conservatives blaming Muslims for being insufficiently assimilated in Europe in the first place. Of course it's wrong (and anti-Semitic, as I mention in the post) for "the Jews" to be brought into the discussion at all, but this, thankfully for those of us who are Jews, does not, thus far, seem to be any more than tangentially framed in that way. (Of course, if you want to link to the British newspaper blog in question, and whatever else, I might revise my opinion.)

Britta said...

Hmmm...the "just went with the flow" argument is a bit hard with someone who served as the attorney general of the Third Reich, wrote much of his stuff justifying the illiberal state (I just read "The Concept of the Political" published 1932) in the early-mid 30s, drawing on his pre-1933 later to justify the Third Reich post 1933, and refused denazification post-war, even though it meant never being allowed to teach in a German university again. If Schmitt is not an ideological Nazi, it's hard to see who would be.

Withywindle said...

I'm willing to concede the point. Doesn't make him wrong.

Withywindle said...

I mean, why were you assigned to read him if your profs didn't think there was something to him?

Phoebe said...

I don't know Schmitt, but in terms of authors being assigned, I was assigned Celine and Drieu la Rochelle (lucky esp. with the latter, for the diss), and that's not even getting into the still-more-offensive books and article I've read for term papers. Works by Nazi/Nazi sympathizer authors are presumably assigned all the time, because a) Withywindle, as you suggest, you have to skip much of an era if you include only those with resistance bona fides, b) sometimes these same people happened to produce fine work - literary, philosophical, etc. - when not being Nazis, something no one's entirely sure what to make of, and c) often enough, students are learning about the theoretical underpinnings of Nazism, in which case skipping Nazi-ish authors wouldn't make much sense.

That said, I didn't see anywhere that Britta was "assigned" this author. For my dept's quals, we pick them ourselves.

Britta said...

Phoebe is right, I chose to read him. By pointing out that he was a Nazi, I didn't mean to imply that he was wrong, and I find his philosophy frightening, not irrelevant or unimportant. In the words of one of my professors, just because Schmitt is evil doesn't mean he's stupid. Since I study an authoritarian state, I have to read theoretical literature on authoritarian states. Schmitt is probably the best sympathetic theorist of the illiberal state out there. I don't know his earlier work, I've only read the Concept of the Political, so it may be that it was less proto-Nazi-ish.

Miss Self-Important said...

At the risk of provoking a second Britta meltdown by asking this, I will go ahead and re-lodge Withy's question about how Schmitt demonstrates that Norwegian killer guy is a Nazi. Withywindle is right that Schmitt says that the logic of liberalism demands total annihilation of one's enemy (see pp. 54-55, 78-79 of CoP), since the enemy of the liberal state is not merely a specific military menace but an existential opponent of humanity or the entire world order. (Which leads me to wonder, incidentally, what you mean by "which is IMO why we shouldn't be lackadaisical about populist movements of resentment anywhere"--what should we do about them? Crush them early on? And how...?) To take the more limited, Schmittian view of war is to believe that one has specific, finite enemies at any given moment in political time, and that enemies in principle, like war in principle, can never be eliminated.

Moreover, CoP is not an enumeration of the tenets of Nazism. It contains nothing about how to set up even a generic totalitarian regime (no less a Nazi state), nor does it suggest the elimination of certain groups within the state or anything that you attribute to Breivik's non-neo-Nazism. You seem to be confusing what you call "the illiberal state" with "the Nazi state," as though Nazism were the only non-liberal possibility. That is precisely not Schmitt's argument. There are many non-liberal possibilities (the ancient city-state, the feudal state, etc.), and the Nazi ideology potentially shares more in common with liberalism than with what Schmitt sees as 'political' politics. (For example, if we follow Arendt's analysis from The Origins of Totalitarianism, Nazism seeks to create a universal world-state, it conceives of itself as a movement moved forward by the force of history rather than human agency, all of which is anti-political in Schmitt's conception.) His argument (see particularly pp. 69-78) is that liberalism tries to depoliticize what is essentially political, and in effecting this misguided strategy, it is setting the world up for total destruction.

So...where do you see Breivik in all this?

Gil said...

Phoebe, apologies for not being able to respond much sooner but I am only able to post sporadically.

It's true that in the immediate aftermath of the attack in Oslo, the media speculated that the perps were Muslim terrorists. Let's not forget that: 1. Norway had been mentioned by Islamist terror groups as a target due to the wars that Norway is a participant in; 2. At least one Islamist terror group had claimed responsibility, initially.

Now, no one - to the best of my knowledge - is blaming 'the Muslims' for the actual Breivik attacks. No one is claiming that a Mukhabarat (name for an Arabic intelligence agency) organisation is behind the attacks.

Yet, there are people on the Far Left (and possibly the Far Right if we accept that there is a Red-Brown alliance when it comes to the Jews), with their usual 'cui bono' nonsense who are looking for a Mossad/Zionist angle. Who are trying to link the motives for the attack to the calls for a boycott of Israel, the day before.

And these malicious insinuations wil stick in many peoples' minds together with the other bloodlibels (organ theft in Haiti, etc.) although I would posit that at present these views are certainly not mainstream. But we should always be aware of what at present is underneath the radar...This is one of the lessons I've learned from the events of the 19th and early 20th century that led to Hitler.

As to the link to the Independent newspaper: please see Jody McIntyre's post in the Independent Foreign news blog from this week. I'm not going to link to him as a matter of principle.

I do agree that in the wake of the attacks there is finger pointing at Muslims for being 'indirectly' responsible for the terrorist's actions. This is reprehensible.

There should be a debate on the lack of assimilation of immigrants from certain countries and the effects on communities, decoupled from the tragic events in Norway.

Kind regards,

Gil

Phoebe said...

Gil,

"we should always be aware of what at present is underneath the radar...This is one of the lessons I've learned from the events of the 19th and early 20th century that led to Hitler."

I'm the last person to say we should ignore it when Jews are being used as symbols. But my sense, in this case, is that that's happening relatively little. Certainly the fact that anyone not Jewish has even remotely connected this least-Jewy-all-around of incidents to Jews is in itself problematic, but the vast, vast, vast majority of what I've been hearing/reading has been about a) the xenophobic Christian right in Europe, b) how it relates to the equivalent in the States, and c) where multiculturalism-as-it-relates-to-Islam enters into it. If this particular killer is a harbinger of worse still, while that's unlikely to be "good for the Jews," it does not look like Jews, in this case, are the target of choice.

"There should be a debate on the lack of assimilation of immigrants from certain countries and the effects on communities, decoupled from the tragic events in Norway."

I'm all for keeping discussions of immigration, integration, etc. apart from those events, but I don't like where you're going with this otherwise, I suspect. First off, think about the word "assimilation" - Jews were long criticized for failing to assimilate in Europe, and once they did were criticized precisely for having done so - that assimilation was interpreted by anti-Semites as Jews nefariously taking over European societies. Next, consider the extent to which immigrants of Muslim origin in a place like (sorry, don't know much about Norway) France might very much want to assimilate, are frequently not even practicing Muslims, but are held back by massive societal xenophobia and racism. I mean, are families prepared to have Turkish or Moroccan in-laws?

Put these two items together, and what do you get? A good deal of the hostility against "Islam" in Europe is thinly-veiled xenophobia, and would no doubt just shift forms if the allegedly-desired levels of assimilation were achieved.

Phoebe said...

I will leave Schmitt-specific discussions for those who've read Schmitt, but will ask Britta (and anyone else who's interested): what is the advantage of calling an extremism that is forming/might form out of today's center-right, laced-with-xenophobia mainstream by the same term as we used for the specific version of this that emerged in interwar Germany?

Oh, and if I'm going to yank this thread back to the original topic, one thing I now realized I failed to emphasize enough is that we should never blame the minority group itself (in this case Jews) for seeing even distant world events from the perspective of how they impact them. I know that's already in the post, but I think with Jews especially it's important, because Jews are so often blamed for parochialism of this sort, as though our own disproportionate concern for things Jewish has somehow caused us to take center stage beyond our community. When really, every minority group has its lens, whereas Jews have probably the greatest history of people outside the group seeing everything through the lens of us.

Micha said...

I need to clarify a few things.

1) When I'm talking about being OK with people who like Israel for he wrong reason, including from the right, I am of course referring only to regular people or public people who are not terrorists, neo-nazis, support imposing dictatorship or anything like that. I'm talking about people who belong to the political right, not the neo-nazi right or terrorist right.

I know, politics being what it is, there is a tendency in the left and right to cast the other side in extreme terms. But still, there is a difference between a terrorist and right wing people whose opinions I don't like but who happen to support Israel.

2) I also want to stress that I'm not saying Israel or Jews should ally with any group. quite the contrary. I definitely think Israel should keep out and be kept out of it, i.e. politics of other countries, as much as possible. I'm not happy with the attempt of Republicans to make Israel a partisan issue.

But, the fact is there are people who like Israel because they have imaginary ideas of Israel, just as there are people who hate us for imaginary reasons. We have to deal with them somehow. and I think, up to a point, it is OK to accept their friendship, or at least be polite about it, so long as it is clear we are not endorsing their opinions. After all, with so many people hating us for irrational reasons and out of ignorance, I can live with some people liking us for irrational reasons. Although when I speak with people who have misconceptions about Israel, even pro-Israeli ones, I try to correct them.

By the way, it is worth checking out this site: http://www.friendasoldier.com/en/

These are young Israeli ex-soldiers (mostly liberal) who are willing to answer questions and correspond with people from all over the world. Reading the letters they get, you can find all brand of attitudes to Israel.

3) I don't think that the friendship of supporters from the right is less reliable, less trustworthy or has more strings attached to it than support from the left. Watching people from the left turning on Israel because they outgrew or became disappointed with a fantasy image they had of Israel, has caused me to distrust friends from the left as much as friends from the right.

4) I am very troubled with the attempt to associate Israel with the European and American right. (http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2011/07/25/norway-shooter-anders-breivik-s-zionism-in-line-with-pro-israel-european-right.html). Ultimately, it's no different than equating Jews with liberalism or socialism or any other ideology. Just like there are Jews supporting all kinds of different ideologies, left or right, so also there are Israelis who support different ideologies. It is no surprise that right wing Israelis would associate with right wingers in other countries. Making this a reflection of the country as a whole is as dishonest as equating Jews with a certain ideology.

In any case, Israel's shift to the right has more to do with kassam rockets and the failing of the left than with Glenn Beck.

Anyway, that's the end of my rant.

Gil said...

Phoebe, my comment about 'assimilation' did not refer to all immigrants of any particular religion. I have a problem with the manifestations of Islamism, not Islam or Muslims as such. My concerns are with the totalitarian mindsets of Islamism.

I fully understand and agree with your comment regarding the assimilation of Jews in Europe and where THAT got them.

By assimilation I mean a spectrum of activities where these can be defined positively (as the concept is traditionally understood) and also be defined negatively - and I was thinking about the latter when I used my clumsy language: Activities that should not be carried out because they negate the cultural foundations of the, UK for example, where the Judeo-Christian ethic means a lot to people. Those offensive practices that were not practised in, the UK for example, and are now either being practised or there are calls for them to be practised where they clash with the law of the land. If you don't do these things then you are 'assimilating' a la Gil!

My view is that as long as you subscribe to a 'live and let live' policy then you can do whatever you want. Once you start carrying out activities in the public arena that create a barrier between you and your fellow citizens, then the State should intervene as a matter of preserving public order.

Orthodox Jews don't go around wearing Burkas. I am still not clear as to the reason for this, though I have heard many explanations. I find the covering of a face offensive and uncivil. And we profess to be a Civil Society, do we not? It sends a signal that inflames people including evil murderers and allows totalitarian parties who pay lip service to Democracy when it suits them until they can call full time and shut it down.

Where is Yaakov Talmon when you need him...

By the way, I'm not sure what you mean about 'today's extremism forming/may form out of the 'center-right'? I wouldn't call the center-right extremist.

PG said...

Orthodox Jews don't go around wearing Burkas. I am still not clear as to the reason for this, though I have heard many explanations. I find the covering of a face offensive and uncivil. And we profess to be a Civil Society, do we not? It sends a signal that inflames people including evil murderers and allows totalitarian parties who pay lip service to Democracy when it suits them until they can call full time and shut it down.

Wow.

Your first sentence is factually wrong; some ultra-Orthodox/Haredi Jewish women in Israel DO wear burqas.

It takes a pretty hyper-sensitive person to be so grossly offended by something that's essentially a negation, a presentation of nothingness. Perhaps under a niqab there are things that others would find disturbing, such as the scars of an acid attack or the drooping facial muscles left by a stroke. In my opinion, a civil society is one in which I don't dictate what other women should wear, but instead support both legal and social norms that allow them to be as covered or uncovered as they wish.

As for "a signal that inflames people," this is of course echoing the justification for forcing women into burqas: the notion that men commit sexual harassment and assault against women because of the provocation offered by women's uncovered faces, hair or bodies.

Phoebe said...

PG,

Thanks. You've saved me the trouble, so I'll just add that it's a bit odd to start on "Judeo-Christian" values, considering that approximately five minutes ago, relatively speaking, it was "Christian" values being used as a proxy for keeping down and - Gil, I'm sure you'll agree with my assessment - eventually committing genocide against Jews. If your objection to 'Islamist influence' or whatever is limited to actual violence done in the name of Islam, and you're also concerned about other violence, fair enough. But cultural difference - meh. My thoughts on that front are a) that opposition to cultural difference, to 'failure to assimilate,' is some huge percentage of the time a mere proxy for full-on racism, as opposed to a response to actual behavior, and would remain constant (but change form) should the behavior change, and b) that if you genuinely do want to see assimilation, the answer isn't further Othering, but - to stick with the idea behind this post - to welcome your new ethnic-Moroccan SIL with open arms.

Phoebe said...

Gil,

"By the way, I'm not sure what you mean about 'today's extremism forming/may form out of the 'center-right'? I wouldn't call the center-right extremist."

This is coming from my back-and-forth with Britta about the extent to which Nazism, at least, began by exploiting unsavory but popularly-held notions (i.e. not by anything as out-there as announcing 'we're going to be a genocidal dictatorship that's continuously at war, who's in?') and only eventually showed its true colors, or morphed into something worse, however you want to look at it.

rshams said...

Phoebe,

"But cultural difference - meh. My thoughts on that front are a) that opposition to cultural difference, to 'failure to assimilate,' is some huge percentage of the time a mere proxy for full-on racism..."

I fully agree with you about how - for the real xenophobes - nothing European Muslims can do will be real "assimilation." But what about when the "cultural differences" in question are harassing gay couples, women treated as 2nd-class citizens, violent riots when Islam/Muhammad are insulted, etc., etc.? Obviously not all (or even most) Muslims do this, but a significant percentage do, enough so that not every critique of multiculturalism is a fig-leaf for real racism.

I should clarify that when I refer to the more problematic cultural differences, I really do mean the examples (and similar) listed above. Eating only halal food, wearing a headscarf, and building mosques do not - in my view - interfere with the freedoms of the rest of society.

Phoebe said...

rshams,

What you're describing falls under the umbrella of "actual violence committed in the name of Islam." I don't just mean 9/11. As long as one is clear that one means violence-in-the-name-of-Islam, and that one is not condemning the Muslims, it's possible to have that conversation.

Critiques of multiculturalism are just about racism when they're not just about violence, not even about headscarves, but about defining all darker-complexioned sorts whose family origin, however distant, is Muslim, as Other. Meanwhile, while I agree with you (and PG, but that may be another thread here...) that headscarves pose no threat, and that a liberal society ought to let women wear them, I don't think it's necessarily racist to think otherwise. Assuming, that is, that once a woman of Muslim origin scraps the headscarf, she's not then just discriminated against for how she looks - ethnically that is - underneath!

Phoebe said...

Micha,

I think we're all clear now that you don't mean accepting extremists as allies. Where you and I, at least, still disagree is that I think it's anti-Semitism to use "the Jews" as an idea, whether or not the idea is a positive one, and whether or not, in the immediate moment, this is beneficial to actual Jews/to the state of Israel.

Micha said...

That's too broad.

There are people or whole countries who are interested in dealing with Israel because of philosemitic ideas that are clearly mirror images of antisemitism: they believe Jews control America, the world, have diabolical influence etc. Hell, I assume that whenever an Arab country (and some others) is willing to have diplomatic relations with Israel, it's because they believe we control America.

But then there are people who might be sympathetic to Israel or even "the Jews" for a variety of reasons which are not purely rational: religious reasons, they think we have shared enemies, they don't like Arabs, they have an exaggerated idea of Israel's military achievements, they see similarities with their own historical experiences, etc. Now, some of these people might hold prejudices about Jews that could be considered antisemitic -- I don't know -- but I wouldn't want to paint all of them with the brush of antisemitism just as I wouldn't want to paint all the people who are not sympathetic to Israel for a variety of irrational reasons as antisemitic either unless I have good reason to do so.

Phoebe said...

Micha,

"Too broad" would be to adopt my definition strategically - obviously, if for whatever nutty reason, a country wants to ally with Israel, and that country isn't for some good reason itself a pariah, by all means, ally away. I'm talking more in terms of theory - what makes A but not B anti-Semitic? My concern isn't irrational support for Israel, but rather the extent to which Jews long have been and continue to be a pawn - a pawn named "the Jews" - in others' games. This itself strikes me as the root problem, but I don't know how to deal with it on the level of policy.

Britta said...

My real life has interfered with my blog commenting life, so I've had a long absence. MSI, Phoebe, Withywindle, etc, I don't have time to really engage the Schmitt argument, and as I am now in a foreign country have no access to my copy of CoP. However, I'll stand by my claims about Schmitt's philosophy being the underlying basis of Nazism, but you'll have to take a rain check.
Phoebe
1) on assimilation/xenophobia. Norway is a small, traditionally very homogeneous (to the point everyone looks vaguely related) and xenophobic country (to the point where in some rural areas people who move to a neighboring village will be viewed with suspicion and considered "outsiders," even if they live their whole lives there). Much of what Breivik wrote is pervasive in Norway in less extreme versions. I have relatives who've made comments to the extent of how shocking it is to see someone of a swarthy complexion on the street, or to see non-blonds in a kindergarten class, or the surprise they feel when they see a black person speaking Norwegian, and my family are mostly "Multicultural Marxists" who do things like work for the UN and the Nobel peace committee. In a place where looking, oh, central European makes you an outsider, being a Muslim of color makes it very hard to integrate into Norwegian society.

Britta said...

2) On identifying this specific guy as a Nazi, I'm not sure that's so important. In general, I think labeling things with pre-existing labels has limited importance, unless one is playing a point scoring game. Rather, it's more important to understand and figure out how to react to something. In addition, while there are many similarities to classic Nazism, there are also some key differences that makes the label not exactly a perfect fit (and Breivik really has very little in common with neo-Nazis, who themselves have not a whole lot in common with Nazism.) I think this is true in the US, where people know very little about Nazism beyond "they were the baddies" and using the term "Nazi" to describe something just means "pure evil, the most evilist evil thing ever."

Britta said...

Why I DO think it would be important to acknowledge similarities to Nazism is that I think it's important to recognize historical parallels to better understand something its possible implications. If we take an analytical, rather than moral judgment to the Nazism, we will see a highly idiosyncratic philosophy which existed as a pastiche of various strains of thought of the day, and which has some parallels with Breivik. When I say that it's important to recognize elements of Nazism within Breivik's philosophy, I don't mean to do it as an overly alarmist "OMG genocide!" sort of thing, but rather so that we can learn from the failures of 1930s Europe to respond adequately to Nazism, in part because of an inability to take the NSDAP and the possible implications of its philosophy (I don't think genocide was inevitable from the 1933 elections, things could have very likely gone a less tragic route, however obviously it was a potential), and a denial that, as extreme as things felt at the time, things could get more extreme. What makes me nervous is that there appears to be a similar rhetoric on the left in the US as there was on the left in the 1920s-1930s Germany--i.e., things are so bad that 1) they can't get much worse, and 2) if they keep getting worse, people will wake up and realize e.g. the Tea party is crazy, or Hitler is just a nut, etc. The idea that sooner or later a large proportion of your country will suddenly go, "oh never mind, I was wrong" isn't something to count on. I don't think the US really compares to the Weimar Republic in terms of violence, instability, etc, but we're getting closer. One thing which made Germany so much more dangerous was that it contained a large formerly middle class, which normally anchors stability, who had recently been impoverished, and hence was both angry and had nothing to lose. While the situation is the US is more gradual, the shrinking of the middle class here is unprecedented in an industrial country and shows no signs of slowing down. Considering that soon a great deal of people in the US will be much poorer than they ever have been before, I think that creates a volatile situation that feeds things like the tea party. There also seems to be a systematic denial on the part of our elites to acknowledge that very soon a very large number of people will be poor, and a sense that "this is America, things are great here" regardless of reality.

Britta said...

Finally, the willingness of the right to demonize Muslims in order to gain support is also scary. Again, I DON'T think this means "OMG Holocaust part 2!," just as I don't think the first holocaust was inevitable, even given Hitler's antisemitism, but I think that's in part what makes it more worrying. A nation of people, who by and large were not chomping at the bit to murder Jews ended up just going along with it, in part because by the time people were willing to get their heads out of the sand, the price of protesting murdering Jews was exorbitant. There were plenty of people who would have found genocide of Jews distasteful and even morally repugnant but weren't willing to put their personal lives on the line to change anything. If the choices are, "go about your business and not think about where your neighbor/shopkeeper went" vs. "make a fuss about something unsavory and be tortured & shot" most people would chose option 1. In a large part, the situation got here because Germans by and large weren't willing to admit they were the type of people to commit genocide. The "oh, stuff like that would never happen here" was far more common than "omg what is happening?" If the second attitude had been the case, if even a large minority of Germans had from the get go made their dislike of Jewish discrimination vocal, even given the extreme fanaticism and virulent anti-Semitism of swaths of society and the NSDAP, genocide probably could have easily been prevented. (A case in point is Denmark a tiny country surrounded by Germany with no army whatsoever, which from day 1 let the Germans know their priority was protecting their Jewish citizens. Because of the public and vocal fuss, even Danish Jews who didn't escape and were deported to Germany were not put in concentration camps but rather in Red Cross-monitored internment camps, and as a result survived the war. Again, there was nothing about Denmark which would have forced the Nazis to comply, merely a very vocal "we know what you're doing and you better not do it" was enough to save the lives of about 500 Danish Jews. If instead of about 5 million people in a tiny occupied country, at least 10s of millions of Germans had said the same thing, the effect would have been far greater.) Again, I'm not saying genocide is what I'm worried about now, but I am worried about growing extremism, the willingness of people to focus on what they like to hear from politicians and ignore the rest, and a refusal of the intellectual class to really even acknowledge the seriousness of the situation. I don't know WHAT the end result is going to be, but I'm sure it's going to be less desirable than if we took collective action to prevent the path we're going down. What happened in Germany is probably a worst case scenario and shouldn't be taken as the default, but more as a reminder of how bad things can get if we keep denying we have a problem.

So, this is a long way of saying, Breivik might be a single operative, he may or may not have an organization which may or may not be very powerful, but I think the danger of taking him less seriously than warranted is greater than that of taking him too seriously. I don't think calling him a Nazi is necessary or even accurate, but I do think we should recognize the relevance of taking lessons from that particular time period in history and perhaps acting differently.

Phoebe said...

Britta,

I agree that there's a resemblance to Nazism insofar as the manifesto-crime combination show how run-of-the-mill if unsavory views can motivate extreme action. But there doesn't exactly seem to be a big wave of people in Norway or elsewhere saying that they stand behind this guy. More like, people who do share his views - but not his violence - have denounced the violence but haven't up and decided to switch to being on the left. It's often this way, but here you have a case of, if this does turn out to be Mein Kampf II, those who saw it coming look like prophets, but if it's a lone nut who happens to be nutty yet center-right (with some idiosyncratic extremism mixed in, and I still can't get over the fact that he got cosmetic surgery to look extra-"Aryan"), then too much hysteria adds up to... if not exactly crying wolf, b/c the hysteria is sincere, then something not effective all the same. So unless you see this guy getting out of jail in three years and leading rallies, it's probably premature to announce a new Nazism is on its way. Of course, if that does happen, then by all means we should mobilize before rallies turn into more.