Monday, March 02, 2009

Roger Cohen brings nuance to the unenlightened Jewish masses UPDATED

Here, in simple terms, is why we can't have a reasonable discussion about anti-Semitism in this country:

1) Country X or Writer Y acts/writes in an undeniably anti-Jewish way.
2) Of 1,000 outraged Jewish leaders/intellectuals, two not-so-subtle thinkers among them, incapable of understanding anti-Semitism in any but its most notorious form, announce the arrival of the next Hitler.
3) Defenders of Country X or Writer Y say, 'Aha, Jews think X or Y is like Hitler, when in fact that's not the case at all! Ergo, X or Y is not anti-Semitic.'
4) Those same two out of a thousand respond to the defenders by calling them Nazi sympathizers.
5) The defenders respond that their Jewish are hysterics, because to face their many Jewish critics who aren't evoking Hitler to explain everything would require facing real challenges to their arguments.

Roger Cohen's latest is a clear case of Step 5. It's easy to claim to be the sole representative of nuance in a debate if you choose only to respond to your least nuanced opponents. And from what I saw of the comments to his last piece, I was far from the only one writing that the argument had some, uh, flaws, without feeling the need to compare 2009 to 1938.


Predictably enough, the comments to Cohen's drivel commend him for his nuance, balance, thoughtfulness, intelligence, courage (what with him being "Cohen"-oh, Roger Cohen we hereby grant you the Good Universalist Jew of the Year Award, for your bravery), reason, logic, honesty, guts, etc., etc. Expect a forthcoming post re: misuse of the term "nuance."


Nick said...

if you replace anti-semitic with "racist" or "sexist" or "homophobic," though (and change "Nazi" to something analogous for each of those categories), I'm hard pressed to say that anything different doesn't occur with regard to each of those categories. think, for example, about the recent NY Post spat.

the postmodernist in me says, this is the way the game is played in a media-drive society devoid of authorities -- it's hard to know who has good judgment and who's an extremist. Part of me really believes there is no hard and fast difference between the two -- but that it's always bad (in our society, at least) to be labeled as extremist, whether or not one is.

And, I think the Right has learned from watching once-extremist positions (e.g., pro-women, pro-gay) become mainstream, largely through such collective movements. And now they're fighting back by claiming that gays are "targeting" religious people. I think they know that by gathering enough outrage in return, they think they can make their positions seem mainstream, too. And, frankly, it's working.

My point being: I see something similar being applied by anti-Semitic forces in this country, too, though I doubt there's as much political organization.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I'm here via the Debate Link. I don't mean to be hostile, but I went and read your post on Cohen's original column and have to disagree.

Here you say he wrote in an "undeniably anti-Jewish way," in the previous post you identified his offense as claiming that "Iran is a decent place for Jews." Except he doesn't say that; he points out that they are marginalized in important ways. His argument as I read it was that Iran does not have, right now, a culture that involves systematic anti-Semitic violence against Jews, as the rhetoric of the country's leaders might lead one to expect. You think the Jews he quotes can't speak freely for fear of retribution, so the whole report is meaningless. For one, it's doubtful that a longtime foreign correspondent like Cohen would be naive enough to endanger anyone (notice he quotes one of the Iranian Jews by just his first name); and second, this isn't the only time Iranian Jews have talked to the int’l media about their relative safety in Iran. Here's a report from the Christian Science Monitor, another from the BBC.

The notion that all these journalists were somehow duped or willfully ignored the reality of the situation for Iranian Jews, or that Cohen's column was "anti-Jewish," is a bit hard to swallow. That said, this thing where folks only respond to the most extreme and off-base criticisms definitely happens - hell, I've seen it even in my own family.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

"Here you say he wrote in an 'undeniably anti-Jewish way,'"

No, I don't say that. I was referring to *Iran* with that phrase, and, implicitly, to a certain political science book I'm not going to discuss further at the moment, but not to Roger Cohen. Sorry if that wasn't clear.