Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Perils of Being British

A British writer tries to figure out why he (by his own admission) is obsessed with Israel. After ruling out anti-Semitism (based off a deep searching of his own soul and the fact that He Has Jewish Friends (tm)), he thinks he's got it nailed: Unlike Zimbabwe, North Korea, Sudan, Tibet, or Burma, Israel is basically "an English county planted on the Mediterranean shores."

Oh joy! As the Judeosphere points out, this is scarcely anything more sophisticated than undisguised Orientalism. Burma and Sudan, they aren't civilized enough to care about. But Israel, why that's almost like Britain -- that is, if Britain was run by "burglars and con-men". It's all the joy of liberal guilt-induced self-flagellation, except the wounds show up on someone else's body. How grand.


N. Friedman said...


Orientalism - as in Said's theory - is a nonsense theory. However, what we really have hear is a form of racism regarding non-Western people. The great scholar of the Islamic regions, Bernard Lewis, wrote to the point at hand some years ago:

There is some justice in one charge that is frequently levelled against the United States: Middle Easterners increasingly complain that the United States judges them by different and lower standards than it does Europeans and Americans, both in what is expected of them and in what they may expect—in terms of their financial well-being and their political freedom. They assert that Western spokesmen repeatedly overlook or even defend actions and support rulers that they would not tolerate in their own countries. As many Middle Easterners see it, the Western and American governments' basic position is: "We don't care what you do to your own people at home, so long as you are coöperative in meeting our needs and protecting our interests."

The most dramatic example of this form of racial and cultural arrogance was what Iraqis and others see as the betrayal of 1991, when the United States called on the Iraqi people to revolt against Saddam Hussein. The rebels of northern and southern Iraq did so, and the United States forces watched while Saddam, using the helicopters that the ceasefire agreement had allowed him to retain, bloodily suppressed them, group by group. The reasoning behind this action—or, rather, inaction—is not difficult to see. Certainly, the victorious Gulf War coalition wanted a change of government in Iraq, but they had hoped for a coup d'état, not a revolution. They saw a genuine popular uprising as dangerous—it could lead to uncertainty or even anarchy in the region. A coup would be more predictable and could achieve the desired result—the replacement of Saddam Hussein by another, more amenable tyrant, who could take his place among America's so-called allies in the coalition. The United States' abandonment of Afghanistan after the departure of the Soviets was understood in much the same way as its abandonment of the Iraqi rebels.

Another example of this double standard occurred in the Syrian city of Hama and in refugee camps in Sabra and Shatila. The troubles in Hama began with an uprising headed by the radical group the Muslim Brothers in 1982. The government responded swiftly. Troops were sent, supported by armor, artillery, and aircraft, and within a very short time they had reduced a large part of the city to rubble. The number killed was estimated, by Amnesty International, at somewhere between ten thousand and twenty-five thousand. The action, which was ordered and supervised by the Syrian President, Hafiz al-Assad, attracted little attention at the time, and did not prevent the United States from subsequently courting Assad, who received a long succession of visits from American Secretaries of State James Baker, Warren Christopher, and Madeleine Albright, and even from President Clinton. It is hardly likely that Americans would have been so eager to propitiate a ruler who had perpetrated such crimes on Western soil, with Western victims.

N. Friedman said...


The massacre of seven hundred to eight hundred Palestinian refugees in Sabra and Shatila that same year was carried out by Lebanese militiamen, led by a Lebanese commander who subsequently became a minister in the Syrian-sponsored Lebanese government, and it was seen as a reprisal for the assassination of the Lebanese President Bashir Gemayyel. Ariel Sharon, who at the time commanded the Israeli forces in Lebanon, was reprimanded by an Israeli commission of inquiry for not having foreseen and prevented the massacre, and was forced to resign from his position as Minister of Defense. It is understandable that the Palestinians and other Arabs should lay sole blame for the massacre on Sharon. What is puzzling is that Europeans and Americans should do the same. Some even wanted to try Sharon for crimes against humanity before a tribunal in Europe. No such suggestion was made regarding either Saddam Hussein or Hafiz al-Assad, who slaughtered tens of thousands of their compatriots. It is easy to understand the bitterness of those who see the implication here. It was as if the militia who had carried out the deed were animals, not accountable by the same human standards as the Israelis.

Thanks to modern communications, the people of the Middle East are increasingly aware of the deep and widening gulf between the opportunities of the free world outside their borders and the appalling privation and repression within them. The resulting anger is naturally directed first against their rulers, and then against those whom they see as keeping those rulers in power for selfish reasons. It is surely significant that most of the terrorists who have been identified in the September 11th attacks on New York and Washington come from Saudi Arabia and Egypt—that is, from countries whose rulers are deemed friendly to the United States.

N. Friedman said...

Oh, and by the way, I accept the irony of using the "racism" word after arguing that the Haredi case is not racial. However, I stand by both points and note that you did not bother to respond to evidence showing that the race argument about the Haredi was deeply flawed.

joe said...

This kind of thing reflects far more on attitudes towards the Burmese and North Koreans than anything else. Troubling, but not very effective when offered as a "defense" of Israel, which may not be your point.

Rebecca said...

Also, the irony of this guy's argument is simply stunning. Israel is not "an English country" - the British did their best at the end of the mandate to prevent the creation of the state of Israel!

And like many others, he seems to believe that all Israelis are from Western Europe, rather than understanding that a large part of the Israeli Jewish population is from or descended from Jews from the Middle East and the former Soviet Union.