I was labeled a racist recently. Let me explain:
I found my way to a feminist blog called Bitch, PhD via a programming blog, Caustic Tech. As a professional programmer I find the irreverent rants and raves of Caustic Tech amusing. I sympathize with his impatience for the religious wars and grandiose claims of technologists. The jargon of computer hardware and software can easily hoist up hollow arguments or vaguely defined ideas. I was reminded yesterday that this is not limited to computing. The gibberish of inflated diction is a danger to many professions.
Yesterday I was reminded of one of the aspects of higher education I found unappealing while a student. I attended a small liberal arts college and greatly enjoyed the intellectual freedom of its environment. However, over the course of four years I grew tired of my professors' tendency to reward students who were proficient in memorizing and citing the ideas of others. I found plenty of original thought on campus. But I also found a kind of arms race on campus- and in academia generally- where students try to best each other in the volume of texts they could digest and cite extemporaneously. As if it mattered who else has articulated an idea one is defending, I thought then. It is this tendency of ambitious students to hastily dismiss the ideas of fellow students who do not see a need to heavily cite their arguments which leads to the formation of academia's Ivory Tower.
Yesterday I read Bitch, PhD's blog. I find her blog interesting and her writing generally very lucid. Yesterday's post, however, left something to be desired. The subject matter was interesting but her writing murky. She outlined a few competing perspectives on the Israeli / Palestinian conflict; cited an editorial cartoon and numerous essays; expressed frustration at the difficulty of finding a safe opinion (one not co-opted by bigots); then concluded without expressing her own.
If, like me, this is a subject you tend to avoid in part because you don't feel well-educated about the big strategic/political picture, you'll probably, like me, find the links in this post interesting reading.
I don't know that I'm in agreement with the argument in Mearsheimer and Walt's The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy that Israel is at the center of U.S. policy in the area, but I think it's pretty clear that it's one of our top interests there. I'll leave it to other people to discuss the merits of their argument as argument, since it's well outside my area of expertise.
I recognize this as a trait of the professional student. Bitch, PhD appears afraid to express an opinion on the subject merely because she has not read enough books and cannot bolster her opinion by citing authors of sufficient gravitas. In my mind this is no reason to withhold an opinion. An opinion should be personal. It should not be a regurgitation of other people's thoughts.
I read the visitors' comments and was dismayed to find a load of platitudes, gibberish, and external references.
My concern is with the welfare of children, indiscriminately - not only the Jewish ones... There's a diary entry up over at The Agonist that attempts to philosophically explain the anti-enlightenment attitudes prevalent today... A second point, which may seem nitpicky, but I care about language: Arabs are "Semites" too... Imperial Rome was not a democracy... It doesn't follow that Israel is analogous to the European settlement/invasion of the new world... The tax dollars argument? So beside the point... There is a direct connection between the actions of the American government and the people governed. The "direct connection" I'm talking about relates only to debating the issues... What I was trying to say is not that the race/religion/ethnicity = nation/state link is unproblematic, or that one can't point out facts that demonstrate that, for instance, "race" doesn't exist. I suppose I had in mind more what Anderson called, a while back, "imagined communities."
You need to read some Chomsky... And some Robert Fisk... Also read some books by Tom Segev... Benny Morris... Haaretz... Norman Finkelstein... Cole... Please- anybody but Finkelstein... Edward Said...
What the hell do all these words mean? Your guess is as good as mine. If only I had read all of the authors cited. Maybe I would understand the gibberish? Or at least be capable of producing my own. Brushing my ignorance aside, I decided to post my thoughts. My own thoughts. From my brain.
I encourage people to step away from debating political moves and counter-moves and look at the cultural issues at play in the Middle East. One very large cause of the turbulence in the Middle East is the sad state of Islamic culture today.
Islam has not progressed through anything resembling Christianity's Protestant Reformation or Enlightenment. The Christian West has organized itself into nation states based upon a social contract that recognizes individual rights, encourages literary and scientific inquiry, and is respectful of religious belief. The West has largely resolved the question of how the practice of religion relates to the governing of a civil society and the explorations of science. The peoples of Northern Europe recognized that the claims made by organized religion were not possible to verify and could be understood only with faith. Seeing that the dogmatic faith required by religion tended to limit people's imagination and ingenuity for solving the problems of a large population, leaders of the West decided to fight against traditional religious domination of the state. Brave men and women fought and died to establish a new form of government whose social contract was not centered around obedience to religious dogma. This was a struggle within Western Christian culture. The victory of those whose minds tolerated free thought has led to the formation of societies who have supported and encouraged scientific inquiry. The rigorous thought required by science has greatly improved our understanding of the world and is the basis of the industrial and technological advances that power the economies of the Western countries. The West has put a man on the moon for goodness sake! This has a lot to do with the population overcoming its fear of free thought and slowly taking responsibility for individual moral judgments.
I don't believe that Islamic culture has progressed this far. The fear found in Islamic culture of the polyphony of competing voices and the requirement of science to admit doubt and uncertainty on some issues has prevented their peoples from progressing in the modern world at the same rate as the West. Islamic culture is falling further and further behind Western culture because the economies of One Idea- what the clerics allow- cannot possibly compete against the economies of cultures of many ideas. This cultural deficit produces shame and rage in their populations. Seems to me that Israel is fed up living next to a people who- because of this fear of free thought- will not focus on science or civics, and cannot manage to govern themselves. Israel is not willing to let such a rat's nest fester on their borders.
I was promptly labeled a racist and blacklisted from the site. I guess I didn't cite enough authors of high academic repute to be allowed to voice such a strong opinion.
Erik that is a bunch of racist, western elitist BS. I’m surprised anyone would attempt to make a white man’s burden argument here.
Erik's comment (now deleted on grounds of racist obnoxiousness) was not only racist, it was factually inaccurate. I was almost sorry to delete it instead of pointing out the errors. It always surprises me when people believe that Islam and science/reason have nothing to do with one another--'tis ironic when folks make that claim in order to accuse others of ignorance.
I wasn't going to dignify this with a response, but the more I think about it, the more I have to affirm the principal of naming the oppressor and the oppression.
If you can read the above quote and not be shamed and enraged to live in a world where we still allow fascism to exist, then you don't have my sympathy for any of your concerns... As for this idea that the Israelis are somehow the last redoubt of civilization and culture, it's more nonsense. You can keep your false gods and your force-propped authority and your lousy "culture" (as if the filthy detritus of capitalism could ever merit the term). To quote an old slogan:
These are not my troops.
This is not my country.
My nationality is Worker.
My heritage is Rebellion.
My creed is Freedom.
My ancestors are George Jackson and Assata Shakur, Emma Goldman and Louise Michel, John Brown and Harriet Tubman, Nestor Makhno and Lucy Parsons. Someday, we'll live in a world where everyone has equal access to our common material inheritance, and an equal chance to live up to their full potential as free human beings. Zionism, Judaism, Islam, capitalism, Christianity, fascism, racism and all the other errors of ideology will perish. Until then however, count me on the side of the people fighting back against their oppressors, wherever they may be and whatever they may look like.
Well, it requires faith in a kind of transcendent hippie dogma to ignore human behavior and believe in that utopia. The commentators and Bitch, PhD herself call me names (racist, elitist, fascist) but do not address the issues of culture I raise. I made one last futile attempt to defend my argument. Again, with my own thoughts. Not citations from academic journals or socialist manifestos.
I understand that it is your website and you can choose which comments to leave and which to remove.
I think you are too harsh to call my comment racist. My point stands. Ask yourself how many people from an Islamic background have won a Nobel prize in the physical sciences? I do think there is a connection between a culture's willingness to tolerate free speech and scientific inquiry and that culture's social and economic progress. No doubt the political maneuverings of the West have affected Islamic nations. But my point is that the West is in a position of strength- for good or ill- because of its willingness to tolerate free thought and uncertainty. I think this has a lot to do with the Reformation and the Enlightenment. Nations look out for their own interests. Therefore one cannot found a nation on the proposition that the rest of the world will stay out of one's affairs. That is naive. One must expect invasion from outsiders. The point is how to develop within a population the means to provide for its people and defend against external intrigue. This is a cultural battle the West began to win at the Protestant Reformation.
Does this make me racist? I'd like to hear people's thoughts. But it's your website, your prerogative.
My comment was promptly deleted. I can't help myself. I must throw in one reference as an homage to the academic technique.