Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Why are people so soft on M&W?

There's a great passage from a Martin Kramer article I found through a posting at Engage:
Frankly I'm astonished when even skeptical reviewers of the book preface their criticisms by saying that the authors have done us some sort of service by opening the discussion. Can you imagine them saying the same thing about a book on intelligent design? That the details are preposterous, but the basic proposition deserves to be discussed seriously by serious people? Yet here we have a thesis, insisting that U.S. foreign policy is run by Zionist intelligent design, and Mearsheimer and Walt have made it a perfectly legitimate subject for academic discussion and tony dinner party conversation. If you say otherwise, you're accused of "stifling debate."
I'm astonished, too. And with a number of other things critics have said of M&W to avoid being accused of "stifling debate" as well. Also via Engage, this article from The Daily Princetonian includes one such reaction:
In an open letter sent to the event's organizers on Monday, Wilson School professor Aaron Friedberg cast aspersions on the book's academic merit. "[T]his is not a work of objective academic analysis but rather a one-sided and tendentious polemic," he wrote, also questioning the broader implications of the authors' portrayal of a large, unduly influential Israel lobby in the United States.

"Much attention has been paid to the question of whether the authors or their work are in any sense anti-Semitic. I do not believe that this is relevant," he said. "Whether out of ignorance or a desire to court controversy, the authors have chosen to make use of language and imagery similar to that deployed in the past by avowed anti-Semites."
I am truly grateful to Professor Friedberg for the strong language he does see fit to use, but I wonder how one can characterize a "one-sided and tendentious polemic" that "make[s] use of language and imagery similar to that deployed in the past by avowed anti-Semites" as anything but antisemitic. Friedberg uses bizarre, rhetorical acrobatics to avoid that precise formulation. It would be one thing to temper criticism by noting that M&W do not evidence any personal animosity toward Jews (I haven't seen any evidence that they do), but history includes plenty of blatant racism that was not characterized by animosity. Rudyard Kipling's "White Man's Burden" expressed anything but animosity. On the right, there is still an unwillingness to acknowledge that racist topoi are racist per se regardless of intention, but the left is uniquely reluctant to accept this when those topoi target Jews.

This is another example of what I complained about with the Amis affair - the attempt to characterize what people say by who they are rather than by what they actually say - the circular definition of racism as that said by racists, which precludes any meaningful discussion of what racism is.

The failure to treat marginal ideas as truly marginal can lead to their seeping in if they're repeated often enough. But I'm also concerned that some Jews - like me, I have to admit - desperately long to feel camaraderie from people who can see clearly what's going on.

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