Saturday, May 15, 2010

Hussein Ibish on Paul Berman on Tariq Ramadan

I haven't read the Berman, myself, but I think there's probably enough here to talk about the response from Ibish is a limited way. This interview of Berman may help set the stage. And here's Ibish:
Paul Berman's important and frequently brilliant, but also seriously flawed, new book "The Flight of the Intellectuals" (Melville House, 2010) is an old-fashioned polemic that takes aim at two main targets.
Ok. Notably, Ibish praises Berman for reading Ramadan carefully and reporting on Ramadan's views accurately, despite disagreements on how to characterize and interpret those views.

Here's what I want to address:
Berman's efforts to paint Ramadan as an anti-Semite and an apologist for terrorism are somewhat weaker, and although there is no fire exactly, there certainly is some smoke. On anti-Semitism, the direct case against Ramadan is based on a fairly shoddy article he wrote about French supporters of Israel that casually and in some cases wrongly leveled the accusation of ethnic preference and tribalism. It was a bad article, and a bad argument, but hardly prima facie evidence of anti-Semitism. If it is, the number of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim bigots in the United States is infinitely greater than anything I've ever imagined or claimed, and the standard for such an accusation really ought to be a lot higher than that.
This is defining away the middle, a common problem confronting all anti-racism. What does it mean to say there's "smoke" that is different from saying something is antisemitic?

And there's a curious phrase here, "prima facie evidence of anti-Semitism," that indicates that antisemitism is "what you are inside" (which can only ever be infered) rather than simply actions and statements. Yes, there're an awful lot of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim bigots in the US (and an awful lot of antisemites), but it's more important to talk about the power of that bigotry. The important point in talking about racism is the effect of racism on minorities, not the effect on the dominant group(s).

To be significantly wrong about the motivations of Jews in such a way, particularly if it is a peculiar inability to hear what Jews actually say about our own motivations (and this is probably a charge Ibish would accept), IS antisemitism. There is no need to prove that it is motivated by malice toward Jews. The behavior is in and of itself antisemitism. The effect of shutting Jews out of the public debate is powerful, dangerous, and real regardless of intention.

Here's what Berman wrote earlier in a lengthy piece (really, a short book) for The New Republic, Who's Afraid of Tariq Ramadan. If you never read it (or The Flight of the Intellectuals, which looks just like a longer version of the same), it's worth the time. Here's a sample:
Ramadan argued that, by intervening in Iraq, the United States "certainly acted in the name of its own interests, but we know that Israel supported the intervention and that its military advisers were engaged among the troops." More: "We also know that the architect of this operation in the heart of the Bush administration is Paul Wolfowitz, a notorious Zionist, who has never concealed that the fall of Saddam Hussein would guarantee a better security for Israel with its economic advantages assured." It ought not to require an exceptionally fine mind to detect the conspiracy theory at work in these remarks. I cringe at having to add that Wolfowitz, whatever his other sins, has never been known for his Zionism (though I realize that, given the confluence of z's, hardly anyone will believe me). Ramadan's description of the Jewish intellectuals in France pretty much harmonizes, by the way, with his description in Western Muslims and the Future of Islam of the American Jews as well--the American Jews who, en bloc, are said by Ramadan to form a "lobby" (the word has been internationalized) that advocates Jewish interests and the promoting of Israel in lieu of standing for "right, justice, and ethics," which is what he thinks that Muslims should do.
Yes, to assume that Wolfowitz is a Zionist when he isn't, simply because he is Jewish, is indeed antisemitism. Relatedly, to treat all Jews as a homogenous bloc "lobby" is indeed antisemitic. To emphasize a Jewish advisor as the "architect" of a policy -- practically erasing the much more powerful President, Vice President, and Secretary of Defense, not to mention the powerful support of the populace at large -- is indeed antisemitic. And to suggest that Jews act selfishly and lack ethics and a sense of justice is indeed antisemitic.

No comments: