Shabbat Diarist: The Guardian, Ismail Haniyeh and leftists beyond good and evil

“The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist” – a story by the French poet, Charles Baudelaire

“The Jews are the most despicable and contemptible nation to crawl upon the face of the Earth, because they have displayed hostility to Allah.”   – Sermon delivered by ‘Atallah Abu Al-Subh, former Hamas minister of culture, which aired on Al-Aqsa TV, April 8, 2011, translation by MEMRI

“Allah will kill the Jews in the hell of the world to come, just like they killed the believers in the hell of this world.” – Sermon delivered by ‘Atallah Abu Al-Subh, former Hamas minister of culture, which aired on Al-Aqsa TV, April 8, 2011, translation by MEMRI

“The Jews: killed the prophets…slaughtered the innocent…imprisoned our pious… NO PEACE WITH THE MURDERERS.” – Hamas communiqué, March 9th, 1989.

“The Nazi Jews tried different methods…Let everyone know that Hamas… is only against Jews and those twisted in their manner…” – Hamas communiqué, October 5th, 1988.

We Palestinians are reclaiming our destiny” – ‘Comment is Free’ essay by Hamas’ Ismail Haniyeh, June 8th, 2012.

My wife and I spent last Shabbat at the home of a friend – a half hour walk from our Jerusalem apartment. Among the nine other guests were several Israelis and a few visitors from abroad either studying in the country temporarily or considering Aliyah (immigrating to Israel).

Prior to the Shabbat meal (and the traditional pre meal-songs, prayers and customs), we all spent some time getting to know each other and the introduction of one young American woman (currently a writer in the U.S. who is evidently considering Aliyah) was particularly memorable.  

She explained to the group her short-term professional goal: to organize a groups of Israeli Jews to go to Afghanistan and offer local tribes and governments Israeli assistance in fostering their development.  There was a few seconds of silence in the room following the sincere expression of her cheerful ideal.

It’s been my experience that the custom on Shabbat is stay away from divisive political arguments and so the few queries which followed were asked respectfully and politely.  One guest queried her on whether her plan included protection for her group of erstwhile volunteers from U.S. and NATO forces. Another asked if she had thought through the immense security risks for Jews working in a state which is 99% Muslim – one still terrorized by sadistic Taliban terrorism. (There is reported to be literally one Jew left in the country).

Our Shabbat guest turned to us and said something to the effect of “Muslims aren’t especially antisemitic”.

Other than perhaps an eye roll, I maintained my composure and tried to change the subject, asking our friend about her academic background: what expertise did she possess which would prepare her for such an ambitious diplomatic undertaking?

It turns out she studied intercultural relations at a Harvard University.

I recount this story as it provides, it seems, a bit of insight into the Guardian world view and its intellectual and political salon: opinions and narratives about the regions they cover nurtured in a  hermetic bubble, informed a priori, free of investigation or critical thought and often impervious to contradicting facts or logic.

I am of course not discounting the benefits to advanced Western societies derived from the knowledge and (one would hope) critical thinking skills learned at universities.

However, it also seems that no other institution has done more to nurture the supremely dangerous notion that everyone in the world is “just like us”, and that it to prohibit people from imagining that there are those possessing malevolence which is impervious to our best intentions.

It seems far-fetched to even conjure a Harvard University professor imputing blind malevolence to Afghanistan’s Islamists, or sternly disabusing her students of the fantastical notion that intercultural dialogue could bridge the gap between Western and Taliban “cultures”.

Indeed, the cognitive barrier which prevents much of the Western left (including more than a few Jews) from understanding Islamist intolerance seems predicated upon several factors:

  • Western guilt: the post-colonial a priori (often arbitrary) determination of guilt and innocence, based on the West’s past (imperial) sins. Previously subjugated peoples seem never to lose their status as the “oppressed”.
  • Moral vanity: the desire of enlightened Westerners (often burdened with guilt derived from the dynamic above) to be seen as enlightened champions of those assigned as the the oppressed and downtrodden in the world.
And, finally, the focus of our discourse:
  • Moral equivalence and the rejection of “good and evil”: the faith that most, if not all, conflicts in the world are based on misunderstandings and that all cultures, nations, traditions, religions, are equal. One is no better than any other.

What my friend was saying, in effect, was not that there are no antisemitic Muslims, but rather that the argument that Muslims could be disproportionately antisemitic (based on any number of cultural, religious, and historical factors) flies in the face of everything she was taught about the world and all that she holds dear.

The Guardian’s near complete failure to inform their readers about the endemic antisemitism in the Middle East (and in the Palestinian territories in particular), as with their moral sympathy for even the most reactionary Islamist movements (per their decision to grant Hamas’ Ismail Haniyeh a ‘Comment is Free’ commentary), is similarly predicated upon the dynamics explained above.

The institution’s ideological orientation seems to be continually in search of moral redemption for centuries of European colonialism and racism, together with the related desire to finally be seen to be on the correct (progressive) side of history, along with incredulity in the face of even the most convincing evidence human malevolence.

The Guardian likely views Ismail Haniyeh primarily as a “Palestinian”. That is they seem him, and judge him, not as they would you or I, but as an abstraction. They project upon him the inherited mantle of colonialism’s victims (a status perpetuated by an ideological orientation which views the Israel-Palestinian Conflict similarly through this colonial paradigm).  

To the degree that they are forced to confront the extreme, homicidal antisemitism of Haniyeh’s Islamist movement, it can be rationalized away as an understandable (if, perhaps, unfortunate) response to the indignity of oppression and occupation.

Address Hamas’ concerns, liberate them from the shackles of Israeli tyranny and, according to the theory my friend and so many in the Western left would subscribe to, they will transcend their animosity.  There will be peace in our time.

This is the failure of the leftist intellectual establishment which my Shabbat interlocutor seems to share: the habit of mind which, a mere 66 years after the grotesque consequences of moral abdication in the face of an indescribable evil,  rejects the very notion of immutable (indeed insatiable) Islamist Jew hatred.

One need not devolve into essentialist arguments about Islam to believe those of the radical persuasion when they explain continually, clearly and without qualification their extreme malice towards not merely Israelis, but Jews as such – a racism not contingent on any specific set of political circumstances but, rather, one which forms the very foundation of their ideology.

Finally, there is a debate among those who battle Islamism over the question of why more genuinely moderate Muslims don’t speak out against this hideous perversion and proclaim loudly, boldly, courageously: ‘not in their name’. (See this Daniel Pipes essay for a brief answer to this question.)

The same query could be posed to the large numbers who identify with the genuinely progressive, anti-totalitarian and undeniably decent left. Why don’t more speak out against the grotesque distortion of this proud and moral tradition which appears daily on the pages of the Guardian and ‘Comment is Free’?

This is the vexing and supremely taxing question which haunts my thoughts as I engage daily in a cognitive battle against the cowardly, dishonorable and (often) malign activists at this “respectable’ journal.  

However, it is a debate in which the left, and only the left, needs desperately to engage.   

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