Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Old/New Clash of Civilizations

In the Norwegian massacres we saw the latest salvo in the clash of civilizations– not between a “Judaeo-Christian” West, and an Islamism bent on taking over the world, but between a totalitarian vision built on fear of the other and feelings of religio/ethnic/cultural superiority, and a liberal vision based on the value of diversity and the necessity to bridge religio/ethnic/cultural divides. This clash of civilizations has been with us for some time: in the twentieth century it reared its ugliest head in the temporary triumphs of Nazism and Stalinism. But it is much older than that; it is found anywhere where a totalitarian worldview is merged with racial, religious, and ethnic prejudice. Tertullian once asked, “What do Athens and Jerusalem have in common?” Well, one thing is tribalism, with its concomitant xenophobia and intolerance of the other.

The reactions on the right to the Norwegian massacre have ranged from the sanctimonious to the nauseating. First there was the assumption that al-Qaeda was involved, since, heck, it’s always the Muslims who poison the wells in their headlong rush towards Armageddon, oops, I mean the messianic world order, oops, I mean the Rapture, oops, I mean the World Khalifate. If you don’t believe me, you don’t know Hebrew/Arabic/Latin, because what they say in their texts and in their cabals is very revealing – I can produce for you any number of ex-Muslims/Jews/PLO-terrorists/Mormons – who will reveal to you the secrets of the order. And frankly, friend, you are in denial – you simply don’t want to know how those Jews/Islamists/Christians are making for world domination.

When the perpetrator turned out to be a rightwing Norwegian and not an Islamist, there was the rush in the rightwing blogosphere to do damage control, because, God forbid, this unfortunate incident could turn out to be a setback for the forces of Good (e.g., Jews, Christians, Old Europe, Zionists, Israelis -- I actually saw that line of thinking in the talk-backs .) So the tactics are to condemn the violence (as perfunctorily and as non-comittally as possible, e.g., talk about “undiluted evil”), to mitigate the act (“lone wolf,” “violent Christian fundamentalist,” “psycho”); not even to mention the ideological motivation; and – equally as important – to move on and not to come back to the story, even though it is one of the lead stories of the week.

For a shining example of a MSM blogger who employs these aforementioned tactics, see the two posts here and here of Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin, who now has won my prize for the Dumbest Conservative Blogger of the Year, and, friends, that competition is no cakewalk.

Some social scientists like to distinguish between circles of support for ideologically-motivated violent crimes. At the center of the circle are the perpetrators, the so-called “lone wolves.” In the circle around them are the ideologues who preach violence, and those who do everything but preach violence. In the next circle are the ideologues who condemn the perpetrators in varying degrees, but who nonetheless support their ideological motives, and somehow mitigate the crime (strategies include appeals to “context,” distinctions between just and unjust grievances, injecting distractions such as, “Yeah, but what about suicide bombing?”)

There is usually no good reason to assign responsibility for an attack on innocents to the ideologues in the outer circle. There are many people who share the perpetrator’s ideology who do not condone the act, much less contemplate doing it themselves. I know rightwing ideologues who were initially shocked and dismayed at Yigal Amir and Barukh Goldstein’s actions; some even remained shocked. All people live with contradictory beliefs and self-delusions. Some of them can say that X deserves death and not mean that literally.

But although those who occupy the outside circle – let’s call them the Ideological tribalists – shouldn’t take the rap for the perpetrators, they are certainly responsible for their own bigotry, which itself is a moral wrong, whatever the consequences. Pamela Geller is not responsible for the Norwegian massacres, but she is responsible for the anti-Islamic hate she spews forth – hate that is a carbon copy of the anti-Semitic diatribes of Father Coughlin in the 1930s.

Europe faces serious questions, and different solutions have and will be tried. There are trade-offs in the amount of diversity a society can allow itself to have, and there are many degrees in the middle between enforced assimilation on the one hand and balkanization on the other. The Jerusalem Post editorial that declared that multi-culturalism in Europe has failed should remember how many Jews left Judaism in Europe because of the pressure to assimilate – and how toleration of diversity has allowed varieties of Judaism to flourish in many places. Sure, there has to be some balance – but to err in the direction of diversity befits the liberal society. What cannot be tolerated is hate-filled bigotry, whether Jewish, Christian, Muslim, or None of the Above.

There always are barbarians at the gates. In every generation they rise up to destroy us. The question is how do we fight against them? And even more pressing, how do we recognize them?

Religious/nationalist/ethnic fundamentalism of all kind, coupled with power, not to mention weapons, has been shown time and again to be deadly. Their adherents are the barbarian at the gates; and fighting them is the clash of civilizations. And liberal and conservative moderates of all stripes should ally to fight those barbarians.

I write this not just as a liberal but as an orthodox Jew. Nobody suffers more from religious fundamentalism than religious moderates.


Anonymous said...

Why was it nauseating to think that Al-Qaeda/Islamists might have perpetrated the massacre? I'm not saying it was right to immediately jump onto the bandwagon of assuming all acts of terrorism are the work of Islamists, but there have been people and groups arrested among such people in Europe.

As for the 'clash of civilizations', I've always thought the term was a misnomer in many cases. There's practically no 'civilization' that the tolerant and/or liberals oppose, at least in the practical sense. People like Breivik never really struck me as representing a society, but rather, a form of both nihilism and echo chambers of self-justification.

Hassan I said...

A very intersting blog indeed Mr. Haber. Thank you, I very much enjoy your reading what you write.

Anonymous said...

Excellent post Jerry.

dizzy said...

Thanks for that. It was refreshing. One criticism I would have is your named choice of 3rd "outer" circle ideologue. Pamela Geller is noisy but self-defeating. Someday she will forget to breathe.
But Geert Wilders[for example] is going from strength to strength, raising the rhetorical temperature & making it more likely that volatile elements will boil over.
And he achieviing influence beyond his borders.
Cheers dz alexander

Gert said...

Excellent. Best piece I've read on the situation by a long shot. I'll be reprinting this very shortly.

Lawrence Weinman said...

i find it interesting that as a "liberal zionist" it doesnt interest you to comment on 200,000 people on the streets throughout israel and 85% support for social justice (tzedek chevrati) and a welfare state (medina revacha) a historical movement which as yossi sarid writes is a revival of the ideas of katznelson and labor zionism. Seems liberal zionism begins and ends with "ha matzav" in your view

Jerry Haber said...

Lawrence, I am going to write a post about the social justice protests when I submerge from the work that has piled up from my day job. I am posting on the average of once a week now; expect something in the next two days.

Oy, I have a public?

By the way, I don't consider myself a liberal Zionist. I am a liberal and a cultural Zionist.

But liberal Zionists generally think that Israel's great mistake was the occupation of the territories, whereas I think its great mistake was coming into existence in 1948 the way that it did.

Gert said...


It’s precisely this kind ‘guilt by association’ that’s lead to the emergence and rise of Islamophobia in the US and Europe.

Maybe you’ll approve if I assume the next ponzi scheme will be committed by a Jew? After all, Bernie Madow was Jewish, was he not?

It’s fallacious thinking and deeply unhelpful.