Friday, June 24, 2016

Brexit and EU failure

The 52%-48% win for Brexit in the June 2016 referendum has already been framed many ways, but what should be an obvious one (though for many it will not be) is how much of a failure for the EU this represents.

In June 1975, a deeply divided Labour Government held a referendum on the UK's membership (then 2 years old) in the European Community (EC) as it then was (known colloquially as "the Common Market"). The then recently installed Conservative Opposition Leader, Margaret Thatcher, campaigned strongly for the UK's membership. The UK electorate voted decisively for membership, 67% to 33% with a 65% voter turnout.

In June 2016, a deeply divided Conservative Government holds a referendum on the UK's membership of what is now the European Union, the UK now having been a member of its various incarnations for 43 years.  The recently installed Labour Opposition Leader, Jeremy Corbyn, campaigns (perhaps somewhat tepidly) for the UK's continued membership. The UK electorate votes narrowly for leaving, 52% to 48% with a 72% turnout.

If one ignores the sort of special pleading which, for example, suggests the 1975 UK electorate was terribly wise and the 2016 UK electorate deeply stupid, then 41 years of further experience of the EU had shifted the opinion of the British electorate by 19 percentage points against the EU. That is a considerable shift in opinion.

The EU of 2016 does, and aspires to do, far more than the EC of 1975 did: clearly, more is, in fact, less; at least in terms of inspiring popular support and confidence--quite a lot less. Though that large shift in opinion will be treated as a failure of the electorate, not of the glorious European project, by many of the Great and Good who supported EU membership. Which, of course, will be an indicator of precisely why that shift in opinion has taken place. Significant majorities in provincial England and Wales has discerned that the European Project has become deeply intertwined with a deep contempt for folk like them and they have given the finger in return.

It is worth remembering that many of the same Great and Good who took the UK's continued membership of the EU as the only proper policy were the same folk who thought it desperately important that the UK join the Euro. They were wrong on that: they will be wrong on this, and for the same reasons.

It is true that the narrowness of the result, and that Northern Ireland and Scotland voted strongly to stay in the EU, could presage problems ahead for the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. That immigrants seem to have voted strongly for Remain is perhaps another point of pressure. If, however, after a likely somewhat rocky transition period, the UK actually prospers, particularly relative to the EU, then the divisions will likely fade.

An outcome I am reasonably confident will occur. The reason for my confidence in this is quite simple: the UK has voted to improve the accountability of its institutions. The democratic deficit of the EU has given it a much less accountable governing structure which will continue to produce policies which reflect that lower accountability. Particularly as the EU tries to do too much with too little commonality between its societies and economies.

The Euro has been a serial disaster because it is emblematic of all these problems -- too little accountability, trying to do too much across insufficient commonality. Even just in economic terms, as Paul Krugman's rather nice paper The Revenge of the Optimal Currency Area (pdf) points out. Nor is Britain the only EU country where popular approval of the EU is problematic.

Whatever political calculations may have been involved, David Cameron PM is to be congratulated for giving the British people a clear say on such an important issue. It is regrettable that it has also ended his Premiership, but given that the Tory electorate voted so very strongly for Brexit, and given the contestable intricacies involved in negotiating Britain's leaving of the EU, and the difficulties of the transition, it is understandable that he has decided he is not the person who should be leading either Britain or the Conservative Party through what is to come.

We live in a time of elite echo chambers and a plethora of techniques for discounting (indeed, treating with contempt) the concerns and language of ordinary folk. So it is unlikely that many who really should will see how much a failure and condemnation of what the EU has become this result is. But that is precisely what it is.

[Cross-posted at Skepticlawyer.]

Monday, June 6, 2016

The Donald is not a fascist; but the accusation itself brings dangers

Further to my previous post, the centrality of the ennobling effects of struggle and violence to fascism is demonstrated by its history, structures and rhetoric, but a particularly nice example of the latter is given in The Doctrine of Fascism, by Benito Mussolini and philosopher Giovanni Gentile:
Fascism does not, generally speaking, believe in the possibility or utility of perpetual peace. It therefore discards pacifism as a cloak for cowardly supine renunciation in contradistinction to self-sacrifice. War alone keys up all human energies to their maximum tension and sets the seal of nobility on those peoples who have the courage to face it. All other tests are substitutes which never place a man face to face with himself before the alternative of life or death. Therefore all doctrines which postulate peace at all costs are incompatible with Fascism.
Whatever the The Donald is pushing, it is not that. The "The Donald as crypto/proto/actual fascist" is resorting to the rhetoric of denunciation: as such, it is a congenial substitute for understanding, and even more, a substitute for seriously grappling with, the phenomenon of The Donald (even just at a rhetorical level) and the support he has been able to generate.

The Hobbesian trap
But a deeper problem with misdiagnosing The Donald as fascism redux than getting the phenomenon wrong is that "The Donald is fascism now!" raises the political stakes in a dangerous way. It is already being used to justify violence against Trump rallies and supporters. (Bernie Sanders has made a particularly forthright denunciation of that violence.)

This is a dangerous upward (or, if you like, downward) spiral. But it is just the next step in a longer term pattern. The problem with virtue signalling via one's moral positions (or, more accurately, moralised positions) is that if one signals virtue by holding that X, then one must signal vice if one holds not X. Demonising those who disagree is a natural consequence of such virtue signalling.

For being honest about those who disagree gets in the way of the ludicrous demonising (in order to self-elevate one's moral splendour) of what are, taking a longer term and more global view, often quite minor differences in outlook. The demands of moral status seeking regularly get in the way of the demands of accuracy and understanding. The Donald is just providing a more intense example.

Political correctness is often justified as "speaking for the underprivileged". The fact that its adherents have generated increasing opinion conformity in the milieus they dominate (including entire industries) and have had great success in narrowing the range of acceptable opinion in the public space demonstrates how much it is an expression of power and dominance, not any sort of "under-privilege". As with the (by now, ludicrously false) pretence of expanding civility, the claim to speak for the under-privileged has long since become far more status-seeking justification than reality; a secular religion-substitute piety.

Of course, like the rhetoric of denunciation (sexist, racist, homophobe, islamophobe, etc), such justifications become a great way of not dealing with problems and of blinding their adherents to how oppressive others can find their shrieking intolerance. It is part of their relentless "othering" of those who fail to conform to their moral, intellectual and language taboos which is also, as these things so often are, a pattern of self-blinding. Thus, the rhetoric of denunciation that the Virtuous are so addicted to is never, of course, hate speech, for "hate speech" is only ever done by Bad People and clearly the Virtuous are, by definition, the Good People. Even though they regularly used terms which imply or state that their opponents are, in fact, hateful. The accusation of "hate speech" has become another vehicle for delegitimising dissent, and another sign of the addiction to the rhetoric of denunciation.

Interwar analogies
Moreover, the accusation of fascism now! has implications regarding causality one doubts those so eager to bandy it around have considered (or are even aware of). Some are currently invoking the rise of Adolf Hitler to power in Germany via electoral success as some sort of analogy to The Donald. Econblogger Scott Sumner commented:
... don’t make the “to know all is to forgive all” mistake. We could sit down and discuss all the reasons why millions of Germans voted for Hitler, and perhaps we could figure it all out. But that doesn’t excuse their votes in a moral sense.
Yet it is still a good question–what caused that to seem a sensible choice to lots of voters? Why were so many votes up for grabs in that way?

In fact, the interwar examples provide fairly clear key factors: how bad was economic stress?, how threatening did the local Left seem? basically sorts interwar Europe into those countries which experienced power-seizing Fascist/Nazi/Authoritarian Right outbreaks and those which did not.

The economic stress issue is fairly straightforward--if sufficiently severe, economic stress tends to undermine existing politicians and their political Parties while making outsiders look much more worth considering as vehicles for making things better. There was considerable economic stress immediately after World War I (when Mussolini achieved power) and during the 1930s (when Hitler and Franco did).

Spain had a much less severe 1930s economic experience that Weimar Germany; but it also took a civil war for Franco to achieve power. 

The issue of how threatening the local Left seemed is a bit more complicated. A large Leninist Party (1920s) or Stalinist Party (1930s) was obviously threatening--particularly if conventional politics was looking unsuccessful and ineffectual. There was very little for any voter with any religious attachment or property which was not threatened by a Leninist or Stalinist takeover--not life, property, religion, family, freedom.

Italy, Spain and Germany all had significant Leninist or Stalinist Parties at the time of the Fascist/Nazi/Authoritarian Right seizure of power. That the democratic republic in Spain had only been recently established, and the failure to suppress political violence (including the mainstream Catholic Opposition leader being assassinated), added to the sense of threat and uncertainty.

But how the mainstream centre-left was behaving was also important. In particular, how they seemed to rural voters, as rural voters provided break-through mass support for Mussolini, Hitler and Franco. Basically, in the countries with Fascist/Authoritarian Right/Nazi breakouts, the mainstream left largely ignored rural voters while doing little to allay suspicions that they were (also) in favour of rural collectivisation--i.e. stripping peasant farmers of their property. Which made rural voters ripe for recruitment and/or mobilisation by Mussolini, Franco and Hitler.

So, countries without large Leninist or Stalinist Parties did not have major Fascist/Authoritarian Right/Nazi breakouts in the interwar period. (One can exclude examples of normal political instability, such as royalist seizures of power in relatively new states.)

Where Leninist or Stalinist Parties were more than minor affairs, countries which also had mainstream centre-left Parties who did not seem property-threatening to rural voters, also did not generate equivalents of the Fascists or Nazis--except as fringe movements--or Authoritarian Right military seizures of power.

If you want to invoke interwar analogies, they may not lead where folk like. Are there any disaffected groups among current voters? is a good question to ask. How threatening to various political and other trends seem? is another one. It is remarkable how little people who are often fond of the term reactionary genuinely consider re-actions.

Though the analogies also remind us how much The Donald is not a fascist, as Mussolini and Hitler adopted Leninist modes of total politics for their national and race-greatness projects. Something The Donald has not remotely done.

Weaponising rebound
The Donald is, in many ways, a creation of the weaponising of morality and civility, the addiction to the rhetoric of denunciation. Going even further down that spiral is not going to make things better. (Particularly as there is no reason to suppose that anti-Trump folk are going to have a permanent monopoly of violence.) Trashing basic social protections because "oppressors have no rights", "error has no rights" is a disastrous assault on what also protects those arrogant budding totalitarians who are riding their sense of moral entitlement and superiority to a wider social disaster.


[The post has been edited to increase clarity without changing content.][Cross-posted at Skepticlawyer.]

Monday, May 30, 2016

The rhetorical appeal of The Donald

The Donald is a demagogue and central to demagoguery is wish fulfilment politics. Demagoguery is not about believing in things, but in saying whatever the audience wants to hear. (The real trick is saying what they want to hear but haven’t articulated themselves yet.) Say it well enough and almost any amount of contradiction will work, as the wanting-to-believe audience will grab what they want to hear and discount what they don't.

The fascist error
If we are to understand The Donald, we have to keep focused on the dynamics of demagoguery. The Donald is not Hitler redux, he is not Mussolini redux, he is not a fascist. He is not fascist in so many ways--no overt rejection of democracy, no paramilitary movement, no organised street violence (except by opponents), not in favour of a belligerent foreign policy, no fetishising of violence. (Indeed, a persistent theme in comments supporting voting for The Donald, is that The Donald is the less belligerent choice.) He does engage in Jacksonian rhetoric, but the notion that violence is the way the deep nobility of man manifests (a deeply fascist idea) is not what he is selling.

Moreover, fascism has an ideology (albeit somewhat protean one) and if you think The Donald has an ideology, you haven't been paying attention. Looking at the list in Umberto Eco's 1995 New York Review of Books piece on Ur Fascism (pdf) certainly shows The Donald's rhetoric has some echoes of Italian Fascism, but rhetorical echoes are not enough. The Donald simply lacks the notion of purifying and ennobling violence which is so central to fascism in its various forms.

If you want an Italian model for The Donald, it is media billionaire turned recurring Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who was not good for Italy.  (Though his scandals had a certain entertainment value.) Italian-American economist Luis Zingales previously (2011) pointed out the Trump-Berlusconi similarities, and has sensible and informed things to say about Italy's in his conversation with economist and uberblogger Tyler Cowan. But the career of Berlusconi cannot be usefully analysed using the "fascist" metric.

The "Trump is a fascist!" rhetoric does appeal to those addicted to the rhetoric of denunciation. With the added appeal that no further thought is needed. (The Donald is Just Bad and Bad people support him.) Which is, of course, much of the appeal of the rhetoric of denunciation ("racist!", "homophobe!", "Islamophobe!", "transphobia!" etc). But what if addiction to the rhetoric of denunciation is part of the problem?

Expressing appeal
So, what do The Donald's supporters see in him? Start with academic, philosopher and blogger Keith Burgess-Jackson:
My support for Donald Trump is easy to understand. I am sick to death of Republicans standing idly by while Democrats destroy them. Think back to the way John McCain and Mitt Romney campaigned in 2008 and 2012 (respectively). Neither defended himself against the vicious attacks from the Left; both lost (and deservedly so). I saw early on in the 2016 presidential campaign that Donald Trump is a street fighter. To put it in the vernacular, he doesn't take shit from anyone. He will smash the Clintons in their faces, as they so richly deserve. This tit-for-tat response is long overdue, and it is discombobulating not only the Clintons in particular but the Left in general. George Neumayr touches on this issue in his latest column. What excites me is that Trump hasn't even begun to hit Hillary. By November, she will be staggering, if not knocked out. Get right with Donald.
This is echoed by academic refugee, philosopher, author and blogger John Pepple:
This post by Keith Burgess-Jackson pretty much sums up why I will vote for Trump, even though he is not my ideal candidate. Trump will fight against the Democrats as hard as he can. Trump also seems to have more control over the media than the other Republicans, though I’m sure that is not what the media intended. They intended to show how ridiculously un-PC he was, but it didn’t work. Their attention just drew more voters for him, and then they couldn’t stop because it would mean lower ratings. I remember a liberal expressing the hope last summer, as Trump began gearing up, that the Republicans would nominate him because I’m sure he thought of Trump as unelectable. I have the feeling he is having second thoughts about it now.
So, The Donald is good because he is rhetorically effective, which is certainly easier to be if you are also rhetorically shameless (see demagoguery).

Then there is retired US diplomat and now active blogger W. Lewis Amselem:
My reason for voting Trump is probably very similar to that of millions of other Americans. I will explain why I think so many of us vote for Trump--let me know if I have it wrong. As the military say, however, "bottom line upfront" (BLUF.) After all the verbiage I will spew, it comes down to one thing: I am tired, sick and tired, of seeing my country, our country, our laws, our history, our values, and our very civilization spat upon, kicked around, and degraded by hordes of low-information, pampered cretins allied with malevolent criminal thugs both at home and abroad. ...
If one seeks to defend the values of America and the West, one gets labelled a racist, a xenophobe, a supremacist, a patriarch (see here, for example). The assault on dissent, on diversity of opinion, on individual freedom is unrelenting. The truth must remain unspoken.
So, The Donald is good because his rhetoric celebrates America (and he drives those who don't wild).

Here is retired academic, philosopher and blogger Bill Vallicella:
Whatever you say about Donald Trump he did us all a great service by dispatching low-energy Jeb! early on. Jeb Bush and the rest of his family are decent people. His brother and father are gentlemen. No one could confuse Trump with a gentleman.
Unfortunately, in this age of post-consensus politics we need fighters not gentlemen. We need people who will use the Left's Alinskyite tactics against them. Civility is for the civil, not for destructive leftists who will employ any means to their end of a "fundamental transformation of America." For 'fundamental transformation' read: destruction.
It's a war, and no war is civil, especially not a civil war. To prosecute a war you need warriors. Trump is all we have. Time to face reality, you so-called conservatives. Time to man up, come clean, and get behind the 'presumptive nominee.'
Don't write another article telling us what a sorry specimen he is. We already know that. We are a nation in decline and our choices are lousy ones. Hillary is worse, far worse.
Consider just three issues: The Supreme Court, gun rights, and the southern border. We know where Hillary stands. We also know where Trump stands. Suppose he accomplishes only one thing: he nominates conservatives for SCOTUS. (You are aware, of course, that he has gone to the trouble of compiling a list of conservative candidates. That is a good indication that he is serious.) The appointment of even one conservative would retroactively justify your support for him over the destructive and crooked Hillary.
Jonah Goldberg recently made the point that his vote doesn't matter. True. Each of our individual votes is vanishingly insignificant. But that is not the issue. The issue is whether conservatives as a group should support Trump. The answer is obvious: of course.
The alternative is to aid and abet Hillary.
Are you a conservative or a quisling?
So, Hillary is identifiably worse and The Donald is rhetorically effective against the progressivists. (Nowadays, I am not keen on the use of the term "the Left"because the fading modernist Left is a rather different thing from increasingly dominant postmodern progressivism.)

Here is well-known, and mildly prolific, SF author Jerry Pournelle:
It’s official. Trump has enough delegates to win a majority on the first ballot, so barring an assassination – not an impossible event – he will be the Republican nominee. The Republican Establishment got both houses of Congress and a majority of Governors, but was a miserable failure at opposition. The deficit rose and rose, the budget grew and grew, the size of government went up and up, government workers got more and more pay, and meanwhile the Depression continued. Unemployment officially went down to manageable levels, but only because definitions were changed, so that those who just gave up and stopped looking for employment were no longer “unemployed” and were not counted in figuring the unemployment rate.
So we don’t have long lines of people looking for work; instead they sullenly stay home, or a few joyfully take the dole, food stamps, and all the other entitlements. Most Americans don’t like doing that. They want jobs. But the jobs are gone, sent overseas along with the equipment they worked with, and the economy settled into one of opening containers of goods from China, and “paying” for these cheap goods by borrowing the money from China to give it to the not-unemployed people who used to have jobs but don’t any more. And the deficit grows, the economy stagnates, people get more angry, and many of the Republican establishment long for the old days when nobody expected them to WIN for heaven’s sake. They were the permanent opposition, always employed with great benefits and retirement, and no ambition to be much more. They ran the only man Bill Clinton could beat in 1996, after which the defeated candidate made Viagra adds.
It may be that Mr. Trump can’t put America first, but he says he wants to. No one else even thinks it is a good idea. At which point I conclude that what the Republicans want to conserve is their jobs as opposition leaders who don’t have to govern. Maybe I’m just bitter. Of course for a while they did govern. They invaded the only real opposition Iran faced, hanged the former leader, disbanded his army, set an oppressed majority up to govern after disarming their former master, were shocked when the Shia began to oppress the Sunni – shocked, I tell you. But it was done democratically, wasn’t it?
Any business run the way the government conducts its business wouldn’t be in business long; fortunately they have an infinite capacity for borrowing money. Each of us owes north of $50,000 so far. You say that’s not that bad, and I point out that each means just that: a family of man, wife, and two children owes more than $200,000, each baby born owes $50,000. Sand that’s this year. Four years from now it will be well over $60,000 each. And the debt goes ever upward.
Salve, Sclave.
Mr. Trump is not an ideal candidate; but when we did run what looked like good candidates, they grew in office, and the budget went up, the deficit went up, the Depression continued, we entered wars in which our interest was not easily discerned and certainly was not served. I guess I had better get me a Trump hat. (Emphasis added.)
So, we tried conventional Republicans, which did remarkably little good, both at home or abroad, with the White House or without it. At least The Donald has positive-about-America rhetoric.

Jerry Pournelle's endorsement is rather less fulsome than the previously cited, but does cite the rhetorical appeal. It also picks up a strong recurring secondary theme in support for The Donald that is even clearer in this post by academic and blogger Gene Callahan:
Our foreign policy over the last couple of decades has wrecked the lives of millions and millions of people in the Middle East. It has reduced country after country to anarchy in the bad sense: starvation, lawlessness, civil war. And surprise: all of this chaos enriches American corporations that sell weapons and "security" to foreign governments.
There are many important issues dividing the American electorate: SSM, gun control, abortion law, etc., etc. I don't wish to downplay the significance of the debates on these topics, except to note that every one of them, on a global scale, pales in significance to the moral necessity that we stopdestroying the lives of millions and millions of people in the Middle East.
And it is clear to me that Hillary Clinton will eagerly continue to pursue the policies that create this destruction: indeed, she was the prime architect of some of the past destruction.
Donald Trump is not my ideal candidate for president: I would like to resurrect Dwight Eisenhower and vote for him, if I could. I agree that Trump is a wildcard, and we don't really know what he will do once in office. But we do know that Clinton is the bought candidate of the merchants of death, and gambling that Trump is not so beholden to them is not really much of a gamble at all.
Let us put aside our differences on who is entitled to poop in what bathroom, and defeat the military-industrial complex's attempt to profit off of creating continual chaos in other countries!
So, the The Donald is less about interfering militarily in other countries, because his opponent has a proven track record and all we have to go on (shameless rhetoric) suggests he will not be. (Though, to be fair, so does The Donald's set piece foreign policy speech.)

Now, whether anything can be inferred about what President Trump would do from what The Donald says is a very good question (because, hey, demagogue) but the claim that he is the less belligerent candidate than Hillary is far from self-evidently false. If The Donald was actually a fascist, even a “fascist for the C21st”, it would be.

Notice, these are all intelligent, informed men of accomplishment (though it is also possible to find women who support The Donald). One may, of course, quibble about, for example, some of the economics. But they are not knuckle-dragging grunts. What they have in common is a profound sense of cultural alienation.

Cultural alienation
Reading posts and online pieces of the “I will vote for Trump because …” variety, the overwhelmingly dominant theme is cultural alienation. What they are culturally alienated by is fairly clear: relentless and ever-expanding moral bullying; rhetorics of denunciation pretending to be politics of compassion; a civilisation portrayed as if it was without achievements only crimes, a culture as if it was without virtues only sins; bearing lots of blame yet having little power; being the only folk with cross-generational guilt, and so on. With the abusive syllogism of:
we do X in order to achieve Y,
you are objecting to us doing X,
therefore you are against Y
being constantly deployed against anyone who arcs up. The rhetoric of denunciation so relentlessly employed is fundamentally based on both assuming, and attempting to impose on the public sphere, the illegitimacy of disagreement. It is the weaponising of morality and of (pretend) civility.

Nor is the cultural alienation surprising, as the information industries (media, entertainment, academe, IT) are overwhelmingly dominated by a narrow ideological range, increasingly disfigured by the pathologies that ideological echo chambers create.


And I mean the weaponising of morality and civility. The ludicrous lie that political correctness is about civility expresses either the deep duplicity or the deep self-blindness of its adherents. There is nothing "civil" about point-and-shriek (as Sir Tim Hunt and comet scientist Matt Taylor found) or the rhetoric of pc denunciation.

The concluding sentence of a Crooked Timber post against Jonathan Chait's mild critique of political correctness--"Seriously, fuck right the fuck off, Chait"--expresses the actual dynamics of pc splendidly. As this piece expresses particularly clearly the deep, pervasive disregard, indeed blindness, to achievement involved. (Boris Johnson gets the point.) But, then, landing a probe on a comet is hard; inciting and joining an online/public space moral sneering mob is easy: even inviting, as it drowns status from achievement with status from collective moral sneering. (And those who delight in attacking other people's motives are typically outraged when someone questions their's.) This plus crybullies blocking speech, no platforming, disinviting and all the other deeply uncivil abusive nonsense.

This is weaponised morality, weaponised civility, which extends all the way down, via "codes of conduct"*, to your local workplace. In other words, not civility at all. Instead, what is being run via the moral bullying, rhetoric of denunciation is a moral caste system, where you are allowed to hold someone's race against them--if they are white. You are allowed to hold someone's gender against them--if they are male. You are allowed to hold someone's sexuality against them--if they are heterosexual. You are allowed to hold someone's religion against them--if they are Christian. (And you are allowed to hold the existence of another country against them--if they are Jewish.) Treating Western civilisation as if it is not one of achievement and emancipations, but of crimes and oppression, and Western cultures as if they were without virtues, only sins. All the while bleating about heteronormative white male supremacy and being shockedshocked, when those whose civilisation, culture, country and identities are under serial attack arc up.

The notion that only "good people" would play identity politics was always a remarkably silly one.

Of course, when they do arc up, it gives you millions of fellow citizens to sneer at and feel superior to. No wonder, as historian Niall Ferguson points out, there is something of a turn to populism across the West; in cultural politics alone there is so much for them to work with.

Destroying civility
It turns out that, if civility and morality are weaponised, that removes important constraints within the body politic which — surprise! — has unfortunate implications. And those implications are likely to keep turning up as long as the underlying causes continue to operate.

And all this without considering the Alt Right, who are also obviously a product of cultural alienation and the toxic public culture of weaponised morality and civility. (Though prominent Alt Righter Vox Day's blog commentary turned out to be much more accurate about The Donald's Republican primary prospects than almost any mainstream media commentary.)

Online supporters of The Donald support him because of his rhetoric, his refusal to bow to the moral bullies that have so poisoned the public sphere. The shouts of "racism! racism!" and "fascism! fascism!" in response to The Donald's rhetoric are using the rhetoric of denunciation against someone whose success is fundamentally predicated on a revolt against the very same rhetoric of denunciation. That is not likely to be a successful strategy.

But nor is copying populists the way to undermine them -- that just legitimates what they say. The trick is to steal the underlying issue(s) in a way which leaves the populists with a lot of associated negatives. None of The Donald's Republican opponents were clever enough to do that -- partly because they did not take him sufficiently seriously until too late and partly because they were conventional politicians who did not understand the nature and level of angst in significant sections of the electorate and, when it did dawn, did too much implicit or explicit agreeing with The Donald, rather than stealing the underlying concerns his rhetoric played to.

Then Australian Prime Minister John Winston Howard provided a classic example of how to steal while undermining. In response to the populism of Pauline Hanson and One Nation he did not steal any of their policies or their specific rhetoric; he captured the underlying issue of control, of having a say, with the brilliant line of "But we will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come".  All while running a high immigration policy, and the least Eurocentric migration policy Australia had ever run.

Yes, he may win
I am, however, not convinced that Hillary is clever enough politician to adapt to a situation where past rhetorics are the problem not the solution ("vast right wing conspiracy" really isn't going to work).

So, those who don't want President Trump are going to have to hope he alienates enough of the electorate by his rhetoric to get Hillary over the line. But The Donald is a shameless rhetorician, a demagogue, that the media cannot look away from because he is such good copy/viewership.

The Donald is also, as Dilbert author Scott Adams has been explaining for months, a very effective rhetorician. And Hillary is such a good target for a shameless rhetorician.

In a fight between the two most disliked candidates in US Presidential politics for decades, fighting over a public sphere poisoned by the rhetorics of denunciation and the weaponising of morality and (even more problematically) basic civility, the media-savvy shameless rhetorician who represents a revolt against the dominant culture of denunciation has a much better chance than those who have no clue about the politics of cultural alienation, or why it has such power, are likely to realise. In which case, we better hope that this is not just a puff piece and there is someone of substance under the shameless rhetoric.


* How can one object to codes of conduct? When they create ideological sins not remotely subject to precise definition empowering the politics of denunciation; especially when accompanied by dubious complaint procedures. They are, as suggested here, easy weapons for budding little totalitarians.

[Cross-posted at Skepticlawyer.]

Sunday, May 29, 2016

The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise

I cannot recall reading a work of historical scholarship clearly written out of sheer irritation until I read The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise: Muslims, Christians, and Jews under Islamic Rule in Medieval Spain by Spanish-American historian Dario Fernandez-Morera.

Fernandez-Morera is clearly irritated and annoyed by recurring failures of Anglophone scholars to acquaint themselves with Spanish and French language scholarship on medieval Spain when writing about medieval Spain. He is clearly irritated by the failure of many such scholars to use the available Muslim and Christian sources; by their preciousness about using the word Spain (which, as he points out, many Muslim writers happily used); by their presenting medieval (particularly Muslim-ruled) Spain as some sort of golden age of multicultural co-existence; he is irritated by the notion that the invasion by Arab-led mainly Berber armies somehow raised the cultural level of Visigothic Spain; he is irritated by the dismissive treatment of Christian resistance to Muslim rule; he is irritated by the positive, even glowing, treatment of Muslim conquest and rule.

One way to tell he is so irritated--apart from simply reading the text--is his habit of starting chapters with quotes from noted scholars which the chapter then presents evidence clearly contradicting. There is no doubt about who his scholarly jeremiad is aimed at: he tells you in general in his Introduction and then by quoting from specific scholars at the start of chapters. No strawpersons allowed; they are hardly necessary, when so many large targets present themselves so clearly.

The irritation clearly helped motivate writing the book, and it does add a certain spice or zest to the reading, but it in no way detracts from the scholarly value of the book, which is very extensively footnoted--reading the footnotes is an education in itself--and filled with quotes from Christian, Muslim and Jewish sources. (The book is a particularly informative entree into the Jewish communities of medieval Spain.) He may push some arguments a bit far, as this sympathetic reviewer suggests, but effective rebuttals would have to be at least as well supported in the evidence.

Fernandez-Morera is also quite cutting about some obvious, and persistent hypocrisies--such as turning the Christian calendar into "Common Era" but being very respectful of the (equally religious) Muslim calendar. Or being dismissive of wider Christian connections but respectful of Islamic ones.

Really, it was jihad
It is startling to read claims by contemporary scholars stating or implying that jihad was not a significant motivating factor in the original Muslim conquest of most of the Iberian peninsula by Arab-Berber armies. Fernandez-Morera points out that the nice, sanitised, "inner struggle" contemporary Western construing of jihad is not actually supported by the Muslim or Christian chronicles. He is not above a bit of pointed irony in doing so:
Now, it is certainly possible that, for centuries, the medieval Muslim scholars who interpreted the sacred Islamic texts, as well as Muslim military leaders (including perhaps Muhammad himself when he led his armies into battle against infidels unwilling to submit), misunderstood (unlike today's experts in Islamic studies) the primarily peaceful and "defensive" meaning of "jihad" and that, as a result of this mistake, Muslim armies erroneously went and, always defensively, conquered half the known world. (Chapter 1)
Moreover, when the texts of the Maliki school of Islamic fiqh (jurisprudence) which dominated in al-Andalus are consulted:
... they talk of war against infidels--a Sacred Combat, or Holy War, or Holy Struggle or whatever other name one may choose to give this religiously mandated war against infidels. ... Thus what many Islamic studies academics call today "little jihad," as opposed to "greater jihad" (the "spiritual" one), turns out to be the only jihad examined in Maliki religious treatises and actually practised in Islamic Spain. (Chapter 1)
I started reading The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise while I was finishing Perfect Soldiers, veteran journalist Terry McDermott's book about the 9/11 hijackers. It was striking, even startling, to come across the same rhetoric from Islamic sources across a gap of over 1300 years; one contemporary, the other from early periods of Islamic conquest. Notably:
This willingness to die is found, for example, in the words of the Islamic Caliphate's Arab commander Khalid Ibn Walid in 633, ordering the Persians to submit to Islam, or else: "Otherwise you are bound to meet a people who love death as much as you love life." (Chapter 1)
The same rhetoric can be heard in our times from Hamasfrom Osama bin Laden, from the Fort Hood killer, from jihadis in the US, in Francein the UK.  All ultimately derived from the QuranSura 62:6.

Fernandez-Morera cites or quotes a series of Maliki and other medieval Islamic sources emphasising jihad as fighting the infidel who do not convert or submit, citing Medinan suras, noting that Bukhari's collection of hadith elevated such jihad to a key obligation on free Muslim males after believing in Allah and His Prophet.

Fernandez-Morera also notes some controversy about how late in Islam the notion of inner struggle jihad and defensive jihad may have arisen. In Destiny Disrupted, Tamin Ansary dates the promotion of "inner jihad" as the "greater jihad" to Sufis during the Abbasid period, (p.107) though, as he also points out, some Sufi orders effectively became warrior orders (p.167). (Moreover, the original connection to Muhammad is via a statement of one of his companions of doubtful authenticity and apparently fails to appear in any of the six authoritative collections of hadith.) Fernandez-Morera is quite right to insist that the notion of Crusade (a late, and terminating, development in Christianity which required Papal authorisation) is quite different from jihad (a universal obligation on free Muslim males operating from the origins of Islam).

The original Muslim invasions included tabi'un, in charge of establishing proper Islamic rule and the first mosques. As with the invasions of Sassanid Persia, it included burning of captured books of philosophy and logic. The evidence of the religious motives are extensive, including from archaeology:
Coins minted in North Africa shortly before the invasion of Spain call upon the protection of Allah for jihad. (Chapter 1). 
The notion of separate political and religious motives does not really apply, and the Islamic histories themselves are clear on the religious motives for conquest. Muslim chronicles mention the destruction of churches--usually in triumphal terms and often to celebrate their being turned into mosques (Chapter 1). Southern Spain has no churches built prior to the Catholic reconquest (Chapter 2).

Destructive conquest
The speed of the Islamic conquest (less than 10 years) was, as Fernandez-Morera points out, not that historically remarkable and was aided by deep divisions with the elite of the Visigothic kingdom. He uses the Arab conquest of Persia to illustrate the common patterns in both conquests at the opposite ends of the Mediterranean-Middle Eastern region. The willingness to offer protection for (humbling) submission as an alternative to war and death or enslavement was part of the conquest strategy. (The Mongols would later offer a very similar choice; most conquerors offer some version of it--with Islam, it is sanctified and incorporated as the default mode for dealing with non-believers.)

Without denying its weaknesses and oppression of Jews and heretics, Fernandez-Morera seeks to rehabilitate the Visigothic kingdom, arguing that the Islamic conquest saw the destruction of a nascent civilisation built on Roman, Germanic and Christian foundations. He notes that:
Spain was under Roman control and influence longer than any Western land outside of Italy and produced more Latin writers and emperors than any other Roman province. ... the Visigoths were the most Romanized of all the peoples took over the Latin Roman Empire ... (Chapter 2).
A civilisation that was legally innovative, included ruling queens and the establishment of which was much less disruptive than the subsequent Muslim conquest. Muslim sources refer to the wealth and splendour of the society they conquered (even if the major measure of the wealth was the acquired loot).

Fernandez-Morera points out how deeply implausible the notion is that an Arab-led army mainly of Berber nomads somehow raised the cultural level of a urban civilisation drawing on Roman and Classical heritage. Especially given that much of the cultural sophistication the Arab elite had acquired had come from their Iranian and Christian-Greek subjects. He is somewhat caustic on the notion that the Islamic world "preserved" the heritage of Greek thought, given that the Greek-Roman Empire never lost it and it was Islamic conquests and piracy that profoundly disrupted the previous connections across the Mediterranean (Chapter 2).

Being Romans
Fernandez-Morera shares my dislike of the "Byzantine" formulation for people who regarded themselves as Romans and were called such by their contemporaries:
... the term Byzantine Empire was invented in 1557 by the German scholar Hieronymous Wolf, who as a Protestant would not have been sympathetic to Eastern (or Orthodox) Christians. to indicate that these culturally Greek people of the Eastern Roman Empire were not Romans, and somehow not even Greek ...
Eighteenth century Enlightenment scholars such as Montesquieu, who despised Orthodox Christianity perhaps even more than Roman Catholicism, adopted the term, thereby emphasizing that these presumably retrograde Christian Greeks had nothing in common with those pagan Greeks admired by the Enlightenment. (Chapter 2).
About the other
One of Fernandez-Morera's continuing themes is how the juxtaposition of Muslims with Christians and Jews led to great concern (particularly among religious scholars, clerics, priests and rabbis) with not having defections among the faithful to the blandishments of other faiths. One of the strongest responses to living with other religious communities was to more strongly define what differentiated them.

In the case of the Jewish communities, that led to strong efforts against the non-rabbinical Karaites, who were pushed into marginal status. The rabbis clearly had an interest in encouraging hostility to those who denied their authority, but it is also clear that their success was partly based on their success in portraying the Karaites as being a path to defection from the Jewish community (Chapter 6).

But there were similar concerns, and analogous responses, within the Christian and Muslim communities. Except, of course, the Muslims were the ruling community, so Islamic law, administered by the ulama, the religious scholars, ruled all. The existence of significant Christian and Jewish communities tended to elevate the role of the ulama:
As several Spanish and French scholars have pointed out, in no other place within the Islamic empire was the influence of Islamic clerics on daily life as strong as in al-Anadalus. (Chapter 3)
Al-Andalus was dominated by the Maliki school of fiqh, which took decisions by early Rashidun caliphs as sources of law, particularly Umar. Including the Pact or Condition of Umar. Andalusian Maliki jurisprudence was intolerant of adherents of other Islamic schools of jurisprudence, let alone non-Muslims:
... the practice of Islam in Spain was much more rigorous than in the East. If anything, the presence of large Catholic populations to the north and in their midst, along with the conversion to Islam of many of their earlier inhabitants, seems to have exacerbated the Andalusian clerics' zeal in adhering to Maliki teachings. In other words, far from being conducive to tolerance, living close to Christians exacerbated Islamism in al-Andalus. (Chapter 3).
Andalusian Maliki fiqh forbade musical instruments and singing. The ban was less than entirely successful, but was a major impediment to the development of a musical culture. Strict purity concerns also got in the way of interactions as the founder of the school:
... forbade using the water left over by a Christian, or using for ablutions anything a Christian had touched, or eating food left over by a Christian. (Chapter 3)
These and other food purity rules meant that "breaking bread together" was not a practical option between a devout Muslim and a Christian. As I have noted before, it is not morality that buttresses the role of clerics as gatekeepers of righteousness, but moral taboos.

Just because three different religious communities lived in the same cities and under the same rulerships did not mean there was much in the way of mixing, beyond that useful for commerce. The public celebration of non-Muslim religious festivals was banned, for example. Living in different areas was a practical solution to the religious barriers to mixing:
... "fear of the "other" as a source of influence and possible conversion, the three religions' marked differences in worship and purification practices, and the religious laws' exclusionary dictates and warnings against socializing with other groups made living even in the same block difficult at best. (Chapter 3)
As the Reconquista proceeded, Muslim clerics issued fatwa calling on Muslims to leave Christian-ruled areas. The pressure on Christians in particular was such that the last Andalusian state, the Emirate of Granada, largely became a Christian-free state (Chapter 7). (Catholic Spain would, of course, eventually expel all its open Jews and Muslims.) The last Emir of Granada, in the treaty of surrender, insisted on a provision that no Jew would have authority over any Muslim or collect any taxes from them (Chapter 3). Fernandez-Morera notes that the Muwatta, a key source of Maliki fiqh in particular, says that:
Zakat is imposed on the Muslims to purify them and to be given back to the poor, whereas jizya is imposed on the people of the Book to humble them. (Chapter 1)
Yet there is this persistent myth of Andalusian convivencia.  Particularly under the Umayyad's, there was considerable repression internally and regular raids and attacks externally:
The celebrated Umayyads actually elevated religious and political persecutions, inquisitions, beheadings, impalings, and crucifixions to heights unequaled by any other set of rulers before or after in Spain. (Chapter 4)
Something Fernandez-Morera establishes from both Muslims and Catholic sources. The implications are not all that encouraging for simplistic multiculturalism:
... multicultural and pluralistic al-Andalus was plagued with religious, racial, political, and social conflicts, so that the most successful rulers must apply brutal and terrifying force to keep the place from disintegrating, as in fact it ultimately did. ....
In contrast, the relatively more ethnically and religiously unified Catholic kingdoms did not present the same problems for their rulers and therefore did not encourage the same drastic solutions. (Chapter 4).
And (to continue the story beyond where Fernandez-Morera takes it), having completed the Reconquista, the eventual response of the Catholic kingdoms of Spain and Portugal was to use forced conversions and expulsions to re-create such unity.

Status of women
It is no surprise that concern for clear differentiation between the faithful and other faiths fell particularly strongly on women. Indeed, the higher the status of the Muslim woman (status which derived from the key man in her life), the more strict the requirements of separating differentiation.

The cultural and other activities of Andalusian women cited by those keen on pushing the convivencia narrative were either slave girls (or, in the case of celebrated love poetry, largely about slave girls) or otherwise restricted to the private sphere. While, as one would expect in a polygynous society where stealing infidel women was sanctified, sexual slavery was rife. So rife, that (along with the aforementioned expulsions) there is very little Arab or Berber genetic imprint in the present-day Spanish population. Conversely, the situation of Catholic women in Catholic Spain was markedly better than that of even high status Muslim women in al-Andalus (Chapter 5).

Submission and domination
As for the dhimmi system for Christians and Jews, which is presented as enlightened toleration under the convivencia model:
The system of "protection" then, was in reality, a system of exploitation and subjugation. (Chapter 7).
With Muslim historians emphasising that the various conditions and requirements were structured to humiliate Jews and Christians. Nor can we look elsewhere for this alleged Andalusian tolerance:
There was no more a culture of tolerance in what remained of the Christian community in Islamic Spain than there was in the Muslim or Jewish communities (Chapter 7).
An issue which preceded the Muslim conquest. Upon the conversion of King Recared (r.588-601) to Catholicism (589), Visigothic law persecuted Arianism and Judaism, aiming for the extinction of both. In this it did not succeed, but it did alienate the Jewish community enough that the invading Muslims successfully used them as allies against the Christians. Fernandez-Morera notes various parallels in the exclusionary laws and rules of Christians, Muslims and Jews (Chapter 7).

Andalusian Muslim society was a stratified one:
Arabs were at the top of the social scale, with Berbers in the middle, followed by freed white Muslim slaves who had become mawali; the muladis, further divided into first-generation converts and the rest, occupied a lower echelon, above that of only dhimmis and slaves. (Chapter 7)
With the muladis being a recurring source of unrest and revolt.

Something which clearly particularly irritates Fernandez-Morera is how Islamic imperialism in Spain often gets remarkably favourable treatment by Anglophone scholars, while Catholic resistance is ignored or belittled. As he notes:
... the relative scholarly neglect of the Christian sources on the Islamic conquest as testimonies of the Christians' loss--a neglect of the vision de los vencides ("the views or testimonies of the defeated") not present, for example, in studies of the Spanish conquest of the Americas. (Chapter 7)
He continues:
The implication is clear: these people should be grateful to the tolerant Muslim authorities for so graciously allowing them to practice their religion. Never mind the lowly status Christian dhimmis and even muladis occupied in Muslim society; the harsh restrictions they lived under; the extortion and humiliation they suffered through their special "taxes" (the jizya); the destruction of their ancient churches ... or even harsher punishments Christians faced for violating Islamic laws. Those punishments included drastic measures such as ethnic cleansing ... The punishments also included, as we have seen repeatedly, executions of the most painful and public forms.
Such was the spirit of Islamic Spain's "convivencia", which Norman Roth hails as "one of the many things that made Spain great, and which the rest of Europe could have learned from it to its profit". (Chapter 7)
Fernandez-Morera brings the threads together in the Epilogue, including the central thesis of the book:
Few periods in history have been more misrepresented than that of Islamic Spain.
A misrepresentation that wildly over-praised Islamic tolerance and treats the achievements of Visigothic Spain, and subjugation of Christians and Jews, remarkably dismissively. The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise is at once an informative corrective to much historical misrepresentation and a worrying documentation of scholarship going systematically wrong.

Motivated misrepresentation
In his Introduction, Fernandez-Morera wrestles with why this persistent scholarly mythologising has occurred. He raises various possibilities--including the significant flows of Muslim oil money into funding academic activity. With associated pressures:
Doubtlessly, professional self-preservation as well as political correctness and economics as well as political correctness and economics have affected academic research in certain fields of study in contrast to the fearlessness demonstrated by professors when unmasking horrors in such dangerous areas of investigation as Christian Europe (the burning of witches! colonialism!) and Catholic Spain (the ubiquitous Spanish Inquisition!). Islamic Spain is no exception to the rule. University presses do not want to get in trouble presenting an Islamic domination of even centuries ago as anything but a positive event, and academic specialists would rather not portray negatively a subject that constitutes their bread and butter. In addition, fear of the accusation of "Islamophobia" has paralyzed many academic researchers. (Introduction)
The farce over the Yale University Press published work on the Mohammad cartoons sans cartoons provides him with an excellent illustrative example. It is not surprising that the Introduction also includes a strong plea to focus on where the evidence leads us, while being aware of the context of what we use as evidence.

There is also, as Fernandez-Morera points out, something of a prejudice against religious motives as explanations:
Failing to take seriously the religious factor in Islamic conquests is characteristic of a certain type of materialist Western historiography which finds it uncomfortable to accept that war and the willingness to kill and die in its can be the result of someone's religious faith--an obstacle to understanding that may reflect the role played by religious faith in the lives of many academic historians. (Introduction)
And even more so in other humanities and social sciences.

There is, of course, something of a tradition in Anglophone writings to be down on Catholic Spain; a tradition kept alive, at least in the popular mind, by the tales of Gloriana and the Spanish Armada. After noting the "stakeholder" problem, Fernandez-Morera suggests that:
Or perhaps since the eighteenth-century Enlightenment the critical construction of a diverse, tolerant and happy Islamic Spain has been part of an effort to sell a particular cultural agenda (Introduction).
Perhaps indeed.  Moreover:
In the past few decades, this ideological mission has morphed into "presentism," an academically sponsored effort to narrate the past in terms of the present and thereby reinterpret to serve contemporary "multiculturalism," "diversity," and "peace" studies, which necessitates rejecting as retrograde, chauvinistic or, worse, "conservative" any view of the past that may conflict with the progressive agenda. (Introduction)
Something that the decreasing ideological diversity of the academy (particularly in the humanities) tends to aggravate.

Still, while scholars such as Fernandez-Morera are willing to take a well-wielded scholarly axe to pretentious pieties, there is hope.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

What starts in Palestine does not stay in Israel

Years ago, in answer to the question about why gentiles should care about what happened to the Jews, an answer was that the Jews were "the canary in the mine"; one needed to pay attention because the Jews might be first on the hit list, but others would follow.

A similar question could be asked now: why should sensible folk be concerned about the obsession with Israel and its alleged sins that disfigures so much of postmodern progressivism? The answer is, because the Jewish state is also a canary in the mine: the pathologies that Western reactions to the Israel-Palestine disputes have given rise to do not stay confined to that issue.

Pathology petri dish
Those particular pathologies include wicked facts, achievement avoidance, responsibility denial, fantasy Islam.

Wicked facts are straightforward--things which are true, but only Bad People mention or give significance to. That Palestinian media and schooling are saturated with crude Jew-hatred is a wicked fact, for example. That there have never been any serious Palestinian peace proposals is another wicked fact. (Especially if conjoined with there having been serious Israeli peace proposals, notably by Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmurt: the Palestinian Authority did endorse the Arab Peace Plan, but was hardly in a position to refuse to do so.) The Palestinian insistence on the right of return, a "right" with no equivalent for any other case of population transfers, essentially blocks any serious possibility of an agreement, another wicked fact.

That Palestinians are the only refugees to be denied citizenship by their ethnic confrere state(s) (because the Arab states wanted stateless sticks to beat Israel with) is a wicked fact. That the current state of Syria, Iraq, Libya and the past history of Lebanon might raise issues about what a Palestinian state would be like, or the virtues of Israel, is another wicked fact (or wicked implication, strictly speaking). Other wicked facts are that a majority of Israel's Jewish population is of Middle Eastern origins, or that Jewish refugees from Muslim countries outnumbered Palestinian ones from the creation of Israel.

They are not the same level of wickedness, but they are all things Good People don't mention, or pass over as quickly as possible.

A classic wicked fact is that Israel is the most stable democracy in the Middle East with the most liberal society. This wicked fact is also a case of achievement avoidance: one is absolutely not to see Israel as any sort of achievement. Thus, referring to Israel's vastly superior performance on queer rights to the rest of the Middle East is pinkwashing. If Israel does not represent any sort of achievement, then no awkward issues are raised by, for example, proposing the abolition of the most stable democracy in the Middle East with the most liberal society (aka the One State Solution).

The lack of serious Palestinian peace proposals, the corrupt failures of Palestinian politics, the systematic stoking of the politics of hatred, these are more wicked facts which are also cases of responsibility denial: as an "oppressed people" Palestinians are not to be held responsible for their own situation or their actions--even those that if done by Westerners would lead to furious denunciations. 

Finally, there is fantasy Islam, not merely in the sense that Islam is not to be seen as in any way a causal factor in the Arab-Israel or Israel-Palestinian disputes (both a wicked fact and a contradiction of responsibility denial) but the reason it is not to be seen as such is that Good People adhere to a fantasy version of Islam and Islamic history. 

That Palestinian politics and society is rarely, if ever, subject to anything remotely resembling critical scrutiny by the mainstream Western media means, of course, that Israel is always in the wrong and the cause of everything that goes wrong: the sins of Israel become THE story--indeed, the only possible story, given enough adherence to the notions of wicked facts, achievement avoidance, responsibility denial and fantasy Islam.

Not quarantined
The problem is, there is no quarantine that stops the pattern of wicked facts, achievement avoidance, responsibility denial and fantasy Islam being applied elsewhere. On the contrary, Israel-Palestine because a sort of petri dish, where these pathologies can be tested, developed, dry run and before being extended to other issues, and to Western societies themselves. If applying such is acceptable, indeed "good reporting", on Palestine-Israel then it is acceptable more generally. It is not that these notions were invented to apply to Palestine-Israel; it is that Palestine-Israel provides a media realm to prove their acceptability and develop their application.

Thus, that African-Americans (around 13% population) commit half the homicides in the US is a classic wicked fact. (If you doubt that, try using it as a response to Black Lives Matter.) Similarly, the current buzz term of white supremacy is an exercise in responsibility denial (due to the oppression of white supremacy nothing negative in the situation of African-Americans is in any way a responsibility of African-Americans). While Western civilisation has become, in postmodern progressive parlance, an entire zone of achievement avoidance.

One of the bridges from Israel-Palestine to the West in general is how issues to do with Muslims (particularly Muslims in the West) are framed. Thus, the depth of Jew-hatred in the Muslim (particularly Arab) world (wicked fact) and how embedded it is in Islamic Scriptures are not things Good People mention (fantasy Islam).

Which makes the Holocaust something of a problem. As James Kirchick points out in a recent essay, the push is on to universalise the Holocaust so that it in no way provides any shielding to Jews in general, or Israel in particular. In Europe especially, this is pushing at an open door because it has long been obvious that much of the European elite can never forgive Israel for the Holocaust, as the Holocaust tarnishes European elite pretensions to being the moral arbiters of the planet. 

Underlying wicked facts, achievement avoidance and fantasy Islam is a wish for a simple framing that buttresses moral pretension. The complex idea that yes, other folk were subject to the Holocaust and yes other genocides have occurred but the specific targeting of Jews was at the heart of the Holocaust is apparently too complex an idea: the diversity of real apparently just doesn't work for ease of Virtue. While dismissing the Holocaust as white-on-white crime points to the intellectual degradation identity politics naturally leads to. 

But the last is so far from an irrational move, it is a natural part of the pattern. One way the Jews are so awkward is that they demonstrate that a group which is oppressed and excluded from political power can nevertheless achieve considerable social success. (They are hardly the only group that demonstrates that, but they are a particularly salient group that does so, especially from a Western perspective.) So they seriously get in the way of blaming everything bad that happens to any group on white folk. Declaring them to be white folk (who therefore don't count in the oppression stakes) is a natural move to block that bit of inconvenient complexity.

If one bothers to become seriously knowledgable about the history of European Jew-hatred, then the strength of Jew-hatred in the Muslim world is hardly a surprise. Essentially the same patterns apply as applied in C19th and early C20th Europe--angst over modernity that seems threatening and foreign, hostility to a historically despised group that seems to be doing "unnaturally" well, religious hierarchies acting as gatekeepers of righteousness encouraging Jew-hatred as a tactic to buttress their own authority. The factors that led to rampant Jew-hatred (indeed, exterminatory Jew-hatred) in C19th and early C20th Europe are alive and well in the contemporary Islamic world. 

They are, indeed, if anything stronger in the Islamic world. Modernity was at least created within the West; Islam experiences modernity even more as a foreign intrusion. While the Catholic Church's investment in encouraging Jew-hatred (though continuous and extensive) could never reach the level it does among contemporary Islamic clerics because there are barriers within Christianity to full blown exterminatory Jew-hatred--the most obvious being that Christ and His disciples were Jews and that Love Thy Neighbour As Thyself was originally preached by a Jewish man to Jewish audiences. However far Christian Jew-hatred could extend, one had to take steps beyond Christian doctrine to embrace exterminatory Jew hated. (Which, over the centuries, plenty of folk calling themselves Christians did.)

Islam has no such internal barriers--Muhammad and his Companions were not Jews, his audiences were (mostly) not Jews. Worse, Jews were specific targets of homicidal retaliation by the Prophet and the Quran has many negative references to Jews, which a famous hadith takes further (also). 

Taking Islam as a belief system seriously (rather than concocting a fantasy version of it), taking a critical look at patterns within Islamic societies (rather than treating such as a collective aggression against Muslims) and taking Jew hatred itself seriously, all give grave grounds for concern about where the level of Jew-hatred within Muslim countries leads. But if one is committed to the deep stupidities of wicked facts, achievement avoidance, responsibility denial and fantasy Islam, then all this becomes invisible. For the Virtuous, Ignorance is Strength

But, having been tried and tested and shown to be completely acceptable in reporting on Israel-Palestine wicked facts, achievement avoidance, responsibility denial and fantasy Islam are all now coming to a media outlet near you. What starts in Palestine does not stay in Israel.

ADDENDA Richard Landes points out a quite different and, at the sharp end, murderous effect of such journalism back in Europe.

[Cross-posted at Skepticlawyer]