Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Another thought on Jimmy

In the mail today, I received another solicitation from the Carter Center - guess they're in big trouble now with their donor base.

Looking over Carter's book, I still can't decide if he's an anti-semite or not. But the charges against the book are true: there's serious misrepresentation of his own 1979 Camp David negotiations; a fantasy of "what must have happened" at Clinton's negotiations in 2000 - in conflict with the exhaustive account of Dennis Ross, who actually was there; obvious plagiarism and distortion of Ross' tables and maps (just lay the books side by side, and you'll see); and willful amnesia when it comes to Arab terrorism and rejectionism.

There's something else about the book, too, that struck me: it's profoundly cynical - and by implication, so is Carter, in spite of his carefully groomed image as holier-than-thou. On the surface, there is moral outrage at the supposed "apartheid" of Israel and constantly repeated attempts at lining up the reader's sense of underdog-David-ness with the Palestinians and top dog-Goliath-ness with Israel. Towards the end of the book, however, Carter acknowledges the obvious truth that there is no apartheid, only conflict over religion, nationality, and sovereignty - not so different from other such conflicts: Kashmir, Lebanon, Iraq, Ireland, etc.

The David-and-Goliath comparison is far from obvious and actually cuts both ways. Until recently, it was Islam (in the form of the Ottoman empire) that was top dog in the Middle East, and in most respects, Islam still is. Oriental Jews were, until almost yesterday, among Islam's oppressed minorities. The sudden rise in their status in the last 50 years has far more to do with this conflict than any imaginary "apartheid." The sudden rise in status of Iraq's Shi'ites and Kurds has a lot to do with what's going on there. The top dogs of the Middle East (Muslims, Arabs, Sunnis, males) have had a lot of adjusting to do - sort of like white Southerners in the civil rights era. Such changes are not simple winner-take-all propositions either. Few would argue today that the South isn't better off after the civil rights revolution - better for everyone, including whites.

Why does Carter engage in such offensive bait-and-switch tactics? One answer is that he very publicly oozes his Christianity and wants to stick it to Jews. But there's another explanation. He's also, like other ex-presidents, a frequent visitor in the Persian Gulf states, where he gets hefty speaker fees. It can't be a simple quid-pro-quo; Clinton and Bush Sr. also speak in the same countries and don't pander to Muslim prejudice like this. But in Carter's case, I believe there is a half-hidden fear of the once-powerful Islamic world and an awed feeling in the presence of its fabulous petro-wealth.

The feeling that Christians have to put on kid gloves when dealing with Muslims was also at work in the attitude of the last Pope, who was otherwise very willing to take on oppression. Partly it was a post-Crusades hangover, an historical fear that a tougher stand towards the Islamic world might endanger declining Christian minorities there. You might call it a kind of civilizational appeasement. The current Pope is clearly not in the same camp, which is a good thing. We need less appeasement and more clarity. Making unilateral concessions just leaves the Islamic world hungry for more, because it reinforces a bogus sense of victimhood as the master explanation for why the House of Islam is in such trouble.

This is Carter's real failure: he's muddled about who the historical oppressors are and can't disentangle himself from white/Christian guilt. He expects Jews to share in this self-hatred; when they don't, he's puzzled, then mad.
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POSTSCRIPT: Speaking of civil right eras, a belated happy MLK birthday holiday to all!

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