Friday, November 02, 2007

More on resurgent conspiracism

PRE-POSTSCIPT: Follow the saga of the Saudi-sponsored school in northern Virginia by starting here. The Washington Post, normally sensible on such questions, has inexplicably gotten lost on this one. They ask, what about parochial schools? Indeed: what if Catholic schools didn't just teach Catholic doctrine, but advocated religious war against Protestants or forcible conversion of Jews? Or if Protestant schools taught that Catholics should lose all of their civil and political rights?
First, a follow-up to the earlier posting on Walt and Mearsheimer's book, which reviewers have mostly panned. What's amazing is that the book fails to even mention the Saudi lobby or the effect of oil money in buying influence in Washington. Having now looked at the book myself, I also cannot believe how much it uses recycled mythology about Israel and its supporters pushing for the Iraq war. Walt and Mearsheimer themselves register these facts in their book, but it strangely leaves their argument unchanged, showing how disconnected from reality they are (and from Israel's real concern, Iran). Clearly, they're in the obsessive "Jews-on-the-brain" zone, à la Pat Buchanan. Whether you want to call that "antisemitism" is a fine semantic point up to you.

Remember: the 9/11 and other al Qaeda attacks - from 1990's assassination of Rabbi Kahane in New York City through the two attacks on the WTC, and on down the list, including the present mayhem in Afghanistan and Iraq - could and would not have happened without Saudi money, Saudi pressure for accelerated normalization of travel and visa requirements, and Saudi wacko ideology. Saudi Arabia is the cause of those attacks in two senses, for you Aristotelians out there: "first" cause (the basic driving ideology) and "efficient" cause (enabling the means).

For a book to seriously discuss these effects without mentioning their cause is a farce.

A book-length counter to the myth-spinning of Walt and Mearsheimer is Abe Foxman's new book, The Deadliest Lies. (Foxman is the head of the Anti-Defamation League of the B'nai B'rith.) The ADL is a problematic organization and routinely misses the mark in their strategy by not understanding the real purposes of antisemitism, wrongly thinking that it's fundamentally about the Jews. (The ADL's serious flaws are a topic for another day.) Nonetheless, the book is on target with its analysis of the archetypical antisemitic fantasy: secret cabals, the secret cause of wars and financial panics, etc. The patterns of Walt and Mearsheimer's book and its cruder cousins are striking and, to any student of classical antisemitic theorizing, very familiar. Yale University's Charles Hill blurbs Foxman's book this way: "Conspiracy theories are a measure of a society’s mental health; when on the rise, trouble lies ahead. In The Deadliest Lies, Abraham Foxman diagnoses the ‘Israel Lobby’ conspiracy theory and reveals how sick it is." Even in the 1930s, people had a vague sense of conspiracism as a mental disorder, but we're more sharply aware of this now and have fewer excuses for tolerating it.

Finally, the new issue of Foreign Affairs contains an important review by Walter Russell Mead. He points to one of the realities that Walt and Mearsheimer keep colliding with but never understand: the ways in which foreign policy elites intersect with broad democratic norms and the assumption, natural to American political culture, that broad democratic norms should influence foreign policy - an concept alien in most other countries, even other democracies. And Mead perceptively identifies the way in which Walt and Mearsheimer use classical antisemitic tactics, including the attempt to put American Jews in a bind over criticizing their book - so they can appear outraged that American Jews should be provoked by what is so clearly intended as a provocation. As Mead says, Jimmy Carter is the past master of this tactic, but Walt and Mearsheimer give Carter stiff competition.

But Mead also lets his fellow academics off the hook too easily, in my view. It's hard to believe they're unaware that most American Jews voted against Bush both times and that most American Jews (and most American Jewish organizations) were neutral on or opposed to the Iraq war. The recycling of discredited mythology is only superficially about pseudo-facts; such myth-spinning always serves some other and normally unstated purpose. And while they might be naive about American politics, they are not naive about the Middle East. Like many so-called experts, they hide much of what they really know, even from themselves, and peddle oil-realism as a higher morality. Walt and Mearsheimer cannot not know the truth about the Middle East, its oil regimes, Islam, etc. They also cannot not know the truth about the Arabs of Palestine, an important topic to consider next.

POSTSCRIPT: Regional cooperation in the Middle East is possible, once you get outside the context of the UN and spectacles like the ridiculous Ahmadinejad. Israel and Oman just marked 10 years of cooperation on regional water conservation.

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