Much has been said, in many pages, about Europe’s historical animosity toward Jews. This animus has led to pogroms and the Holocaust. The reasons behind anti-Semitism of this sort are legion; but the experience of the Holocaust has not wiped it out.
What is not reported as often, however, is anti-Semitism of a different sort: that against Arabs. Moreover, anti-Semitism against Arabs takes on an even more sinister, racist overtone, and is exacerbated by the civilizational tensions that were left to fester in the postwar collapse of European Imperialism. Charles Moore at the Telegraph, in a piece on European attitudes toward the Middle East (hat-tip: Israellycool):
You could criticise Israel’s recent attack for many things. Some argue that it is disproportionate, or too indiscriminate. Others think that it is ill-planned militarily. Others hold that it will give more power to extremists in the Arab world, and will hamper a wider peace settlement. These are all reasonable, though not necessarily correct positions to hold. But European discourse on the subject seems to have been overwhelmed by something else – a narrative, told most powerfully by the way television pictures are selected, that makes Israel out as a senseless, imperialist, mass-murdering, racist bully.
Not only is this analysis wrong – if the Israelis are such imperialists, why did they withdraw from Lebanon for six years, only returning when threatened once again? How many genocidal regimes do you know that have a free press and free elections? – it is also morally imbecilic. It makes no distinction between the tough, sometimes nasty things all countries do when hard-pressed and the profoundly evil intent of some ideologies and regimes. It says nothing about the fanaticism and the immediacy of the threat to Israel. Sir Peter has somehow managed to live on this planet for 75 years without spotting the difference between what Israel is doing in Lebanon and “unlimited war”.
As well as being morally imbecilic, this narrative is the enemy of all efforts to understand what is actually going on in the Middle East. It is so lazy.
Thus, for example, you would hardly know from watching the television that most Arab nations in the region, with the notable exception of Syria, detest the power of Hizbollah. You would barely have noticed that Hizbollah is a Shia faction, actively supported by Iran, and therefore feared by most Sunnis and by all who resist Iranian hegemony.
Nor would you have seen investigations of how Hizbollah places its missile sites in civilian areas, or coverage of the report in a Kuwaiti newspaper that Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hizbollah, was expected in Damascus on Thursday for a meeting with the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, and the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council. You would also not have gathered that the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon, which the television so recently invited you to admire, cannot possibly be carried through if Syria and Iran and Hizbollah are able to operate in that country.
Behind the dominant narrative of Israeli oppression is a patronising, almost racist assumption about the Arabs, and about Muslims, which is, essentially, that “they’re all the same”. Public discussion therefore does not stop to consider whether the immediate ceasefire called for by most European countries might hand a victory to Hizbollah, which, in turn, would ultimately lead to a much greater loss of life.
Emphases are mine.
This sort of racism is, to a certain degree, a long-standing fault among “liberals”, regardless of party. In the American domestic political arena, it is most often characterized by well-intentioned “liberal” projects to “save” the “underprivileged”. Just as black-on-black crime is underreported, possibly due to racist or at least elitist attitudes1, “liberal” projects often are imbued with the racist or at least elitst attitude that certain racial minorities (or poor people) need help because they don’t know any better and are incapable of helping themselves. This is not usually a conscious prejudice; often these projects are or were initiated in circumstances where societal or government barriers blocked self-improvement of the “victim class”. But so many decades after the civil rights movement, even as the glass ceilings are being shattered, or at least being raised so high as not to block the advancement of formerly underprivileged groups, there is nonetheless an inertia that continues to insist that people cannot help themselves. There is a great description for this: “The soft bigotry of low expectations.”2
Turning now from American domestic affairs to international (and indeed, intercivilizational) issues, I second Mr. Moore’s characterization of attitudes which continually excuse reprehensible behavior on the part of extremists. Such excuses are indeed soft bigotries. I don’t mean to say that Western forces should not be held to high standards. What I do mean to say is that excusing barbaric tactics from the enemy is nothing more or less than bigotry. By condoning such behavior, not only does it give the extremists comfort and aid, it is a demand for Western forces to commit suicide. Of those who actually do believe that the West is hopelessly corrupt, and who hope for the West to lose (and there are both fewer and more of these folk than you’d probably think3), I would ask them this: And when your way of life is no more, do you think it is merely the material accoutrements that will go away? Do you not realize that this barbarity will be exercised personally against you? If the West is destroyed, do you think the states that are left will any longer exercise any caution or restraint when attacking a military installment in a residential zone? Would you want to take your chances buying a home in a potential front line?
This is not unique to Europeans or “liberals”; this sort of soft bigotry, that declares that an Arab is incapable of, and would never aspire to, any elements of Western civilization, is often seen in the isolationist wing of the realist camp. This is the party that surrenders to its frustrations, and would just as soon turn its back on the world and ask the world, in less polite terms, to attempt asexual reproduction.
Bigotry is human nature, and is born of prejudice that can never be eradicated, because it will always find an outlet. But many of those who insist that the United States and/or Israel are inveterate, incurable racist imperialists might want to see an ophthamologist about that splinter in their eye.
1 I’ve read one characterization comparing crime to cockroaches: Nobody really pays attention when there are cockroaches in dark kitchen cabinets; but once they’re discovered in open lighting on the floor, people freak out. This characterization was in the context of blogospheric discussion over the disappearance of Natalee Holloway, in answer to those who voiced concern that when black women are abducted, there’s no outcry; but when pretty young blondes are victims, the media go into a frenzy.
2 This is a phrase that has been used in the Bush Administration to counter what sometimes appear to be institutionalized biases in favor of “underrepresented minorities”. Specifically used in the context of the No Child Left Behind Act, it was meant to encourage teachers not to give up on teaching minority and poor children; but it seems just as applicable in college and grad school admissions, and now, international racial and civilizational issues.
3 There are probably fewer of this sort among the voting public than one might think; but far more among the “intelligentsia” than one might fear.
[Cross-posted at Between Worlds]