Archive for February, 2011

Control language to control thought

Wednesday, February 9th, 2011

Almost nothing is more important in the information war than control of the language we use to describe brute reality. Reality just is. Language infuses events with meaning.

For example, some time ago I decided to stop using the term ‘West Bank’, which was invented by the Jordanians in 1950 to refer to the area they had illegally invaded and occupied. Before that, even UN documents called the region “Judea and Samaria.” Why should we obscure Jewish provenance in the land of Israel?

Another loaded term is ‘Palestinians’. Prior to 1948, it meant residents of the Mandate, Jews and Arabs. The newspaper today called the Jerusalem Post was then the Palestine Post; and I recall seeing sacks bearing the logo of the “Palestine Metal Button Company” with a Tel Aviv address at the sewing workshop in the kibbutz where I lived.  The British created a Palestine Regiment made up of (mostly) Jews and Arabs during WWII. And Arab nationalists during the first part of the 20th century often insisted that they were not ‘Palestinians’ but actually citizens of ‘Southern Syria’ (جنوب سوريا), a name for the region used in the Ottoman period.

True Palestinian nationalism and Palestinian identity developed slowly, in opposition to Zionism, and didn’t really exist until Yasser Arafat’s PLO created it. George Antonius’ seminal work on Arab nationalism, The Arab Awakening, published in 1946, doesn’t mention a ‘Palestinian people’ even once — it refers only to Arabs, who live in many places, including Palestine.

I am not saying there is anything wrong with a group defining itself, or even defining itself in opposition to another group if that’s what floats their boat, but spare me the ‘historic Palestinian people’.

One particularly irritating misuse of language — because I take it as a personal insult — is the appropriation of concepts like ‘peace’, ‘social justice’, ‘human rights’, etc. by the anti-Israel side (I touched on this Sunday in connection with the anti-Israel activists of Jewish Voice for Peace). How dare they suggest that those of us who oppose dangerous concessions, distrust the PA or think that it is likely to be overthrown by Hamas are ‘against peace’? Our whole point is that their path is a path away from peace. They call themselves the ‘peace camp’. Does that make us the ‘war camp’? Are we against human rights because we want them for Jews as well as Arabs?

Then there is the word ‘Zionism’, which means the view that the Jewish people have a right to self-determination in the land of Israel (a more detailed analysis is here). Recently, Birthright Israel announced a campaign to ‘take back’ the word, which is used in anti-Israel circles to denote a fascist, racist rationale for an apartheid state based on a belief in Jewish superiority. Need I say that this description quite accurately fits the program of Hamas (just change ‘Jewish’ to ‘Muslim’) — and not that of Israel?

I am also really tired of “right-wing” and “left-wing”, especially in the US where these expressions refer to a whole constellation of political, economic and social positions. But that will be another post.

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Irresponsible reporting in Fresno media

Tuesday, February 8th, 2011
Egyptian clerics demonstrate against the regime

Egyptian clerics demonstrate against the regime

Today’s Fresno Bee has an editorial — most likely provided by McClatchy Newspapers, which owns the Bee — that could serve as a template for the dangerously uninformed foolishness that is being fed to Americans about what’s happening in Egypt. I’m going to quote it at length:

Events in Egypt are seesawing so quickly it is difficult to assess if the current trajectory points toward gradually escalating violence or a more orderly transition that will end President Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule.

Yet here is what is clearly not happening — an Iranian-style Islamic Revolution.

As anyone watching television can see, the demonstrators filling Tahrir Square are not Islamic radicals calling for the equivalent of Ayatollah Khomeini to replace Mubarak. They are people from all walks of life demanding a more democratic form of government.

Many are highly educated, wired to the Internet and obvious admirers of Western institutions. With few exceptions, the banners and slogans of this courageous throng have not focused on religious concerns.

The young English-speaking demonstrators that are interviewed on CNN do not represent a majority of Egyptians — indeed, they are a tiny minority in a country where more than 40% of the population is illiterate in any language (among women, it’s more than half) and where 90% of the women have suffered genital mutilation. These people are not ‘wired to the Internet’ nor are they interviewed on television, but they will play an important role in choosing Egypt’s next government.

Egypt is not Iran. It has a different culture, a different history and a different language. Yet you wouldn’t know that from the blather spewing forth from many commentators, politicians and propagandists in Iran itself.

Of course Egypt is not Iran. Egypt is Sunni, and is Iran’s great rival for influence in the Middle East. But what is common to today’s Egypt and the Iran of 1979 is a well-organized Islamist opposition working to establish a state governed according to Islamic law, which institutionalizes superiority of Muslims over non-Muslims and men over women. Although such a regime might come to power by democratic elections, it would be ruled in a profoundly undemocratic way, by Muslim clerics.

Even the educated people who “admire Western institutions” do not in general like the US or Israel, whom they are prepared to blame for many of their problems. The rhetoric of the Muslim Brotherhood, the most popular Islamic group, has been viciously anti-American and anti-Israel.

The editorial continues:

In a speech Friday, the Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei said the protests are “echoes of the voice of the Iranian nation.” Clearly Khamenei hopes the protests will elevate Iran’s stature and influence in the region.

Undoubtedly, Mubarak himself is cheering efforts by U.S. pundits and others to make it seem like Islamist revolutionaries are driving the demonstrations.

Khamenei is gleeful that the Mubarak government, which has been close to the US and has had peaceful, albeit not friendly, relations with Israel, may be replaced by an Islamist regime. He’s for anything that reduces US influence and hurts Israel, although either way Egypt remains Iran’s rival. And of course Mubarak wants support in the US, which he won’t get if the opposition is thought to be democratic.

Indeed, it seems that the demonstrations were not initiated by the Brotherhood or other Islamists. It is probably correct to say that they were primarily sparked by economic issues and frustration with Mubarak’s repressive tactics, and were initially led by representatives of the very small group of well-educated reformers. But this does not mean that the ultimate outcome is likely to be anything but a victory for the Islamists.

A recent survey by the Pew Research Center shows that 59% of Egyptian Muslims agreed that democracy was the preferred form of government, while 22% disagreed. Of 8 Muslim nations surveyed, only Pakistan had a lower percentage (42%). And of the 31% of Egyptians that see a struggle between ‘modernizers’ and ‘fundamentalists’, 59% agree with the ‘fundamentalists’.

Keep in mind also that ‘democracy’ in the Middle East is understood as ‘elections’. Real democracy requires an independent judiciary, a free press, a commitment to protecting the rights of minorities under majority rule, accountability for law enforcement, etc. None of these things exist in Egypt today and will not appear automatically if elections are held.

It’s difficult to say just how many Egyptians would vote for a Muslim Brotherhood slate (Barry Rubin estimates that a joint ticket with a figurehead ‘moderate’ would yield 60%) because there have never been ‘free and fair’ elections in Egypt. However, if the Brotherhood plays any role at all in a government, it is expected to pursue its objective to institute Islamic rule in Egypt.

There is another option. The Egyptian Army and other authoritarian elements may find a way to continue their dominance without Mubarak. Real democracy is probably the least likely outcome.

The editorial concludes:

While there is undoubtedly a risk Egypt could descend into a civil war with uncertain results, that is most likely to happen if Mubarak clings to power and continues to unleash his goon squads against demonstrators.

There’s lots to worry about as Egypt and the Arab world undergo this historic moment of tumult.

Yet fearmongers do U.S. interests no service by embracing ludicrous and malicious analogies.

Actually, civil war is highly unlikely. There is no force strong enough to challenge the army, even the Brotherhood. And the reformers are entirely without power. So either the Brotherhood will take power peacefully and gain army support, or the army will install another conservative regime like Mubarak’s.

This editorial is both insulting — ‘blather’, ‘fearmongers’, ‘ludicrous and malicious’, etc. — and relies on feel-good wish-fulfillment ‘analysis’ based on watching TV rather than looking at actual facts. It does a huge disservice to those who get their news from local sources like the Fresno Bee.

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Bay area radicals are ideological robots

Monday, February 7th, 2011

I always say, why waste good snarky writing? I posted a comment about the Bay Area Citizen / New York Times article glorifying the Israel-haters at Jewish Voice for Peace that I wrote about yesterday, and I think it’s worth repeating:

It never ceases to amaze me how concepts like peace, justice, fairness, self-determination, human rights, etc. can be appropriated in the service of a movement to deny those things to one tiny nation. 22 Arab nations, Iran, and lately Turkey, with hundreds of millions of people and huge petrodollar resources all doing their best to get the Jews out of the Mideast.

And in the name of the Palestinian Arabs, who have generally been treated far worse by those nations than Israel ever did!

Not to mention the absurdity of activists who are prepared to believe every antisemitic lie about Israel and Jews but just can’t see the oppression and murder of women, LGBT people, Christians, black Africans, Bahai, you name it, by the paragons of virtue that they support in Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, etc.

But after all, they are noble savages, oppressed third-world people of color, so you can excuse all that, can’t you? It can’t be racism when the racists define themselves as oppressed, right?

You Bay Area radical chic-niks are such idiots!

The thought process of these people is foreign to me. They are so deep in their Stalinist conceptual scheme that they can’t see the most obvious facts. Someone suggested that they are like people living in an Orwellian state where all of their inputs are controlled by the regime, and so they end up believing that war is peace, truth is lies, freedom is slavery, Hamas is liberation, the Muslim Brotherhood is democratic, etc.

I started watching a movie last night, “The Lives of Others,” about how the technologically sophisticated invasion of people’s lives, political and private — actually, the distinction goes away — can control thought as well as action. Possibly the East German society depicted in the movie was even more intrusive than Orwell’s imagined Oceania. People can be made to think anything, even when they should know better.

Of course the Bay Area JVP people — and Michael Lerner, Codepink, etc. — don’t live in such a regime, they live near one of the most beautiful and free cities in the USA, and they have access to all kinds of information. So the totalitarian control is imposed from within and by the tight circles that these people move in.

I suppose Communists in the 1930’s could read the Daily Worker and talk politics with other Party members. But they still might be exposed to the ‘bourgeois press’ if they weren’t careful. Today’s electronic media make it possible to totally wall oneself off from any but the most rigorously filtered ideological inputs. Just set your RSS reader to deliver you today’s Mondoweiss, Guardian and Counterpunch.

The result are ideological robots that are impervious to being told that they are contradicting themselves. For example, does ‘Queers for Palestine’ sound a little, er, queer, to you given that Hamas jails or even murders homosexuals, while Israel gives them refuge?  Then read “Palestinian Queers for BDS.” Your head will explode, but theirs don’t.

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Who’s paying for “A Jewish Voice for Peace”?

Sunday, February 6th, 2011

Who supports “A Jewish Voice for Peace” (JVP)? Formerly only a gaggle of Berkeley-based left-wing extremists, JVP was the only Jewish organization to make the ADL’s list of the top ten anti-Israel  groups in the nation in October 2010. Recently it got a plug in the San Francisco Bay Area supplement of the NY times, which claims that

Jewish Voice for Peace’s mailing list has risen to 100,000 from 35,000 since the start of the Gaza conflict, according to the organization; the number of chapters has grown to 27 from 7. From 2008 to 2009, the group’s operating budget, fueled by donations, grew 44 percent.

JVP, which calls for a ‘right of return’ to Israel for Arab ‘refugees’ and promotes the boycott-divestment-sanctions movement against Israel — indeed, JVP supported the failed campaign at UC Berkeley to divest university holdings from Israel — has received a total of more than $1.8 million in tax-deductible donations and grants between 2002 and 2008 (the last year for which their IRS form 990 is available).

This is a huge amount of money for an organization whose rhetoric and actions are far more extreme even than the phony ‘pro-Israel’ J Street. There is no way that this organization can be supported by the mostly young student activist base that is its public face. Like J Street, there is no doubt that JVP receives large donations from elements hostile to the state of Israel.

So who are they? We are going to find out. But in the meantime, here are some possibilities:

Stay tuned.

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Moty & Udi: the new Middle East

Saturday, February 5th, 2011

Moty and Udi were on hofesh [vacation] last week, but they are back. I’m going to present this week’s cartoon without comment — none is needed!

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