|A completely objective far-leftist account of Israel and its history, written from an anti-Zionist perspective which was forged, by a then Maoist/Trotskyist activist, in the mid-1970s.|
Wednesday, 19 December 2012
Benny Morris's Israeli Orientalism - According to Cypel
Many leftists used to argue that Benny Morris "never let his political beliefs interfere with his historical work”. That was when Morris’s work was used as a battle-axe against all things “Zionist” or all defences of the state of Israel. When Morris made his about-turn (if that’s what it was), then, of course, these very same leftists said that "he had let politics interfere with his historical research". In other words, when he wrote things which furthered their anti-Zionism - and their hatred of the state of Israel - they viewed Benny Morris as a pure and objective historian. When he revised his views on Israel, and indeed Zionism, it was then, and only then, that politics had interfered with his work. But all this means is that they liked, ideologically, what he wrote then; but don’t like what he writes now. The talk of objectivity is utter bullshit. Leftists like Ilan Pappe, Norman Finklestein, Noam Chomsky and Sylvain Cypel don’t believe in objectivity or even truth. They believe in “lying for Justice” and “narratives” as alternatives to truth. (This is not according to me. It is according to these writers themselves. Finklestein, for example, is on record as saying: “Of course I lie. I’m a leftist.”)
These leftist historians and journalists conveniently forget their prior commitment to “narratives” and that “knowledge/truth is power” when talking about Benny Morris’s new positions on Zionism and Israel.
It all boils down to racism, or “ethnicism” (a favourite of Sylvain Cypel), or “Orientalism” - which are all virtual-synonyms to these leftist academics. Because they are all far-leftists, whether Trotskyist or Communist, it’s all a matter of racism. That’s because racism, to them, is extremely strongly tied in with capitalist imperialism or colonialism. That is, racism, or ethnicism, or Orientalism, is what “rationalises the imperialist or colonialist crimes” in the eyes of the criminals themselves. In "order to legitimise the colonialist or imperialist actions", one has to “dehumanise the colonised”. You do that though racism (or, say, “Islamophobia”).
There is a problem with this.
The anti-Orientalists must assume that all value-judgments about the colonised – even if they are colonised (which isn’t the case for Israel) - simply must be wrong. No culture can be inferior to any other culture. That is the pure relativist position. Except that, being leftists, their relativism isn’t that pure. These very same people who talk about “Orientalism” and the rest are thoroughly against “Western” or “capitalist” culture and civilisation - and it is that which drives them. It’s even the case that they often prefer Arabic, or Islamic, or African, or head-hunter, culture to their own. (To Western “capitalist and imperialist culture”.) Thus we can say that they are, in fact, Occidentalists – they are anti-Western. But we don’t need to say this. I will keep their word – “Orientalist”. They are racist, and therefore Orientalist, precisely because they almost always see Arabic, or Muslim, or African, culture to be superior to the West. That is the Orientalism of those who are over-positive or over-generous about other cultures. It is a form of inverted-racism. Not even that. It is pure racism.
I have read Edward Said and I was always hard pressed to find a single negative comment about any non-Western culture of religion – ever! I have read Ed Said’s Orientalism and the same is true of that entire book. Edward Said simply wanted to substitute the “Orientalist belittlement of Islam and Arab culture” with his own positivity towards these things. And because there is a thriving Edward Said - or “post-colonial studies” - industry, all these right-on academics committed the same racism or “ethnicism” towards the West. (But “only those with power”, those in the White West, “can be racist” in Marxist/leftist theory. But that doesn’t work either.)
I would argue that the seeming relativism is actually a plain inversion of other people’s supposed racism/s. An inversion of Orientalism with Occidentalism. An inversion one ethnicism with another. (Again, the Marxists/leftists will cop-out of this by saying – or implying - that every white Westerner, and every Israeli, has power vis-à-vis every single non-Westerner and every single Palestinian. Talk about giving up on the Western working class.)
I would never argue, in the first place, that all cultures are equal. I don’t believe that for one moment. I am a culturalist. Leftists are culturalists too, as I’ve been arguing, but they never say that or even hint at it (about themselves or their own theories). What they are doing is righting wrongs. They do so by a massive inversion of what they believe the Orientalists, or ethnicists, or racists, believe/d about other cultures or religions. And because they are all Marxists/leftists, they never were true relativists in the first place. They praise and build-up other cultures at the expense of the “capitalist West”. (Robert Fisk, the journalist, is good at this too. So much so that when some Pakistani hooligans beat him up; he thanked them for it. It was their anger at “colonialism” that made them do it. It had nothing at all do with him being kuffar.)
There are some thinkers and theorists, for example some post-structuralists (those that practice deconstruction, such as Derrida), or some post-modernists like Jean Baudrillard, who don’t entirely fall into this trap. However, most people who speak in defence of, say, Islam or the Arabs, do so because of their distaste for “Western capitalism and imperialism”. They are far from being relativists when it comes to Arab or Islamic culture. They are defending such things against the crimes and evils of the West.
Sylvain Cypel quotes many “Orientalist” passages from Benny Morris. However, despite the many quotes, he never once argues as to why such views are wrong. He simply assumes that they must be wrong. No Westerner, or Israeli, ever has the right to pass judgement on another culture or religion – least of all Islam or Arabic culture. It is simply not on. And it isn’t acceptable, in any form, because of Cypel’s pre-existing leftist position on these things. Criticism of another culture simply must be seen as a disguise for racism, or ethnicism, or Orientalism. They are simply tools of the capitalist, or colonialist, or imperialist, used to “justify or rationalise the oppression of the colonised peoples”.
Thus every value-judgement (say, against head-hunters or Palestinians), no matter how profound or well-argued, must simply be "a disguise for racism" – which itself is an “ideological” tool used for capitalist exploitation (in the form of colonialism or imperialism).
Cypel is a child of the 1960s and 70s. He was a member of revolutionary anti-Zionist group Matzpen. In 1970 he split away from Matzpen and established the Workers' League, commonly known as Avangard.
But you can’t always hold people guilty for past misdemeanours. They may have changed. However, the problem is that it was at this time that Cypel forged his anti-Zionist position or stance. He has been thoroughly infected with the prejudices and ideological clichés of the revolutionary left. Even if he’s not an active revolutionary today (he doesn’t need to be – he and his friends control the institutions – Gramsci-style), his position was born and nourished at that time. Today he has simply finessed it and made it a little less crude. (He even wears a suite a tie – there’s not a single Che Guevara t-shirt in his wardrobe.)
Sylvain Cypel quotes Benny Morris saying:
“There is a deep problem in Islam. It’s a world whose values are different. A world in which human life doesn’t have the same value as it does in the West, in which freedom, democracy, openness and creativity are alien… Revenge plays a central role in the Arab tribal culture….” (151)
That is pretty controversial stuff – especially to an anti-Zionist/anti-Orientalist journalist and writer. But despite that, Cypel doesn’t argue against what Morris says other than to say it is “ethnicist”, or “Orientalist”, or with other examples of leftist jargon/ soundbites. In other words, Cypel simply assumes it must be wrong. It cannot be right. And it cannot be right quit simply because Cypel is a leftist anti-Zionist - who may well have left his Trotskyist street-activism in the 1970s. He still upholds the shallow theories of those times – it’s just that he doesn’t rant as much as he no doubt did back then. (This is of course true of so many suited-and-tied, Chardonnay-quaffing socialists around today who are in their fifties, sixties and seventies. They are no longer leftist bother-boys. They are more Mr Academic, or Mr Editor, whose hearts are still in the right revolutionary place even if they don’t spend that much time on Revolutionary Street anymore.)