Poison in the Well of Culture-slightly off topic reflection on Collective Guilt

The Fifth Labor of Heracles, cleansing the Augean Stables – [The Twelve Labors of Hercules, 1808, colorized by Atani]

I’m a little OT today.

Richard Landes, who is a professor of history, particularly millennialism, at Boston University wrote recently at his blog The Augean Stables on the phenomenon of lethal narratives in the reporting of the conflicts between Israel and her neighbors, particularly the Palestinians in a post Poison in the Middle East Conflict.  Richard seems to have been touched off in this case by two cartoons by Chappatte, which you can find at the top of his post or at Chappette’s website.

Landes, in my opinion, though his research and scholarship are impeccable, can be a little touchy about these sorts of things, understandably being a Jew, and deeply concerned about how Jews, Jewishness and Israel are portrayed in the media [meaning often neither fairly nor accurately].  Personally I found the first cartoon which referenced the [absurd] allegation that Yasser Arafat was poisoned with Polonium by Israel [“we have found traces of poison… in the Israeli Palastinian relationship”] ironic, but not particularly lethal.  The second cartoon, which referenced the talks between Hamas and Fatah, I found a bit of an eye-roller, neither funny, nor instructive in any way.  I didn’t find either of them particularly malicious, though Landes took some umbrage at Chappette over them.

Landes proceeds to elaborate on the nature of lethal narratives within the context of the Israel Palestinian conflict, most notably the Al Durah Affair, one of the seminal events of the Second [Al Aqsa] Intifada.  Landes has made a formal investigation of the circumstances of the September 30, 2000 death of Muhammed Al Durah and subsequent media depictions which he describes as, “The first blood libel of the 21st century,” at his more scholarly website The Second Draft.  Which, by the way, if you think you know anything about what happened during the Second Infitada, have never heard the term Pallywood, or accept at face value anything coming out of the main stream news media from that part of the world you need to check out The Second Draft.

On any other day I would have followed the topic more closely as Landes continued [my bold].

The most powerful lethal narrative, the Muhammad al Durah story, was a nuclear bomb of cognitive warfare. It aroused Muslims throughout the world; it filled Israelis with horror and sapped their ability to defend themselves against accusations; and it thrilled various groups, primarily Europeans and Leftists, who saw it as a “get-out-of-holocaust-guilt-free” card, which freed them from any commitment to be fair to Israel.

However, the “’get-out-of-holocaust-guilt-free’ card” bit nearly tipped me out of my chair laughing.  I commented:

I absolutely loved your, “’get-out-of-holocaust-guilt-free’ card…” comment – I would pay for the copyright to that one – and so true.

As followers of TheCoralineMeme may know already, the psychology of the holocaust and post-holocaust on all sides is a significant interest of the Meme Merchants Consortium and I have written on it in several previous posts:  The Rosenstrasse Protests, Victims of Their Own Oppression, The White Rose of Munich, so the irony inherent in the concept of a ‘get-out-of-holocaust-guilt-free-card’ just about slayed me because it underscores the continued difficulty that Europeans have with their societies past involvement with the Nazi’s death machine, as either participants, collaborators, or [silent] witnesses.

The third image knocked me for a loop.

This IS NOT the optimal solution to the problem – [Fair use info: From the website of International ANSWER]

“This death annuls, erases that of the little boy in the Warsaw Ghetto.” ~Catherine Ney

What the absolute example of zero sum thinking, and coming from someone who ought to know better.  What a terrible shame.  Apparently some of us have learned nothing from the 20th century. Being Western and liberal [European to boot] is not to be proof against slope-browed-retro-troglodyte within each of our brains it would seem.

To translate Ney into schoolyard speak, ‘Now that we [think we can] prove that you have done something really bad today, we don’t have to feel bad about the [horrendously epic] bad thing we did last week.’  To simplify even further, Ney’s logic is in effect, ‘because I feel you did something bad, what I did wasn’t bad’.

Sorry, Catherine, this isn’t the way it works in the adult world.  This kind of logic may have worked in kindergarten, but where I grew up it stopped working by about the second grade [what’s that age seven? eight?].

The general psychological pattern among Europeans continues to be the desire that the whole holocaust thing would just go away already, and to point the finger at someone else in order to avoid dealing personally with the reality that there is still, to this day, deep dysfunction in European culture and institutions surrounding their relationship with Jews, and Jewishness and by extension the state of Israel.  Unfortunately it seems that some will seize upon just about any pretext to absolve themselves of the responsibility to examine their consciences, individual and collective, as the example of Catherine Ney illustrates.

It is one of the great cultural achievements of the Western world is the recognition that the lives of children of all cultures and all nations, even your enemies, are to be treated like our own – protected from violence and exploitation – we in the more modern world may not be doing a very good job of it yet, but we as a whole recognize and share the imperative [and maybe incorrectly attribute it to others]. This same cannot be said of prime divider societies. I’ll leave you to figure out who those might be.

If you need further insight into the situation I refer you to my essay from last November, Liberal Cognitive Egocentrism and decide for yourself if Palestinian attitudes towards the lives of Israeli civilians [and their own children!] differs from what you would hope.  Also notice if you feel a desire to make excuses for their sentiments on the subject.

Landes often makes the point, and I will reiterate for him, a point that Catherine Ney would be well advised to consider; that to compare, to equate, to somehow make morally equivalent the death of Muhammed Al Durah [whatever the real cause of his death] to the millions of Jewish children, their parents, families and communities who were systematically rounded up from all over Europe, deported, sent for forced labor, experimented upon, tortured, starved, had their goods, property, wealth and businesses systematically looted, finally to be sent for extermination, murdered in batches of hundreds, then incinerated or left unburied, all by a regime that very nearly succeeded in wiping them  – a whole people – off the face of an entire continent is a very “sick joke”.

It’s hard, really.  To wrap your brain around Palestine, Gaza, the West Bank and what is happening there is difficult, but to wrap your brain completely around the European Holocaust of 1939-1945 is staggeringly difficult, not just because of sheer enormity of the scale of the events, but the reality of the systemization and industrialization of the murdering that took place really beggars the imagination.  A sane person does not want to believe it possible, wants to minimize it somehow, people really can’t act like that – but it was true. There is simply nothing remotely like it going on in the Palestinian Territories.  It is the error of a small mind’s thinking to make them equivalent.

Which is not to say that the state of Israel is guilty of nothing.

Yes, yes, it is true that for the first time since what? the destruction of Second Temple in 70 CE, that Jewish people have a nation-state of their own, real self-determination, a powerful and effective military force, and no longer have to: live, work, an worship completely at the whim of the society in which they are embedded in enforced dhimmitude.  The consequence of this of course is that Israelis are subject to all of faults and evils that any society that is capable of wielding coercive power, or making war can fall into.  Each case must be judged on its own merits, is it true?, what then does it mean and what should be done?

What hasn’t changed for the Jews in Israel and in many other places in the world, is that they are a numerical minority surrounded on all sides by hostile peoples who agitate vociferously for their eradication as a nation and as a people.  Therefore it is important for those of us in the West, non-Jew and Jew, Israelophile and anti-zionist, especially in Europe to remember what happened during the holocaust because that was our crime against humanity.  We can never forget what we have wrought upon the Jewish people.  Jews in Israel and outside, are living in the memory of a concerted effort by Europeans to wipe them off the face of the Earth.  We put them in the position of having to remember that they are not free from the danger to their existence as a nation and as a people.  If we are to blame them for their behavior, we must accept the fact that we in part turn the screwdriver that puts the twist in their behavior.


2 thoughts on “Poison in the Well of Culture-slightly off topic reflection on Collective Guilt

  1. Pingback: A Tale of Two Secrets – Imaginary Witnesses: one that got it wrong and one that got it right | The Coraline Meme

  2. Pingback: Landes, Landes, Taleb and the Meme Merchants Consortium – congruence on the culture of generativity vs the culture of piracy | The Coraline Meme

Please leave a comment - It's all more interesting in the Q&A

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s