Anyone who knows the least little bit about I-P in the left-liberal political blogs knows that it is, in fact, completely miserable, hideously toxic, and just plain fucking stupid. We all know this, yes? I certainly think so. But what I have often wondered is, why? Why must it be this acrimonious?
At this point, some of you may stop and say, “It’s because of people like you, you antagonistic, dumb motherfucker!"
Well?... You may have a point. Please understand that I do not hold myself innocent in the question of the miserableness, toxicity, and the just plain fucking stupidity of left-liberal I-P discourse.
Well? So? Why is I-P so miserable, toxic, and just plain fucking stupid?
That’s an excellent question.
The answer, in part, is postcolonial theory as applied to I-P.
The people who have traditionally driven the conversation have been the pro-Palestinian advocates... also known as anti-Israel ideologues. The reason that I call them anti-Israel ideologues is because they usually advocate from a position that views the state of Israel as a white, western, racist, colonialist, terribly nasty, European outpost in the Middle East, or some combination of this highly dubious rhetorical gibberish. I recognize, of course, that everybody is different, and has different views, and that there are gradations of thought, and so forth, but this trend, this postcolonial trend, is a major one within left-liberal I-P discourse… mainly on the anti-I side.
I blame Michelle Foucault and Edward Said!
Foucault suggested that scholarly narratives were not so much about “truth,” but about the maintenance of hegemonic systems of power through constructing necessary epistemologies and ontologies, or ways of thinking and being.
Said, following Foucault, claimed that western “Orientalist” scholarship, and thus western views on the Arab world, were about the maintenance of western power over the occupied Middle East.
This particular way of viewing knowledge, as little more than part of the prevailing system of control, dovetails with the postcolonial view that divides the world into occupiers and the occupied, oppressors and their victims. The historical source of this relationship derives from the old racist, European imperial adventures and allegedly continues to this day with the United States representing the foremost oppressor on the world stage. Israel is viewed as a tool of this imperialism, as well as a current example of precisely the kind of thing that western liberals have been fighting against for many, many decades.
Israel must therefore be opposed not merely for this or that policy toward the Palestinians, but because in its essence it, too, is a racist, colonialist, really, really nasty enterprise similar to, say, the British in India or the French in Indo-China. The problem with the British in India was not this or that particular policy toward the indigenous population, but its very presence on someone else’s land. The problem was imperialism, period, and not merely any particular imperial policy. Imperialism was, and is, in its essence unjust and therefore must be opposed.
And who would disagree?
I sure as hell do not.
The problem, of course, is that Israel does not actually fit the postcolonial model and in order to make it fit anti-Israel ideologues, consciously or not, must twist its history in order to cram it into the model and must misinterpret its current behavior in order to suggest that this behavior is not a reaction to real events like, say, Qassam rockets, but is an expression of its ugly, essential nature.
Israel is either a white, western, outpost of imperialism or it is not. Postcolonial theory claims that it is and postcolonial theory is the ghost that hovers behind the conversation, that gives the anti-Israel people their intellectual validation. But how can the movement for Jewish self-determination and self-defense be "imperialist" when we know that the vast majority, virtually the entirety, of European Jews who made aliyah did so to escape late 19th century Russian pogroms and, later, that minor bit of nastiness in early-mid-century Germany?
It makes no sense, whatsoever.
Thus, on its face, the origins of the Jewish state are not imperialist and in order to make it so an inversion is necessary. The Jews who fled Russian pogroms and, later, the Holocaust, must be viewed as the oppressors... rather than the victims that they actually were. The Jewish immigrants did not arrive at the behest of any European power. They did not ride with any army of conquest, nor were they the functionaries of any foreign government seeking domination. They did come as an oppressed people in the hopes of building a Jewish community in the traditional homeland of the Jewish people. The actual history therefore mitigates the theory and renders it useless. The only way to make it work is to start with the presumptions of the theory and then twist the history to conform to, and thus confirm, the theory.
But it doesn't work that way. The irony is that postcolonial theory has Marxist roots, but Marx was not an “idealist,” one who starts with an ideology hovering over the material facts, but just the opposite. Marx acted as a corrective to the German idealist tradition by starting with the material facts of history and drawing his conclusions from those facts, not the other way around, as the current postcolonialists do.
Furthermore, since Israel and Zionism are considered in their very nature corrupt, anything that Israel does is viewed as evidence of that corruption. Let’s take Haiti, for example. Israel was there with, from all reports, an absolutely amazing medical team that saved God knows how many lives, yet there are plenty of people who insist that this was nothing but a cheap PR stunt to take attention away from the Gaza strip. In this way, it doesn't matter what Israel does because it is already condemned in its essence as an evil, racist, imperialist, regime and its behavior, whatever that behavior might be, is conducted not from actual circumstances, but as an expression of its corrupt essence.
Now, I understand, of course, that very few I-P bloggers hold consciously to postcolonial theory and thus intentionally apply that theory to the I-P conflict. But that is not the way ideology normally functions. Ideological predispositions are usually not arrived at through careful analyses of systems of political thought, but through the emotive spread of propagandistic talking-points that creates ideological predispositions within those open to the influence.
Whenever I see anyone using talking-points, in this case anti-Israel talking points, I know immediately that I am dealing with an ideologue who is forcing his or her interpretation of events through the sieve of that ideology.
For example, whenever someone suggests that Israel is an “apartheid state,” I know that I’m dealing with an ideologue.
Whenever someone suggests that the events of 1948 can best be described as “ethnic cleansing,” without reference to the Arab-Jewish civil war, I know that I’m dealing with an ideologue.
Whenever someone claims that “Israel stole the land,” without reference to the fact that the Jews who made aliyah purchased their land, I know that I am dealing with an ideologue.
And this is ultimately what makes I-P so vitriolic. The ideology, by necessity, turns forty percent of the world’s Jews into the enemy.
Almost half the world’s Jews get set up as the enemy.
So, of course, I-P is miserable, and toxic, and just plain fucking stupid.
The prevailing anti-Israel, anti-Zionist, postcolonial ideology rattles the Jewish cage.
So, what would anyone expect?