Monday, August 5, 2013

"Individuals don't concern me. Societies do."

Mike L.

In the comments of Empress Trudy's recent piece, The Shape of Groundhog Days to Come, a slightly acrimonious discussion erupted around the nature of Arab societies between JayinPhiladelphia and NormanF.

At the heart of the debate was this comment by NormanF:
And the Arabs too, will require a long time to become a productive and civilized people. You just can't expect a people who have never known civilization and the habits that accompany it to run a nation.
JayinPhiladelphia found this offensive and said so:
This is not only wrong, it is offensive nonsense. I wish we wouldn't stoop to using the very same tactics the enemies of Israel and the enemies of the Jews use against us.
Jay went on to say:
I separate the person from the people, and judge each of the former on their own merits... To state that over 300 million people are all this or that, however, is wrong and is offensive.
Just below the main thread of conversation Trudy responded with:
Individuals don't concern me. Societies do.
Trudy's position probably comes closest to my own, but Jay represents my ideological foundations.   When Jay says that he separates "the person from the people" he articulates what is among the very foundation-stones of contemporary western liberalism.

The Jews were slaughtered in the middle of the twentieth century by Europeans in a genocidal movement spear-headed by Germans.  Because they believed that race was a matter of essence they felt it necessary to rid themselves of the Jewish people, because the Jews, as a whole, were considered immoral, rat-like, and detrimental to the well-being of the other 99 percent.

For this reason most well-meaning, liberal diaspora Jews, such as myself, opposed "broad-brushing" entire groups.  Although I cannot speak for Jay, I feel reasonably certain that his objection to Norman's statement comes from a very similar ideological place.

Along with Jay, I believe that it is necessary to "separate the person from the people."  There are something like 400 million Arabs in the Middle East.  They are the mixed descendants of a great conquering nation that poured out of Saudi Arabia in the 7th century and that violently displaced eastern Christendom over many centuries.

Since that time, Arab-Muslim cultures have proven themselves to be, far-and-away, the most virulently racist and genocidally anti-Semitic cultures on the entire planet.  The subjugation of the Jews and Christians and other non-Muslims within the history of Islam is among the very worst unredressed crimes against humanity ever perpetrated and it continues to this day.  That being the case, it is not hard to understand Norman's disdain for Arab civilization.

We are the free children of the formerly oppressed.  We, thus, have every right to denounce our former oppressors when they continue to seek us harm.

But this does not change the fact that among those 400 million Arabs are any number of individuals who simply do not share the traditional Islamic contempt for Jews and others.  In this way Jay is correct and it is offensive to suggest that the entirety of the Arab nation is comprised of vicious genocidal racists or that the entirety of the Arab world is "uncivilized."

It is not.

But ultimately I have to come down on the side of Trudy on this matter.

Individuals don't concern me, for the most part, but societies do.  Or, more accurately, cultures do and not all cultures are the same.  Because cultures vary in their values and outlooks and religions and general sense of the world, people raised within different cultures have different sensibilities.  The problem is not innate within the individual due to "race."  Race doesn't even exist as a biological category of human being.

The problem, therefore, is not innate within the individuals of any ethnicity.  The problem is cultural and religious and Arab-Muslim cultures have proven themselves to be almost entirely hostile to the well-being of the tiny Jewish minority in the Middle East.

Individuals may be perfectly fine people, but it is the cultural tendencies that count.

When the Arab world holds Jews and non-Muslims to the same degree of respect that contemporary white American Alabamans hold black people, then we should not hold their anti-Semitic cultures in contempt.  Until they become at least as enlightened as your average "red-neck" we owe them nothing. In fact, comparing the racism of Arab-Muslim cultures to American "red-necks" is a terrible insult to American southerners. But, until that time we need to point out that their racism toward us has kept our numbers small, has ruined the lives of untold thousands - perhaps even untold millions - of their own children, and remains entirely unacceptable in the modern world.

Furthermore, as I believe that they have learned to understand, now we have the capacity to fight back.

And we will.

{G-d bless the IDF.}


  1. The point I was trying to make is that you simply can't get there from here. There's no line connecting point A and point B. If a civil modern nominally functional society modeled in part on the expectations and values that have formed or even just peppered western civilization replete with more or less many of the same values, where plurality and laws what we've come to call civic order, civic pride, respect for process however flawed, respect for governments that don't always go your way while the mechanism for transferring power doesn't require tanks and kangaroo courts then I'm afraid you're out of luck.

    We are what we are because of a long process called Western Civilization that began somewhere around the mid 14th century and continues to this day. When the west was recovering from the Black Death it was the same time that the Ottomans were in ascendency. At at that point the two cultures which were fairly similar in outlook, social order in economics and science began to diverge. The west chose the Renaissance and the east rejected it. The west moved to the Enlightenment and the east rejected that. The west progressed to the scientific and industrial revolutions and the east, with each decade falling further back, rejected all of that too. Less communication, less overt civil government, less science, less literacy, less philosophy, less diversity of thought. The east, the Arab-Muslim world or the Turkish world, is still almost without exception mired in feudalism.

    Importantly none of these revolts and sub-political wars are actually about politics. They're about which group of tyrants gets to steal and tax and oppress. The 'palestinians' are no different from the Saudis or Egyptians or Libyans or Yemenis or Lebanese Shiia on this score. It's not about the various revolutions, the green the orange the carnation and so forth. It's about who is going to steal enough and spread it around to ensure than the people who are potentially most dangerous to them have enough to eat and a modicum of material comfort.

    This is where our expectations should lie with the 'palestinians' - exactly where they are with all the others. The 'palestinians' should be no more expected to leap over the last 700 years of ignored western thought and suddenly land on 'modern secular tolerant pluralistic democracy' cost free than we should expect the French to abandon speaking French. They are what they are - good bad or in between. As any good lawyer will tell you, and I've lived with one for more than 3 decades - you have to take your clients as you find them not as you wish them to be fit your own plan for success.

    To me, this is not bigotry or racist. If the shoe were on the other foot and the Arabs were more politically, socially, economically, educationally advanced than we were and they started telling us that the path to success was Koran, Sharia, tribalism, revenge, blood feuds and a basic counter-rational approach, would we agree? Would we even be capable of making that leap? I don't think so and it would be a waste of time to try. In the early 3rd C. Christian Church a philosophy of extra Ecclesiam nulla salus developed, or 'outside the Church there is no salvation'. This can mean a great deal of things from supremacy of the Church to a universality of Church doctrine. But it can also imply a common unifying totality of all that is a culture; from its values and processes to its central themes and catechisms.

    My point was that these talks are of course doomed to failure because their notion of what a state even is is radically different from ours, their definition of success and progress are different from ours and their path to getting there is distinctly different. Any attempt at fooling ourselves that dragging them into our world is pointlessly doomed to failure.

  2. After reading this reflection from Mike L., the truth is that my view comes closest to Jay because as someone coming from a Western society like Mike, I do and can believe individuals matter. Americans are decent people and criminals among them are the exception. And we don't have to be afraid for our lives or fear for our freedoms. There is much to commend our culture and we shouldn't apologize for it. Its the best thing human beings ever produced and I think every human being has dignity and rights equal to all the others. That's in keeping with the tolerant and humane spirit of our Western heritage.

    At the same, I agree with Mike that societies matter - at least in parts of the world that are NOT tolerant and humane. We witness it daily in Islamic supremacism, oppression and genocide. They are cultures in which individuals merely cogs in a huge, fanatical and inhumane machine. There are people on certain parts of the planet who want to see us all dead. The kind of progress it took us centuries to achieve in the West has no meaning for them. And as Mike points out there is an absolute and fanatical hatred of the Jews and Israel in the Middle East, ironically enough, in societies have been entirely Jew-free for a few generations now.

    Trudy's point is that at some point, the East turned its back on growth, progress and human betterment and has been intellectually and morally mired as a result in the Dark Ages. Its incapable of becoming like us because it rejects the assumptions and values that made the West the creative and commanding force on the planet. Arabs, Turks, Iranians and Pakistanis can adopt Western technology. They can't learn it for themselves because their unstable and violent cultures simply can't handle a lot more of it. As Trudy rightly wrote, to drag them into our world on our terms is doomed to failure. I wrote in my original piece, it will take a long time for the other side to become a productive and civilized people. The values in the Muslim World need to change to change for that to happen and good luck with it!

    When all is said and done, Islam may win with the sheer force of numbers. The quality of the individual matters more though than the mass of aggregate numbers of any society and in the end, we in the West ultimately hold the cards. We can never be defeated as long as we remain true to our tolerant and humane tradition. The barbarians conquered Rome but in the end Rome ultimately absorbed them. In my view, Islam cannot long survive in the free marketplace of ideas. In a word, the limits on its subsequent spread are there for all to see. We have changed and can change. Islam simply can't and that's why Muslim societies are where they are today and for the future as well.

  3. One still has to deal with them, however. But understanding them is good and others need to discover the reality.

    They do know how to make a deal. There is the concept of hudna.

    So long as one realizes their intent and relationship that can occur, and takes advantage, it should be possible to reach such a state.