Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Antecedents to today's talk of "Palestinian rights" in how Reconstruction was described

Sar Shalom

I finally got to start reading Eric Foner's Reconstruction, through which I learned of W. E. B. DuBois' Black Reconstruction in America. One of the topics of DuBois' work is the Dunning school's historiography of Reconstruction which was responsible for generations of Americans believing that Reconstruction was simply a tool for corrupt northerners to prop up incompetent negroes to which DuBois' contemporaries could happily say goodriddance. An example of DuBois' struggle with the zeitgeist at his time, from Chapter XVII "The Propaganda of History," and some commentary of how his struggle parallels our struggle with the zeitgeist of the Palestinian narrative:
Herein lies more than mere omission and difference of emphasis. The treatment of the period of Reconstruction reflects small credit upon American historians as scientists. We have too often a deliberate attempt so to change the facts of history that the story will make pleasant reading for Americans. The editors of the fourteenth edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica asked me for an article on the history of the American Negro. From my manuscript they cut out all my references to Reconstruction. I insisted on including the following statement:
White historians have ascribed the faults and failures of Reconstruction to Negro ignorance and corruption. But the Negro insists that it was Negro loyalty and the Negro vote alone that restored the South to the Union; established the new democracy, both for white and black, and instituted the public schools.
This the editor refused to print, although he said that the article otherwise was "in my judgment, and in the judgment of others in the office, an excellent one, and one with which it seems to me we may all be well satisfied." I was not satisfied and refused to allow the article to appear.
Just as the intelligentsia of DuBois' time refused to challenge its narrative about the freedmen being a bunch of incompetents, today's intelligentsia refuses to challenge its narrative about the uppity Jews dispossessing the native Palestinians so as to revive their abandoned and forgotten kingdom. Unlike American Reconstruction for DuBois, Middle Eastern reconstruction for us is a matter of the present and not just history. Thus, instead of historical works ignoring parts of the past complicating the desired narrative, today the news media, as documented by Matti Friedman, ignore events of the present that complicate their precious narrative.
War and especially civil strife leave terrible wounds. It is the duty of humanity to heal them. It was therefore soon conceived as neither wise nor patriotic to speak of all the causes of strife and the terrible results to which sectional differences in the United States had led. And so, first of all, we minimized the slavery controversy which convulsed the nation from the Missouri Compromise down to the Civil War. On top of that, we passed by Reconstruction with a phrase of regret or disgust.
In most western discourse about the Middle East today, the role of the Holocaust is rightly recognized as justifying the need for a Jewish homeland. However, such discussion invariably devolves into questions of how much the "innocent" Palestinians should pay for the sins and crimes of Europe. What such questions ignore is the 13 centuries of the Pact of Umar in general and the half-century before the First Aliyah in the Levant and Arab resistance to the Yishuv in particular. Having whitewashed the Arab/Muslim crimes against Mizrahi Jewry out of our history, it is now permissible to publicize questions if Middle Eastern reconstruction should be brought to an end now the way American Reconstruction was ended 138 years ago.
But are these reasons of courtesy and philanthropy sufficient for denying Truth? If history is going to be scientific, if the record of human action is going to be set down with that accuracy and faithfulness of detail which will allow its use as a measuring rod and guidepost for the future of nations, there must be set some standards of ethics in research and interpretation.

If, on the other hand, we are going to use history for our pleasure and amusement, for inflating our national ego, and giving us a false but pleasurable sense of accomplishment, then we must give up the idea of history either as a science or as an art using the results of science, and admit frankly that we are using a version of historic fact in order to influence and educate the new generation along the way we wish.
Now we get to the reason for why history was censored in DuBois' day. Today we recognize that allowing Jim Crow to emerge at the end of the 19th century is a stain on our nation's history. In DuBois' time, the stain would have been ever more real as Jim Crow was a present reality then. However, if the alternative to Jim Crow could be shown to be a perversion of justice, then Jim Crow could be tolerated as at worst the cost of righting a grave injustice and making it happen would have been a truly noble act. Such is also the case with Middle Eastern reconstruction. If it can be shown that the uppity Jews are guilty of unspeakable, unprovoked crimes against humanity, then giving them their comeuppance would not be such a terrible act. In fact, it would be a noble one. If the result of doing so is the reinstatement of the Islamic equivalent of Jim Crow, then it is at worst the unfortunate cost of seeing that justice is done. Such are the stakes of the narrative war.

14 comments:

  1. Aside from the fact the American experience is unlike the Middle East experience, how does all this matter in terms of the reality of today?

    One could buy the Arab narrative if only, when presented with opportunity for a state, there was not rejection. ALWAYS rejection. Because Palestinians, who exist politically due to violence, are now treated like babies, who cannot cognitively compromise, so they are bought off, until it is virtually impossible to cut them off.

    We should quit trying to intellectualize the matter, and insist that Palestinians stop their incitement. Even if they don't we should ALWAYS raise the matter, so out of step with civilized norms and peaceful intentions.

    As for the Leftists that act as if only they care about the future and therefore get to dictate morality, their lofty notions so often lead to dismal results because they cannot temper the ideals with what is feasible. Israel and Jews are to them an easy way to fight the larger battle that blames Western values for their success. Imagine these warriors in places where expression was not taken for granted.

    It would be nice if Obama had not called out the dogs on Schumer. He has contributed to the spread of antisemitism, even if he is too smart to know it..

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  2. Just because the American experience is different from the Middle East experience doesn't mean that there aren't certain parts of the American experience that are more like the Middle East experience than others. As I've noted before, those who support the Palestinians' objectives are closer to supporting the Klan's efforts to usher in Jim Crow than they are to the Civil Rights Movement's efforts to end Jim Crow.

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  3. Sar Shalom,

    I have to say, I am pleasantly surprised that you are bringing up Foner's Reconstruction.

    That is the foremost work on the topic to date and Eric Foner is often considered the dean of American historians.

    That particular work is monumental and, yes, I have read it, although it has been more than ten years. It covers the topic from A to Z.

    It's rather coincidental that you bring DuBois in, as well.

    He wrote The Souls of Black Folk in which he discussed the dual-consciousness of black people in the US at the turn into the twentieth century.

    I suspect that Jewish people in the West have something similar going on.

    We have a dual consciousness, as well.

    In any case, I have to say that I think that you are pursuing a very interesting line of thought, but it is a line of thought that the great majority of professional historians would frown upon. But, of course, history as a field of knowledge, is conservative... in a practical sense.

    One of the things that I generally insist upon is that you cannot understand Jewish history in the Middle East without taking into account 13 centuries of Arab-Muslim dominance and imperialism, just as you cannot understand African-American history without reference to slavery and Jim Crow.

    In 1877 the North withdrew from the South, leaving black people to the tender mercies of the Klan and a hostile while majority southern society. In the literature it is often spoken of as "The Great Betrayal."

    The Jews in the Middle East are a people under siege. The analogy to African-American slavery is wobbly, but there is no question that we are looking at a hostile majority trying to do-in a beseiged minority.

    And that, in my opinion, is what we need to get across to people.

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    1. In 1877 the North withdrew from the South, leaving black people to the tender mercies of the Klan and a hostile while majority southern society. In the literature it is often spoken of as "The Great Betrayal."

      The literature from after the Civil Rights movement calls it "The Great Betrayal." However, the literature from before then, most notably in the Dunning school, distorted Reconstruction to such a degree that leaving the freedmen to the tender mercies of the Klan could be considered a reasonable action.

      In a sense, this post deferred on the issue of how Zionism is like Reconstruction. What this post did instead was compare today's vilification about Israel to the discourse about Reconstruction engendered by the Dunning school. Dunning is mentioned in Foner's introduction to Reconstruction, but without details. DuBois goes to greater length about the Dunning school and is the greater part of this post. Foner is more of a hat-tip.

      However, I would like to contribute to developing a robust case about how Zionism compares to Reconstruction. Your comment that "the great majority of professional historians would frown" is one reason why the case would have to be robust. Could you describe what about it they frown on, and possibility what could be addressed?

      The analogy to African-American slavery is wobbly

      One thing that I did pick up from Foner is that between Apomattox and the start of Congressional Reconstruction, there was a period of Presidential Reconstruction which aside from not allowing people to hold chattel slaves essentially preserved the old social order. I would need more details, but that would compare more closely to the social order of the Middle East pre-Zionism than would slavery.

      An alternative approach would be to list ways in which Reconstruction differs from Apartheid and provide an assessment as to which is most like Zionism.

      What's needed is to combine Foner's knowledge of American history with Bernard Lewis' or Bat Yeor's knowledge of Middle Eastern history. An historian of the Lewis or Bat Yeor mold would certainly be interesting in creating a narrative that would characterize attempts to negate Zionism with the "The Great Betrayal" of Reconstruction. The question is if there are any historians of the Foner mold with a similar interest.

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  4. As far as Israel / Palestine goes, Eric Foner represents precisely the kind of historian that has created the problems you care about.

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    1. Could you elaborate?

      Other than the fact that he writes for The Nation, I have nothing to go by for what he thinks about Israel/Palestine. However, his main area of research provides the needed information to provide an alternative comparative reference for Israel today the constant PC refrain of "Apartheid." If Foner were to refuse to view the reversal of social order in the Middle East ushered by Zionism in the same way that he does the reversal of social order in the American South between Presidential Reconstruction and Congressional Reconstruction, it would not be reason to pass up the information he provides about the latter in order to buttress the former.

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    2. Sar Shalom,
      no of course whatever Eric Foner thinks about Israel /Palestine does not, and should not, detract in any way from his work on American history.
      What I was trying to say, was that he is part of the large and influential group of left-wing historians who have come to dominate the way in which history is taught and understood in the modern academy.
      As you say, the Dunning's school of historians did a lot of damage in their time which had a long-term negative effect on the way certain history was understood. That was, thankfully, a long time ago. Eric Foner, in our time, contributes to a damaging effect on the way certain history is taught and understood. Unfortunately the lens through which he - and many others - use to better examine the most difficult parts of American history has worked the other way regarding Israel /Palestine.
      It is interesting how historians who seek to create a more truthful and just portrait of American racial history have so often found it impossible to do the same re Israel /Palestine.
      It is not for nothing that he is a 'darling' of the New York Times etc.

      http://historynewsnetwork.org/article/45238

      Foner is also someone who has never found it in himself to confront the crimes of the Soviet Union in anything like the fashion he has documented the crimes of the United States. That should give pause for thought.

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    3. That is useful information as far as an assessment of Foner goes. However, saying that something doesn't detract from his work on American history does not answer whether or not his work would be useful to shift opinions to greater support of Israel.

      To summarize a point I've expressed before on the blog, if people were to associate support for the Palestinians with helping the Klan to overturn Reconstruction and usher in Jim Crow rather than with the Civil Rights movement's efforts to overturn Jim Crow, support for the Palestinians would drop. I would contend the lens working "the other way regarding Israel/Palestine" is more in line with the Dunning school's mode of thinking than it is of Foner's, though it is possible for Foner or his disciples to adopt Dunning's mode of thought when Jews are the victims rather than African Americans. The question is how many people who aren't fully committed to accepting the Palestinian narrative would fail to recognize the contradiction between rejecting the Dunning narrative and accepting the Palestinian narrative?

      An alternative tact would be to compare the Dunning school's historiography of Reconstruction to BDS' constant complaints about "Zionist imperialism." This post was essentially a comparison between society's acceptance of the Dunning narrative in DuBois' time to society's acceptance of the BDS narrative in our time.

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    4. I think, for me, the key word in what you are saying is "victims."
      Everything rests on whether one can introduce the idea of Jews being victims.
      And the most important problem is that the world has never been able to accept that that is possible. That obviously goes way back and is encoded in theology and cultural myths. Later, it becomes political on top of that.
      There was a brief window after the facts - and pictures - from the concentration camps became known. But it had to be that extreme for the idea to have any meaning. And most of the world did not accept that anyway.
      It has been a remarkably short time before that 'window' has been slammed shut.
      I think the reasons parallels do not work are because Jews are, uniquely, denied the role of being victims.
      In the modern world that has been highly influenced by postmodern thinking and theories about post-colonialism etc. Also, by the idea that all the world can be seen through the lens of the oppressor and the oppressed. Jews have been cast as disproportionately powerful and successful. ( That is on top of the supernatural and mythological ideas that percolate culture.)
      Even if the objective reality is that Jews are in a minority and are discriminated against, it is an unacceptable reality.
      That, perhaps, is much more evident in Europe than so far it has been in America. I think that is changing. Sadly. And frighteningly.

      I would say that there are many people who are more objective about the issues involved. They are, for the most part, not 'on the left'. Some are, most aren't. The historians and commentators who seem to have a more objective view are those who do not need to view the world through the lens of victimhood. And are, therefore, more likely to look at the facts.
      Unfortunately, the culture that we all live in is defined more by emotion than by facts. Modern communication has a lot to do with that. Particularly television which relies on emotion even in news and current affairs. It has played an enormous role in this.
      It has become easier for most people to think 'emotionally' rather than rationally. That is a huge problem.
      I think it's a really interesting issue and well- worth coming back to.

      Interesting link to speech given in House of Commons by historian Andrew Roberts:

      http://truthandsurvival.wordpress.com/2013/04/02/andrew-roberts/

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    5. A few quick comparisons between the African-American struggle for civil liberties and human rights and the Jewish struggle for same:

      1) African-Americans - persecuted minority for centuries in the Americas

      1a) Jews - persecuted minority for millennia throughout much of the world


      2) African Americans - coming out of slavery and Jim Crow seek to establish justice for themselves and their people through the Civil Rights Movement and Black Nationalism

      2a) Jews - coming out of third-class non-citizenship under the boot of Arab-Muslim imperialism (dhimmi status) seek to established justice for themselves and our people through Zionism, the movement for Jewish Nationalism


      3) African-Americans - their enemies during the period of slavery and Jim Crow laws represented a backward-looking ethos of White-Euro Superiority and a strong willingness to use violence in order to maintain that superiority

      3a) Jews - their enemies during the period of dhimmi status, and up to today, represented a backward-looking ethos of Arab-Muslim Superiority and a strong willingness to use violence in order to maintain that superiority

      I am sure that there is plenty more comparisons we can make.

      Not that I think that the two histories are analogous, but there are very definite points of similarity that can be used in the manner that Sar Shalom suggests.

      But we need to emphasize it.

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    6. Agreed that there is a limit to how much logic can convince people. One supplement would be cartoons depicting the Arabs as being like white supremacists. An example would be someone in a kefiyeh talking about Jews in language like how white supremacists talk about blacks and have his kefiyeh morph into a Klan-style cone hat.

      Even if that doesn't win many over, it will win over more than not presenting it.

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    7. Have you thought about trying to expose the wall-to-wall hate and repulsive conspiracy theories that pervade so much of Arab Middle-East culture? It should reach a wider audience. That the mainstream media doesn't expose it is appalling.
      Why not try and use some of that material, there's so much of it, to show the level of deranged hate that is an everyday occurrence in that part of the world.
      I go on a blog in the UK that sometimes, amongst other things, posts clips from MEMRI.
      That material is all out there. Why not use it? It speaks for itself.

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    8. It is definitely worthwhile to expose incitement on the part of the Arabs. I simply think that putting that incitement in the context of the incitement of whites against blacks from the Reconstruction era would bolster the case that exposing the Arabs' hatred intends to make.

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    9. Sar Shalom,
      I am really thinking about what you have written. It is only because of the lateness of the hour ( it is almost 1am here) that I am not replying now.
      If I may, I would like to come back on this thread tomorrow ( UK time) and comment properly then.
      K.

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