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Palestine and the Geocentric Left
LEFTIST THEORY has always reminded me of the old earth-centered universe. Back then, whenever anybody observed something going on in the skies that contradicted the model, he would tweak and adapt it to account for the new phenomenon. Eventually the whole contraption became so intricate and unwieldy that it collapsed. The problem wasn't that the model was not sufficiently elaborate, but rather that it was fundamentally flawed and had to be discarded.
So too with the reductive materialist determinism that still lies at the heart of most leftist thought. The idea that history follows a progressive pattern determined by material processes has been utterly discredited by 20th century history. Yet various brands of ideological duct-tape--"colonialism," "imperialism," "culture criticism"--have been slapped onto the model to keep it creaking along. Nothing shows this better than the Left's hysterical support of the Palestinians.
You only have to look at the rhetoric coming out of the Middle East to see the process at work. How often over the years have we seen "colonialism" and "imperialism" sprayed like verbal aerosols over every event and crisis, obscuring their true causes? Remember Egypt's "Big Lie" during the '67 Six-Day War? Nasser spun Israel's brilliant demolition of Egypt's incompetent air force into the "imperialist" aggression of the United States and England, whose jets actually did the fighting. Thus had the "colonial" powers taken another step in regaining their "imperialist" hegemony whose key was the creation of Israel.
Decades of such propaganda and clichés have transformed the Palestinian Arabs into anti-colonial resistors of a Western imperialism embodied in Israel. Supporting the Palestinians, then, is part of supporting the fight against the neo-imperialism of the global economic order, which now colonizes through Coca-Cola and Hollywood rather than through physical occupation and force. Does anyone doubt that those Western saps who ran into the occupied Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem or huddled with Arafat in Ramallah are veterans of the anti-globalization protests?
This interpretation of the Palestinians as fighters of colonialism is, of course, as fantastic and ethnocentric as the notion that they are driven by nationalist aspirations. The engine of Arab rage is neither nationalism nor anti-colonialism, but religious chauvinism and wounded ethnic pride, phenomena that a materialist determinism necessarily must dismiss as mere "epiphenomena," effects, not causes. In actual fact, it is not what Israel does, but what Israel is that galls the Arabs. Changing the material conditions in the West Bank and Gaza will not eliminate that hatred of Israel, a hatred whose roots lie in the irrational religious and cultural passions that a materialist philosophy cannot fathom or explain but only trivialize.
The Left's support of the Palestinians, however, is the consequence of other, more recent changes in leftist thinking. The endorsement in the sixties of multicultural identity politics was a betrayal of the Left's rationalist and materialist roots, reflecting as it does a romantic fascination with the "noble savage" whose culture is superior to the hyper-civilized and boring advanced capitalist societies. Now not only is the "other" a victim of the West's colonial and imperialist oppression, but his culture is more authentic, mysterious, spontaneous, and vivacious than the drab, suburban "air-conditioned nightmare" of capitalism's strip malls and television.
The Palestinians, then, have been adopted as mascots of the international Left's primitivist idealism, just one more exotic victim "of color" whose culture is being assaulted by the Western economic, cultural, and military juggernaut. Just consider this course offering at---- where else?-- U.C. Berkeley, as reported by Roger Kimball in The Wall Street Journal: "The Politics and Poetics of Palestinian Resistance." The course description asserts that "the brutal Israeli military occupation of Palestine, [ongoing] since 1948, has systematically displaced, killed, and maimed millions of Palestinian people. And yet, from under the brutal weight of the occupation, Palestinians have produced their own culture and poetry of resistance." We see here precisely that mishmash of old-style Marxism and identity-politics multiculturalism, delivered with that rhetorical hyperbole one used to get in Pravda.
Perhaps one reason Israelis are so despised by the Western left is that they look and live basically like us, and so lack the exotic allure of the oppressed "other." Israel is reduced to being an actor in the simplistic melodrama of Western oppressor and non-Western exotic victim, even though by any calculation the Israelis-- outnumbered 100-1, surrounded by virulent enemies, and assaulted since the nation's birth by guerilla and terrorist attacks, not to mention four wars-- are the victims of what could more accurately be considered an Arab attempt to reassert an "imperialist" hegemony over lands it conquered and stripped from their original Greek, Jewish, and Hellenic possessors.
A genuine leftist, in fact, should despise Islamic fundamentalism as superstitious nonsense, a species of "false consciousness" obscuring from people their true interests and historical destiny in the great Marxist opera of history. That's certainly how the American left looks upon our own Christian "fundamentalists": as throwbacks to a more primitive time who are trying to impede the inevitable progress of history.
Yet through the abracadabra of "imperialism" and "colonialism," Arab religious fanatics, a 1000-times more virulent and murderous than any Christian fundamentalist, are transformed into noble resistors of imperialist oppression, and a tiny, beleaguered Israel into the point-man for American imperialism. At the same time, the Palestinians are fussed over as embodiments of non-Western cultural superiority, denizens of a more authentic and vital culture threatened by economic globalization. That these two views are intellectually incoherent illustrates just how decrepit leftist ideology really is.
But we all know that intellectual coherence has never been important to leftist ideologues. Just as the geocentric universe was sustained by faith, so too with the left: it has degenerated into an irrational cult whose creed is anti-Americanism, a prideful self-loathing that strangely coexists with a smug self-righteousness that would have made a witch-burning Puritan blush. And like the earth-centered universe, no amount of theoretical adjustment will salvage the model. But unlike the geocentric universe, the Leftist superstition will not be destroyed by the facts of experience and history. We have to trust in time eventually to consign this deadly contraption to what the Marxists themselves used to call the "dustbin of history."