How Liberals Arrive at “We Are Hamas”
"WE ARE HAMAS," said protestors in London on January 3rd. Welcome to 2009, and to the thoroughly postmodern, ahistorical, depoliticized, world in which we live. And if the reader will kindly forgive the initial barrage of academic terms, and come … Read More
"WE ARE HAMAS," said protestors in London on January 3rd. Welcome to 2009, and to the thoroughly postmodern, ahistorical, depoliticized, world in which we live. And if the reader will kindly forgive the initial barrage of academic terms, and come with me on a short journey, I’ll explain why, for this avidly pro-Palestinian author and activist, spectacles like the one in the UK are both disheartening with regard to the Arab-Israeli conflict but also in terms of the wider culture we live in…
First, some definitions: POSTMODERN. A term often deployed unspecifically, and just as often misunderstood by its adherents as by the layman. Postmodernism was a fad in philosophy that took root roughly in the 1970s. I know what some of you are thinking–philosophy is an ivory tower sort of thing that doesn’t connect to the real world, so blaming some European intellectuals from a few decades ago for anything that’s wrong in the world is nonsense. Except that philosophy pervades every corner of your thought. Just about all of us have willingly or unwillingly adopted certain philosophical ideas put forth by men from Socrates to Hegel, whether we know it or not. Ideas matter because they effect how we think. So when a group of thinkers came along and injected a dogma of anti-Western, anti-rational, relativism into the philosophy scene and it caught hold, what was in the ivory tower was sure to trickle down. These days the average person experiences trickle-down postmodernism in several ways, but firstly as a vague but palpable lack of conviction. They are hesitant to make claims about the truth on their own and if they choose to do so, experience either a deep sense of guilt, criticism from their peers, or both. This is because we are taught that our rationality, our fundamental means of knowing and solving problems–especially if it is Western–is at best flawed and at worst nothing more than a manifestation of our imperialist male-dominated past. The average person now associates judgment about the truth of the world with arrogance. I’ve got my truth, you’ve got yours, let’s not fight. Stop being judgmental. That would be the mantra, and it’s one of the most widely accepted perversions of liberalism that exists. But then again, liberalism is one of those racist, sexist things that postmoderns taught us to think derisively of. The irony is that postmodernism, while it is officially a war against dogmas, actually produces several of its own. The anti-dogmatists are, as a rule, dogmatically anti-Western. They are skeptical of any truth claim if it originates from classical rationality rather than from a person of non-Western cultural persuasion. And since just about all of the postmoderns were also self-styled leftists, the "left" now takes it’s truth a la carte, from the array of non-Western opinion. AHISTORICAL. Just what it sounds like. Postmodernism helped speed this along, as it rejected "master narratives" of history. But nobody needed Lyotard to see that as public education degenerated, and as our technological economy began rewarding those who knew how to deal with the rootless present as opposed to the rooted past, the discipline of learning any narrative of history would give way to the ability to make a Facebook profile, program your iPhone, or build a website. The Internet is immaterial, whereas history is quite material. DEPOLITICIZED. It used to be that politics was a set of values and convictions for which one fought both in the realm of ideas and in the harsher realities of the political universe. In the West, however, where we have made our politics a mere matter of purchase power ("I shop at Bath & Body Works because they donate money to the Third World") and identity adornments, politics has virtually ceased to exist. Even Barack Obama’s victory must be attributed in part to his prodigious ability to understand this new world (which was in no small part what recommended him for the job). Politics is today a brand, not a practice. It’s something you wear, something you use to designate yourself socially and culturally. For most, it’s not the art of the possible, even if they are marching in the streets. After all, that’d take vision and conviction, which they’ve forfeited, to be respectful of everyone else’s truth. Which leads us, finally, back to the protests in London over the attacks in Gaza. How come, despite the fact that Hamas openly states its violent, intolerant, anti-Semitic, theocratic values, and despite having seen its brutal ways of doing business, can a mob of (mostly) well-meaning British liberals take to the streets and declare their solidarity? It isn’t (with the exception of George Galloway) because they are actual sympathizers with Islamist killers. How is it that those concerned with social justice could possibly contort their values so that a slogan like this can cross their lips? Because that’s what happens when you perpetually doubt your own sense of truth and instead subscribe almost unconditionally to what the non-Westerner says about "their truth." It’s what happens when you’ve accepted the notion that your rationality both comes from an evil place and is capable only of yielding evil conclusions. It’s what happens when you’ve spent more hours making pop hits, riding your white horse into Studio 54, programming your iPod, designing and navigating websites in cyberspace than you’ve spent reading up on the history of the conflict. A few snippets of grotesque propaganda and a dash of worldview confirmation will do. At that point, you’ve got your marching orders. You are, after all, a person who cares about the world and about the oppressed. In order to express this, you will, like a consumer, seek out the brand that seems, in your feeble estimation, to demarcate that identity. Non-Western? Check. Claims to operate on a different regime of truth? Appears anti-imperialist? Check. Draw up the banner: WE ARE HAMAS. After all, who would you be, beneficiary of the Western empire, to quarrel with those who suffer at the hands of the oppression your flag helped create and perpetuate? Dare you call into question how many Palestinians have suffered at the hands of Arab oppressors like, say, the Jordanian kings who let starve and actively annihiliated thousands of Palestinian refugees? Is it really your place, considering how brutal IDF tactics have been in the past, to entertain the notion that Hamas might be sending Palestinians to slaughter in order to obtain electoral and P.R. victories? Or would you rather simply assert, out of guilt for past sins or out of rightful revulsion at seeing images of dead Palestinian children, that whoever is against England, the U.S. and Israel is your friend? You’re unlikely to lose any sleep over declaring solidarity with Hamas, since you don’t believe it’s your place to question the legitimacy of their political goals. You’ve got your truth, they’ve got their truth, and never the twain shall meet, much less conflict. But this was never a principle that liberals or leftists believed in until recently. Before postmodernism, the idea of the freedom of ideas and humanistic progress not merely allowed for, it required the intermingling of cultures and ideas, and the measuring of truths in a rigorous debate. The goal was to eliminate the bad ideas and keep the good. Before the banishing of truth into culturally specific enclaves, and before the death of history, the left was working toward creating a better material world. Today, under the guise of being more accepting, it has let bad ideas not only survive, but has allowed them to thrive and proliferate. With the material world an afterthought in the age of the Internet, George Galloway seems as good a fellow to stand beside as any, just as long as his is a brand that makes you feel good about who you are.
The sad part, though, is that it’s a good thing to want to show solidarity with the oppressed, to want to work towards a world where the crimes of our more ignorant past are corrected. People like me, who are quite convinced that Galloway represents another, far more sinister breed than the well-meaning accidental fascist weekender-type outlined here, are in a difficult position. Criticize Galloway and the protest, and be accused of siding with colonialists, child-murderers and labeled a treacherous bastard. Fail to do so, and fail to defend the right of a liberal democratic state to self-defense and let thrive the growing sector of the left that openly declares support with the radical theocratic right. But would it really be too much to ask for some celebrities of conscience, musicians, movie stars, and leftists to take neither the side of heavy-handed Israeli retaliations, nor the side of terrorists who fire rockets indiscriminately into civilian areas of Southern Israel and use their own people as human shields? What if instead, in a gesture of solidarity, they took the words of a bereaved Palestinian mother whose child had been killed in an Israeli strike as their slogan? She is a female, non-Western victim of both the Israeli occupation as well as the cynical machinations of Islamic imperialists that provoked this conflict. Her cry? "May God exterminate Hamas!" Whether or not one endorses her means, this formulation captures perfectly a real vision for a political project worth undertaking. You needn’t endorse Israel’s means of accomplishing that task either, but at the very least it is the ultimate statement of solidarity with Palestinian victims of this war. A fairly potent means of examining and critiquing the postcolonial West might involve asking the following simple, jargonless question: How can a woman who lives this war and has lost her own flesh and blood to an Israeli strike be able to distinguish the guilty party even through a haze of grief that few of us can imagine, while those in the West march in support of the party that she knows brought about the death of her child?