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Friday, January 28, 2005
The Daniel Pipes Controversy (updated)

DPs lecture was quite nice. Not that he *actually* said anything irreverent, or was terribly polemical, but it was fascinating in terms of all the useless controversy it stirred up.

The D summarily reported on the day of the event that was "supported by Jewish students" whereas a particularly pious op.ed (with the appropiate genuflections to political corrections and leftist ambush tactics) maintained that the event should be opposed by "Muslium and concerned students." The D opened its biased reporting on the event with this wonderfully illustrative headline: "" Outside said event, which was filled to the brim with persons, there were obviously Muslium students (given away by the ostentatiously veiled women students) who were handing out pamphets about Dr. Pipes' alleged anti-Islamic stances.

Since I knew one of the "protestors", and if he could speak honestly I would wager to say that he didn't care one way or the other, I decided to reprimand to intellectually dishonest methods of persuasion on the part of Al-Nur, and its slient majority of "concerned students." My position was that by handing out pamphets on "Pipes' Views in Context", uninformed listeners, who would otherwise come tabula rosa, would be pre-biased against Pipes' statements, and might attempt to find discriminatory statements where none were intended. The more intellectually honest approach would be to hand out pamphlets after Dr. Pipes had spoken. The audience would have by then already had time to reflect on his views, and decide for themselves about Dr. Pipes rhetoric. Being myself a supporter of Dr. Pipes, even if I don't always agree with him, I am appalled at the lengths that others will go to discredit a source.

The introduction to Dr. Pipes was given by Economics professor Meir Kohn, who is, as far as I can tell, a bitter man. Obviously a rightist, Kohn proceeded to chastise the university about its leftist speech codes, and the chilling effect that universities have on otherwise free discourse. (And in keeping with the spirit of genuflection, he tipped his hat to Harvard President Larry Summers.) Although I'm fairly certain that Kohn is probably on the wrong side of the censorship debate, his incorrectness not withstanding, he decided to use the crucial moment of the introduction to polarize the discourse more than it should have been. As odious as President Wright's apology before the former Prime Minister Ehud Barak's 1930s lecture, Kohn's unreflective, polemicist denouncement of the university atmosphere was as shoddy as it was dishonest. From equating Marxism with political correctness, Kohn left no room for a principle disagreement over the ontology of the world, or of compromise between the various epistemic communities. Moreover, just like the rest of the colleagues that he denounces, he is not going to step down from his position of power within the generative institutions of the cultural elite. His naive contrariasm is so pre-September 11th.

After Kohn's fiery introduction, where he reveled in being a conservative professor in a conversative department, anything Pipes said would have seemed reasonable. Pipes' basic thesis is rather easy to grasp: the Palestinians and the Israelis are engaged in war. Israel's war aim is that Palestinians come to recognize that Israel is an accomplish fact of both the past and the present. Coming to terms with Israel's existence is a pre-condition for any hope of better future for them. The Palestinian war aim is to psychologically defeat Israel into moving away and granting them their homes back. From these basic premises, he concluded that the foundation of Oslo was that of a lie: that the Palestinian people had finally agreed to Israel's right to exist and that the main issue ahead was about the distribution of resources. For Pipes, diplomatic solutions could not work until one side achieved its war aims; moreover, one side achieving victory would mean that the other side, by definition, would not only lose, but also be defeated. The defeat implicity entailed a pyschological paradigm shift.

The empirical evidence he offered was the 1990s. He theorized, as a historian, that although no material factors on the ground shifted, the expectations and beliefs of both sides in 1993 were vastly different than in 2000. The change in these expectations not only closed the final chapters on Oslo, they would also close the chapters on the Abdullah plan, the Zinni plan, the Marshall plan, and all those other failed attempts. Pipes futher argued that American diplomacy should cultivate a closer relationship with Israel, a Western-style democracy in the Middle East. This closer relationship would place a vice on resources, diplomatic access, and munitions for the Palestinains until they realized that their war effort was, indeed, futile.

Pipes' thesis probably only tells half of the story. There probably was a shift in popular pereceptions on both sides until the Oslo committment seemed not only untenable, but unreasonable in the first place. However, by not detailing the supposedly static material factors, that is the conditions in which perceptions and value judgements are formed, Pipes cannot precisely give us an account of the mechanism for the change of these perceptions. Why did the perceptions sour instead of becoming more positive? Why does Oslo leave such a bitter taste in everyone's mouth? The conditions of Israeli businesses and Palestinian labor, the relationship between foreign labor and immigrant labor, the economic arrangements of Oslo, and the political and social infrastructure both created and destroyed by a concomitant investment from Israel in terms of aid and an expansion of settlements are all material factors that could suggest why the Palestinians decided to remilitarize. Moreover, what effects did the alliance of Likud with market capitalism, especially under Netanyahu have on the cheap Palestinian labor? Or, how did the politics of the racism and discrimination in redistribution among the various types of Jews in Israel affect Israeli-Arabs and the commuting Palestinians from the territories?

On the Palestinian side, Arafat and the PLO's attempt to directly control many of the Palestinian instituions that had formed during the PLOs exile may have contributed to the corruption and decline of Palestinian instituions. Arafat had a perverse incentive to destroy any sources of power and mobilization that did not further his currupt, capricious exercise of power. Moreover, his competition with other insurgency groups like the PLFP, the Islamic Jihad, and Hamas, and their increasing organizational responsibility and care for the laboring population in the territories may have directly contributed to the fall of Oslo and the change in perceptions. It is not just Fatah, or their infamous Al Asqa martyr brigades, that contribute to the Palestinian culture of violence; the other insurgency/resistance/terrorist organizations also vie for the allegiance of the Palestinian population. Some do so by promoting the extermination of the Jews; others by rallying under the banner of nationalism or a politicize Islam. But Dr. Pipes chose not to engage in that level of detail about the factors, material or ideational responsible for the shift within the Palestinian and Israeli consciousnesses between the years 1992-2000.

This lastly leaves responses to this event. President of (C)habad and able assistant to the Rabbi, Ilya Feoktistov '06, in a polemical mudslinging effort cloaked by a veneer of reasonability and social responsibility, decided to compare the Al-Nur students to southern racists. It could have been worse; it could have been a Hitler reference. The amount of logic plus that surrounds this entire event is a tab bit disappointing. In a classic scare tactic, reminscent of Cheney's "Vote for Us Or Die" 2004 campaign, Ilya writes: " there is nothing to prevent the few who do believe in violent Jihad against Jews and Americans from living amongst us and threatening our societies and our lives. They go to college with us, they work and live minutes away from us. They use their coreligionists as human shields by committing evil deeds in the name of Islam and hoping to deflect criticism by claiming Islamophobia on the part of their critics." Now I'm scared.

What bothered me more than this poor attempt at pathos-based persuasion was this little gem (or turd if you prefer): "When two Jewish college students and an African-American were murdered in the South by white supremacists for their participation in the civil rights movement, they gave their lives for the motto "never again," which they applied to all peoples who are in danger of hatred-driven annihilation." A great deal of myth about a supposed black-Jewish civil rights coalition now exists today; moreover, the slippery association of anti-semitism and civil rights murders in America further problematizes and greatly exaggerates the "Jewish community's" direct contribution to civil rights efforts in the 60s. Most of the prominent Jewish lawyers and activists who participated in the civil rights movement were either on the extreme left or were disconnected from the Jewish community. For example, when civil rights activists Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman were murdered in Mississippi with their black colleague, neither had a Jewish funeral. In fact, most Jewish constituencies became increasingly hostile to the civil rights project during the King years when the focus shifted from Southern barbarism to Northern economic and social discrimination in the housing and education markets.

Protected as they were by race- and class-interest of white supremacy, most Jewish constituents were unwilling to target the foundation of their social and market power, and end the coercion and bigotry of the perpetual black underclass. Thus, Ilya's appropriation of the civil rights agenda to argue her point is as disappointing as it is infuriating. Not just in the crass showiness of it all (like the veils produced for the occasion of Mr. Pipes), but in the utter a historicity of the assertions.