Thursday, February 26, 2009

Paul Berman's Must Read Interview

Michael Slackman has a troubling piece in today's New York Times. He's been wandering around Cairo, talking to regular Cairenes (nothing intrinsically wrong with that), trying to understand what the Obama Administration must do if they are really listening to the Arabs and wish to mend bridges to them. His answer, in a nutshell, is to abandon the American perspective on terrorism. According to the Arabs, terrorism is the word used by the Americans for what Arabs do, even though the real terrorists are the Americans themselves, and much worse than them, the Israelis.

I have no doubt this is indeed what most Arabs feel - nay: fervently and devoutly believe. They also believe Jews murder non-Jewish children for their blood, for example. The antisemitism the Arab world is drenched in these days can only be compared to the worst version of the Nazi form of it in its severity. It makes the antisemitism of the Guardian look like a mild case of benign and harmless distaste. I'm not saying this for the hyperbole. The Arab world really and truly is awash in Nazi-like hatred of the Jews; a fact Michael Slackman is totally unaware of (or he's aware and willfully disregarding, or he's aware and uncaring - so let's assume he's merely an ignoramus). So his article is totally lacking in context, lacking in history, but most peculiarly, it's also lacking in moral fiber. His thesis is "Hey, these people think we're hypocrites, so we're going to have to bend over backwards to prove to them we're not, including changing how we see the world and behave in it, otherwise they won't like us!"

Craven, silly, and of course dangerous. For the Americans, I mean.

Contrast his thoughtlessness to the long interview Michelle Sieff has just published with Paul Berman. (I was directed to it by Jefferey Goldberg's valuable blog). Berman is one of the last representatives of a politically Left worldview that was admirable, humane, and the sort of intellectual home a fellow could feel proud to be in. Alas, it's a dying breed. Anything he writes is always valuable; this interview is by far the most important thing anyone has formulated on the Israeli-Hamas war, on contemporary antisemitism, and on where we are. It's absolutely excellent. Long, but mandatory reading. It starts out excellent, then gets better. Here's a section from the middle:
Oh, as Irving Howe said, "There is no heart so warm that it doesn't have a cold spot for the Jews." We like to think of hatred of the Jews as a low, base sentiment that is entertained by nasty, ignorant people, wallowing in their own hatefulness. But normally it's not like that. Hatred for the Jews has generally taken the form of a lofty sentiment, instead of a lowly one - a noble feeling embraced by people who believe they stand for the highest and most admirable of moral views.
Unlike journalism, this one is by someone deeply immersed in historical context.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for the interview. Paul Berman is indeed always worth reading. His book Terror and Liberalism still remains in my mind as one of the best pieces on Islamism, despite being quite journalistic.

Anonymous said...

That is an excellent interview. All of his books are good, especially Terror and Liberalism.