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Israel's Iran Dilemma

The Iranian regime has long been committed to the destruction of the state of Israel. Its program to build a nuclear weapon is close—just how close is unclear—to reaching the “zone of immunity,” after which a dash to produce nuclear weapons cannot be stopped. This combination of eliminationist anti-Semitism and nuclear capacity has placed the most fateful decision since the founding of the state on the shoulders of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak: whether or not to conduct pre-emptive military strikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Should ‘Coordinated Unilateralism’ Replace the Peace Process?

The latest round of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, held in Amman, have ended in mutual recrimination. For two decades, participants have gone in search of a permanent status agreement that would solve all issues and end all claims. They have told themselves that such a deal would be supported by virtually “all reasonable people.” But with no final agreement after years of trying, might it be the very search for a comprehensive and negotiated deal that is the problem?

The obstacles have less to do with bad faith and more to do with certain intractable characteristics of the conflict.

The Specter of the ‘New Communism’

A specter is haunting the academy—the specter of the “New Communism.” Astonishingly, a worldview recently the source of immense suffering and misery, and responsible for more deaths than fascism and Nazism, has made a comeback.

The leading proponents of the New Communism are the “academic rock-star” Slavoj Zizek and the philosopher and ex-Maoist Alain Badiou. Other leading figures are Michael Hardt, Gianni Vattimo, Bruno Bosteels from Cornell University, Alessandro Russo, Judith Balso, and Alberto Toscano. 

All spoke at “The Idea of Communism,” a conference held in London in 2009 that attracted nearly 1000 people paying more than 100 pounds each. Since the conference, a little publishing industry has grown up, making the “New Communism”  respectable on campus.

Pascal Bruckner and the Tyranny of Guilt

An eternal movement: critical thought, at first subversive, turns against itself and becomes a new conformism, but one that is sanctified by the memory of its former rebellion. Yesterday’s audacity is transformed into clichés. Remorse has ceased to be connected with precise historical circumstances; it has become a dogma, a spiritual commodity, almost a form of currency. A whole intellectual intercourse is established: clerks are appointed to maintain it like the ancient guardians of the sacred flame and issue permits to think and speak.

— Pascal Bruckner, The Tyranny of Guilt

My daughter was sitting in a university lecture one day when the professor put a rhetorical question to the class. “I mean, how many of you are proud to be British?” Her voice dripped with disdain (and, if you know how these things work, also with threat: don’t you dare put your hand up!).

The Palestinian Morning After

morning after. noun; plural, mornings after. a moment or period of realization in which the consequences of an earlier, ill-advised action are recognized or brought home to one.

The Palestinian “September” has come and gone. The standing ovation in which President Abbas basked in New York is only a warm memory, and all those portraits carried aloft in Ramallah are back in storage. Now, after the party, comes the morning after.

As I feared when writing at World Affairs in September (here and here), Palestinian unilateralism has damaged the prospects for Palestinian statehood. Adventurism in New York, far from producing a state in Palestine, has triggered a crisis in the Palestinian Authority (PA) itself.

Lessons on Radicalization from George Eliot

The attraction of young, idealistic Muslims to the pompous frauds of radical Islamism is often hard to fathom. Only by understanding that radicalization is a fundamentally expressive act, a questing after coherence and meaning, can we grasp it. And the supreme portrayal of what we might call supply-side “radicalization” is George Eliot’s ardent young Dorothea Brooke in her great novel Middlemarch, later hailed by Virginia Woolf as “one of the few English novels written for grown-up people.” I believe it is unparalleled as a depiction of how the mix of youth, idealism, illusion, and projection can open up an individual to a disastrous detour in their life-project.  

Projection

In the provincial town of Middlemarch in the years before the great reform bill of 1832, Dorothea Brooke, young and idealistic, noble but ignorant, enters a disastrous marriage to a much older man, Mr. Casaubon, a “dried bookworm towards fifty,” a petty and egotistic scholar with the touch of the charlatan about him. (His book, The Key to all Mythologies, will never be written, and he knows it.)

The Rise and Rise of Conspiracism

One of the reasons that the extremes of left and right touch—think of Anders Breivik plagiarizing the Unabomber manifesto, or those far-leftists marching under the banner “we are all Hezbollah now”—is that they have a shared commitment to conspiratorialism.

Book Review: A Tale from the British Far Right

Hate: My Life in the British Far Right
by Matthew Collins (London: Biteback, 2011)

Matthew Collins was a teenage fascist who became disillusioned and decided to quit the scene. That’s not so unusual. Agreeing to work undercover as a mole for the anti-fascist magazine Searchlight is. His new book, Hate, chronicles his journey in and out of the world of far-right extremism.

The book has much to teach us about three dynamics of radicalisation in Europe: an environment of vulnerability that gives extremism its chance, a transformational encounter with extremists on the prowl, and a legitimating ideology or “frame” that constructs frustration as violation.

The environment of vulnerability

Mediating a Conflict Between Two Rights (or Two Wrongs)


Chaim Weizmann, Israel’s first president, once said that Palestine-Israel conflict was so intractable precisely because it is not a conflict between right and wrong, but rather a conflict between two rights. (The Israeli novelist Amos Oz added that, sometimes, it is a conflict between two wrongs.)

What does that mean for the international community gathered in New York to consider the Palestinians bid for recognition as the 194th state?

‘Winter Is On My Head’: Israel’s Predicament

“Winter is on my head, but eternal spring is in my heart,” wrote the novelist Victor Hugo. That pretty much sums up Israel’s current predicament.

President Shimon Peres spoke for the county’s heart in April, back when the Arab Spring was, to use Rilke’s zestful words, “blooming most recklessly” and everyone marvelled at that “unbelievable shrieking into the heart of the night.” Peres was elated:

A great revolt has been initiated by young people and women, to gain freedom, bread and hope. Israel is watching with great expectation. … Those reactionary forces, that would hijack their countries back down the path of radicalism, are also the enemies of peace with Israel. That is why we hope our neighbors will choose to join the family of democratic nations.

After Oslo: the Radical Loser and the ‘Vital Center’

It was a question of which kind of radical loser would get the decent people of Norway first.

For a while it seemed it would be the AQ type. Only last year, the scholars Thomas Hegghammer and Dominic Tierney asked in the Atlantic, “Why Does Al-Qaeda Have a Problem With Norway?” The pair reported on a suspected AQ cell rolled up in Oslo in July 2010 that had been plotting chemical attacks. In 2006, the AQ theoretician and preacher Abu Yahya al-Libi called on Muslims to attack Norway. “Send rivers of blood down their streets ... hone your swords and shake the ground beneath their feet.”

Entebbe and the Dueling Legacies of the New Left

Thirty-five years ago this week, German leftists Wilfried Böse and Brigitte Kuhlmann hijacked Air France Flight 139 along with their comrades Fayez Abdul-Rahim Jaber and Jayel Naji al-Arjam. They demanded the release of Palestinian and Baader-Meinhof terrorists, flew the plane to Entebbe in Uganda, separated the Jews from the non-Jews, and prepared to execute them.

Enough ‘Eurabia’ Talk. Let’s be Optimistic.

I am not a regular reader of Lesbilicous, “the web’s tastiest lesbian magazine,” but I was drawn to this headline: “Poll reveals Muslim support for gay rights.”

Needed: A Leitkultur to Counter Radicalization in Europe

European societies need a leitkultur to defeat radicalization and violent extremism. The Muslim democrat and scholar Bassam Tibi first introduced this idea of a “leading culture” in Europa ohne Identität? in 1998. Multicultural European societies needed some glue if they were not to fragment, he argued. They needed a core culture built on the values of “modernity, democracy, secularism, the Enlightenment, human rights, and civil society.” However, the concept was soon turned into a political football by opportunistic German parties playing to their bases. Tibi declared the debate a failure and retreated.

For three reasons, we Europeans, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, should try again.

The British Muslim Voices We Need to Hear

Here is a fact that might surprise you. In 2009 a Gallup poll found 77 percent of British Muslims identified “very strongly” or “extremely strongly” with Britain, a higher percentage than the British public as a whole (at 50 percent).

Here is another. In 2010 a group of British Muslim women in partnership with the Armed Forces Muslim Association (AFMA) attended a memorial event. They were responding to a miniscule group of Islamists that had, by disrupting the now-traditional parade of soldier’s coffins through the town of Wootton Bassett, dominated the national news.

As Kalsoom Bashir put it, “Other organizations—that represent nobody—have tried to hijack the message from UK Muslim communities. We are here to claim it back.” She added, “There was a strong feeling of disgust in the Muslim communities that anyone would try to exploit the grief of families at Wootton Bassett.”

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