The Ideologies of Group Hatred

An important interview with Paul Berman in Z magazine which to me gets to the heart of current disputes in liberal society. What,  he asks, is Israel up against.

Maybe Hamas, the Iranians, al Qaeda and all other variants of radical Islam mean what they say.

History has some experience with political movements that proclaim in their founding documents the intention of killing the Jews. And so, a first possibility is that Israel is up against military enemies who have every intention of committing a genocide, and who might conceivably succeed. The possibility that Israel is defending itself against a genocide ought to lead any reasonable person to grant the Israelis a degree of latitude in judging what is a proportionate action.

But perhaps, and this is the dominant view, certainly in my world of the media, it’s all just bluster. Sure

[T]he Hamas charter is full of wild language – not just the part about killing the Jews, but also the invocation of the Protocols of Zion and of an antisemitic theory of history. But maybe all of this stuff should be regarded merely as an overwrought cry of pain – an expression of powerlessness. Maybe there is a kind of pathos of victimhood and suffering in Hamas’ ideas, and not much more.

While stressing that he cannot see the future,  Berman point to an habitual failure to take totalitarianism seriously and a compensatory willingness to find its demands reasonable.

Back in the 1930s, people used to assume that, once the Nazis had found their way into a position of responsibility for the well-being of Germany, they would stop saying wild things and would certainly think twice about putting their program into action. Power was supposed to sober the Nazis up. But maybe there is something about ideologies of group hatred that makes it hard to sober up.

Then again, I think that a certain number of people see nothing especially crazy or hateful in Hamas’ arguments and goals. They see points that are fairly reasonable, even if Hamas’ way of expressing those points seems a little crude. The Jews should not be killed, all reasonable people agree; but (so goes a very popular argument) neither do the Jews have a right to defend themselves. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion is not a sophisticated document; but Walt and Mearsheimer’s book “The Israel Lobby” is (in some people’s view) a sophisticated document. And the sophisticated document makes the unsophisticated one seem like it is on to something. By reasoning in this fashion, people end up concluding that Hamas’ doctrines have a purchase on truth – something that quite a few people believe. But they choose not to say it because they don’t want to look unsophisticated or coarse.

Go read the whole thing

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