Over the past year or so the deterioration of campus discourse in the face of militant victimocracy has coincided with the increased virulence of Islamic jihad in both the Middle East and the West. Nor can one help but notice that the more ferocious the Islamists become, the more universal the anti-Israel BDS movement becomes in the academic community and beyond. By now things have reached the point at which it is no longer useful to talk about Israel’s “shaping its message” or “improving its outreach.” The Western intelligentsia appears to have made up its mind that Israel is an evil colonial enterprise, that all the viciousness of Palestinian terrorism, from the murders at the 1972 Munich Olympics to stabbing old women in the street today, is to be laid at the feet of the “occupiers,” that the failure of the Palestinian Arabs to form a state is entirely Israel’s fault, and simply that the very notion of a “Jewish state” is illegitimate—after all, the real Palestinians insist that the Jews’ ancestors never lived there at all.
In the December 3 Jerusalem Post, Caroline Glick points out the near-direct connection between not merely hostility to Israel but more specifically to Jews that is implicit in the ascriptivist identity politics practiced by the “crybullies” on our campuses. She points out that the Jews, long a stigmatized group, have never promoted or benefited from such policies, but on the contrary have always sought meritocratic, objective tests of qualification. (The same is largely true for Asian students, who have recently been protesting “racial” admissions quotas.) Although the relationship between high Jewish IQs and monotheism is uncertain, there can be no doubt that the superior success of Jews in adapting to Western modes of thought—and in creating a modern, technologically innovative Middle Eastern state—has contributed to its neighbors’ antisemitism.
Glick’s argument is fully in line with my analysis that the greatest medium-term problem of the modern world is valorizing the labor of those less adept at manipulating mathematical and other symbols. As a sign of its thorniness, not only is alluding to the existence of these difficulties and to their unequal distribution among ethnic groups taboo, but the taboo extends to any affirmation of the validity of meritocratic measurement, which is all but equated with “racism”—the variety that humorists refer to as “the soft racism of low expectations.” (Cf., for example, the University of California racism guidelines.) For if some groups do less well than others, this cannot be blamed on either their nature or their culture (“blaming the victim”), only on “micro-aggressions” by the possessors of “privilege.” And today the BS of ascriptivism increasingly includes the BDS of anti-Zionism.
Alas, the predictable effect of the San Bernardino incident—to which the first reaction of the mainstream media was to denounce the “gun epidemic,” notably in the New York Times’ first front-page editorial in nearly a century—will likely be only to intensify the march of BDS, the delegitimization of Israel, and a creeping antisemitism through the universities and the workplaces populated from them.
As I pointed out in the previous Chronicle, and this is not an “original idea,” the resiliency of the Western democracies that got them through WWII is, if not exhausted, worrisomely depleted. Shows of strength by our enemies, even “symbolic” ones of the kind terror produces—and there will surely be far more terrible ones if we let IS continue—generate the desire to “understand” them rather than to destroy them. Radical Islam is merely reminding the Christian West of its moral heritage: love your enemies and turn the other cheek, just as did the Bataclan survivor I quoted, who sympathized with his “Palestinian” suicide-bomber enemy—even though there were no Palestinians among the Parisian killers. Had this gentleman been a member of the ASA or AAA or MLA or WSA, he would no doubt have been all the more convinced by the slaughter he witnessed to forestall further Islamic fury by voting for BDS.
And so I return to a frequent theme of these Chronicles: the need to maintain a moral justification of firstness. The Jews are for Western civilization and by extension for the modern civilized world the exemplars of firstness, and their sufferings have exemplified those occasioned by the resentment that firstness arouses. Western Christian civilization has been on the whole a successful integration of the Jewish component of firstness into the originally apocalyptic social order created by the first Christians out of its denial. It is important to note in this regard that the Renaissance and the subsequent development of modern science and technology were not primarily or even significantly the work of Jews, whose emancipation occurred only with the French Revolution. It was Christian society itself that created (with some Old-Testament inspiration) the modern nation-state and with it, the market system, into which the Jews were subsequently integrated.
This integration occurred upon a background of Muslim retreat. The 1453 conquest of Constantinople was a hollow victory, since the real center of Christian civilization had moved to the West, and the Ottoman failure at the gates of Vienna in 1529 and finally in 1683 put an end to any appearance of parity between the Muslim Caliphate and Christian Europe.
But the suicidal wars of the twentieth century undermined the West’s self-confidence. The rise of victimary thought after the Holocaust was the sign that the defeat of the Axis was not enough to heal the wound created by the Axis’ attempt to substitute for firstness in the Jewish mode the tyranny of ontological superiority. No doubt the one-word explanation for Nazi antisemitism is envy, the desire of the “Aryans” to take back their rightful place that had been usurped by the “sub-human” Jews, but the Jews as chosen people never saw themselves as a master race, either biologically or even culturally. The Jews were a “light unto the nations,” not in order to convert them to Judaism, but precisely in the sense in which GA uses the term firstness: they discovered first what others could learn as well. Monotheism is not like a sacrificial animal that offers its best portions to its first consumers. The Aryan “race” was another thing altogether, as its representatives’ behavior not only to the Jews but to other “inferior” peoples made clear.
In short, the Nazi-Jew conflict internal to the Judeo-Christian West could be seen as a sign of the failure of the West—the failure of the Jews to shine their light effectively, and of the Christians to echo it unresentfully rather than attempting to extinguish it.
Islam had always embodied a different conception of civilization. I have spoken of Islam as the religion and culture of the “outsiders” in the margin of Western civilization, and this is not meant as disparagement. The current success of radical Islam reflects many ugly things, but if there is one position I share even with those perversely inspired by every Islamic atrocity to obsess over the danger of “Islamophobia,” it is that Islam is not in itself dependent on the supremacist violence that its militants practice with such relish. The religion of “submission” offers a different, non-Western solution, in its own eyes no doubt the “final” one, to the problem of firstness—the problem that the West had seemed able to solve even after it nearly destroyed itself in the two World Wars, but that its final victory in the Cold War over what was after all only a variant of itself revealed that it had not solved.
Obviously it is impossible to imagine that the conversion of the West to Islam along the lines of Michel Houellebecq’s ironic best-seller Soumission could provide a practical solution to this problem. How could modern technological civilization survive, let alone flourish, under even the most “enlightened” version of Sharia? (If you want to know how the real masters of Sharia deal with scientific questions, you might do well to examine some MEMRI materials on the subject, e.g., here.) But that is not the issue. If the victimary resentment generated within Western society continues to mount at its present pace, which currently gives the (hopefully illusory) impression of being on its way to destroying the university as an institution where free inquiry into human affairs is possible, it may come to pass that something like the Islamic solution to firstness becomes the only humanly practical solution, at whatever cost of the “comforts” we in the West have been taking for granted.
Attacks such as that in San Bernardino are expressions of a faith both confident and desperate, nourished by vast resentment of a Western world blamed for the catastrophic failure of Middle Eastern Islamic societies. Syed Farook’s father pooh-poohed his son’s anxiety at the continued existence of Israel by reassuring him that it would be gone in a couple of years. This offers a telling paradigm of—many if not most—Muslim attitudes in the Middle East: to reject jihadist violence is not to accept to live in peace with Israel, but to have confidence that the global order itself will eliminate it because “no one wants the Jews there.”
Islamist terrorism undermines the West’s self-confidence and obliges it to squander its energies in anticipating and defending against further aggression, not to speak of passing irrelevant gun-control legislation and self-righteously condemning “Islamophobia.” The greatest danger such killings pose is not their capacity to destroy Western society—although modern weaponry and IS’s growing sophistication make conceivable devastation far beyond the scale of Paris or even 9/11—but their power to stimulate by example all the resentments fostered by modernity within this society, particularly among those groups who can claim with any degree of legitimacy victimary status.
Whence the recent upsurge of accusations of racism, the very attempt to contest which is considered proof of guilt. That antisemitism, which is after all the original model of “racial” accusations, only increases as a result—in contrast with the accusation of racism, always accepted as true because never attributed to any but the purest motives, the charge of antisemitism generates the counter-accusation that Jews and their “Holocaust industry” merely use it to slander others in order to protect their own selfish interests—is only one more indication that the problem is not race hatred as such, but the difficulties imposed by firstness in the postmodern economy. Whence, in another vein, the unexpected success of Bernie Sanders’ rerun of Eugene Debs nearly a century after the original. In Debs’ day, workers were poor; today, they mostly share the comforts of middle-class life, but their marketable skills have diminished and they fear having to survive on food stamps and disability payments.
The bottom line is that, all rhetoric aside, the Left is correct that the fundamental pact of civilization is the moral equality of all. This means at the base, as the originary hypothesis makes clear, our ability to reciprocally exchange signs. As our civilization advances, the old operations of firstness that permit innovation and its transmission to all according to the “light unto the nations” model create billionaires and Twittermobs rather than universal solidarity. The more advanced the technology, the fewer and rarer the humans who can usefully contribute to this firstness, and by now we are reaching the point where many of the less symbolically/mathematically gifted are scarcely able to find gainful employment at all. This is not a matter of micro-aggression but of human dignity, and the sense of affronted human dignity that we call resentment does not always express itself in the most refined manner.
What is above all apparent is the inability of the Western intelligentsia, in the first place, university officers (and soon, perhaps, those of high-tech corporations?) to resist the expression of and demands dictated by this resentment. Victimocracy, as its etymology suggests, is increasingly about power. In the US there seems to be no depth to which one will not sink to avoid being called “racist.” Democratic politicians are too terrified even to whisper “All lives matter” (and I haven’t heard it much from Republicans).
But this is not merely a domestic fear. Let me quote once more Swedish cabinet minister Jens Orback’s prophetic remark back in 2006 (see Chronicles 337, 468, 481): “We must be open and tolerant toward Islam and the Muslims because [!] when we become a minority, they will be so toward us.” This fear reflects, like all expressions of White Guilt, a sense that the days of the West are numbered, that its civilization’s firstness is a source of resentment that can be allayed only by the most abject forms of… submission.
Which seems to me the simplest explanation of the surrender of campus administrators to student mobs, the rise of BDS and campus antisemitism, and the West’s lack of alacrity in responding to the Islamic State and its potentially more dangerous Iranian variant. Perhaps needless to say, Islam, comme son nom l’indique, offers a more satisfactory solution to this problem than the Judeo-Christianity of the West. If human history—and René Girard—have taught us anything at all, it is that it is better to submit to even the most tyrannical law than to the rule of the mob: to forestall rather than experience mimetic crisis.
But lest we succumb entirely to pessimism, there are signs among the reactions to the recent spate of Islamic terrorism of a resurgent faith in Western values, even if the literate class tends to refer to this as the rise of the “far right”: see, for example, this. Europeans sick of jihadist terrorism are becoming more favorable to Israel, with the French Front National’s Marine Le Pen in the forefront.
The European intelligentsia will no doubt be the last group after the jihadists themselves to express sympathy for Israel (unless it be the American intelligentsia; but see also this), but it is the movement of public opinion that has the last word—and that can hopefully influence the political class to drop the anti-Zionist preening that, with self-satisfied perversity, is precisely what has made progress toward a “two-state solution” impossible. Why indeed should the Palestinians concede anything when any atrocities they commit are inevitably blamed on Israeli oppression? As the senior Farook put it, “no one wants the Jews there.”
But as Richard Nixon went to China, perhaps Marine Le Pen can go to Ramallah.
That offers an intriguing prospect to mull over while digesting our Christmas dinner.