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Meditations on Moderation and Demopathy

This article has been published at The American Thinker.

One of the major themes in CNN and BBC early coverage of Operation Cast Lead, is the issue, will this conflict encourage Arab moderation as the Israelis say they hope will happen, or, instead, will it backfire on the Israelis and strengthen Arab solidarities around Hamas. Indeed, one might argue, this is one of the Palestinian talking points that the media has fully embraced (see next article). In order to understand what’s at stake here, I lay out some of the key issues involved in defining “moderation.”

First let’s just sort out the difference between moderation and pragmatism: Moderation means taking a “reasonable” approach that renounces violence as anything but a last resort, a willingness to negotiate, to come to a positive-sum solution. Moderation depends on being able to treat one’s foe with reciprocity, to see their point of view and make compromises to reach a mutually agreeable solution to the hostility. Pragmatism takes “moderate” positions not out of any deep commitment to these principles, but as a response to a situation where zero-sum solutions (like war) do not promise a win.

I have written a good deal about honor-shame culture, its dynamic, its role in the Arab-Israeli conflict, and the prohibition on mentioning it in post-colonial, politically correct discourse, and the contrasts with cultures that pursue the alternative principles of integrity and guilt. Let’s take a look at the difference between honor-shame moderates and integrity-guilt moderates. Moderates are those dedicated to positive-sum solutions and the rejection of zero-sum violence, moderates are concerned with human rights and respect for the “other”.

Such moderation is, most often, found in integrity-guilt cultures. Moderates – at least in principle – are committed to their values regardless of the demands of the group. “Do not follow the majority for evil.” The primary commitment is to principles of justice, not to approval and honor in the eyes of what is potentially a mistaken public.

So when the crunch comes, when “our side” behaves badly, the integrity-guilt moderate responds to being torn between solidarity with the group or keeping his integrity with self-criticism. “I will side with those in the right, even when I am in the wrong; I will not betray my values by rallying around the flag.” As Judah said to those about Tamar, his daughter-in-law whom he was about to kill for his family’s honor: “She was more righteous than I” (Genesis, 38:26).

Of course, such a commitment calls for a high level of capacity to give and receive criticism of the “in group.” And achieving that level of self-criticism can feel like a moral high. Much of the dis-fashion of patriotism is a kind of “permanent” distancing of the “self” from the “in-group.”

Although integrity-guilt cultures tend to specialize in this moderation and give it a dominant place in public discourse (the “social contract” of disarmament), honor-shame cultures also have their moderates. In tribal honor-shame cultures, however, the consensus that dominates public discourse holds that some dishonors can only be washed away with blood. In such cultures one has the right — the obligation — to kill a relative (generally a female) who has dishonored the house. Moderates in tribal honor-shame cultures operate at the margins of public discourse, they come in to limit a normative violence. They do indeed encourage discussion and compromise in vendettas between families and clans, but often their mediation comes to put an end to endemic violence that has become unbearable.

But the farther one moves out of the clan and into conflict with other peoples and religions, the more tenuous the commitment to reciprocity, even among these moderates. Thus, the instinct to “rally round the clan” can take moderate people quite far in supporting some fairly ruthless levels of solidarity. For them what, in civil society, we might call “basic reciprocity” is not basic at all. As a result, rather than get “My side only when it’s in the right,” we find “My side — even when it commits atrocities.”

But in the modern world, in global civil society, tribal solidarities do not “fly.” In a global civic community that cannot exist without high levels reciprocity, “moderation” is the currency. There is overwhelming peer group pressure in public forums of the West to be “moderate”. If you want to “make” it, in the global scene, “moderation” goes with the territory.

These demands of the global community caused enormous problems for Arab leaders who came from a pre-modern tradition of open-warmongering: “We will drive Israel into the sea!” Just speaking to the Israelis has been immensely difficult. Indeed, the full history has yet to be written of the difficulty that Palestinians had with moderate language; and its chronicling would be immensely revealing. (Imagine Otto trying to say he’s sorry to Archie.)

The very act of speaking words of moderation is a shame and humiliation. It grants to the Israelis the right to exist, to demand reciprocity; and this is precisely what Arab honor — as it is now currently understood by a generation who think with their shoes — cannot endure.

Arab “moderates” are therefore expected to adopt the language of the prevailing global norm – human rights, peace, negotiation. Only with this language can they gain approval from Westerners, especially the gate-keepers of the public discussion, who eagerly seek out and reward Arabs who do not foam at the mouth in genocidal rage at al Yahoud.

But does this moderation come from a real commitment, or rather a combination of pragmatic compromise (mostly Arab rulers), and the pursuit of the approval and honor we Westerners bestow upon those who take a moderate position, despite the disapproval of their tribe. The real test of both Arab moderation and Western recognition of that moderation, comes when “the Arab side” behaves badly, very badly.

At that point does the moderate Arab, faced with grotesque behavior by his “side” — suicide terror, for example — ask himself: “What’s more important, my principles or the madmen among my people who have taken over and drive us to such terrible deeds?” To what point will I defend my people, and at what point will I say, ‘”No, this is not legitimate behavior. My brothers, for this, you cannot demand my solidarity.” And does he say “No!” on grounds of principle — “this is evil behavior” — or on grounds of pragmatism — “this will hurt our cause”?

And the answer to this dilemma, principle or solidarity, among those whose primary identity derives from his place in the eyes of others, is pretty overwhelming: “my people, my tribe, right or wrong.” In the case of the Palestinians, this logic has been pushed farther than in any of the many cults of victimization in the post-Holocaust age. Thus, Palestinian “moderates” have denounced some of the most morally depraved behavior in human history, in particular suicide terrorism, even as they justified it to any but the most attentive readers. And the pragmatists, who don’t even pretend to be real moderates, just denounce suicide terror in English and support it in Arabic.

The world has yet to receive from Palestinian leaders — political, religious, intellectual — a sense of what the limits of the cultural and religious solidarity in the face of extremist behavior on their side. Just how badly does Hamas has to behave before it’s not acceptable? Where are the Muslim fatwas against al Qaeda and Hamas? On the contrary, public discourse in the Palestinian territories — not just Hamastan — openly rejoices in atrocities.


Culture of Schadenfreude: An exhibit with a life-size, papier-maché reconstruction of the moment of the blast, for the enjoyment of the Palestinian public

The advantage of such fair-weather moderation is that the culture in which it operates, can rally collective emotions and assure the affective unity of the group. The disadvantage is that without self-criticism, learning curves are notoriously flat. Such groups are highly ineffective. Their greatest successes come with destruction.

The advantage of integrity is that it avoids situations like the “Emperor’s New Clothes,” in which, in order to avoid embarrassment, everyone goes along with something they know is wrong (like a Ponzi scheme). The disadvantage is that if you self-criticize before a malevolent enemy, you invite aggression against yourself even as you make yourself vulnerable with your self-criticism, your non-tribal principles.

During the Oslo “Peace” Process, one could see the contrast between Israeli and Palestinian “moderates” in precisely these terms. The Israeli peace camp constantly criticized Israeli extremists, in particular, the settlers who, in their PCP conception of the conflict, were the base cause of Arab hostility. The settlers’ belligerence was inexcusable, culpable, worthy of public denunciation in no uncertain terms. Thus Israel abounds in groups and individuals who are once fiercely Zionist and fiercely moderate, who do not hesitate to publicize every Israeli sin that they can possibly find. As opposed to Arab moderates, they move in the remarkable direction of being even more severe on their own group rather than the hostile “other.”

The Arab peace camp and NGOs might have denounced the terror of the extremists, but they never even considered arguing that those terrorists should not dominate the political and cultural public discourse. On the contrary, the Arab moderates put far more effort into “softening” the image of their extremists in the eyes of the West than they did into fighting their extremists. Indeed, the genocidal Jihadism that drives suicide terrorists to their inhumane frenzy still dominates Palestinian TV and radio and schools on both parts of the Palestinian divide (i.e., “even” where the “moderate” Abbas “governs.” Instead, the vast majority of Palestinian “moderates,” spoke little of the self-generation of these hatreds and “explained” suicide bombing as the “understandable” rage created on the one hand by Israeli intransigence and on the other by the “hopelessness and despair” that intransigence “inevitably” instilled in the suffering hearts of the Palestinians.

[When I was in a dialogue group at the time the suicide bombing became an almost daily event (early 2002), I denounced suicide terror as morally repugnant. One of the moderates on the other side — a fine man who grew up in a Lebanese refugee camp — denounced me for “demonizing” his people. And the Israeli/Jewish moderates agreed with him!]

This is not to say that there are no “tribal moderates” among the Israelis who will justify dark deeds for the sake of their people’s survival. Nor is it to say that there are no “genuine moderates” among Arabs. It’s primarily to contend that any fair observer has to admit that the preponderance of the two styles is heavily weighted in both cultures. In Israel and among “progressive” Jews, it’s the moderates who are extremists, pushing their self-criticism so far that they accept the “other’s” hostile gaze. And, alas, on the other side, a false moderation that essentially covers for extremist behavior.

Human Rights organizations are the product of integrity-guilt culture. Only when you view the “other” as equal to yourself, can you develop the notion that he or she deserves the same treatment before the law as you do, both in theory (constitutional government that guarantee such rights legally) and in practice (NGOs that try to remedy the injustices of the system). Thus Human Rights Groups in the West, from the ACLU to HRW, to B’tslem, scrupulously observe the human rights of the “other,” as the real measure of a commitment to egalitarian principles – my principles applied to all sides.

Most (all?) Israeli “human rights organizations” are genuinely moderate by my definition, dedicated to documenting Israel’s violation of the human rights of others. Indeed, they are so moderate, that they will unfairly side against their own side. The excessive predilection for this counter-intuitive direction produces what Charles Jacobs calls “the Human Rights Complex.”

Palestinian HROs, on the other hand, reflect a paper-thin moderation that has no principled adherence to any kind of reciprocity. Thus, they regularly document the violation of their own human rights by the (Israeli) “other”; but when it’s time to self-criticize, they beg off; what self-criticism one finds often appears only in the foreign language version of the website. Understandably, public self-criticism is taboo in serious honor-shame cultures: it shames those criticized. And of course, in a culture where any male who wants authority is expected, allowed, even required to shed someone else’s blood for the sake of his honor, public criticism regularly elicits violence against the critic.

Thus the classic demopathic pattern emerges – Palestinian “moderates” demand their side’s human rights, even as they defend fellow Palestinians who seek not just the systematic refusal of rights to the Israeli “other,” but even their annihilation. And of course, Israeli and Jewish dupes, eager to believe that by assuring the rights of the other, peace will come, embrace the Palestinian moderates. Mix such a near-unbeatable combination of demopathy and credulity with blood libels like Al Durah, stir with the potent cry of western radical and Islamic jihadi outrage, and voilà, the demopaths delight… Durban I, and, coming soon, Durban II.

Fortunately the picture is far more interesting than this stark and disheartening contrast. There is, for example, Bassam Eid’s Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group. When throughout the Second Intifada, while other Palestinian NGOs shouted Israeli genocide to the world, he remorselessly documented the systematic abuse of Palestinian human rights by Palestinian “authorities,” noting that over 15% of Palestinian casualties during that Intifada were inflicted by Palestinians on themselves! (There is no corresponding figure on the Israeli side.) When Hamas took over the Gaza Strip, he documented their brutal application of Machiavelli’s “economy of violence” in a depressing detail that should be read by every foolish pundit who talks about Hamas as a democratically elected – and therefore democratic – government.

Nor is Bassam Eid alone. MEMRI, for all the paranoid, frenzied and genocidal incitement it documents dominating the Arab and Muslim media globally, dedicates a special section to highlighting the work of real reformers, genuine moderates, in the Arab world. There we find that Lafif Lakhdar, for example, has just denounced

Hamas as another link in the chain of Palestinian rejectionism, i.e., in their tendency to refuse all suggestions of compromise. This tendency, he said, is rooted in religious extremism and brings disaster upon the Palestinians.
Thus, not all Arabs think with their shoes. But these folks are always in danger of being accused of being sell outs (coconuts: brown on the outside, white on the inside), an honor-shame accusation people like Saïd make against serious intellectuals like Kanan Makiya and Fouad Ajami, and Western commentators too readily accept.

The Western acquiescence in this honor-shame demand for solidarity no matter how inexcusably Hamas behaves has reached such a consensus that news analysts have no hesitation representing it as a given. Here Alvaro de Soto, former UN envoy to the Middle East takes it as a given that the Israelis have no right to try and restrict their dealings to the moderates, whom he contemptuously refers to as “the ones who mark the x’s on the appropriate boxes…”



Rather than negotiating as if one portion of the Palestinian didn’t exist, the portion that supported Hamas in legitimate elections, the sooner it will be possible to get something serious. Because on the current path when you negotiate only with Palestinians you like and the ones you check the appropriate boxes, you won’t get anywhere.

Note that de Soto has already taken the position that Hamas — legitimately elected — has a right to the negotiating table, regardless of her stated goals, her principled acts of terror, her revolting discourse. Is this because he doesn’t know about it? Or because he is afraid to challenge it? Or because he really wants to see Israel forced to try and deal with a group that wants her destruction. In any case, he’s “objectively” a dhimmi, that is, someone subjected to Sharia law which demands public submission to Muslims.

This Western eagerness to submit to Arab honor-shame demands goes very far. It can actually have a Westerner egging on an Arab to show the kind of fraternal unity that their honorable cause demands. Here Nisha Pillai of the BBC, after having badgered Bibi Netanyahu for Israeli-caused casualties in Gaza, then challenges the Arab League spokesman (no fan of Hamas), not to moderation, but to a show of solidarity in response to Israel.

Where she has no hesitation telling Israel to play by civil rules, she has even less hesitation telling the Arabs to get their act together and fight back.

This astoundingly misplaced Western “peer-pressure” can make it difficult for Arabs to maintain “moderate” positions. Take the case of Mahmoud Abbas, who made a statement that looked a lot like that of a genuine moderate, although may well be that of a pragmatist who, like the Egyptian ruling party, happens to hate Hamas.

We want to protect Gaza, our people there, we don’t want genocide for our people. There are some who say, even if Gaza is wiped out, so be it. We reject this, this logic annot be accepted, has nothing to do with the interests of the people. We want to protect every drop of blood of our people…

Here’s a stark contrast between Abbas here and Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum who assured reporters that his organization “will continue the resistance until the last drop of blood,” and the Palestinians that Abbas refers to (presumably West Bankers) who say “even if Gaza is wiped out, so be it” (note the sweeping gesture). Now how genuine is Abbas’ moderation? When the Arab street starts screaming for Israeli blood, will he hold the line? When other Arab leaders start to abandon their silence and weigh in behind Hamas as the honor-shame imperative now demands, will he hold the line?

And note the vast contrast between how flabby Arab “moderation” and how vigorous, even extreme, Israeli moderation. In Israel there’s a whole world of intellectuals ready to say something quite close to “the other side, right or wrong,” who criticize relentlessly even when their “peers” (i.e., their own people) pressure them heavily to tone down their public criticism, especially when it’s based on dubious information. Not all the demonstrations or threats in the world could get them to rally round their own flag.

The stakes here are enormous. As Farid Ghadry, President of the Reform Party of Syria (a real moderate) points out:

How could Arabs and Muslims help their societies if their program for progress is built upon violence?… [Hamas or Hizbullah] seek power instead of duty, money instead of benevolence, and longevity in both instead of renewal for the good of their people… Hizbullah and Hamas must be destroyed and the regimes in Damascus and Tehran must be changed for all Arabs and Farsi people to survive and prosper… Their poisonous rhetoric of violence feeding a frenzied mass of ignorant Arabs leaning on their extreme religion to honor their incapacity to compete with the West is destroying future generations of hopeful saviors of our culture and traditions… We Arabs must be the ones to stop Hamas and Hizbullah, rather than support their demonic and twisted logic of resisting development, enlightenment, and progress of the region.

So which position seems more likely to benefit the Palestinian people? A leadership that argues for protecting the people and state-building or a position that argues for holding Palestinian civilians as hostages in an irredentist war with Israel? And which one does the journalistic community, clearly upset by the “humanitarian crisis” they show on their screens, support?








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