Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Richard Landes and Progressive-Left Racism

Mike L.

{Cross-Posted at Israel Thrives and Pro-Israel Bay Bloggers.}

Dr. Richard Landes is at the very center of the questions around Arab-Palestinian culture that Mitt Romney raised while in Jerusalem. You will recall that Romney suggested that a main factor for Israeli economic success (and Palestinian economic failures) is due to cultural reasons.

One of the books that Romney cited was a book by David Landes, Richard Landes' economist father. That book, "The Wealth and Poverty of Nations," stresses the cultural factors in the relative prosperity of nations as opposed to Jared Diamond's "Guns, Germs and Steel" which stresses access to natural resources as the determining factor of the question.

When Palestinian leader Saeb Erekat, and his progressive-left allies such as those on Daily Kos, shamefully defamed Romney as a "racist" for daring to acknowledge the obvious, Richard Landes responded in a piece in the Wall Street Journal, prompting Shaul Magid to respond to the response in the Times of Israel.

Let's look at some of what Landes has to say about the Magid piece entitled "On Palestinian ‘culture’ and Ashkenazi-centrism."

Magid writes:

Mitt Romney initiated a robust debate with his comment that “culture” distinguished Israeli economic success and Palestinian economic stagnation. While Saeb Erekat’s labeling of Romney as a “racist” may be premature — I think Romney is generally more klutz than putz — it does demonstrate his insensitivity or perhaps tone deafness to what words can mean.

Landes responds:

Premature? They’re ludicrous. There’s nothing in a cultural argument that’s racist. It’s the opposite of racist, just as nurture is the opposite of nature.

This is a very important point. Racism refers to attributes which are biologically inherited, not cultural. Culture is flexible and constantly changing, whereas the outdated notions of racial inferiority or superiority were considered fixed and essential. To criticize a culture cannot be racist, because cultural references are not about the biological nature of the people. They are not about "race."

Magid writes:

What really disturbs me about Landes’s essay is what is largely implied, both in it and perhaps in Romney. That is, there is something in Jewish culture lacking in Arab culture that enables one to succeed and the other to stagnate.

And Landes responds:

This gets to the core of the problem. On the one hand, it’s obviously not politically correct to say something like this, and from the point of therapeutic history (let’s not hurt the feelings of those who come out on the wrong side of this comparison), it seems to be counter-indicated (although I’m not so sure, see below). But it at least addresses an obvious disparity: Israel’s level of development and internalization of a modern ethos far outstrips those of the surrounding Arab nations. (For those who wish to claim “occupation”, just move north south or east and you’ll get non-occupied Arab states whose development trails behind Palestine.

The (invidious) disparity is there. The cultural dimensions cry out for investigation. What are you going to do, ignore them just so as not to hurt the feelings of the Arabs? Isn’t that incredibly condescending and just a bit prejudiced (racist?)?

Here Dr. Landes gets right to the heart of a problem for progressive-left commenters on the long Arab war against the Jews. Since progressives tend to see Jewish self-defense as a form of aggression they therefore see things like check-points in Samaria, or the blockade of Gaza, as representing the oppression of the local Arabs. And since the Jewish minority are held to be oppressing a subsection of the Arab majority, the Palestinians, it is that oppression that allegedly explains Palestinian economic failures in comparison to Israeli economic successes.

The only way to maintain this fiction, however, is to ignore the fact that the Palestinians are, as a group, more economically prosperous than most Arabs throughout the Arab Middle East who do not suffer from much contact with Jews. They nonetheless blame Israel for Arab failures, thus reducing the majority population to the status of children who have no responsibility for the foreseeable outcomes of their own behavior.

The fact of the matter is that the Palestinians suffer those check-points, and that blockade, because the greater Arab majority uses them as a perpetual weapon against the tiny Jewish minority.

To ignore this fact is to treat the Arab majority in the Middle East like little children who hold no responsibility for themselves.  It is to condescend to them as one's inferiors, which is precisely what the progressive-left tends to do.

It is what we call "humanitarian racism" and it represents the foremost type of ethnic bigotry coming out of the west today.

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