I still read Juan Cole, although it’s hard for me to be moved to write about anything he says – I glean interesting nuggets of information for future research or thought, but it’s long been clear to me what and how he thinks – and, sadly, he’s one of those people who are busy making reality conform to their theories, rather than trying to improve their theories against reality.
But I caught this this morning – a response to Professor Cole from Yaacov Lozowick, the Director of Archives at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, and it had two points – one brutally negative one about Prof. Cole and one so right on point in terms of the moral center of balance required of actors in the world that I thought I’d link and cite.First – Prof. Cole. He claimed that someone named Tzipi Livni – I’ll look her up – had no standing to denounce terrorism, because her father was an Irgun terrorist.
First of all, Livni is not responsible for her father’s crimes except if she is proud of them and declines to denounce them. If she won’t denounce them, she has no standing to argue to the UN that it should prevent holding office.
There’s something immensely creepy about ‘declining to denounce’ as a moral failing. Somehow Arthur Koestler comes to mind. Personally, I don’t care whether the Palestinians – or anyone else – denounces terrorism. I just want them to stop supporting and doing it. If Livini is proposing sensible things (and I can’t speak on whether she is or not) who cares about her views of history – and more particularly, her father?
While I believe in the shaping power of discourse, I don’t believe in thoughtcrime. I gather that professor Cole does.
Finally, here’s a comment on morality and action that is worthy of Hoderer. Lozowick:
Finally, since you keep returning to the subject, even though historians tend to stay away from it, a comment about morality. Like you, I also feel it to be so important that historians need to confront it. More important, however, my position is of a citizen, before a historian. Because you see, the decisions we make are usually morally fraught no matter what we do, because human lives are involved. When we make wrong decisions, people die. On both sides of the conflict. Believe it or not (I expect you won’t), we do not wish anyone dead, on either side – though of course, we rightfully have no compunctions about killing those of our enemies who are striving to kill us. That caveat, translated into real-life decisions, made in real-life conditions, almost always with no connections to academic constructs of the sort you seem to prefer – that caveat is what makes morality so very very complicated.
Contrary to your parting shot (The Livnis know only one way etc), Tzipi Livni clearly is far more aware of the ambivalences of reality at war than you seem to be.
I’d love to see some ambivalence like this from Professor Cole, if he were capable of it.