Juan Cole: Wild Colonial Boy

I do feel like Al Pacino sometimes … “they just drag you back in…” I really do not want this blog to become ColeWatch or anything like it, but the Professor had a post the other day that so perfectly encapsulated his philosophical ‘framing’ that I expected that it would get picked up widely and commented on.

It wasn’t, so I will.He says:

Reuters reports that Israel is expanding its colonial settlements on Palestinian land in the West Bank even as it is planning to remove a few thousand settlers from Gaza.

We have seen these sorts of events many times in colonial history. The French colonists rioted in Algiers in January 1960 as it became clear that DeGaulle was moving toward granting Algerian demands. There were a million colonizers in Algeria then, and they had managed to grab up the best land, the most lucrative industries. The Algerian owners of the country had run out of patience with this colonial theft, however, and the colonists would not prevail. Had the French tried to remain in Algeria, it would have meant a 30 years war. The Western Right, so attached to the colonial project of dominating others and establishing racial and economic hierarchies, has been frustrated for decades by decolonization. But as the Israelis have learned, the costs of colonialism in the contemporary world are very great indeed, since contemporary populations are mobilized, connected by media, and savvy about using modern science to strike back at their torturers. You can have a colony to feel superior over, and to exploit, only at the cost of living your life in fear and being brutalized and driven toward a kind of fascist society. The only forces that really want such a fate are . . . fascists.

If you had the academic background I did – studying political theory and history in the early 1970’s – this will be as familiar as a Led Zeppelin riff. Everything back then was viewed through the lens of colonialism – internal, external, economic, social, political. It was the aqua regia of political analysis.

And, in its moment – the postwar decades in which the old colonial order crumbled – it probably had some relevance. It probably has some utility today. But as a theoretical anchor in the modern era, it’s just silly. It’s like using epicycles to try and navigate a spaceship.

And worse, it has become the root of Bad Philosophy, which dissolves every relationship into a relationship of power – and which demands that power and violence be used to free the oppressed from the bonds of that power.

Sadly, those bonds are largely imagined.

But the destruction and pain caused by their release is very much real.

16 thoughts on “Juan Cole: Wild Colonial Boy”

  1. A.L., it’s more than just Bad Philosophy. Juan Cole is a bigot, a hater, and his target is the Jews. He is an Anti-Semite, never shy with even the wildest conspiracy theories, and fixed in his aim: to delegitimize and ultimately destroy the Jewish state.

    To quote from “An Old Story,”:http://www.nationalreview.com/comment/comment-schwartz120401.shtml written in December 2001:

    bq.. “Every age begets the anti-Semitism best suited to it. And while the key emotion driving it may be a visceral hatred of Jews, the critical intellectual aim is to delegitimize them. In a spiritual age, the Jews are delegitimized spiritually…. More recently, as faith gave way to materialism, anti-Semitism assumed a correspondingly secular mode, harnessing itself to the dominant ideologies of both the Left and the Right….. Now, in the era of post-colonialism, anti-Semitism has been cast in correspondingly post-colonial terms.

    In its Islamist mode it is remorseless in its exhortations to drive the Jews into the sea, and revert all of Palestine to a Muslim trust; in its secular form it has adopted Frantz Fanon’s maxims that “truth is that which hurries on the breakup of the colonial regime,” and that “the good is quite simply that which is evil for them.” Consequently, Palestinian propagandists can say and do anything they please without concern for the truth, in the belief that if they repeat it often enough it will simply become the truth. Thus, Arab propagandists ask: “In the current political climate, what is the worst thing of which we can accuse the Jews?” The answer: Racism, Apartheid. Genocide. Colonialism. Is it true? It doesn’t matter. Let the Jews worry about whether it’s true….

    As noted at the outset, every age begets the anti-Semitism that most suits it; and in this era of anti-racist enthusiasm, it is anti-Zionism. In all ages, the goal of the anti-Semitic project is to delegitimize Jews. In this one, it’s to undermine the legitimacy of the Jewish state, as a prelude to its ultimate destruction… And without a Jewish state, the iron truth of history is that the Jewish people sooner or later become even more vulnerable to the next wave of anti-Semitism. The metaphor of Exodus is one that has dogged the Jews from the outset. Their very success attracts resentment – as they learned in Egypt where, according to Scripture, a new king arose “who did not know Joseph.” The issue is no longer, Will there be a Palestinian state – that is inevitable — but rather, Will there be a Jewish one? The disappearance of the Jewish state will not mean the disappearance of anti-Semitism – quite the opposite.

    In 1968, Martin Luther King Jr., addressed his listeners with the following words: “You declare that you do not hate Jews, you are merely anti-Zionist. And I say, let the truth ring forth from high on the mountaintops… When people criticize Zionism, they mean Jews… What is anti-Zionism? It is the denial of the Jewish people of a fundamental right that we justly claim for the people of Africa and freely accord all other nations of the globe.” Dr. King, who recognized bias when he saw it, knew what he was talking about.”

    p. Word.

  2. AL: “If you had the academic background I did – studying political theory and history in the early 1970’s – this will be as familiar as a Led Zeppelin riff.”

    Gratuitous Led Zeppelin lyrics posting:

    THE SONG REMAINS THE SAME

    I had a dream. Crazy dream.
    Anything I wanted to know, any place I needed to go

    Hear my song. People won’t you listen now? Sing along.
    You don’t know what you’re missing now.
    Any little song that you know
    Everything that’s small has to grow.
    And it has to grow!

    California sunlight, sweet Calcutta rain
    Honolulu starbright – the song remains the same.

    Sing out Hare Hare, dance the Hoochie Koo.
    City lights are oh so bright, as we go sliding… sliding… sliding through.

    Sing out Hare Hare, dance the Hoochie Koo… the old familiar babble never seems to end. Nor does the damage it does.

  3. By your logic, criticism of Israel ~ deligimization of Israel ~ attempts to destroy the only Jewish state ~ hating all Jews. Where does it stop? Because I honestly wonder whether or not you draw the anti-semitism line by logic or sheer political expedience.

    I have a lot of criticism for Israel, especially for any sort of the “eretz” tendencies that are popular amongst the rightwing fascistic groups there (you know– the ones you’d never have the balls to mention)– but, that certainly doesn’t mean I don’t support the idea of Israel, or wish harm upon it’s people, or deny the horror it’s citizens have seen in the past (“al Nakba” paling in comparison to the Jewish cleansings throughout the Mideast.), or even see them give up the Golan (as per Barak’s offer).

    But of course, since I find the continued colonization of the West Bank offensive (and done with my taxes, no less), perhaps more emminently offensive than say, human rights abuses in Syria or honour killings wherever.. I must be anti-semitic, right?

  4. By the way, Armed Liberal: why do you read this guy?

    I put him long ago in the bucket for which David Irving, the Holocaust-denying historian, is my icon. Irving is in some ways an attractive historian. He’s industrious, he finds sources, he writes about popular topics like Erwin Rommel. If you like footnotes, Irving provides buckets of them. So at first, you think: wow, Rommel: The Trail of the Fox is a good book! But Irving’s thinking is skewed, and much more importantly, just occasionally he outright cheats. (Good historians have established that.) And you don’t know where. So you can never trust what he says fully unless you’ve checked it yourself, and if you’re going to do that, why do you need him in the first place? It’s not like there are no other, trustworthy, writers covering the same ground.

    When someone gets caught with his hand in the cookie jar repeatedly, why read him?

  5. SAO (#3) – Since I ran that article as a post yesterday, that debate has been had. My clearest answer to your specific question “can be found here.”:http://www.windsofchange.net/archives/007203.php#c14

    Jack’s full article (and I recommend reading it) does not invalidate all criticism. But it does acknowledge that delegitimization raises justifiable suspicion given the consequences, that even in criticism there are standards (like truth, proportionality, and consistency beyond Israel), and the having the status of a critic does not make one immune to criticism in return.

  6. bad philosophy, bad shmilosophy!

    Its bad geography. If pre-67 Israel were seperated from the West Bank by a body of water the width of the Med sea, and Jerusalem (or even Tel Aviv) were as far from Ramallah as Paris is from Algiers, he’d have something to go on. As it is, his harping on Algeria makes him sound like a common hack, not a “great expert”. And that doesnt mean that Israel shouldnt withdrawl – its just not nearly as simple as Algeria, or any other colonial situation.

    Further stupidity – the settlers are generally NOT on the best land. For the most part theyre not farmers, and are on non-agricultural land, from whence they commute to Jer or TA. And the settlements that are being expanded, the ones that Israel will surely keep, are not the best land, but are usually the ones closest to the green line, or in particularly strategic spots.

    At least Cole is comparing the Israelis to the French in Algeria, which is at least more apt than comparing them to Nazis, like the pure idiotarians do.

  7. If there is Colonialism in Israel, what is a colony of what?

    The land of the West Bank and Gaza is somewhat like the land of Antarctica: outside of any country. So the Palestinians refer to it as “Their land” they are trying to manufacture something, not describe something. There was supposed to be an Arab State there, according to the UN 1947 resolutions, but the Arabs refused it.

    There could be an Arab state there in the future, if they can make peace with Israel. But until then, it isn’t anybody’s land. Not really.

  8. bq. I have a lot of criticism for Israel, especially for any sort of the “eretz” tendencies that are popular amongst the rightwing fascistic groups there (you know– the ones you’d never have the balls to mention)–

    Please name five right-wing fascistic groups in Israel.

  9. bq.By your logic, criticism of Israel ~ deligimization of Israel ~ attempts to destroy the only Jewish state ~ hating all Jews.

    That’s ridiculous. I criticise the Israeli gov’t regularly, and I’m joining the IDF. What should be – but apparently isn’t – obvious is that there are different forms of criticisms.

    For instance, Cole’s position, which is basically: ‘Israel is a fascist, colonialist state that is ultimately responsible for virtually every act of jihadist terrorism’.

    I’d argue that a fascist, colonialist state which causes terrorism – even retroactively, in the case of the Jenin non-massacre of 2002 causing 9/11 (informed, my ass, Cole) – is illegitimate, and certainly worthy of disgust.

    As for your own position, I’m curious as to why Israel keeping the Golan is okay, but keeping Yesha is not. Whatever – there is room for debate between our positions, because neither of us is starting from the position that Israel is inherently bad – as Cole does.

  10. A.L. If you had the academic background I did – studying political theory and history in the early 1970’s – this will be as familiar as a Led Zeppelin riff. Everything back then was viewed through the lens of colonialism …

    During my school daze in the 80s, though, no one referred to Israel as a colony.

    In fact, you often heard Namibia called “the world’s last colony”.

  11. “I’m curious as to why Israel keeping the Golan is okay, but keeping Yesha is not”

    hell, thats an easy one. Cause A. There are few non-Jews on the golan, so its possible to grant full civil and political rights to those who ARE there. Whereas in Yesha granting such rights would lead to the abolition of the Jewish character of the state, ergo keeping Yesha means granting civil and politial rights based on ethnic group, which is inconsistent with democracy. B. The non-Jews of the Golan identify with Syrian nationality. Syria is clealy a viable state without the Golan. The non-Jews of Yesha, much though it would be convenient if they considered themselves Jordanians, and even though it took decades of struggle to establish a Palestinian identity in place of a Greater Syrian or Jordanian identity DO identify as Palestinians, and denying them a state in Yesha leaves them politically deprived, stateless, etc.

    See a Syrian Golani has TWO good altnernatives (go to Damascus and be Syrian, or stay and be Israeli) that the Pals really dont have, not the same way.

    Unfortunately for geopolitical reasons Israel probably wont be able to keep the Golan. I consider that unfortunate, myself

  12. “By your logic, criticism of Israel ~ deligimization of Israel ~ attempts to destroy the only Jewish state ~ hating all Jews. Where does it stop? Because I honestly wonder whether or not you draw the anti-semitism line by logic or sheer political expedience.”

    Much criticism of Israel IS delegitimization of Israel. Cole tries to avoid that, by focusing on the territories, and attacking Likud. My problems with that are A. a discussion of the territories that ignores the security threat Israel faces from the territories, seems to imply that israel has no right to take actions wrt that security threat, as Israel is not really legitimate to begin with. There are different variations on this, some more or less extreme B. The “im anti-likud” meme is absurd when attacking Israeli policies that have the support of most of the Israeli Labour Party

    Delegitimization of Israel = Attempt to destroy the Jewish state – er, yes certainly.

    attempting to destroy the jewish state = antisemitism – well not in theory (“i love jews, especially when theyre victims”) but in practice, most of the time, yes.

    “I have a lot of criticism for Israel, especially for any sort of the “eretz” tendencies that are popular amongst the rightwing fascistic groups there (you know– the ones you’d never have the balls to mention)

    Kahani Chai – there ive mentioned them. The third temple crowd. A few others. Tiny, for the most part. Most of the Israeli right is Likud, and theyre NOT fascist, though they do talk abotu Eretz (land) a lot.

    ‘but, that certainly doesn’t mean I don’t support the idea of Israel, or wish harm upon it’s people, or deny the horror it’s citizens have seen in the past (“al Nakba” paling in comparison to the Jewish cleansings throughout the Mideast.), or even see them give up the Golan (as per Barak’s offer). ‘

    well thanks. Im afraid they wont get to keep the golan, though.

    “But of course, since I find the continued colonization of the West Bank offensive”

    In fact there have been no new settlements authorized by the israeli govt in years. There IS expansion of certain settlements, which accomodates natural growth. There IS some question whether this is acceptable under the road map. Criticizing ISrael for undermining the road map is one thing – calling it colonialism is quite another.

    There have also been proposals to expand Maaleh Adumim. This is a settlement that everyone, including Pal negotiators, expects will end up part of Israel, and was announced to ease the way politically to Gaza withdrawl.

    “(and done with my taxes, no less)”
    Is everything Israel done, done with your taxes, cause they get 3 billion in military aid? Are you implicated in the Israeli health service, in money for yeshivas, etc? Netanyahu wanted Israel to stop receiving US aid, and this is a good reason why, so Israel can do what it needs to do. But giving up the aid would make it that much harder to bribe political parties into joining govts for peace and concessions, which is why everybody to the left of Bibi opposed that.

    “perhaps more emminently offensive than say, human rights abuses in Syria or honour killings wherever.. I must be anti-semitic, right?”

    If you think the expansion of Maaleh Adumim, a settlement that Israel will certainly keep in any fair settlement, and which expansion is the spoonful of sugar to ease the Gaza withdrawl, is more offensive than honor killings, you MIGHT be antisemitic. More likely youre just misinformed.

    hope this helps

  13. A couple points:
    1. Israel treats all people within its borders better than any other country in the Middle East.
    2. Israel had the misfortune to conduct its massacres and ethnic cleansing in the mid 20th cent, when it was probably too late to get away with it.
    3. Jews are not in any way “special” or “chosen by god”. They suffered much, like many peoples, and when the shoe is on the other foot they inflict much suffering, just like other peoples. They’re human.
    What a cosmic irony that the people of the shetl and the ghettoes would put other people in them! Damn.
    (I’m reminded again of the French experience in Algeria. Not even a decade after the Nazis conducted mass reprisals against French civilians the French themselves were conducting mass respirals against Algerian civilians. Will anyone anywhere finally say enough; I am suffered and I will NOT inflict it on others? They will be the chosen ones.)

  14. #12 liberalhawk

    Ah. I meant in terms of “Israel having a right to such-and-such”. Israel has no historic claim to the Golan Heights, but should keep it because the Syrians are bastards. Israel does have an historic claim to Yesha, and should keep it – besides the security benefits.

    bq. even though it took decades of struggle to establish a Palestinian identity in place of a Greater Syrian or Jordanian identity DO identify as Palestinians, and denying them a state in Yesha leaves them politically deprived, stateless, etc.

    Oh wow. I’m struggling to find a way of conveying just how much that doesn’t bother me.

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