The More You Suppress Him, the Larger He Get

I have in the past criticized the U.S. government’s decision to bar Tariq Ramadan’s entry into this country on ideological grounds (26 page PDF). This isn’t because I have any admiration for Ramadan, to put it mildly, but because I don’t think that decisions to allow entry into a country should be made on ideological grounds. Genuine security concerns are one thing; ideological objections are another. The distinction isn’t that hard to draw, and shouldn’t be that hard to respect. In Ramadan’s case, we neither drew nor respected it. We managed in the process to make a martyr of him and take a crap on our own principles. Continue reading

Brown-Faced Man

As someone who unapologetically wears brownface every day, I find the hysterical front-page revelation of Justin Trudeau’s 2001 experiment with brownface pretty underwhelming. I also find the reaction to it on the part of various brown-faced Canadian politicians to be a transparent instance (so to speak) of grandstanding. If ever there was a case where policy ought to trump a supposed matter of character in politics, this is it–not so much because policy always trumps character in political matters, but because the supposed matter of character involved here is so morally inconsequential that just about anything trumps it. Continue reading

Free Speech on the Shoals of Ideology

This Op-Ed offers a cautionary tale for two apparently opposed sets of ideologues: right-wingers convinced that the Left has a monopoly on campus censorship, and left-wingers skeptical of the connection between government support for education and government suppression of educators. In Florida and New Jersey, the Right is censoring the supposed racism of the Left through pro-Israeli legislation; meanwhile, the Left, usually so eager to make accusations of racism, is caught off guard by the Right’s “anti-racist” resort to coercion and hysteria. Continue reading

The Weaponization of Anti-Semitism

Here’s an informative podcast interview with my friend Steve Shalom, a political scientist at William Paterson University (Wayne, New Jersey), and an active member of Jewish Voice for Peace of Northern New Jersey. You have to scroll down a few clicks past the bio and the Banksy visual for the podcast itself.

What Steve says in the interview about anti-Semitism strikes me as one instance of many of the over-emphasis on race in American political discourse–not only to the exclusion of other sorts of identity, like gender and class, but to the exclusion of a straightforward focus on ethico-political issues as such. In other words, we not only have a tendency to focus on race above all other things, but to use our focus on race to distract attention from equally important things. It becomes easy to forget that sometimes an issue is just an issue. Continue reading

No More Tears: The (Elizabeth) Warren of Identity Politics

So Elizabeth Warren’s DNA test is outrageous identity politics, but “Birthright” tours to Israel aren’t. I guess this is because it’s socially-approved virtue signaling in this country to attack a fake Cherokee, but anti-Semitism to attack the fake descendents of King David. Or maybe because DNA tests for tribal membership are racist identity politics, but Zionist archaeology is a fitting riposte to the Nuremberg Laws.

Here’s a thought: if Elizabeth Warren is Cherokee, and the Cherokee are one of the Ten Tribes of Israel, doesn’t that mean she’s Jewish and has a right of return to Israel? If so, maybe she can go to the West Bank and re-enact the Trail of Tears from Andrew Jackson’s perspective. Wouldn’t that be payback? And wouldn’t the contradictions involved shut just about everyone up in this stupid controversy?

The Color of Rights: Malheur, Standing Rock, Palestine

About a year and a half ago, having spent a summer in Palestine and a week on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, I ventured the observation on Facebook that three political disputes I’d “recently encountered” (in a loose sense of “encountered”) struck me as fundamentally similar in nature, and yet attracted fundamentally different constituencies. For brevity’s sake, let’s call them “Malheur,” “Standing Rock,” and “Palestine,” taking those as  shorthand designations for more complex things. Continue reading

Now’s the Time for “Never Again”

A piece of advice: if you see a sign like this on a telephone pole in your neighborhood, rip it down.

A “Blood and Soil” sign in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Photo credit: Dario Gal

Don’t just leave it up and take a picture of it, and don’t bother calling the police to investigate. No one has a right to put a sign of any kind on a telephone pole without authorization of the owner, much less a sign of this kind. You’re not violating anyone’s rights by taking it down. If you have a genuine “civic duty” as an American, it’s to express your rejection of the politics of “Blut und Boden“–Blood, Soil, and Master Race–before it takes hold more powerfully than it already has. Continue reading

Orientalism, Racism, and Islam: Edward Said Between Race and Doctrine

David Riesbeck’s recent post on essentialism reminds me that I have a paper on a loosely related topic that I’ve been meaning (for eight years!) to revise and submit somewhere. As I’m teaching Edward Said’s Orientalism in the fall, I figured I’d make the time to revisit the book and the topic, and finally revise the paper. So here it is, in the interests of feedback from PoT readers, and potentially, for purposes of comparison and contrast with David’s post. Originally presented at the California Roundtable on Philosophy & Race, Hampshire College, October 2, 2009.


Orientalism, Racism, and Islam:
Edward Said Between Race and Doctrine

  1. Introduction

Edward Said’s Orientalism has gotten relatively little attention from philosophers in the Anglo-American analytic tradition. Arguably, though, the book has been at least as influential in contemporary political thought as has the work of say, Rawls, Nozick, or Dworkin, and has probably been more influential across the breadth of the humanities than the combined efforts of the sum total of analytic normative theorists. Widely regarded outside of philosophy as the foundational text of postcolonial studies, and as the touchstone of a progressive conception of comparative politics and area studies, Orientalism is also a pioneering contribution to race theory. Where English-speaking race theorists had, prior to Orientalism, devoted the bulk of their attention to anti-black racism and anti-Semitism, Said was one of the first academic writers to draw sustained attention to Western conceptions of the Arab/Muslim Oriental.  As one early reviewer concisely summarized the book, “Professor Said uses [his] privileged vantage to observe the West observing the Arabs, and he does not like what he finds.”

In what way is Orientalism a contribution to race theory? The question leads to a bit of a conundrum. On the one hand, it is hard to deny that there is some such contribution. On the other hand, the contribution in question turns out to be surprisingly difficult to specify with any precision. I want to suggest that the conundrum arises from a systematic equivocation that runs throughout Said’s treatment of Orientalism—namely, his persistent conflation of claims about the essence of Oriental racial identity with claims about the essence of Islamic religious doctrine. Contrary to Said, a critique of the first sort of claim, however cogent and insightful, is not easily (or at all) transferable to claims of the second sort. The failure to distinguish race from doctrine undermines what is valuable about his account and abets serious confusion.

Continue reading

Felician University Event: “Policing the Police”

For those of you in the area, Felician University’s Committee on Leadership & Social Justice will be sponsoring the fourth and final event in its year-long series on “Race and Criminal Justice in America.” Previous events covered racial profiling in Bloomfield, the ethics and constitutionality of police stops, and community policing in Bergen County.

Our upcoming event is “Policing the Police,” about allegations of police abuses by the Newark Police Department, featuring a public screening of the PBS Frontline documentary of that name, followed by commentary and discussion by Junius Williams, the Newark-based author and activist. I’ll be moderating. (We may have some other speakers, but for now, Mr. Williams is the confirmed speaker.)

The event takes place Thursday evening, April 27, at 6:30 pm, in the Education Commons auditorium on Felician’s Rutherford campus (227 Montross Ave, Rutherford, New Jersey 07070). The event is free and open to the public, and is sponsored by Felician’s Committee on Leadership & Social Justice, its Pre-Law Program, its Department of Criminal Justice, and its UN Fellows Program.

Hope to see some of you there.

Extra reading: Here’s an an article about Newark’s policing problems in The New Yorker by Jelani Cobb, the filmmaker. Here’s the U.S. Justice Dept’s consent decree re the Newark Police Department. Here’s the Department of Justice’s list of special litigation (including consent decrees against law enforcement agencies). The website of Newark’s Independent Monitoring team. Jelani Cobb, again, on the fate of federal consent decrees under the Sessions Justice Department.

Some Questions for Professor Denbeaux

As readers of this blog have probably figured out by now, I’m organizing an event this Tuesday at Felician University regarding racial profiling by the Police Department and Municipal Court in Bloomfield, New Jersey.* The claim alleging racial profiling has been made by Professor Mark Denbeaux of Seton Hall University Law School, who’s the featured speaker at the event. (I invited the mayor of Bloomfield, Michael Venezia, to send a representative from municipal government, but he declined the invitation himself and declined to send a representative. I also asked the Police Director through the Community Policing Unit, but never heard back; asked one member of the Town Council, who eventually declined; and asked one member of the Bloomfield Civic and Human Rights Commission, who also declined.)

As I’ve said several times before, I’ve taken no public stand on the findings of the report. Neither has Felician University and neither have any of the sponsors of the event.** In fact, I don’t have a stand to take, publicly or privately. Mostly I have a bunch of questions. As the discussant/moderator of the event, I have the prerogative of setting the agenda for the discussion period following the talk, but there’s no reason to think that the discussion will revolve around my questions in particular. So I thought I’d throw them out there on the blog, as food for thought, and as some rough indication of what we might discuss at the event itself. I may add a few questions if I think of any later. Feel free to come up with some of your own in the combox.  Continue reading