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.

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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

Norman Finkelstein on Naz Shah’s “Anti-Semitism”

I just happened to read Norman Finkelstein’s recent interview with MintPress News, discussing the British Labour Party’s fundamentally ridiculous “anti-Semitism” scandal involving MP Naz Shah and others. I highly recommend it. I don’t agree with every last thing Finkelstein says (read it for yourself and decide for yourself), but I certainly agree with general point he’s making: the accusations of anti-Semitism being made against Shah are almost complete nonsense, and reflect an amazing double standard when it comes to the standards that govern acceptable political speech in the Anglophone world. No one seems to feel the need to make an argument for why Shah’s actions were anti-Semitic; the accusation is supposed to be too obvious to require argument. But there isn’t a particle of evidence to support the accusations in question: they seem literally to have been generated out of whole cloth, and accepted at face value despite that. Continue reading

Hursthouse on the Repentant Racist: Error, Evil, and Moral Luck

Some of you may have seen this material before, but I don’t think I’ve ever posted it at PoT, so I’m exhuming it in the interest of getting some comments on it, as I’d like to work on the paper a bit this summer, and am hoping to trundle it about at conferences this fall. (Apologies if I’m breaking blind with that claim, but this is the age of the Internet.) I’m particularly interested in getting comments and/or bibliographical suggestions on some of the empirical issues implicitly raised by the paper.

David Potts recently cited Martin Seligman’s claims in Authentic Happiness to the effect that childhood experiences count for little as regards adult experience. I haven’t fully digested Seligman’s claims (and references), but I don’t think that he had childhood upbringing in mind when he wrote Authentic Happiness. At any rate, I’m interested in empirical answers to questions like the following:

  1. What are the longitudinal effects of a racist upbringing? How powerful are they? How amenable to control or reversal? And in what form? Naturally, the longitudinal effects of racist upbringing are a function of the effects of upbringing, so I’m interested in the more general phenomenon, as well.
  2. What is the role of trauma in the production of racial identity in racists? Does trauma explain the production of racial identity? If so, what is the mechanism?
  3. What does racism (or “racism”) look like in small children? I’ve put “racism” in scare quotes because arguably children with racist upbringings may lack the cognitive sophistication to do anything but act as though they believed in the truth of racism. But behavioral racism without cognitive understanding does not strike me as genuine racism. A child who imitates racists is not herself a racist (at least not necessarily).

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“Zootopia”: A Zoological Critique (Rant)

Immediately after I saw Zootopia, I posted a lengthy series of comments on the film on my Facebook Timeline which I  repost below at Irfan’s behest.

It’s not really a review, just a rant about everything which bothered me in the movie. I don’t think Zootopia is a bad film, but I do think it’s structurally and intellectually lazy. Normally I could forgive a movie for such faults, but Zootopia desperately wants to be about SOMETHING IMPORTANT. That’s fine of course. I completely agree with the film’s message (stereotypes are bad and hurt everyone), and I actually think they tackle it in a pretty clever way by avoiding an oppressor-oppressed social dynamic within the movie’s universe. But since Zootopia really wants to promote a message, it should be held to higher structural and intellectual standards than most films. Unfortunately, under scrutiny, I think it fails.

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