Wednesday, February 27, 2013

A Post-Purim Question

By Tuvia Brodie

Here’s a question you might have missed on Purim: does the West understand the Middle East?
This is a Purim question because it's a trick: You can answer this question only if you can answer another question: do chickens have (easily identifiable) lips?
My bet is, most Westerners, particularly non-science academicians, know nothing about chicken anatomy. That’s a shame, because if they cannot answer the chicken question, they may not be able answer the Middle East question.
While you were drinking on Purim, you should have been thinking about these things.
Fail this test and we may be forced to conclude that academicians know as much about the Middle East as they know about chickens, which is to say, not much. This is troubling. Non-science academicians write a lot about the Middle East.  Scholars, they are supposed to know how to complete objective, sober research. They are also supposed to know about intellectual integrity, which requires one to remain sober enough to understand that you must accept conclusions which do not conform to pre-existing beliefs.
Does the demonization of Israel by academicians suggest they fail some intellectual sobriety test—or are they simply guilty of scholarship incompetence?
Neither. They do not fail any intellectual test, sober or otherwise. They are not incompetent.
On Purim, our underlying reality is revealed; and the reality is, Humanities and Social Science academicians have a purpose. They focus on their specialities for a reason. They aim to understand the complexity of human and communal life to help humanity. Therefore, their true focus is not the Middle East. Instead, they aim  to answer a question: what is the simplest way to help humanity cope with the two greatest threats to happy life--fear and uncertainty?
On Purim, our celebration brings clarity: in vino veritas. By late afternoon, we can see that Western academicians answer their own question. Their answer is simplicity itself: Haman.
That is their genius. They study the human condition.  They understand that what humanity wants—has always wanted-- is a good scapegoat. This is where the Jew comes in. He’s the scapegoat.
Ask Haman. Better yet, Ask Iran President Ahmadinejad.
Think about it. Why would otherwise intelligent people (academicians) spend so much time promoting hatred? 
The answer is simple. It brings clarity to a frightening world. It helps us fight fear.
When life becomes frightening, Jew-haters can press the ‘Jew’ button. Automatically, we know how to respond. It’s like watching your favourite magician perform. You watch his tricks. You know what he’s going to do. You’ve seen it all before; and yet you cheer every time he performs because his repetition gives you pleasure. That’s why medical clowns repeat their tricks—that repetition gives children in pain remembered pleasure to distract them from that pain. That’s what academicians understand. They cannot make our pain go away. They have no answers. But they can distract us with familiar pleasure.
On one level, the Purim story is about Jew-hate. It’s the Jew-hate that resonates because Jew-hate provides social and human comfort. Jew-hate soothes.
By late-day Purim, it all becomes clear: our world can no longer tell the difference between right and wrong. We are afraid. Western academicians simply show us a way to cope: blame the Jew.
Of course, Jews don’t like that. But that’s okay. Jews didn’t like what Haman had in mind, either.
Western academicians are our cultural psychiatrists. They understand our pain. They offer a sobering palliative. The problem is, a psychiatrist takes an oath—first, do no harm. It’s certainly noble to offer a moment of pleasure to someone in pain; but it’s quite a different story to do that at the expense of another human. If our academicians do not fail the intellectual integrity test (their conclusions about Jews are true to their goals), and if they are not incompetent (for the same reason), they nonetheless fail their most basic test: do no harm to the humanity you seek to help.
How does Jew-hate hurt humanity? Look at the history of World War Two. Jew-hate before that War may have been a cultural palliative for a painful world-wide economic Depression, but it brought a bitter consequence. It allowed the West to tolerate a rabidly anti-Jewish Hitler—and we know what that brought.
If you are compassionate to (or tolerant of) the cruel, you will end up being cruel to the compassionate. That’s what we allowed to unfold before World War Two; and it’s what we allow today.
Jew-hate, despite its culturally palliative effect, brings horrific disaster. It is not benign. That’s what Haman teaches us. Today, international Jew-hate once again distracts us from social and human pain; and once again, it brings us to the brink of war, this time with nuclear overtones. 
As Western economies weaken, Arab Jew-hate spills into the West because it soothes. Haman’s voice is familiar. But Haman and his modern academic friends do not bring peace. Their efforts promote war. Their good intentions bring chaos.
Perhaps Western academicians would be smarter to study chickens.  If they did that, the rest of us might live longer, happier lives.

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