Monday, December 29, 2008

extremism online

Freddie has responded to a comment I made in this post which essentially speaks to Freddie's generalization of pro and anti Israel arguments. And it may be an exercise in futility, this whole definition of the argument and those who make it, but let me expand a little. Freddie writes:
I have a tendency to rhetorical maximalism that is nothing else than a character flaw. I'm working on it. I am perhaps overzealous in the prosecution of my arguments. But I don't back down from anything I said in that post, and this is why I think that examining the context in which those who oppose the hardline regarding Israel operate is so important: while I may be extreme in my language, I think my side's ideas, what we advocate (rather than how I express it) is remarkably moderate in comparison to the consensus position of Israel hawks. (As opposed to Israeli hawks.)

Ultimately, this is an impossible conversation to have in some ways, because you can never really pin down who, exactly, is an extremist in any given debate. Extremism is a relative quality. It seems to me, though, that the side that is consider extreme and the side that is considered mainstream are exactly opposite. As ED points out, there are not actual holistic camps on either side that have signed any affinity statements or endorsed any particular set of beliefs, so this is necessarily general. But I find that there are no real anti-Israel extremists in what I would consider the mainstream, national conversation.
I think the important thing here is the definition of mainstream vs. non-mainstream. I think that what a lot of pro-Israel people don't ever forget, and what a lot of critics of Israel simply don't notice, is that outside the mainstream there is actually an awful lot of really vapid, hateful, over-the-top criticism of Israel that is way beyond anything reasonable critics of Israel ever suggest. There are those who spend all their time and energy criticizing Israel's human rights record, ignoring utterly the track records of any other nation, turning a blind eye to Iran, China, etc. out of some strange, obsessive need to bash Israel.

What this creates online at least is a disproportionate debate--one in which the extremists have a much louder megaphone than anyone else. You get these hard-liner Zionists on the one hand, advocating the expulsion of all Arabs from Israel, and on the other you get these hard-line anti-Zionists who want to expel the Jews and give the land back to the Palestinians (an argument I, as a North American, find difficult to espouse, since it is just a tiny bit hypocritical unless we, too, give back our land to its original inhabitants...)

Of course, Freddie is right about the mainstream discussion, and certainly there is a lot less constructive criticism of Israel in the mainstream dialogue than there ought to be--and perhaps this is a reactionary trend. Perhaps things like the UN declaring Zionism was racist have had a backlash effect. Extremes beget extremes, after all.

This is a shame, because we do need legitimate criticism of Israel. I, for one, think the continued expansion of settlements in the West Bank needs to stop, and that the extremists behind the settlements are not only harming the Palestinians, they are also bringing about indirect harm to their fellow Israelis. But it's hard to say that in the current climate, and that's simply not conducive to a healthy debate.

There's a lot to admire about Israel, and hopefully someday we'll be able to say the same thing about Palestine. Two states living peacefully side-by-side is a good dream to have, and I think a lot of people in the middle feel that way. Does the mainstream conversation need to change to reflect this? Yes, it does. And we'd all do well to remember that the conversation online is usually a lot more virulent, heated, and outrageous than the conversation in the real world. So maybe a little less "rhetorical maximalism" would do us all good, though in Freddie's case at least his rhetoric, however maximalist, is at least coherent and sensible. Take a trip around the Israel/Pali blogosphere sometime. It's illuminating, to say the least...partisan to the point of inanity...


Wellsy said...

I think in this situation you have 2 worlds: the world outside the conflict, where people debate statistics, records, and events, maybe from the comfort of their homes on the internet, and the world inside the conflict, where people are trying to live their lives and survive. Their homes might be in ruins.

The reality is that any good idea that may be hatched in the first world will probably wither and die when it makes the transition to the second world. Peace has to arise naturally in the region or else it won't hold. And it's not going to arise naturally unless Israel, obviously in better shape than the ragged "Palestine," decides to take the lives of Palestinians seriously. Israel's not exactly trying to win over Palestinian moderates here.

Anyway, ideas from the first world might not fare well when the rubber hits the road, but international support for peace, especially from America, is a step in the right direction. This means sometimes rapping Israel's knuckles and treating the Palestinian government as if it is completely sovereign even though, in reality, it may not be.

I can understand why objectivity may be hard for those that are directly involved, but for many in the blogosphere, I just don't understand why its lacking.