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Gilad Atzmon: Allegro non Troppo

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    Re-Arranging the 20th Century: Allegro non Troppo Gilad Atzmon http://peacepalestine.blogspot.com/2006/02/gilad-atzmon-re-arranging-20th-century.html Image:
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 23, 2006
      Re-Arranging the 20th Century: Allegro non Troppo
      Gilad Atzmon

      Image: cartoon by Bendib Stopping Bush and Blair in Iraq, stopping
      those warmongers from proceeding to Iran and Syria is a must. If
      history shapes the future, we need to liberate our perspective of the
      past, rather than arresting revisionists, we simply need many more of
      them. We must let go; we must Re-arrange the 20th century. Gilad Atzmon

      "There is a myth that we love freedom, others don't: that our
      attachment to freedom is a product of culture; that freedom,
      democracy, human rights, the rule of law are American values, or
      Western values…Ours are not Western values, they are the universal
      values of the Human spirit". Tony Blair, a speech given at a joint
      session of the United States Congress, summer 2003

      Tony Blair may have gotten it right for a change, it is rather
      possible that freedom, democracy and human rights, are `universal
      values of the Human spirit'. Yet, they have very little to do with
      Anglo-American and Western governing philosophy and practices.

      At Guantánamo Bay people are detained for over three years without
      being charged of any crime. If it were down to PM Blair and his
      infamous Anti-Terror bill, spending up to three months behind bars
      without being charged would be extended to the alleged enemies of the
      British people as well. If freedom is indeed a high `universal' value
      of the human spirit, Blair and Bush must have very limited knowledge
      of such a spirit.

      Anyhow, the following paper isn't really about Blair or Bush; it is
      about the highly deceiving Western discourse. It is about people who
      claim to know what human spirit and universalism are all about. It is
      about a worldview that is engaged in silencing others, not to say
      killing in the name of `freedom', `universalism' and `humanism'. It is
      a search into the genealogy of the pompous emerging liberal
      `Judeo-Christian' discourse. It is a deconstruction of Western
      political ideology and its deluded notion of the past.

      The Personal is Political

      Rather ostensibly, Anglo-American political argumentation is gradually
      taking the form of a pornographic appeal to one's empathy. It is
      grounded on a distribution of sporadic stories of personal pain. Once
      Blair or Bush feel the urge to flatten an Arab country, all they have
      to do is to provide their supportive media outlets with some painful
      personal accounts of an exiled dissident voice who would willingly and
      enthusiastically share with us some horrendous graphic details of his
      troubles at home. In most cases, we are then instantly predisposed to
      military intervention and we stand behind our democratically elected
      governments, collectively providing them with the mandate to kill in
      the name of freedom and democracy.

      As it happens, a given personal account, without even being verified
      or validated can easily become a legal indictment of a country, its
      leadership, a culture, a people and even an entire gender. Apparently,
      the phrase `the personal is political' serves as an efficient
      political argumentative apparatus. While pre-WWII Western politicians
      tended to make us believe that politics must transcend beyond the
      personal and what may seem as contingent, within the post-WWII Western
      political discourse, as long as it serves the Western hegemony, the
      personal is nothing but political.

      As we know, it was different American feminists' networks that were
      the first to call a war on the Talibans, spreading the personal
      accounts of some abused Afghani women. Whether consciously or not,
      they were laying the groundwork for Clinton and Bush's war against
      Islam. Similarly, it was the personal accounts of the gassed Kurds of
      Halabja that were preparing the `international community' for the war
      against Saddam. It was the personal accounts of Jewish survivors told
      after WWII that retrospectively justified the outrageous
      Anglo-American carpet-bombing of German cities towards the end of that

      In the past, I suggested a skeptical philosophical take of the notion
      of the personal narrative in the light of Heidegger's Hermeneutic
      criticism of Husserl's Phenomenology.[1] However, in the current paper
      I will engage myself with questions pertaining to the politics of the
      very shift from the personal to the political.

      Currently, our political commitment is in large part determined by our
      reaction to personal narratives. Whether it is the personal story of
      the female rape victim or a detailed graphic account of an exiled
      Halabja resident, the Western subject is now properly trained in
      reacting politically and correctly to any given personal account. In
      metaphysical terms, the Western being has managed to rise above and
      resolve the old problem of induction; it is now adept at easily
      deducing a general political rule out of a very singular tale. This
      isn't a big surprise, at the end of the day, human beings do tend to
      generalise. In metaphysical terms we have learned to avoid doubts
      having to do with our general tendencies.

      But in fact it is slightly deeper: the shift from the personal to the
      political allows the Western subject to regard himself as an integral
      part of a cosmic `universal', `liberal' and `humanist' order:
      collectively he reacts `humanly' in a `single voice' manner. Indeed,
      the empathetic sensation we detect within ourselves once confronting a
      personal traumatic account is an effective manipulative tool used
      rather often by our democratically elected leaders.

      Auschwitz the Message

      At least historically, it was within post-WWII Jewish discourse, both
      Zionist and anti- Zionist, where a clear tendency to present the
      personal as political could be easily detected. As bizarre as it may
      sound, Jewish discourse both on the right and left equally
      substantiates its argument by politicising the personal story of

      After all, this isn't that surprising. Auschwitz is indeed a story of
      very many singular human beings who are exploited and reduced into
      mere livestock due to their sexual preferences, political beliefs and
      of course ethnic or racial origin. Yet, it was the personal accounts
      told by the liberated camp inmates that transformed WWII from the
      historical chapter and ideological insight that it was into a mere
      `political narrative' not to say a solid political argument.

      At least politically, it is `Auschwitz the message' that provides the
      Israeli government with (false) legitimacy to drop bombs on crowded
      Palestinian urban areas. At the end of the day, after Auschwitz, the
      Jews are now "entitled to defend themselves." It is Auschwitz the
      message as well that entitles Norman Finkelstein, a child of Holocaust
      survivor parents, to say what he has to say and receive commentary
      based on this fact. Rather often Finkelstein would use his very
      personal background as a core of legitimacy. But then, thinking about
      it, if Finkelstein is indeed an academic scholar, presenting a solid
      argument, which I am totally convinced he does, then we must be able
      to address his arguments without any reference to his family
      background. Academically, we should be able to address his ideas
      regardless of his unique autobiography. Similarly, the moral ground to
      kill innocents in the name of Auschwitz is rather suspicious. As we
      all know, it wasn't the Palestinians who sent European Jews to
      concentration camps in Poland. Within the heavy smoke invoked by the
      personal trauma, not many suggest to the Jews to redeem themselves of
      the personal traumatic discourse of justification. Such a suggestion
      is sometimes regarded as a form of Holocaust denial with some grave
      legal implications.

      But in fact, it isn't Jews alone who are capitalising on `Auschwitz
      the message'. It is in the shadow of that very message that Americans
      allow themselves to kill millions of innocent civilians in the name of
      democracy and freedom. As we will see next, `Auschwitz the message' is
      now deeply rooted within the core of the Anglo-American notion of
      democracy and liberal thinking.

      On the face of it, it seems as if the liberal Western subject is
      trained to believe that it is the lesson of Auschwitz that entitles us
      all to ground the political in the personal. Thus, it isn't really a
      coincidence that the official Holocaust narrative had become the entry
      card into the Anglo-American or even Western discourse. Accordingly,
      it isn't really a coincidence that Holocaust shrines are now sprouting
      up like mushrooms in every major Western capital. In the UK for
      instance, a permanent Holocaust exhibition occupies a large part of
      the Empire War Museum. Clearly, the Jewish Holocaust has very little
      to do with the general perception of British Empire History. In fact,
      the Empire has many other non-Jewish Shoahs to account for. Yet, the
      absurdity is even greater, it is rather crucial to mention that it was
      the British Empire that was so reluctant to help European Jews escape
      their doomed fate. It was Lord Bevin's 1939 White Paper that stopped
      Jews from immigrating to Palestine when danger for their lives was
      immanent. It was the RAF that repeatedly dismissed the necessity of
      bombing Auschwitz. We have a very good reason to assume that the
      British decision to capitalise on Auschwitz and the Jewish Holocaust
      narrative is rather a highly calculated political move.

      A Holocaust memorial opened its gates in Washington a few years ago,
      yet it is very hard to cover the clear fact that Roosevelt did very
      little to help European Jews during the war. The American
      administration didn't change its immigration laws between 1933-45 in
      order to prevent mass immigration of European Jews into the USA.
      Again, we have a very good reason to assume that the American decision
      to capitalise on Auschwitz and the Jewish Holocaust narrative is there
      to serve a very specific cause. Let me say it, this cause is not
      history per se, in fact it is there to undermine historical thinking
      and to cover up some crucial historical facts.

      Auschwitz is indeed a horrible story of a total abuse of human rights
      by a sovereign State. It is certainly a disastrous account of the
      violation of human liberty. Auschwitz is the ultimate story of
      violation of the most fundamental rights, Auschwitz is certainly a
      story of State terrorism and considering the fact that the
      Anglo-Americans present themselves as the guardians of human liberty,
      it is not surprising that Auschwitz settled comfortably within the
      core of English speaking cultural and political thought. This may as
      well explain why rather than being a historical event, Auschwitz has
      become a political argument grounded on a collection of graphic
      personal and biographical accounts. In some European countries
      Auschwitz has now become a legally sealed list of prohibitions and
      laws that are set to prevent any possible historical scrutiny.
      Unfortunately, the Holocaust and WWII are now covered with a heavy
      cloud of quasi moral smoke that blocks any serious treatment of the
      event, either scholarly or artistically.

      Auschwitz and the Holocaust are now realised mainly in political
      terms. Auschwitz is shaping the Western vision of history as well as
      the vision of any possible future. Moreover, `Auschwitz the message'
      stands as a perceptual mediator and a gatekeeper of any possible
      Western political ideology. Unless you acknowledge and approve the way
      Auschwitz is considered, you are not allowed in. In case you do not
      know what I'm talking about, you may ask the Iranian president, surely
      he can tell you more about the subject.

      Needless to say, the vision of Auschwitz `the historical event' is
      totally shaped by `Auschwitz the message'. In other words, any
      scholarly access into the Judeocide aspects of World War II is now
      totally denied. Furthermore, unless one approves and repeats the
      official Holocaust narrative, one may find oneself locked behind bars.
      This happened lately to three rightwing history revisionists who dared
      to suspect the official Auschwitz narrative. Regardless of what they
      have to say, whether one accepts their views or not, the idea of
      locking people up just for trying to shape our vision of the past is
      rather alarming. In fact, it means that we have totally failed in
      internalising the most crucial lesson of the war against Nazism. To
      employ thought police is exactly what totalitarianism is all about. To
      lock a historical revisionist up is to become a Nazi and the reason is
      simple: if Auschwitz is indeed a story of total personal abuse then
      denying freedom of speech is nothing but surrendering to the Nazi
      methods of personal abuse.[3]

      Admittedly, Auschwitz has now become the very essence of the liberal
      democratic argument. It is a timeless event, a crude and banal glimpse
      into evilness. It often takes new shapes and new faces. Yet, some
      parameters always remain the same. Within the Auschwitz ideological
      apparatus there is always clear binary opposition at stake. Auschwitz
      suggests a clear dichotomy between the `good' and the `evil', between
      the `open society' and its `enemies', between `West' and `the rest',
      between the `democratic man' and the `savage', between Israel and
      Iran, between the `Judeo-Christian' and `Islam' and most importantly
      between the `universal humanist liberator' and the `dark oppressor'[4]

      Somehow, it is always the West that awards itself and itself alone
      with the legal capacity of enforcing the moral of Auschwitz. Somehow,
      most Western people still fail to see that within the emerging so
      called `cultural clash', it is the Palestinians who are locked in a
      concentration camp named Gaza, they are obviously surrounded by the
      Israeli Vermacht and blitzed by American-made bombers dropped by
      American planes piloted by Israeli Luftwaffe top guns. Most Westerners
      fail to grasp that it is the West that is fighting an energetic
      Lebensraum expansionist war in the deserts of the Middle East. Why do
      we fail to see it? Because we are submerged within a dubious moral
      jargon that is there to impose some severe intellectual blindness upon
      us. Rather than thinking ethically and in categorical terms, we are
      giving in to the flood of shallow personal narrative rhetoric a la
      Blair and Bush. When those two were left with no forensic evidence to
      justify their illegal war in Iraq, they simply shifted their reasoning
      rhetoric to the Hitler-like Saddam Hussein. The invasion of the Iraqi
      oil reserves was retroactively justified by the necessity of removing
      the murderous tyrant. As strange as it may be, no one actually
      provided us with any real solid forensic evidence to back that very
      allegation of colossal breeches of human rights. Indeed, occasionally
      we saw some devastating mass graves exposed in the desert, but then a
      few days later, we would learn from an expert that those graves were
      actually a legacy of the bloody Iran-Iraq war. Worryingly, we have
      never asked for real evidence for Saddam's crimes. We happened to be
      satisfied enough with some sporadic televised personal accounts.
      Apparently, we love to watch televised images of pain. As I mentioned
      before, we are enthusiastic about reacting collectively to a moral call.

      In the liberal democratic world, the elected leader is doomed to
      justify his wars, to back them with solid or at least convincing moral
      arguments. As it happened, Tony Blair had to stand in front of the
      Parliament and justify his latest illegal war. At the time of its
      occurrence, the British government had to justify the erasure of
      Dresden. Similarly, the American administration had to provide sound
      reasoning for the outrageous use of atomic bombs against civilians.

      Indeed, Western governments are inclined to providing us with some
      shallow ad hoc political and moral arguments that have the tendency of
      maturing into historic narratives. Yet, we do not have to accept those
      accounts. We are more than entitled to revise those `official
      arguments' and historic narratives. To understand the contemporary
      political rhetoric is to be able to study and criticise it. But then,
      to revise the present is to re-visit the past. At least categorically,
      there is not much difference between the erasure of Dresden,
      Hiroshima, Caen, Fallujah or Najaf.

      May I add at this point that I am totally convinced that denying
      Auschwitz should never have become a legal issue. The question of
      whether there was a mass homicide with gas or `just' a mass death toll
      due to total abuse in horrendous conditions is no doubt a crucial
      historical question. The fact that such a major historical chapter
      less than seven decades ago is scholarly inaccessible undermines the
      entire historical endeavour. If we cannot talk about our grandparents'
      generation, how dare we ever say something about Napoleon or even the
      Romans? Personally speaking, I may admit that I am not that interested
      in the question above. I am not an historian, I am not qualified as
      one. Being trained as a philosopher, I rather ask `what is history all
      about?' `What can we say about the past?'

      For me, the entire issue is purely ethical: challenging the dubious
      morality of the Western concern with Auschwitz is essential for the
      task of challenging those who kill daily in the name of `Auschwitz the
      message'. I am obviously referring here to Israel, America and
      Britain. Ostensibly, there is far more pain inflicted by those who
      maintain `Auschwitz the message' than by those who dare challenging
      the historical validity of its official narrative.

      Next Week, the second half will be printed on peacepalestine, but for
      those who want to read it all now: THE ENTIRE ARTICLE APPEARS HERE:

      [1] (Zionism and other Marginal Thoughts Counterpunch article).
      Husserl suggests that one can refer to `Evidenz', which is a form of
      unmediated awareness. Accordingly, it is possible to experience a pure
      awareness of oneself. Husserl stresses that an individual's
      self-awareness can convey an authentic form of knowledge.

      Martin Heidegger refused to go along with Husserl's perception; he
      indeed exposed a major flaw in Husserl's thought. According to
      Heidegger, unmediated awareness is actually hard to conceive. Human
      beings, he rightly said, do operate within language. Language is out
      there before one comes into the world. Once one enters the realm of
      language, a separating wall made of symbolic lingual bricks and
      cultural mortar thwarts one's access to any possible `unmediated
      awareness'. Can we think without applying language? Can we experience
      at all without the mediation of language? As soon as we name or rather
      say - once within language - we can never be authentic anymore. It
      would seem that a comprehensive authentic awareness is impossible.
      Consequently, personal narrative, though plausible, can never convey
      an `authentic reality', it is always shaped by a predated language and
      even cultural conditions.

      [2] The leftist may say, `being a son of a survivor, I am more than
      entitled to criticise the State of Israel, Zionism or even the
      exploitation of the Holocaust by Jewish organisations. On the
      contrary, the Jewish hawk would maintain that it is precisely the tale
      of Auschwitz told by his parents that gives meaning to the Zionist
      project, set there to prevent Auschwitz from repeating itself.

      [3] On a first glance it was very encouraging to learn that Deborah
      Lipstadt, the leading warrior in the war against Holocaust denial, was
      actually calling upon the Austrian authorities to let the Historical
      Revisionist David Irving free. "Let the guy go home. He has spent
      enough time in prison," she said. It didn't take long to realize that
      what may sound like tolerance and forgiveness is in fact a cold
      instrumental maintenance of the official Auschwitz narrative. "I am
      uncomfortable with imprisoning people for speech," says Lipstadt and
      stresses on, "Let him go and let him fade from everyone's radar
      screens." We are entitled to assume that Lipstadt's concerns with
      Irving's re-appearance have something to do with Irving's willingness
      as well as capacity to challenge the official Holocaust narrative.
      Seemingly, the American Rabbinical academics enthusiastically endorse
      `freedom of speech' just in order to silence her foe.

      Apparently, Lipstadt isn't alone. "If Austria wants to prove itself a
      modern democracy," argues Christian Fleck, a sociologist at the
      University of Graz, "you use argument, not the law against Holocaust
      deniers." BBC article . This indeed sounds like a proper argument you
      could expect to hear from a European scholar. Yet the Austrian
      sociologist doesn't stop there; unwittingly, he presents what he
      regards as a correct academic argument: "Irving is a fool - and the
      best way of dealing with fools is to ignore them… Are we really afraid
      of someone whose views on the past are palpable nonsense, at a time
      when every schoolchild knows of the horrors of the Holocaust? Are we
      saying his ideas are so powerful we can't argue with him?" (ibid).
      Seemingly, Fleck is not fully familiar with basic logical formulation.
      To `use an argument' isn't to present a conclusion as a premise.
      Fleck's academic duty is to prove beyond doubt that Irving is indeed a
      fool. This would mean something slightly more substantial than the
      `common knowledge of a schoolboy'. Again, without addressing Irving's
      accountability, without referring to the validity of his arguments, we
      find ourselves learning about the current dubious notion of Western
      tolerance. I would argue that Fleck and Lipstadt alike are interested
      merely in an image of tolerance. Something that looks like freedom but
      in fact maintains hegemony.

      [4] It is rather important to mention at this point that that it is
      within the above very dichotomy where the Iranian president is singled
      out and left with no other option but endorsing what is seen by some
      as a Holocaust denial narrative. It is crucial to mention that the
      Iranian president is not alone, many Muslims and Arabs feel the same.
      Once Auschwitz becomes the symbol of reconciliation between Jews and
      Christians, Islam in general and Arabs in particular are left to be
      seen as a universal global threat. They are practically evicted from
      the Western discourse. If this isn't enough, they are dispossessed of
      elementary human dignity. To a certain extent, the only way around it
      for them may be to dismiss the Holocaust altogether.

      "If you care so much about the Jews," asks Ahmadinejad the Iranian
      president, "why don't you take them back?" Although such a suggestion
      may sound bizarre at first, it indeed conveys logical and consistent
      deconstruction of the Auschwitz ideological apparatus at least from
      the point of view of today's oppressed. At the end of the day, the
      Holocaust is a Western affair. Neither the Arabs nor the Muslims have
      anything to do with it. The Judeocide took place in the heart of
      Europe. If Europeans and especially Germans indeed feel unease with
      their collective past, they may have to consider providing the Jewish
      Israeli citizens with German passports rather than supplying the
      Israeli Navy with three brand new submarines furnished with nuclear
      facilities. Somehow, Germany prefers the latter option. I'll let the
      reader guess why.

      It is rather crucial to mention as well that the Palestinians are
      `Hitler's last victims'. No one can doubt the clear fact that it was
      indeed the Holocaust that transformed Zionism from being a marginal
      aspiration ideology into the motor and justification of a racist
      nationalist State. Thus, again, if the Germans feel uncomfortable with
      their past, it is the Palestinians whom they must look after. Let's
      not stop there: if the Palestinians are indeed the last victims of
      Hitler, why aren't they entitled to develop their own Shoah narrative?

      If I am correct here, then the unique left solidarity movement, which
      suggests accommodating a pro-Palestinian stand together with Auschwitz
      religious worshiping is doomed to failure (Al Ahram Weekly guest
      commentary). The two are conflicting not to say in contradiction. As
      long as Auschwitz fails to become a categorical ethical insight as
      well as an historic chapter, it is Auschwitz itself that stands in the
      core of the Zionist led oppression of the Arab people and Palestinians
      in particular.



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