Political Islam and ‘Jewish identity politics’ – a comparison
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The controversy over Gilad Atzmon and his book The Wandering Who, which I recently reviewed on this blog, raises a lot of important questions about history and the politics of the last two centuries. I make no apology for writing about this question again because some of the issues he raises are of great importance to questions relating to war and peace, the nature of contemporary capitalism, national questions and the composition of major classes in society, particularly the capitalist class. All these questions are of central importance to anyone who wants to see capitalism superseded by socialism – they also touch intimately on questions intertwined with the causes of at least one world war in living memory, as well as other traumatic and world historic events including the currents wars and now revolutions shaking the Middle East and neighbouring regions and states. So its pretty important.
Atzmon is not a Marxist thinker, but an idiosyncratic left-wing liberal, born and raised in a racist ethnocracy. His own rejection of a racist upbringing and his privileged birthright as a Jew in a Jewish state, has generated some ferocious rhetoric and not a little incoherence and misunderstanding by friend and foe alike in some cases. But Atzmon’s writings are significant: this is also acknowledged by his enemies, usually rabid Zionists though also a few semi-Bundist socialists who on most issues are on the opposite side of the barricades to the Netan-yahoos. My point here is not to dwell on that conflict, but to acknowledge the significance of his work on ‘Jewish identity’. If it was just, as his enemies proclaim, reheated anti-semitism from the pre-WWII years, Atzmon would be unable to defend himself against a tidal wave of universal opprobrium.
After all, even many on the far right in Western countries are themselves keen to distance themselves from anti-semitism because it is no longer useful to them – anti-Muslim hate is much more de rigeur. So how come, if Atzmon is anti-semitic, is he getting a hearing from many broadly on the left of the political spectrum? It does not make sense. The only explanation for this that his enemies can put forward is to start talking about how the left itself is hostile to people of Jewish origin purely because of that origin. But that is a nonsensical allegation that I will not address here except to note that it is usually the refuge those pushing some kind of racist anti-Arab agenda, or opportunists of various kinds aiming to suck up to people with these kinds of views. And many of those abused in this way by Zionist right-wingers and their gentile reactionary allies are themselves Jewish. No-one of any integrity believes this allegation so I will say no more about it.
Despite his evident differences with Marxism, which he has derided as ‘psuedo-scientific’, Atzmon is putting forward something useful to Marxists in addressing the Jewish question. He puts forward a theory about the politicisation of Jewish identity that basically divides its bearers into three categories. One is a religious identity, that of believing practitioners of Judaism. Two is those who are born Jewish, who may or may not be religious Jews, and who basically regard themselves as citizens of whatever state they reside in, and attach no particular political significance to their Jewish identity. And then there is what Atzmon calls the third category, of those Jews for who being Jewish is a political identity above all, and indeed appears to be the most important aspect of their political persona. He considers the first two ‘categories’ to be basically harmless; the third anything but.
Atzmon states that this ‘third’ category of Jews act as a ‘tribal’ or communalist body, claim to speak for ‘the Jews’ as a whole, and act as a collective in maximising their influence against other national/ethnic communities, particularly Arabs, though not limited to them. Atzmon further states that this ‘third category’ movement, as part of its communal project, acts to ‘infiltrate’ the corridors of power particularly in advanced countries like Europe and America, basically to fight for ‘Jewish’ interests, which today are expressed through the interests of the Israeli state. This latter supposition is the most contentious aspect of Atzmon’s theories and I will put off discussing that until I have examined some of its antecedent arguments.
There is nothing odious or even unusual about the logic Atzmon uses to divide Jews into three categories. A very similar schema can be used to divide up Muslims, and many of Atzmon’s most vehement critics would have no problem in making such distinctions. One could say that a first category Muslim is simply an ordinary believer who is purely religious in motivation and does not concern himself or herself with politics. A second category Muslim is a believer who may well involve themselves in politics in some way, but does not make the Muslim religion or identity the focal point of their political activity. The third category of Muslim would then be a Muslim who is involved in political activity whose central aim is to promote Islam, or the perceived interest of Muslims, as their prime concern and reason for political activity.
Many of Atzmon’s critics would have no problem in dividing Muslims up in this way and would of course have a ready-made term available to describe the ‘third category’ of Muslims. Such people they tend to call ‘political Islamists’. This is uncontroversial among liberals and the left: while there are wide differences on how to relate to those who are politically active as Muslims, with some writing off all such people as irremediably reactionary while others adopting a more nuanced position, there is little dispute about the existence of political Islam, and therefore three basic categories of Muslim identity. No one on the left goes around denouncing anyone who recognises the mere existence of political Islam as a distinct category as racist or Islamophobic.
When it comes to making such distinctions among Jews, however, the reaction from both progressive and right-wing Jewish activists and their cheerleaders on the gentile left is quite hysterical. Thus the campaign against Atzmon, recently taken up in an unsuccessful attempt at banning his music by the Zionist-influenced ‘anti-fascist’ campaigning group ‘Hope Not Hate’ and the Zionist anti-Muslim hate site Harry’s Place. No one with any sense on the left expects much from these people, who spend more time witch-hunting anti-imperialists and anti-war activists particularly from the Middle East than any purely nominal ‘anti-fascism’. But more serious people on the left have also reacted with horror to Atzmon’s making such distinctions among Jews...MORE...LINK
That's all bullshit.
Atzmon attracts Antisemites from all the spectrum, radical left once and Radical Right as David Duke.
They all link to the Jewish born persona who is a "Anti Jewish Jew" and are cannot resist the smell of his Antisemite dialect.
That's the point, nothing else.
Atzmon is useless for those, once you take out the Antisemite smear, get it into your head.
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