Israel, Islam, and the Muscular Left

Hezbollah rockets often have sayings written on them such as “Remember the Khaybar, the armies of Mohammed will return.” Or it is not uncommon in a moment of victorious joy to hear a Muslim call out “Remember the Khaybar.” Khaybar was a battle in 629 where the prophet Mohammed defeated Jewish tribes. This victory is typically recalled in the chants and sayings expressing military victory and the defeat of the Jews.

The old European left, forged in the fires of Nazism and Fascism, identified with Jews and the struggling State of Israel. The left understood Jewish suffering and supported the State of Israel as a justifiable political collective deserving of national and political identity. Israel was understood to be emerging in the tradition of freedom and the struggle against oppression of all types. This was a time in the history of the left when they made distinctions and substantive decisions. It was a time when oppression and terrorism were clearly unacceptable and could not be justified by any argument. Historically, leftist and progressive political ideology was responsible for the defeat of Nazism, Fascism, and the development of human rights.

But in the last couple of decades the intellectual left has lost its moral compass and has now never met a minority group that did not consider oppressed. The European and American left are getting weaker and less able to defend themselves as a voice of moral legitimacy and progress. Israel is a very good case in point. Once, Israel was the darling child of the left because they had suffered so much discrimination, betrayal, and extermination. 50 years ago the State of Israel was bathed in the celestial glow of growing political strength and national identity. A longtime oppressed people were reconstituting themselves in their ancient homeland.

I grant you the changing conditions on the ground – settlements, checkpoints, and Israel’s military strength. But this is part of what I mean when referring to the left’s inability to make distinctions and decisions. They seem to be unable to distinguish between the peaceful and democratic trends in Israel and a discriminatory religious state. The left’s ideology has circled around and flanked itself. They now see everything filtered through a colonialism lens and robotically take the side of the smaller minority group. This is true in Vietnam, Rhodesia, Israel, and other causes such as Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. The rigid blindness caused by this colonialism lens is evidenced by the number of political regimes that are thoroughly authoritarian and repressive but still receive the sympathy of the left, especially the European left. And they have occasionally made the distinction between vulnerable European Jews and Israel as a modern-day Sparta, but this distinction between Israel and Jews is indefensible. The left’s ideological criticism of Israel coupled with Islam’s blatant anti-Semitism makes for a combustible situation. Even Christopher Hitchens, who later in life gravitated toward the muscular left in his support of the Iraq war, maintained his criticism of Israel right up until his end.

A Muscular Left

I would encourage you to read a statement on muscular liberalism called the Euston Manifesto. It is a document that tries to reinvigorate progressive politics by focusing on egalitarian liberalism and democratic commitments that are true to authentic liberal values in the actual tradition of the term and not so flexible so as to include defending all sorts of anti-liberal causes such as extremist Islam. Muscular liberalism makes no apology for tyranny; there are no excuses to “understand” violence and repressive regimes that harm their own people and stifle political progress. The muscular left does not countenance apologies and drawn out explanations designed to justify violence and repression.

Egalitarian politics has always been a staple of the liberal tradition especially between ethnic communities because even after peace treaties are signed it is interpersonal and cultural equality and respect that makes for lasting peace. A muscular liberal tradition accepts differences of opinion and perspective as normal and requires contentious issues to be solved through the communication process. The only legitimate battles are rhetorical and argumentative designed to manage conflict.

The left must remember that it once apologized for Stalinism and Maoism. The modern version of these apologetics is making excuses for suicide terrorism and religious extremism. Muscular liberalism challenges anti-democratic forces wherever it sees them – even if they emerge from historically oppressed groups.

About Donald Ellis

Professor Emeritus at the University of Hartford.

Posted on December 17, 2012, in Israel, Political Conflict and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Israel, Islam, and the Muscular Left.

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