Thursday, March 27, 2008

the perils of civil society

Dear Michael,

Thank you for your reasoned response: I agree with many of the things you say.

America is plural, no doubt: otherwise, how could someone like Finkelstein or Chomsky have ever written what they have.

I have nothing against America per se: there are aspects of the western civilisation that are disquieting.

I'm sure many Americans dislike the Israel lobby: but that doesn't help the Palestinians or the Iraqis at all.

In fact, I don't blame the Israel lobby one iota, either. The problem is deeper than that: the problem is pluralism itself.

I'm sure you're familiar with the theory of civil society: I have written quite a lot on the subject, and if you visit my web page, you will come across most of them (

A plural society is characterised by a constant struggle among interest/lobby groups: it's a Darwinian struggle: some lobby groups prosper at the expense of others. Take farmers: US and European farmers have lobbied to make sure third world farmers remain in poverty, and also that US and European consumers pay eight times the world price of sugar, for instance. As you'll find in Finkelstein's book, the Israel lobby has made gains, not only at the expense of the Palestinians, but also at the expense of black Americans. This is normal in a pluralist society.

It took the Israel lobby years (decades) to assert itself in America (during the first Arab-Israeli war, the US didn't lift a finger to help Israel; it was Stalin who supplied Czech
weapons and saved the infant state from destruction.)

Finkelstein observes that it was the Israeli success in the 1967 war that clinched America's support for Israel – this is wrong.

In the book, THE AMERICANISATION OF HE HOLOCAUST, the firs chapter observes how Jewish writers in the early 20th century downplayed their Jewishness. Saul Bellow, in Dangling Man, makes a passing remark on Jewishness; later, however, in What Kind of A Day Did You Have (good story!), Jewishness is prominent. Moral: it takes years for civil society to assert itself. Incremental measures, such as, notably, the radio broadcast of the Eichman trial, led to the lodgement of the Israeli identity (not Jewish identity) in the American psyche. I avoid "Jewish identity" because many devout Jews, such as Rabbi Goldstein and Jews Against Zionism, are against Israel: this is a problem that stems from the French revolution: nationalism (

The parallel with trade unions will make it very clearer. Trade unions were banned in 19th century Britain on competition grounds. Then they were legalised, workers got the vote and prominent writers (the Fabian society being the most famous), took up their case, and they became a sacred coy.

Forward tot he 1960s and 1970s. The stranglehold of the unions on Britain was obvious (I was thee during the coal-miners strike in the 70s). Britain "was not working" but government were powerless to do anything. This is a superb example of the tail wagging the dog, how a civic group can control the state itself. What about the business lobby? They were powerless.

Then came Mrs. Thatcher – and she used devious and ruthless measures to crush the inions (hence, Iron Lady). I've nothing against British trade unions – this is merely an example of hoe pluralism can be dangerous.

I have written a great deal: I'm sorry about that. But please bear with me. There are two things I wish to say further.

First, the word 'freedom' is so important in western civilisation because it was the only civilisation to practice slavery on a large scale (I know what you're thinking: who built those pyramids!). Pleas see my article:

The only noble exceptions were the Roman Empire (NOT the Republic) and the Hellenistic world – precisely because they were monarchies.

Secondly, there is a widespread perception among westerners, and especially Americans, that the Muslim world hates them. Now, I live in a country of 140 million Muslims (the second largest after Indonesia). Among my friends, all are passionately in love with the west (especially America). Despite all the evidence I have tried to garner and share, not one person has ever evinced any displeasure with the west. I know you will find this incredible: but it is a fact. Most Muslims LOVE America.

I was once planning to go and live in the UAE: I was told by friends there that if I had an American passport, not only would I have better pay, but far greater prestige.

I don't know how this misconception has arisen that Muslims hate the west: SOME do; MOST love the west. Not only for financial reasons; most people I know think western civilisation (especially America) is the fountainhead of all that's good and great.

You can see my pathetic attempts to "enlighten" my compatriots in this essay:

I will end this overlong piece with a quote from a Palestinian who was resident in Dhaka: "Our biggest enemy is the ummah; I don't blame America."

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