The anti-imperialism of fools

This essay by Mick Hume which I missed when it came out is as relevant now as it was in 2002. It’s a sardonic analysis of a certain type of pro-Palestinian activist.


Today’s anti-imperialism of fools, by contrast, not only endorses imperialist intervention, it also appears to oppose anything progressive that the west stands for – such as rationalism, universalism, scientific experimentation or economic development. (Its advocates are happy, however, to use the internet to spread the message; theirs is a high-tech primitivism.) The very different tradition of an older anti-imperialism was summed up by C L R James: “I denounce European colonialism. But I respect the learning and profound discoveries of western civilisation.” The idea was to free the colonial world so that it might reap the benefits of modernity. Today, as Kenan Malik points out: “James’s defence of ‘western civilisation’ would probably be dismissed as Eurocentric, even racist.”


Why should Palestine have suddenly become such a cause celebre? Critics now talk of the Israeli state as if it were a mini-superpower, given licence by Washington to commit genocide against the Palestinians; some have described President Bush as “Sharon’s poodle”. This cartoon version of events grossly inflates the power and importance of Israel today. It is ridiculous to think that the foreign policy of a global superpower could be driven by a tiny state with a population of six million. For America (and before that Britain), relations between Jews and Arabs have always been negotiable in the wider scheme of things.

During the cold war, the US generally backed Israel as its gendarme, in order to contain the threat (real and imagined) of a Soviet-backed Arab nationalism. But we are no longer living in 1967 or 1973. Arab nationalism has been dead for at least a decade. The west has less need of Israel to police the region so tightly. More important, in the post-cold war era, the west has lost its sense of imperial certainty. This underlying vulnerability is revealed most sharply in its relations with the Islamic world. No longer able to promote their cherished old notions of racial or cultural superiority, the western elites have become increasingly defensive.


Even a right-wing Republican such as George Bush now demands that Israel pull out of “occupied territories” and calls for the creation of a Palestinian state. Other members of Washington’s foreign-policy establishment have gone further. Zbigniew Brzezinski, former national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter, denounced the Israelis as being “increasingly like the white supremacist South Africans, viewing the Palestinians as a lower form of life”. The US still helps to bankroll the Israeli state, and there remains a powerful pro-Israeli lobby in Congress and the media. But these people now feel compelled to make shrill public appeals on Israel’s behalf which would have been considered unnecessary in the past.

This analysis leads him to conclude:

What we are witnessing is not simply a resurgence of old-fashioned anti-Semitism: that accusation is most often a defensive reaction from Israel’s supporters. But the anti-globalisation movement is “diving into the Middle East conflict” blindly, in pursuit of a vague and simplistic moral agenda of its own. The delegations of self-styled “internationals” who travel to the Middle East to show sympathy for the Palestinians are lauded as “the real heroes of today” on solidarity websites. Yet few of them would lie down in front of tanks if Israel really were the Nazi state they claim. The internationals seem less keen to travel to other conflicts, away from the eyes of the world media, where they might risk meeting the fate of the international solidarity activists killed during the Pinochet coup in Chile.

Go read it (in the New Statesman 🙂 )


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