Critiquing the Critique of Nationalism: A sociological defence of Rousseau and Kant

It’s easy to criticize any form of nationalism on the basis that it promotes exclusion of the interests of people outside your state. But this criticism supposes that nationalism is actually a barrier, not a hypothetic one, but a real one, to greater cross-national solidarity, to greater recognition of the rights and moral value of people outside the country.

But this is an illusion, because most of us live highly selfish narcissistic lives, where we care only for our family and friends. The proof of this is all around us. For example, look how difficult it is to organize a union, especially a union where different people inside it feel they have different specific interests. The tendency we have is to look after ourselves even when our interest is at odds with the interest of society. Hegel called this a kind of sickness that communities could catch, and while I’m uncomfortable with the organic metaphor, we have this contagion very bad.  Continue reading “Critiquing the Critique of Nationalism: A sociological defence of Rousseau and Kant”


The Invention of the Jewish People

In a post published yesterday I wrote about different meanings of “people”, and I concluded it with some remarks about what role these ideas can have in liberation and in oppression. These remarks are obviously influenced by the work of Sand, whose 2009 book “The Invention of the Jewish People” I have been reading. The remarks of the last post serve as a kind of introduction to this post, which is on the idea of the “Jewish people”. The idea was invented by 19th century anti-semites, and at that time it was basically the belief that the people in Europe who belong to the Jewish religion do not belong to the nations of Europe and they should either leave or remain as guests rather than citizens of the new European nations. This was a product of longstanding oppression of people of the Jewish religion in Europe, who were often confined to ghettos and restricted from some spheres of employment. These oppressions were gradually phased out through the process of Jewish Emancipation , the process by which Jews acquired rights as equal citizens across the nations of Europe. Continue reading “The Invention of the Jewish People”

Romney on a “United Jerusalem”, and why you’re a bit thick for freaking out about it

Yes, Romney has made statements about keeping Israel the united Capital of Jerusalem. Yes, the comments are unacceptable. And the internet has been experiencing a proverbial freak-out over them, with lots of all-caps action of the “HOW CAN HE SAY THIS?” variety. But, seriously, calm the [expletive] down; these comments are in line with what every American president has claimed openly since he 1980s. Don’t believe me?

Reagan, 1981

Carter, 1987

Bush Sr. 1990

Clinton, 1994

Bush Jr. 2000

Obama, 2008

While all those presidents have given vocal support for a “united Jerusalem”, none of them has moved the US embassy to Jerusalem, and none have recognized “Israel” as the country in which Jerusalem lies on US passports (Americans born in Jerusalem simply do not have a country of birth listed on their passports), despite pressure from the Senate and Congress to do so. It is unlikely Romney will change the US administration’s position on Jerusalem because it is what Israel needs – America’s maintaining that Jerusalem is a final-status issue makes negotiations between the Palestinian leadership and Israel possible even when both sides have recognized that the Palestinians are not strong enough to negotiate for anymore than a token portion of Jerusalem. America’s current position on Jerusalem will probably remain the same until the final political defeat of the Palestinians in a final status agreement that relegates them to second class status on part of their homeland and exclusion from the rest. Or, if the Oslo process fully collapses and the PLO is expelled from Palestine, and Palestinians return to a revolutionary phase of their struggle, in this case as well America will likely change its position on Jerusalem as part of recognizing Israeli annexation of the West Bank.

What’s more, when you stand against a “United Jerusalem”, who exactly are you standing with? The US public is to the right of the administration on this – they want a United Jerusalem. The Blue-Card Palestinians who live in East Jerusalem? But only 30% of them prefer to be Palestinian than to be Israeli. The Palestinian leadership which needs East Jerusalem to make its statehood? But the existing leadership already offered to allow Israel to annex virtually every Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem, save a few which are far outside the Jerusalem Municiple Boundary, marking the boundary of Jerusalem annexed by Israel back in the 60s. And remember, Abbas is facing pressure from the right, from those who want negotiations while settlement building goes on. And those to his left – how many of them are today calling for a return to a hardline position of no or little compromise on the ’67 line as it runs through Jerusalem? I don’t know of any, I’m under the impression that those who reject the Abbas leadership of Fatah mostly want a return to the pre-1988 position, and claim all the land as Palestine. They want a United Jerusalem as well – a Palestinian United Jerusalem.

The debate over Jerusalem at this point has become a complex mix of international law, Oslo negotiations, and disillusionment on both sides with any possibility of territorial compromise which would meet anyone’s national aspirations. It has become the terrain of intellectuals arguing over details, rather than the expression of the general will of any people.

What no one is saying about the shooting dead of a Palestinian at the Al Za’im Checkpoint

You can read on a thousand news sites about yesterday’s killing of a Palestinian attempting to enter East Jerusalem. Each of them tell either the Israeli story or the Palestinian story. The Palestinian story looks like this:

Israeli soldiers have shot dead one Palestinian and wounded two others after opening fire on a car at a checkpoint in the occupied West Bank.


Palestinian medical and security sources said Akram Dair, 40, was driving in a car before dawn on Monday when border guards near Ramallah opened fire on him and the two other Palestinian passengers in the car.

It was unclear why the Israelis fired at the car as it approached the checkpoint.


An Israeli army spokesman confirmed an “incident” had occurred on the road leading from the West Bank to Occupied Jerusalem, but could not provide further details, the AFP news agency reported.

West Bank Palestinians do not have the right to enter occupied territories, including East Jerusalem, without a permit from Israeli authorities.


The Israeli story looks like this:

Border Guard spokesman Shai Hakimi said that 40-year-old Akram Badr was traveling in a car that rammed through the a-Zaim checkpoint, near Ma’ale Adumim, at high speed and tried to run over the officers who ordered him to stop. The officers fired at the car, killing Badr. Another Palestinian was injured during the incident and the car’s driver was able to flee the scene.


What no news stories explain, however, is how the shooting is an explicit example of Apartheid. The Al Za’im checkpoint is on the Jerusalem – Ma’al Adumin road, and it is a checkpoint where only Israelis, internationals, and Palestinians living inside the apartheid wall are allowed to cross. Israelis are never stopped at this checkpoint. I travelled through it many times last year, and the only time I was stopped was when we were carrying a woman wearing a hijab. Palestinians are stopped routinely at this checkpoint to check that they have blue IDs or that they are Israeli citizens. Palestinians with a green ID and a permission to enter the ’48 lands are not permitted to cross here.  Continue reading “What no one is saying about the shooting dead of a Palestinian at the Al Za’im Checkpoint”

What’s wrong with Western Palestinian Solidarity Movements

Apologies in advance, this might be a bit curt.

They focus overwhelmingly Palestinian victimhood, which strengthens the humanitarian rather than liberation understanding of the Palestinian situation. They glorify resistance only if it adheres with the Western obsession with non-violence. They criticize authority without respect for the need for political movements to be strong as well as ideologically perfect. They act as if the Palestinian political system were a Western parliamentary democracy with political “parties” instead of movements. They see only one side of the Palestinian Islamist movement and don’t contextualize it within the complex history of political Islam in the middle east over the last half century.

They see Palestinians as victims, not agents of their own liberation. They see themselves as the centre of the struggle, they think the point of protesting is to take a picture of it and show it to some Americans.

And, as a member myself of a palestinian solidarity movement in a western state, by “they” of course I mean “we”.

Through Republicanism to Thought

What is a republic? More fundamentally than now commonly used definition, a state where the highest office is elected, it means a state which belongs to its citizens. A republic is the Rousseauian response to the problem of how authority could be justified, how it could be a fulfillment rather than limitation of freedom to give up natural liberties in a modern civic society for the benefit of all. The story goes: if the authority is directed towards the general interest, towards the objective common will of the people, then limitations on individual freedom are actually fulfillments of genuine freedom, and it becomes possible without contradiction for Saint-Juste to say the Revolutionary terror forces you to be free

Of course, for Marxists this notion is superficially nonsensical because it passes over class struggle. By supposing the existence of a common interest amongst citizens of the republic you create the illusion of class peace, of a game which benefits all rather than a game stacked in favour of the elite and against the people. But this misses the point because republicanism as easily as Marxism can denounce the bourgeoisie as traitors to the general will. The fact that it doesn’t does not mean it is hypocritical, or rather, it expresses merely the base level of hypocricy required for any revolutionary system to be institutionalized, and a hypocricy no less extreme than the hypocricy of socialist systems such as those in Russia and China which retain an elite and which do not progress towards the empowerment of the working class. And it’s not clear that these are the bad kind of socialist system – the one that takes the elimination of the elite seriously, the Khmer Rouge, well isn’t this one even worse?

The mistake made all around is inability to mediate in the hypocricy between a revolutionary ideal and the need for stability in real existent institutions, which means taking into account real existent power structures and the difficulty and chaos which comes from changing or destroying them. When you posit a revolutionary ideal, it’s real value is in what institutional changes it brings about. These incremental improvements are not the dreams of revolutionaries, nor should they be, because no one dies on the barricade for incremental progress. But at the same time, incremental progress is all revolutions can ever bring about, ever mounting steps towards new forms of co-existence, not as a clean break to a higher level of humanity but as awkward, bumbling steps towards freedom.  Continue reading “Through Republicanism to Thought”

Watching the Olympic Opening Ceremony in Occupied Palestinian Territory

It felt strange and sad to watch the Olympic Games opening ceremonies at a square in Ramallah. The square, which is a new square being built probably to celebrate the “statehood” contains a jail cell to remind passers by the conditions the thousands of prisoners, and a partially completed tower and flagpole which sports a bronze statue of a keffiyeh adorned soldier. It was full of people, really full, maybe a thousand or two came out to watch the ceremonies on a large screen (I say “large”, but if we were in Canada it would have been at least two times larger). I suppose it’s a nationalistic thing for Palestinians today, the Olympics that is. After all, Palestine is recognized as a competing nation by the International Olympic Committee, and there is even a small team of Palestinians which will compete in these games.

But nothing about the ceremony, at least the first 45 minutes or so that we stayed for, reminded me of Palestine. No, the ceremony was unsurprisingly a British affair. Truly epic in proportion, it told the mythic history of Britain, beginning with pastoral Britain (the mythic one, with poetry and song, not the real one). Then huge smokestacks rose out of the ground and a lot of time and pomp was devoted to the industrial revolution. And I suppose rightly so, given how important industrialism is to Britain’s world power and its history of empire.

The story, told in a highly symbolic manner, made me feel intensely British. Not in the sense of a pride, or a nationalism, or a form of citizenship, but a cultural identity – I recognized all the symbolism. I felt like maybe I was the only person in the crowd who really understood what was going on, who got it. But this is silly of me – one aspect of British imperialism is all around the world people know British culture, people get the references, people know the history, at least more or less.

But this feeling of cultural identification, of seeing these stories as my stories, made me feel a profound shame. As I stood there, saw the little paper flags with the Palestinian flag on one side and the Union Jack on the other, I couldn’t keep thinking about anything but how the British came and raped this place, stole it from its people, and allowed them to be driven from their land.

Perhaps a small thing I can say is that the British Olympic committee rejected Israeli pressure to include a minute of silence for the Israeli athletes killed in 1972 by Black September. But I almost wish Israel had succeeded in this wish – it would have clarified the situation much more, and shown Palestinians whose side the U.K. is really on.

As I write this the ceremony is ending, and I hear applause and cheers from my apartment window. What are they cheering for? They cheer for the Olympics, they cheer for Great Britain, they might as well be cheering for Israel.

Evaluating “The Economist” on Hebron’s sticky settler problem

I will be the first one to admit I’m not an expert on world affairs. And neither am I someone resolutely opposed to reading “The Economist”, I think there is often valuable information and analysis inside, all the more valuable if you are aware of the magazine’s bias and can attempt to read around it.  Continue reading “Evaluating “The Economist” on Hebron’s sticky settler problem”