BDS V: An Ideology of Intellectual Activism

The Intellectual Roots of AAA’s Support of BDS: Part V
An Ideology of Intellectual Activism

by

Howard Adelman

With the exception of this past Friday and Monday, in the last of four previous blogs I wrote on the subject of BDS, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement that promotes, among other things, the boycott of Israeli academic institutions, Israeli academics and non-Israelis who are open to dialogue with Israelis. The adherents vary. Some BDS supporters boycott only Israeli academic institutions and their representatives in the name of human rights. Some even declare that they are not opposed to Zionism, even though the “charter” of BDS insists it is at the forefront of the resistance movement against Zionism. The Anthropologists for the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions (ABIAI) within the American Anthropological Association (AAA) managed for a while, before a general referendum defeated by a narrow margin the proposal to endorse BDS, to make AAA one of the very few leading academic professional organizations to back BDS. My last blog on BDS reviewed the last three years of this political debate within the AAA. In this blog, I want to explore why the AAA was so susceptible to such an appeal by offering an intellectual analysis and critique of the rationale for AAA’s engagement in advocacy. In my next and last blog in this BDS series, I will probe why universities have appeared to be fertile ground for advancing, and, in a small number of cases among students, backing the BDS cause.

Engaged anthropology is the general rubric used to rationalize the involvement in and support for BDS by the activists in the AAA. (See the special issue of Current Anthropology 51:2, October 2010 entitled “Engaged Anthropology: Diversity and Dilemmas,” that followed the AAA annual 2008 conference called, “Inclusion, Collaboration and Engagement.”) Engaged Anthropology operates at six levels, at each level expressing an increased involvement:
• A basic commitment to respect informants
• Sharing and support with the communities with which anthropologists work
• Teaching and public education
• Social critiques in academic and public forums
All of the above are consistent with traditional academic norms.
• Collaboration with cultures under threat versus hierarchical approaches
• Advocacy
• Activism

Though I have worked with cultures under threat (Indochinese refugees, Sri Lankan refugees, victims of the Rwanda genocide), though I have advocated on behalf of Syrian refugees and I have also engaged in involved activism, and although these activities are informed by my research and scholarship, I do not regard that activity as part of that research. They are simply expressions of my role as a responsible member of civil society. I might ask some relevant professional associations to speak up on an issue, but I would not think of asking the Canadian Philosophical Association to take a controversial stand favouring one side on divisive social issues, let alone try to get my fellow philosophers, individually or through our scholarly association, to take such a stand. Instead, I might invite colleagues to participate in information dispersal and advocacy organizations, but I would never label them as collaborationists if they took an opposite position. I just do not believe that intellectual inquiry is based on an either/or dichotomy, especially where one side accrues the virtue and the other side is cast into purgatory. Self-righteous commitment is not the essence of my ethics of engagement.

For an ideology that insists upon a discipline contributing and adapting to global realities, it is surprising how often this mostly postmodernist approach, which defies a correspondence theory of truth and the existence of a singular reality as a point of reference, specifically adopts the position of insisting what reality is. Admittedly, some defenders of the new engaged anthropology regard the shift into postmodern symbolism and hermeneutics as a deviant sidetrack. Nevertheless, whatever mutation was regarded as mainstream, a shift had taken place away from a correspondence model of truth.

Further, for a perspective that also lauds critique, it is actually shocking to read how un-self-critical much of engaged anthropology is and closed to in-depth structural critiques that examine the effects of funding shifts to give preference to so-called engaged research. The support of BDS is merely the most extreme of the range of efforts by ABIAI to transform the discipline of cultural anthropology and make engaged anthropology the core of the discipline and, in the end, enlist more and more anthropologists into a postcolonial approach to their work. Talk about an imperialist approach to anti-imperialism!

Somehow, the reverence for diversity and breadth does not translate into a conception of itself as a discipline. As engaged anthropology seeks to achieve a virtual monopoly in the field of cultural anthropology, it also began colonizing archeology, physical or biological anthropology, and linguistic anthropology as well as the overlapping turf of its cousins, cultural sociology and social psychology. As engaged anthropology claimed a unique perspective on the dialectical interaction of the microsocial with macroeconomic and political forces, it often pushed aside and/or ignored much of the valuable work of sociologists, economists and political scientists. But in the minds of its advocates, that could be explained by accusing these social scientists of being secret collaborationists and apologists for the reigning power. More generally, engaged anthropology, along with its committed sociological cousins, insisted that their political agenda should be at the centre of public policy, not the work of political scientists and economists.

For a discipline that allegedly reveres history and context, it is revealing to discover how often peer-reviewed articles display an ignorance of history and a deliberate distortion of context, all in the name of its esteem for the rights and dignity of all humans and the promotion of social justice. Even more seriously, under the rubric of advancing human rights, engaged anthropology often ostensibly offers witness to organized social violence, sometimes implicitly and at other times explicitly. Though engaged anthropology is spread thinly over numerous social problems as diverse as climate change and the performance and effects of health systems, from war, racism and genocide to economic development, I cannot tell you how many times I have found that these practitioners ignored acknowledged experts in these areas coming from other fields. For example, did Jean or Stephen Schensul in the field of economic development even read Albert Hirschman?

On the other hand, virtually every committed student of my generation, regardless of discipline, read Margaret Mead and Franz Boas, Ruth Benedict and Ashley Montagu. Sixty years ago, I specifically remember being mesmerized by a lecture by a Harvard scholar and cultural anthropologist, Clyde Kluckhohn (Mirror of Man), in Convocation Hall (the hall held 1,600 and was packed) in, I believe, 1956 at the University of Toronto. (Clyde Kluckhohn died a very few years later at a relatively young age of a heart attack; his or their work was continued by his wife, Florence.)

Though Kluckhohn was a pioneer in ethnographic analysis and intensive longitudinal observations as well as the utilization of empathetic reenactment of thought patterns, famed as both a scientist and a humanist, the lecture that I heard was more narrowly focused on five different senses of time among a specific group of Navaho whom he had studied for decades and four neighbouring cultural groups, the Zuni, Spanish-Americans, Mormons and Texas Homesteaders in the American South. He was the one who introduced me to values theory and the idea that our moral dichotomies of good and evil, our orientation to nature, our sense of personality development and of human relations, particularly between male and females, parents and children, but most importantly in my view, if not his, our sense of time, of past, present and future and their relationship to one another.

I have ever since taken Clyde Kluckhohn as a model both for respect for sensitivity for differences, nuances and variations, as opposed to homogenization, while searching for uniformities, of activism while insisting on accuracy and objectivity, of appreciation for factors that fostered dynamic change while, at the same time, respecting and appreciating traditions, and pushing me towards understanding the power dynamics of domination and subordination. I see it as a seminal betrayal of

Clyde Kluckhohn, the first elected president of AAA, when these activists in AAA are in quest of monopolization instead of appreciating the values of different methodological approaches, quite aside from the deprecation of developed scientific standards. Kluckhohn, in contrast to these ideologists, saw no conflict in working for the government during WWII, possibly for the predecessor to the CIA, studying Japanese morale and the cultural foundations for sustaining that morale at a very high level, while subsequently becoming a fierce opponent of McCarthyism. He was both an academic’s academic as well as a committed public intellectual devoted to practical issues.

It would be helpful if the current school of engaged cultural anthropologists were as active in defining the differences between them and these famous progenitors instead of simply appropriating them for the development of their way of utilizing anthropology. One did not have to be an engaged anthropologist to protest against the McCarthy persecution of academics in the fifties or the efforts to challenge the entrenched racism in the American south during the decade of the sixties or the misuse of anthropology in the study of Laotian Hill Tribes during the Vietnam War. One did not have to become a neo-Marxist to criticize the misuse of academic research or to resist attacks on the independence of academic disciplines by the power of the state.

I have not been able to find a single analysis and critique of the self-representation of engaged anthropologists as moving ever onward and upward, while suffering periodic setbacks, to the liberal vision of progress in intellectual history, even as political and economic history seems to be portrayed as in decline. If identities were constructs, what about critiquing their own self-identity? Deconstructivist and Foucault-type post-colonial theoretical perspectives are taken as givens rather than being themselves subjected to rigorous critique. Self-critique focused on the limitations of academy-based cultural critique in contrast to critical engagement, activist research and advocacy. In spite of favouring the latter, proponents of engagement research noted pockets of resistance and “considerable silence about the kinds and degree of advocacy and activism that would be supported within the discipline and especially within the academy.”
Engaged anthropologists assumed a privileged ethical position for engaging in research. Research without advocacy was considered collaborationist. Anthropology was beginning to be redefined as not even just advocacy, but demanded activism and revolutionary encounters with established power instead of rather than as a complement to detached observation and analysis. They regarded the latter as relegating what is being studied to being an object, a sign of deprecation, instead of examining these intellectual approaches as providing a standard of objectivity.

Support for BDS comes as a logical outcome of such an intellectual shift rather than as a result of an objective and detached study. The practitioners accept a number of premises:
• Zionism is a particularist enterprise concerned only with one group, Jews, and indifferent to the needs of others
• Zionism planted itself in Palestine on the coattails of colonialism and, as such, was and remains a colonialist enterprise
• The problem is not just settlements in the West Bank or even Zone C of the Oslo Agreement, but the Zionist enterprise of settlement altogether
• Zionism continues to be a presence in the Middle East only because it is supported by the imperialist forces behind globalization.
• Engaged anthropologists contend that traditional human rights discourse, that usually targeted limiting state interference in individual rights, while also requiring the state to enforce human rights protections, does little for the Palestinian cause because Palestinians have been the victims of this imperialism and colonialism AND not just the abuse of its own members by the state, thus truer to the universalist discourse of human rights

“Liberation of the beloved Al-Aqsa Mosque and Palestinians from under the occupation of Zionists by the courage provided by the Islamic Revolution and a globalized approach to systematically fighting dominance and Zionism on International Quds Day, have bestowed upon Resistance Front strength and unflagging spirit which had made of Resistance an iron fist against any compromise with illegitimate regime of criminal Zionists.” This is not a statement of engaged anthropologists at the extreme end of the revolutionary spectrum, but of the Revolutionary Guards of Iran determined that Israel not exist in twenty-five years. But it could just as well have been made by this so-called vanguard group of engaged anthropologists, but without such colourful language.

That is why Ken Stone of IJV (Independent Jewish Voices), ABIAI and large groups of engaged anthropologists can make common cause. An academic discipline has been redefined to fit a so-called revolutionary program. Its own history has been described as an exercise too often in serving colonial and imperial interests. Thus, applied anthropology in the United States is depicted as a mixture of New Deal humanitarian liberalism and progressive industrial management ideology. British applied anthropology provided a humanitarian advisory function for colonial administration in Africa. Cultural anthropology itself morphed into institutional anthropologies, such as educational anthropology, thereby replicating positivist approaches to social science in economics and sociology, defining research as a normal part of modern society’s institutional activities and betraying its authentic identity. By the end of the seventies, cultural anthropology had reached its nadir of detachment from modern society with its exclusive focus on the study of tribal and possibly non-urban societies.

However, this imperial success brought with it a revolt against the so-called sins of capitalism, colonialism and male patriarchy. The current conflicts within AAA are heirs of this thirty-five-year-old battle. It is difficult to predict whether the vote defeating support for BDS by AAA by a very narrow margin is a sign that BDSers have reached a nadir and will now enter on a slow decline, or whether, the defeat was just a second act in a longer struggle in which BDS will be reborn and reborn, again and again. Tomorrow I will deal with why universities have become such a hospitable petri dish for a Trotsky-like continuous revolution to culture politically activist cells rather than to understand and comprehend various cultures.

With the help of Alex Zisman

Turkey – Domestic Changes

Turkey – Domestic Changes

by

Howard Adelman

I begin with domestic matters because they help understand the direction of the Turkish leadership. Tomorrow I will take up foreign policy.

Sixty-year old Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the founder of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) Turkey’s current president and former prime minister for the last eleven years, and mayor of Istanbul before that, has transformed Turkey domestically and certainly redirected Turkey’s foreign policy. Erdoğan is to Turkey what Putin is to Russia. After founding his new party in 2001, that party in the Turkish elections of 2002 took two-thirds of the seats in Parliament. A year later, after his banishment from politics was overturned and his then ally, Abdullah Gűl, served as interim Prime Minister for a year, Erdoğan became Prime Minster. Only this year did he assume the role of President after converting the Turkish political system from a parliamentary to a quasi-presidential democracy by shifting the largely ceremonial role of president to the most powerful figure in the country. However, in contrast to his earlier victories, he only won the presidency with less than 52% of the vote. However, he has set up a shadow government of directorates to monitor Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and his Cabinet who all come from his own party.

Control of the Media

Unlike Russia, where corruption and control of the media have allowed Putin to undermine the nascent democracy of Russia, Erdoğan has not achieved the position yet. Events, however, are changing the situation rapidly. Though Erdoğan seven years ago began arresting critics in the media whom he accused of being the propaganda arm of a coup effort, only in the last two years has he revealed himself to be determined to assert absolute control over the media. Yesterday afternoon I received news that Ekrem Dumanli, the editor-in-chief of Zaman, Turkey’s top-selling newspaper, and Hidayet Karaca, the director of STV, a news channel, had been rounded up two days previously by Turkish police. The mysterious twitter account, Fuat Avni, had three days before that predicted these arrests and that of 150 or so other journalists. Some of these have gone into hiding. The charges: affiliation with the Fethullah Gulen movement, Erdoğan’s once erstwhile ally in overcoming the stranglehold the military held over the state, and an alleged conspiracy to undermine and/or attack a small rival Islamist group, the “Tahsiyeciler”, a group whose leaders Erdoğan had arrested only four years earlier who follow the teachings of the Islamic scholar, Said Nursi. Is it a wonder that Turkey ranks 154th on the world press freedom index, according to Reporters Without Borders?

The attacks on the domestic press were matched by a vicious campaign castigating the foreign – particularly Western – press of distortions, disinformation, ignorance, lying and even spying. Ceylan Yeginsu, a journalist working for the New York Times, that in its editorials had once lauded Erdoğan for his leadership role in the emerging Turkish vibrant democracy, had to flee the country for his life after being attacked in the AKP-controlled press and receiving multiple death threats. When Erdoğan himself was not deriding the Western press for being propagandists and undermining the new Turkey, that role was taken up by Ibrahim Karagul, editor-in-chief of the pro-Erdoğan newspaper, Yeni Safak, and the new English newspaper in Turkey, Daily Sabah, initially owned by Erdoğan’s son-in-law. And this is just the surface in this information war that permeates the electronic media as well.

Turkey’s Deteriorating Democracy

So much for the hopes for democracy in Turkey once the military had been removed from power in the name of rule by and for the people. That populism has been enhanced by the distribution of free coal to the needy. However, the crushing of the Gezi Park protests in the summer of 2013 was just more public action in a coordinated effort to destroy any opposition in Turkey. The cronyism and corruption that is endemic and very widespread in Turkish society has permeated the AKP (one in five Turks and about 50% of businesses pay bribes to access public services). The effort to protect ill-gotten gains once that corruption had been revealed by the Fethullah Gulen movement have led the government to place a publication ban on the parliamentary committee looking into corruption. At the same time, Turkey has followed the lead of the Canadian parliament under Harper’s Conservatives of passing legislation through complex omnibus bills with relatively little time for debate. The bills in Ankara include provisions which infringe human rights protections.

The corruption scandal possibly accelerated the leadership’s plans to enhance its control of the media. Turkey has slipped from 53rd to 74th on Transparency International’s corruption index. Further, that corruption as well as increasing disparity between the rich and the poor are now being legalized as a new presidential provision permits young Turkish men to buy out their compulsory military service for $US8,700. Turkish writer and 2006 Nobel Prize winner for literature, Orhan Pamuk, has also denounced Turkey’s increasing climate of fear.

Educational Revisionism and Social Policy

In addition to its educational reforms that provided free textbooks for needy students, Erdoğan and his allies have pushed for making Ottoman Turkish compulsory in schools, introducing more and more elements of Ottoman culture into the curriculum, introducing segregation of schools by gender, and introducing Islamic religious instruction for students in fourth grade and higher, and planning to introduce such education at even lower grades in the face of EU demands that compulsory religious education requirements be scrapped. In the meanwhile, the educational authorities have eliminated human rights and democracy classes previously taken in fourth grade. These changes have taken place in parallel with the long term trend of religious cleansing of non-Muslims in Turkey as property disputes affecting the Armenians, Syriac church and the Yazidis drag out through the bureaucratic and legal process.

Unfortunately, at the same time, Erdoğan has pushed for technological modernization. Language, cultural and religious revisionism are difficult to blend with modernization that becomes self-propelling and innovative instead of simply copying from the West. Thus, Turkey ranks last among 44 countries on the English proficiency list, even though English is compulsory in Turkish schools. Raising a generation of devout Muslims may be at odds with encouraging technological innovation. Turkish pupils, along with other pupils from predominantly Muslim countries, are in a race for the bottom. Turkey now ranks 44 out of 65 countries in the measurement of 15-year-old educational achievements in mathematics, science, literacy and problem-solving.

The social indicators have been very bad. Child poverty has risen by 63.5%. With 301 minors killed in the disaster at Soma this year, Turkey had by far the worst record of workers’ deaths compared to any European state. On the gender front, the news is even worse. Although Erdoğan in 2004 passed a new penal code protecting women’s sexual and body rights, and although Erdoğan has promoted changes in the treatment of women in the army by increasing the number of female officers and NCOs to facilitate dealing with terrorism and to enhance the professionalism of the military, on 24 November he claimed that gender equality contradicted the laws of nature even though 22% of AKP seats were held by women.

Erdoğan, however, is a champion of motherhood rather than sisterhood. In spite of an enormous increase of almost 40% in GDP per capita under his rule, there was still only a 30% female participation rate in the workforce. His policies threatened to exacerbate the health, education and income disparities between men and women already deeply rooted in Turkish culture. Not to speak of honour killings! While not as bad as the situation in Pakistan, those murders still take the lives of 200 Turkish girls each year in spite of the 2004 law designed to combat such crimes. Between 2002 and 2009, the murder rate of women in Turkey went up 1400% and since Erdoğan came to power, 7,000 Turkish women have been murdered. On the UNDP’s Gender Equality Index, Turkey’s standing has slipped from 69th to 77th out of 187 countries.

When my brother, a renowned Canadian cardiologist, was invited to Turkey in 1996, and where they first diagnosed him with a blastoma after he had fainted on a golf course where he had gone to play with other Turkish doctors, Al had been very impressed with the advanced state of medicine in Turkey in the hospital he had visited. Now Turkey seems to be moving backwards in time to revive traditional medical practices including:
• acupuncture (the stimulation of specific points along the skin with thin needles)
• apitherapy (the use of honeybee products for treatment)
• phytotherapy (treatments based on traditional herbalism)
• hypnosis
• the use of leeches
• homeopathy
• chiropractic treatments
• wet cupping
• larval therapy (the introduction of live, disinfected maggots into the skin)
• mesotherapy (the injection of special medications into the skin)
• prolotherapy (the injection of irritating solutions into an injured spot to provoke regenerative tissue response)
• osteopathy (nonsurgical treatments of the muscle and skeleton system)
• ozone therapy (the introduction of ozone and oxygen gas mixtures into the body)
• reflexology (massage-like treatment of pressure on reflex areas).

The issue is not the legalization of these treatments, but making them part of the education in medical schools. Some, like the use of leeches, are already part of modern medical practice. Others, however, have not been validated by science. So in addition to taking time away from enhancing modern medical practice, practices which have not yet been validated by science will be introduced into the medical curriculum. Further, the system of independence in educational decisions by qualified professionals is being undermined by state dictates in favour of validating traditional culture.

There are those who posit that this is merely a method of bringing traditional medical practices under state supervision. Then why are the costs of those treatments not covered by public health insurance? Some argue the expansion has been introduced to enhance medical tourism. Further, Turkey is far from unique in allowing and regulating such practices.

Standing in opposition to these rationales, one of the indicators to the undermining of scientific medicine has been the lethargic response to a rise in measles which has been blamed on the large number of Syrian refugees who have found a haven in Turkey, rising from very low numbers – 7 cases in 2010 – to over 7,000 cases last year. No provision in the Turkish 2015 budget targets contagious diseases like measles. Further, excluding Syrian refugee births, infant mortality and maternal deaths increased in 2013 for the first time since 1945.

Crime has also increased, much as a by-product of the Syrian civil war. Almost 500 high quality 4x4s have been stolen from Turkish car rental companies for transfer to Syria.

Kurdish Separatism

Erdoğan has to be praised for beginning the process of recognizing the Armenian genocide, enhanced by Pope Francis’ recent visit to Turkey, but with little sign of real progress. Erdoğan is perhaps best known for pushing reconciliation with Kurds who had been forcefully resettled in the thirties and banned from using their language. He has even entered into discussions with the PKK (the Kurdistan Workers Party) itself. However, while now allowing school children to be taught in Kurdish, would Kurds also have to learn classical Ottoman Turkish? Further, was Erdoğan strongly motivated to make peace with the PKK early in his national political career because he respected the group rights of the Kurds or because he wanted to undermine the rationale of the military for maintaining a relatively large army while, at the same time, solidifying his support with the Turkish public?

One very much suspects the latter given his subsequent career in national politics in Turkey and seemingly confirmed by the recent decision on December 10th in the face of the adjacent threat of Islamic State to enable middle and upper class military recruits to buy their way out of national service, a decision made without any consultation with the military general staff as required by the Turkish constitution. However, Erdoğan has never seemed to care about the constitution when it is to his populist advantage (currently an average Turkish citizen contributes about US$200 for each member of the family for defence) and when it undermines support for his critics on the left who were bound to vigorously oppose the move’s inegalitarian character. Further, if, as projected, 700,000 young men pay the state $8,700 each (men older than 30 pay US$13,300), US$5.7 billion will be added to state coffers from the men under 30 years of age alone, especially since parliamentary elections are to be held in June 2015. This is in addition to the monies saved on defence. The loans men are taking out to pay for the exemption in response to a spate of bank ads and the sales of unproductive capital (property, gold rings) has already acted within days to stimulate the economy. The greatly increased revenues to the state may be bad for the economy in the long run, but, in the short run it is much more than enough to pay for Erdoğan’s vain, enormous, lavish and enormously expensive presidential palace.

Is Erdoğan’s populist and Islamic program complemented by his foreign policy?

Obama2. His Cultural Conservative Critics.30.01.13

I vividly recall in the summer of 1987 when Michael Marrus brought up to our cottage Allan Bloom’s Closing of the American Mind. I read the book and offered Michael what I thought was a devastating critique. Though the book was a surprising best seller, little did I anticipate that it would become the cultural bible for social conservatives whom I would be analyzing 25 years later. Cultural conservatives are radically different than economic conservatives. Cultural conservatives believe strongly in using the state for social engineering, not to facilitate greater equality or even greater equality of opportunity but to facilitate the reinforcement of a set of social values. Economic conservatives are adamantly opposed to the engineering state.

 

David Frum, as an economic conservative, has been highly critical of the cultural conservative attempt to take control of the Republican Party agenda and claims that, because of them claims, “The Republican Party is becoming increasingly isolated and estranged from modern America.” (“How the GOP Got Stuck in the Past,” Newsweek, 11 November 2012) Unlike his friend and fellow economic conservative, Conrad Black, Frum opined that, “When eco­nom­ic conditions are as bad as they were in 2012 and the incumbent wins anyway, that’s not ‘close’.”  Frum is inclined to blame Romney’s election loss to Obama on the cultural conservatives (otherwise known as the combative conservatives) and the reason why “the GOP is becoming the party off yesterday’s America.” Instead of Romney running as a strong fiscal conservative with a track record as a competent manager with a pragmatic disposition, Romney was forced by the cultural conservatives into a corner in order to win the nomination to refashion himself and come across as a contradictory weak-kneed amorphous persona. My interest is to analyze the nature of that opposition and to try to understand the extent to which that opposition demonizes Obama and is responsible for the chasm between Obama’s public image and the reality of his policies and actions. Frum wanted the cultural conservatives to be reborn as social conservatives and become religious and secular activists for the needy independent of a nanny state. However, Rick Santorum was the only Republican candidate who recognized that the middle class had become economic losers.

 

This recognition is not what drives the vast majority of cultural conservatives. William Bennett, needless to say no relation to Naftali Bennett leader of the Habayit Hayehudi pro-settler party in Israel that I wrote about last week, was the Secretary of Education in the George Bush Sr. administration from 1985 to 1988.  In a CNN piece “Republicans lost the culture war” dated 14 November 2012, Bennett drew attention to the claim that the Republicans were involved in a culture war more than a war over economic doctrine. (http://www.cnn.com/2012/11/14/…/bennett-gop…/index.html – United States) Cultural conservatives are a different breed than economic conservatives. They cite Plato and his dictum that the future depends on who teaches and what they teach. For cultural conservatives, the Lefties who preach multiculturalism rather than a one-size fits all American identity, who praise socialism and disparage capitalism, who teach relativism rather than certain moral precepts, who celebrate diversity at the cost of faith in American exceptionalism, who sew class divisions with special privileges, including preferential university admissions for minorities, need to be displaced and cultural conservatives with their moral foundations in family, faith, freedom, community country and moral conduct restored to supremacy. The universities and colleges have to be retaken or America is lost. Their battle is not an intellectual exchange but an institutional takeover.

 

Though William Bennett and Naftali Bennett are not blood relatives, they share a number of common traits. Both are paired with economic conservatives to pull the conservative polity further towards what is represented as the right. In the Israeli election, Naftali Bennett was the one to make Netanyahu more extreme, yuktzan Netanyahu, in contrast to Yair Lapid who was elected to make Netanyahu more moderate, yemurkaz Netanyahu. The cultural right in America also works to pull the Republican Party more towards the right.

 

Samuel Goldman in The American Conservative offered an analysis of “Naftali Bennett and the Continuing Appeal of Religious Nationalism” (14 January 2013) just before the elections in the wildly mistaken expectation that Naftali Bennett would possess the second largest cluster of seats in the Knesset. The legacy of the religious Zionists under Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook and his son Rabbi Yehuda Kook was revived with the settler movement to re-establish religion as the foundation of the new Israel by becoming the settlers on the new frontier of Samaria and Judea and officers in the IDF. Religious settlers would displace socialist kibbutzniks as the icon of Israel reborn. Instead of the religious playing a role of keeping religion alive simply by partnering with the secular leading Zionists, or feeding off the trough of the state as religious welfare bums, the religious would soar into a leading role through their sacrifice and messianic leadership.

 

What are the ideological similarities of both groups? Naftali Bennett proposed annexing 62% of the West Bank and turning the remainder into a self-governing Bantustans. Imperialism married to exceptional state leadership inspired by religious precepts was alive as an ideology. The cultural right in America and Habayit Hayehudi both represent religious nationalist sentiments, to return the core of the respective nations to their true home, the heartland of America and Judea and Samaria respectively. If the West Bank settlers want to occupy Israel (see Ari Shavit’s piece in Haaretz on 3 January 2013), the cultural right want to retake America. They do it with a pincer movement by effectively establishing their own party, The Tea Party in America, and by taking control of a mainstream party by driving out the more moderate members, Meridor and Begin in the Likud in Israel and Colin Powell and the Rockefeller heirs in the Republican Party in America.

 

Though cultural and religious conservatives can be distinguished, unlike the link with economic conservativism which is only opportunistic, religious and cultural conservatives overlap considerably, though only the religious conservatives openly oppose the separation of religion and state and want to revive the influence of religion on politics. Both cultural and religious conservatives want to advance their goals through political participation in party politics. Both politicize religion. Basically they believe that a nation is held together by common bonds drawn from religious or classical sources. Their enemies are relativism and diversity when it comes to the national core values. Instead of multiculturalism, they espouse a more authentic version of identity. In Israel, the foundation stones of authentic life are the land of Israel (Eretz Israel), the Torah and Am Israel (the people of Israel). In America, the foundation stones are the American heartland, the American constitution interpreted as the genesis code for a great nation, and the people of American, an identity projected in the ideal image of small town America.

 

Rogers Brubaker, a colleague consulted when we undertook our study of genocide in Rwanda, wrote an article called “Religion and Nationalism” that was published in the journal Nations and Nationalism in 2011. Instead of regarding religion and nationalism as analogous phenomena or explaining nationalism through religious motifs as Sanford Levinson did in his book on Constitutional Faith (Princeton University Press) whereby a set of beliefs that had been secularized provided a sense of coherence to the American identity by being embodied in the Constitution, or adopting a third option and demonstrating how politics and religion were intertwined by politicians such as George W. Bush or Jimmy Carter, the cultural right propagate a distinctively religious or quasi-religious form of nationalism.

 

Nationalism itself aspires to a congruity between the nation and the state. That is why separatists in Quebec and Scotland, though they currently come from the left and oppose religious nationalism, seek to secede. The state has the job of protecting the nation. Further, they espouse a fundamental ground for authority in the spirit of the nation whence the values that bind the nation arise. Those values provide the basic legitimacy for the activities of the state. The nationalism that became predominant in the nineteenth and first half of the twentieth centuries was secular and defined in opposition to and rivalry with religion. It espoused that individuals operated not only in two autonomous realms of religion and state but in a multitude of autonomous realms, the universities, the economy, the polity, civil society. The new religious nationalism said that if these realms were allowed to remain autonomous, the nation would disintegrate and wither away. The greatest danger to the nation came from the universities for they taught students that relativism and secularism were the norm. Instead of making claims for the nation that conjoined with religious claims, as Bush Jr, and Jimmy Carter had, religion was seen as providing authenticity to the nation. Instead of politicians just using religious symbols to advance their political programs, in religious nationalism, God spoke to his people; his people received their inspiration from religion which was both the foundation for the nation and the state, and the guarantor of the integrity of both.   

 

As Roger Friedland argued in an older 2001 article, (“Religious Nationalism and the Problem of Collective Representation (Annual Review of Sociology 27, 125-152), collective solidarity is located “in religious faith shared by embodied families”. The family is the backbone of the nation. Politics cannot be dependent on inclusiveness and diversity

So why do the cultural conservatives hate Obama even more than the economic conservatives? After all, Obama is a very strong family man. He is not only a Christian but claims in his writing to have been born again, not in the sense that he suddenly received the light and the spirit of Jesus took over his very being, but in the sense that he was brought up without faith in Christianity and returned to embrace that faith of his mother’s parents as an adult. He has confessed his sins and made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ as his saviour “I am a Christian, and I am a devout Christian. I believe in the redemptive death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I believe that that faith gives me a path to be cleansed of sin and have eternal life.” As Joel Hunter (former president of the Christian Coalition started by Pat Robertson and author of A New Kind of Conservative as well as a Methodist and spiritual adviser to Obama) has testified, “There is simply no question about it: Barack Obama is a born again man who has trusted in Jesus Christ with his whole heart.” But Obama is a liberal. As he said in a 2006 speech, “secularists shouldn’t bar believers from the public square, but neither should people of faith expect America to be one vast amen corner.”

 

Most community conservatives decry these claims as a fraud and a ruse. Because Obama’s Christianity harks back to the social gospel, to social service and taking care of those in need and not to conservatism. Obama is a strong family man and a Christian who is a twentieth-century liberal. In 2008, when presented with a choice between someone who was not born again, McCain, and Obama, many actually voted for Obama. Those numbers declined in 2012, but still an estimated six million evangelicals supported Obama, particularly if they were young. Why? Because they too were Christian liberals and supported healthcare, support for education and a fairer allocation of taxation relative to income.  (http://www.christianpost.com/news/young-born-again-christians-lose-interest-in-obama-barna-group-says-84496/#2M6aplFRqYIGEz9g.99)

 

The strident opposition comes from evangelical Christians who are social conservatives for whom Obama’s family and Christian values give them apoplexy. A secular liberal is one thing but a Christian and a strong family man who is a liberal is another. The fight over alternative worlds versus alternative economic ideologies is much more heartfelt and vicious. Since it is about the moral quality of the person, it is doubly disconcerting to see the leader of your country as apparently upholding your religious and family values so if one is a community conservative, it is imperative that the ostensible believer be revealed as a fake and a dissembler. Denigration and demonization become central to the cause of discrediting Obama.   

 

So we have two groups, one adamantly and the other doubly opposed to Obama and eager to blacken his name and portray him as not only opposed to what they believe but as a failure. Is that sufficient to explain the alignment of his electoral support with his approval rating? After all, many a politician who one would not vote for is seen as a success even if one disagrees with his or her political agenda. To try to probe deeper I will examine first Obama`s cheerleaders and then his equivocal supporters.

[tags Obama, USA, President, politics, community conservatives]