I'm still too busy with personal affairs to offer a proper blog post. But I'd like to offer some rambling thoughts about the intersection of religion and politics.
Just now, Reuters carried a story about some catty remarks made by Barack Obama and French President Nicolas Sarkozy -- ad libbed, and apparently spoken without the knowledge that a nearby microphone was "hot" -- about Binjamin Netanyahu:
As the two leaders discussion turns to Israel and the Palestinians, Sarkozy is first to express his distaste for the conservative Israeli Prime Minister.
"I cannot bear Netanyahu, he's a liar," the French president was heard to say.
In response, according to the account by Arret Sur Images, Mr. Obama sympathizes with Sarkozy's frustration, saying, "you're fed up, but I have to deal with him every day."
Obviously, this will do a great deal of harm to Obama, who will no doubt be forced to scrape and bow and perform astounding feats of acrobatic apologetics. The right wing -- and many Jews, right and left -- will probably profess to be appalled at the President's "anti-Semitism" -- even though neither he nor Sarkozy said one anti-Semitic word.
During the Camp David discussions between Jimmy Carter, Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat, it became very clear that Carter disliked Begin on a personal level. As I recall, one of the major news magazines -- Time
, I forget which -- said so directly. Yet nobody scored Carter for "anti-Semitism"; nobody presumed that he was anything but an honest broker in the peace negotiations.
Frankly, Begin didn't make a good impression on most Americans: He was rude and arrogant and easy to dislike. He had also been a terrorist -- a fact often acknowledged freely in newspaper editorials in the 1970s. You can't mention that history nowadays without being called an anti-Semite.
What a change has occurred since then. Israel is now beyond criticism. It was acceptable for a president to dislike Begin three decades ago, but Obama's mild expression of exasperation toward Netanyahu will be probably give rise to all sorts of hysteria and paranoia.Parallels.
I'm reading a book called Paris, Capital of Modernity
by David Harvey, a leftish retelling of the various recurrent rebellions that beset that city throughout the 19th century, and of the conditions that gave rise to those rebellions. Much of that book has a bearing on the OWS movement.
Religion was the key factor in that history.
Between 1789 and 1871, the Parisian rebels were often led by men who detested religion. Whenever they got the chance, they would shoot archbishops or guillotine nuns or commit some similar outrage. This anti-religious frenzy had the very predictable effect of turning the rural areas of France against the "reds" of Paris; peasants and workers acted against their own interests, aligning themselves with royalists in order to defend their faith. Whenever the rebels tried to do injury to the Church, the Church became stronger. Reactionary, paranoid, and strong.
A very similar series of events took place during the Spanish Civil War. Anticlerical anarchists, fueled by their inchoate hatred of all religion, committed supremely foolish acts, such as digging up dead nuns and displaying their skeletons for the movie cameras. That footage became a potent recruiting tool for Franco.
Today, in America, the Southern Baptists and evangelicals hold enormous power. Fundamentalist Protestantism is the single most important force which drives so many working class Americans to act against their interests. As a result, we have a "new atheism" movement -- which, of course, is only going to strengthen the fundamentalists.
Not let's bring it all back to Obama and Netanyahu.
I am convinced that peace in the middle east is possible. The most direct route to peace would require the American president to take a stern stance toward Israel: "We're not asking
you to do this; we're telling
you." Alas, no president would dare to adopt such an attitude, because the result would be a political typhoon on the domestic front.
Don't blame American Jews; the problem rests entirely with Christian Zionism.
Today, as in the 19th century, the greatest obstacle to political progress is religion -- not all
religion, but religion in its most reactionary, most paranoid forms. Yet if you confront the religious right directly, you'll only make it stronger. Opposition will be seen as confirmation of their fears.
How can one deal with such a foe?