Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Political Propaganda From The Academy

In a startling new book The Enemy of My Enemy: The Alarming Convergence of Militant Islam and the Extreme Right, George Michael, the author, disinters Richard Hofstadter’s Paranoid Style in American Politics. This time, however, the views are so wildly inaccurate and prejudicial as to appear as caricature.

Professor Michael asserts, for example, that because David Duke, the former Klan leader, and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, both condemn the state of Israel, there is some right wing – Islamic nexus. Yes, both figures may be anti-semitic and anti-Zionist, surely both deserve condemnation, but one may have nuclear weapons which can destroy the state of Israel and the other is an appropriately discredited individual without any influence.

Michael also notes that Muslims and right-wingers (a term he doesn’t define) have similar critiques of American foreign policy in the Middle East, modernity and globalization. “Both see the U.S. government as hopelessly under the control of Jews or Zionists,” he writes.

One could far more comfortably – I believe – make this statement about the left. After all, the left has reflexively embraced the Palestinian cause from Tony Kushner to Ramsay Clark. The argument that the U.S. government is under a hypnotic spell of Zionists was recently made by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, two university professors more aligned with the left than the right. Demonstrations against globalization in Europe were mobilized almost entirely by left wing organizations and when it comes to the challenges to modernity, it is again primarily left wing environmental groups in the forefront.

Clearly Mr. Michael has an axe to grind. Evidence is marshaled to make his case without a glance at the other side of the political spectrum. He is not the first and he certainly won’t be the last to employ quasi-scholarship as a propagandistic exercise.

What is truly maddening about the book is its assumption that right wingers and Islamists have much in common. I could easily assert that Stalinists and Islamists have much in common. I can assert as well that ACTUP and NOW have much in common with Muslims. I can further assert that the National Guild of Lawyers, a left wing hothouse, has been a defender of radical Islamic terrorists.

That David Duke appears as a right wing exemplar is revealing. Surely Michael could have selected Pat Robertson. He is a religious leader, supports right wing causes and has made irrational – in my view – comments about homosexuals. But he is conspicuously omitted from the treatise because he is an undeviating supporter of Israel. This comes under the heading of “if it doesn’t fit, ignore it.”

That anyone would call this book a work of scholarship is laughable. Then again that which satisfies the gods of political correctness will have legitimacy. No enemies on my left is still a theme from Hollywood to Greenwich Village. Only the right can be caricatured.

Facts, however, have a strange way of being persistent. What are the areas of right wing and Islamic cooperation which are inferred in the book? Unless one relies on the author’s tortured logic, they are hard to find.

When Paranoid Style… was written decades ago Hofstadter also ignored paranoia on the left, which was exemplified with the Weathermen and Black Panthers, but, at least, he made his case with appropriate examples. In Michael’s book he begins his analysis with a prejudice and ends with a prejudice sandwiched between ipse dixit.

Yes, there can be paranoia on the right and paranoia on the extreme left. There may be some crack pot who identifies with Ahmadinejad and is a right winger and he may have a counterpart on the left. If political science research is to be more than polemical it should follow the evidence wherever it may lead.


Herbert London is president of Hudson Institute and professor emeritus of New York University. He is the author of "Decade of Denial" (Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books, 2001) and maintains a Web site, www.herblondon.org.

3 comments:

Tom Van Dyke said...

A devastating fisking, Herb.

Per the Stopped Clock Theorem, it takes a great talent or illness to be 100% wrong. Simply missing the truth is insufficient; you must move yourself out of its way.

James Elliott said...

The argument that the U.S. government is under a hypnotic spell of Zionists was recently made by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, two university professors more aligned with the left than the right.

Way to completely not understand the Walt and Mearsheimer paper. It's as if you only knew about it through talking to Martin Peretz. The "opposition to Israeli policy = pro-Palestinian = anti-Semitic, pro-terrorist" thing is rather intellectually vapid.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I don't think Herb was going quite that far, James. He was merely pointing out that antipathy toward Israel isn't limited to the right, a fact that undermines George Michael's rickety if not dishonest (via ommission) thesis.