16 May 2006

The Culturally Sensitive White Man

Michael Totten has published commentary on the mind of the Israeli Arab, an oft-looked over demographic wedged in the middle of the Mid East Peace Crisis.

I should mention at the outset that I've never been big on Totten. I may be getting a little Zionistic here, a little "Judeocentric" if you will, but his middle-of-the-road, compromise-and-everyone-wins attitude has always been a little too, well, wrong for my taste. But, people love him nonetheless. I haven't really be motivated to comment on his saccharine political ideology before now, but his latest really takes the cake when it comes to illustrating the modern American need to "find the good in everybody."

The premise of Totten's piece is that the Israeli Arab (not the Palestinian) is a silent and often overlooked minority in Israel. They prefer to remain quiet regarding politics, and often are the victims of unspoken racism at the hands of their fellow [Jewish] citizens, who tend to be fearful of them. (Gee, 25 years into suicide bombings and these crazy Jews still haven't given up their racist fears? I think this calls for a seminar or two on cultural understanding.)

Totten's thesis is that:
As long as you aren’t dealing with Hezbollah psychopaths, Semtex-strapped “martyrs,” or Al Qaeda head-choppers, Arabs really are the most pleasant people you can find anywhere. There’s nothing quite like going to a place where you can regularly and reliably pull up a chair (or a space on a carpet) with total strangers and share coffee, tea, cigarettes, and conversation while basking in the glow of instant warm friendship. Arab hospitality alone is reason enough to visit the Middle East instead of Europe on your next holiday.

Maybe it's because I'm a woman, it could also be because I'm Jewish, or it could even be because I'm an American, but for whatever reason, that wasn't exactly the impression I got of the Arabs lining the market streets of Old Jerusalem. The impression I got was something more along the lines of their being caged rapists who would be happy to perform cruel sex acts on me before they chopped my limbs off in exchange for forty camels or sixty oil wells. (I'd be worth more if I were only a blonde.)

The one Israeli Arab who is willing to speak to Totten regarding politics is a Jerusalem street merchant named Samir. After trying to hawk some jewellry, Samir invites Totten to pull up a rug and chat before their bargaining continues.
“Would you like a cigarette?” I said to Samir.

“No, thank you,” he said as he handed me an ashtray. We sipped from our glasses of tea.“I don’t smoke. And I don’t drink anymore, either. I have only one vice. Can you guess what it is?”

I had an idea. But I didn’t want to offend him. So I hinted at my guess with a question.

“Are you married?” I said.

“Yes,” he said. “But I can’t sleep with only one woman. One just isn’t enough.”

Wow, that Samir, the voice of the Arab street, he's a real man's man, if you get my drift. He represents his homies in the hood. That's it. Screw the Riviera; I know tons of people who would totally be up for spending their two weeks in the Arab world. With guys like Samir, everybody wins! Horny chicks get their vacation sex, Samir gets laid by strange women, and my earlier hypothesis about Arab men not being able to keep it in their pants becomes proven theory without question!
“When there is, eventually, a two-state solution, do you want to live on the Israeli side or the Palestinian side?”

“The Israeli side!” [Samir] said instantly and emphatically as if there were no other possible answer. “None of us want anything to do with the Palestinian Authority. They are corrupt. They are impossible. They are not straight. No one can deal with those people.”

Go figure. You know, not many people pay attention to the fact that there were quite a few Arab border runs during the tumultuous years of 1947 and 1948; they weren't running over to kill Jews, they were running over to get Israeli citizenship because they knew they had a shot at living a decent life in Jewland. Whoa! What a novel concept! Arabs who want to make money and live in peace elect to go live among Jews, because their own governments are nothing but corrupt, bureaucratic caliphates! Does this mean that you don't have to be white to be a capitalist?
He asked me what I thought about Israeli-Palestinian politics. I told him I didn’t know anymore, which is true. During the Oslo “peace process” years I was staunchly on the Palestinian side. Every time a suicide bomber blew up himself and others during the intifada, and every time I saw Palestinians cheerleading the gruesome attacks, and every time I saw polls of Palestinians that showed the majority didn’t want a two-state solution but the complete destruction of Israel, I felt my sympathy for the Palestinian cause bleed away. Eventually there wasn’t much left.

It was easy to be pro-Palestinian when terrorism was relatively rare and when most said they merely wanted their own sovereign country. And it was easy to be pro-Israeli during the horrific waves of suicide operations against innocents in the early 2000s.

Things are different now. The intifada mostly is over. Brutal Israeli crackdowns mostly are over. Palestinians and Israelis are each locked in their own quiet holding patterns, cautiously waiting to see what the other side will do next. It’s hard to have strong opinions when not much is happening.

Yeah, it's totally hard to figure out who is right and who is wrong when you've got Muslim militia groups building up their armories to the west, north, and east of a country whose government is determined to whittle away more of its meager land-ownings in a unilateral attempt to buy more time before they resign themselves to being wiped out for good. Darnit! Why must everything be so black and white? Can't we see the shades of gray here? I bet Samir can. I bet Samir can see so many shades of gray that he's colorblind, and isn't that what we all need to be? Blind to shades of brown, black, white, and, most importantly, red-- the color of blood?

Totten also takes great care to use a souvenir charm to point out that, "For all the conflict and the hate and the bullshit, Israel may be the only place in the world where you can buy something that is Jewish and Islamic at the same time." His good-natured multiculturalism is somewhat in vain, however, as the idea of the charm being both Islamic and Jewish falls flat to anyone who knows that the "Hand of Fatima" is the Islamic version of the Jewish kabbalistic "Chamesh". [A fact Totten corrects in a postscripted update.] Any Jew worth their weight would buy the trinket thinking they were picking up a Jewish Israeli souvenir. I wonder, does Samir do demographic studies on the religious ethnicities of those who purchase such seemingly multicultural goods? "If you do go there and buy something like that, chances are an Arab will be the person who sells it to you," Totten notes. Yeah, those cheap yids, all they want to do is slam you with their shofars and their tallitot and their straight-on Jewish stuff. What's up with that? Haven't they globalized themselves yet?

As I said at the outset, Totten's commentary bores me more than anything. His subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) pro-Arab nature is way too Lawrence of Arabia-esque to intrigue me into reading his work. In fact, I'm more likely to toss him off as a closeted homosexual commie working undercover for MI5 (read: a modern day journalist) than to actually spend time reading any more of his work. Chalk it up to my racist Jew ways, I suppose, but people who display a genuine need to make Arabs look good do more to draw attention to the evils of the Arab world than not. They also draw a great deal of attention to how very little the western world comprehends when it comes to ancient Middle Eastern culture. I wonder if Totten has already ruled out the idea of posing as a Jew when he tries to do these "in-depth" man on the street interviews with Arabs. If so, would he have ruled it out because wearing something as simple as a Star of David would be culturally insensitive to Arabs, or because he didn't feel like risking his life for an unpaid piece? Either way, if Totten really wanted to understand the Israeli Arab street, he ought to try looking at it from a non-male, non-western, non-gentile perspective. Maybe then he'd realize that the western axiom "blondes have more fun," isn't all its cracked up to be.



Anonymous Michael J. Totten said...

I'm more likely to toss him off as a closeted homosexual commie

Most people "toss me off" as a neoconservative Bushie, but it's always nice to find a little variety.

he ought to try looking at it from a non-male, non-western, non-gentile perspective

Considering I'm a Western male "gentile," that's pretty much impossible. I will never be an Eastern Jewish woman. Not that I don't take into account what you said about walking a gauntlet of Arab men in Jerusalem. I've visited Arab countries with my wife and I've heard all about it. But when I'm walking a gauntlet of Arab men by myself, all I can do is describe what it's like for me.

would he have ruled it out because wearing something as simple as a Star of David would be culturally insensitive to Arabs, or because he didn't feel like risking his life for an unpaid piece?

I am not in the least worried about being "culturally insensitive to Arabs" in such ridiculous PC ways. I never, ever, hide my opinions no matter who I'm talking to in the Middle East. American liberals are far more intolerant of my Middle Eastern politics than Arabs are.

But I would not dare wear a Star of David in most Arab countries. I have a survival instinct.

11:47 PM  
Blogger Shanah said...

Thank you for commenting, Mr. Totten.

"But I would not dare wear a Star of David in most Arab countries. I have a survival instinct."

Therein lies our greatest difference of opinion: you want to personally survive, and I want the nation of Israel to survive.

The Lord is my light and the One Who saves me. Whom should I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life. Of whom should I be afraid? When sinful men, and all who hated me, came against me to destroy my flesh, they tripped and fell. Even if an army gathers against me, my heart will not be afraid. Even if war rises against me, I will be sure of You. --Psalm 27:1-3

The fear of HaShem makes me fearless; I can only pray that Israel, as a nation, will someday feel the same way once more.

4:29 PM  

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