April 09, 2012

Putting aside the question of whether England or the US can stand the enriching experience of letting in droves of Islamist settlers, how does Livingstone or Galloway’s behavior differ from the political pandering in our paradigmatic global democracy? Does Chuck Schumer refuse to meet in Brooklyn with Hasidic Jews because they have an authoritarian theocratic culture? Do he and Joe Lieberman refuse to make concessions to Zionist organizations lest they drag this country into a foreign quagmire? Livingstone and Galloway are not the first politicians to try and accommodate non-Christian ethnic minorities in their constituency. 

Even more curious is Phillips’s repeated use of the term “€œthe West,”€ a cultural and geographic designation that is used in her screed in a peculiarly neoconservative sense. It designates a political culture that is pro-Jewish, pro-Israeli, pro-gay, and pro-feminist. Having just walked the streets of Vienna and London, cities that are both coextensive with the history of what was once known as “€œthe West,”€ I don”€™t recall seeing much evidence of what Phillips means by “€œthe West.”€ Everywhere I turned I saw lots of churches, palaces, and statues, in most cases set up to honor non-democratic and non-Jewish national heroes. Should I infer that these cities were insufficiently “€œWestern”€ because outside of certain small areas they did not celebrate Phillips’s totems of “€œthe West”€?

This kind of unsettling presentism has long been a research interest of mine. I”€™ve no idea, unless I posit absolute cultural illiteracy or note certain Jews”€™ anxiety about past anti-Semitism, why anyone would reduce Western civilization to Phillips’s pet causes. One could identify an entity called “€œthe West”€ just as easily with animal rights, rock music, and organic vegetables. How would Phillips treat Euro-American critics of gay rights and secularism? Are they “€œanti-Western”€ in the sense that traditional Western cultures were not “€œWestern”€ according to currently trendy standards? Where exactly do we put Bach, Luther, Pascal, Samuel Johnson, King James, etc., none of who could possibly have shared our late modern political-moral standpoint? Were they not parts of “€œthe West”€? If not, where do we stick such figures and countless other greats who up until five minutes ago I mistakenly thought were Western? I can”€™t believe Phillips and her fans are as historically ignorant as they appear to be.



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