Saturday, February 21, 2009

Rhinoceros and Civilization

From the keynote address by Irwin Cotler at the founding conference of the Inter-parliamentary Coalition for Combating Antisemitism:

"The first manifestation of this ideological antisemitism was its institutional and juridical anchorage in the 'Zionism is Racism' resolution at the UN. Notwithstanding the fact that the there was a formal repeal of this resolution, 'Zionism as Racism' remains alive and well in the global arena, particularly in the campus cultures of North America and Europe, as confirmed by the recent British All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Antisemitism."

And here is how Judea Pearl describes what is happening
in the campus cultures of North America and Europe:

Remember Ionesco’s “Rhinoceros”? Written in the late 1950s, the play describes the transformation of a quiet, peaceful town into anarchy when one after another of its residents is transformed into a lumbering, thick-skinned brute. Only Berenger, a stand-in for the playwright, tries to hold out against the collective rush into rhinocerism.
[-]

Before long, an ethical debate develops over the rhino way of life vs. the human way of life. ‘’Why not just leave them alone,’’ a friend advises Berenger. ‘’You get used to it.’’ The debate is quickly muted into blind acceptance of the rhino ethic, the entire town is joining the marching herd, and Berenger finds himself alone, partly resisting, partly enjoying the uncontrolled sounds coming out his own throat: “Honk, Honk, Honk”.

[--]

To refresh readers’ memory, this symposium, organized by UCLA’s Center for Near East Studies (CNES), was billed as a discussion of human rights in Gaza. Instead, the director of the center, Susan Slyomovics, invited four longtime demonizers of Israel for a panel that Seid describes as a reenactment of a “1920 Munich beer hall.” Not only did the panelists portray Hamas as a guiltless, peace-seeking, unjustly provoked organization, they also bashed Israel, her motives, her character, her birth and conception and led the excited audience into chanting “Zionism is Nazism,” “F—-, f—- Israel,” in the best tradition of rhino liturgy.

But the primary impact of the event became evident the morning after, when unsuspecting, partially informed students woke up to read an article in the campus newspaper titled, “Scholars Say Attack on Gaza an Abuse of Human Rights,” to which the good name of the University of California was attached, and from which the word “terror” and the genocidal agenda of Hamas were conspicuously absent. This mock verdict, presented as an outcome of supposedly dispassionate scholarship, is where Hamas culture scored its main triumph — another inch of academic respectability, another inroad into Western minds.

[--]

These are dilemmas that had not surfaced before the days of rockets and missiles, and we, the Jewish faculty, ought to have pioneered their study. Instead, we allowed Hamas’ sympathizers to frame the academic agenda. How can we face our students from the safety of our offices when they deal with anti-Israel abuse on a daily basis — in the cafeteria, the library and the classroom — and as alarming reports of mob violence are arriving from other campuses (San Jose State University, Spartan Daily, Feb. 9, and York University, Globe and Mail, Feb. 13)?

Burdened with guilt, I called some colleagues, but quickly realized that a few have already made the shift to a strange-sounding language, not unlike “Honk, Honk.” Some have entered the debate phase, arguing over the rhino way of life vs. the human way of life, and the majority, while still speaking in a familiar English vocabulary, are frightened beyond anything I have seen at UCLA in the 40 years that I have served on its faculty.

I have to wonder if this declaration, redacted by

"Representatives of ... Parliaments from across the world, convening in London for
the founding Conference and Summit of the Inter-parliamentary Coalition for Combating
Antisemitism"

is sufficient, strong enough, or in time to:

" draw the democratic world’s attention to the resurgence of antisemitism as a potent
force in politics, international affairs and society."

It could be that little Hans' finger is just too small and too thin to manage to stem the battering flow of hatred against the wall of sanity and decency.

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