Two weeks ago I published a review of Eric Walberg’s invaluable new book Postmodern Imperialism: Geopolitics and the Great Games. I was left with a few questions which Eric was kind enough to address.
Gilad Atzmon: Hello Eric; thanks for finding the time to talk. I would like to begin if I may, with a few short questions: firstly, what is self-hatred?
Eric Walberg: Buddhism is based on the annihilation of the self. Islam – on the total submission of self. It’s at the heart of Christian beliefs too. (I don’t know about Judaism.) Self-hatred has respectable roots.
GA: I totally agree with you. However, I wonder, are you a self-hater? I ask because in your writing, you seem to be deeply familiar with that kind of intellectual adventure.
EW: In some way, I like Woody Allen’s riposte “I may be self-hating but not because I’m a Jew.” The self is constantly prompting us to do terrible things, so a bit of self-criticism is not such a bad trait.
GA: Considering the increasing power of Jewish lobbies, what do you think should be the role of the Jewish self-hater?
EW: I just saw “Sea Shepherd” about Paul Watson, an alpha male type, big ego, self-loving who channels his energy into a good cause. I’m not the heroic type, but channel my energy too. I like to think I complement people like Watson Just as the Zionists can so successfully change colours depending on their needs or shifting political winds, it is important that anti-Zionists mobilise all types – left, right, big egos, little egos, musicians, tin-ears, jocks, couch potatoes, etc
GA: If 'anti Semites' are those people that the Jews hate, and 'anti-Semitism' is a bunch of ideas that Jews cannot cope with, what should be the role of the Jewish 'self hater' in that regard?
EW: To fill in the gaps in the movement. To help unite people, not around their own egos, but around the movements and leaders who have the best chance of moving the campaign forward. I see this graphically in Egypt now, where suddenly there are 50 political parties and yet only one (united) counter-revolutionary force.
GA: This is a very good point you make here. Does the self-hater have a special role within the post-political era in which we live?
EW: I would call our era “postmodern” (yes, I’m shamelessly plugging my book here), meaning “the imperial system characterized by one superpower with no real enemy”. It is important that people understand that there still are “modern” states (which have their own political/ military policies, potentially imperial or anti-imperial) but that most states are “postmodern” (subservient to the US in foreign and even domestic policy). We must acknowledge that reality – our governments no longer represent the popular will (they never did very often, but can’t by definition now). We have entered a revolutionary period again, which a country like Egypt shows in spades. To throw off US-Israeli hegemony and the domestic neoliberalism that complements this requires subsuming our egos behind a movement that represents the popular will. No more “me” generation. “We must all become self-deniers now.”
GA: Isn’t it the self-hater who becomes conscious, in our current state of affairs of these postmodern conditions, by forming a critical and ethically oriented discourse that transcends itself beyond politics, or indeed, beyond any available discipline?
EW: Well put. What's needed now is more than just ballot-box politics. It is exciting in Egypt to see how people have rediscovered their dignity, are delving into the heroic past of Nasserite socialism and anti-imperialism, now without the Islamist opposition (at least that’s how I see it at present). The Muslim Brotherhood can only be a credible force in the long run if its joins forces with the socialists to wrest back some of the ill-gotten gains of the super-rich. This is precisely what must happen throughout the neoliberal world.
GA: I must stop you here. When you say “credible” what do you refer to? Should the Muslim Brotherhood seek credibility? And whose credibility should they seek? As far as I can see they are credible enough amongst Egyptians, Arab people and beyond. I tend to believe that Islam rather than any 19th century Eurocentric ideology is the way forward for Arabs and other nations in the region.
EW: I agree in principle that there is no inherent need to adopt western policies, but the Arab world must nonetheless first extricate itself from its neocolonial status. Once you have capitalism, banks and lots of MBAs eager to try out their management techniques, and many more dispossessed, rootless would-be workers, you have to deal with this reality. Perhaps I’m old-fashioned, but I still see the Marxian critique of capital as the way forward. There was no capitalism in the seventh century. What I discovered in writing my book is that Marx ended up coming to much the same conclusion as Mohamed. Only Marx did so by providing the critique of capital. I think the MBAs in the Middle East can do with a dose of Marx before trying to build a non-exploitative society in line with the Quran.
GA: I am really happy with the above interpretation of Marx being, somehow, 'footnotes' to Mohamed. Yet, at this stage then, I wonder if someone could explain to me then, why Marxists -- and Jewish Marxists in particular -- are so threatened by Islam and Muslims. I guess that one answer is that they fail to fully understand and grasp their mentor. Another answer is that perhaps progressiveness is in itself just another form and manifestation of 'chosen-ness' i.e. self-love.
Anyhow, let’s move on now. Considering the unfolding realisation that Norway's mass killer was possibly inspired by Jewish Zionist ideologists such as those of Daniel Pipes and Melanie Philips etc, what do you think should be the role of the 'self-hater' in exposing all these inter-connections and links?
EW: Basically, pointing out unpleasant truths, such as the emperor’s nakedness (rather than one’s own fine apparel). There was a nice piece by Arnaut at Israel Shamir's site today. He makes the telling point that 'peaceful' Norway was bombing Serbia (Breivik mentions this as motivation) and is now bombing Libya. What do Norway's leaders expect? Their sins (supporting Israeli-US empire) are coming back to haunt them. Project violence and you incite it against yourself.
GA: This is a good point indeed, to a certain extent we are consumed by blindness; we fail to see our own faults. I guess that self-love is a form of such an inherent blindness. Eric, what is self-loving?
EW: I prefer talking about self-acceptance. Self-acceptance means recognizing that “We all are sinners.” To quote the fundamentalist Christians, “You can love the sinner but not embrace the sin.”
GA: This is an astute interpretation of self-loving, but in fact I would argue that those who uphold such a view of themselves are far from being self-lovers. Self-loving refers to a unique form of excessive self approval.
EW: It sounds like a trick question. You can’t annihilate the self and love it at the same time. I’ll stick with my formulation. I don’t trust anyone who is isn’t at peace with himself or that is too egotistical.
G: This is reasonable observation, I similarly argue that ‘Jewish self haters’ do actually love themselves hating themselves; so, in practice, they are also ‘self lovers’ after all.
EW: Getting back to the sin business, after all these years, I see the wisdom in (strict, uncompromising) religion as a way of life necessary to promote social stability and harmony. You can be a Voltaire and merely see a set of religious beliefs as necessary to society, regardless of whether or not there is a God. That’s what good secular socialism/ Marxism is all about (as opposed to the bad kind). Mohamed and Marx came to largely the same conclusions (about usury, exploitation and compassion) from seemingly apposite directions.
GA: Interesting indeed, I would add Jesus to the list. However, I tend to distinguish between Marx and ‘Marxism’ (ideology/praxis); I have no problem with the former. The later though, within the Western discourse at least, is a pretty problematic power structure with very little regard for ethical issues, humanity and humanism. To a certain extent, it is a form of supremacy that adopts the Judaic binary template; it replaces the notion of Kosher with ‘progressiveness’. Both Jews and Marxists define what chosen-ness is all about and then locate themselves comfortably amongst the chosen. This disturbing mode of behaviour explains why many western Marxists fail to grasp the power of Islam as the leading anti-imperial force.
EW: You are right about Marxism vs. Marx. Perhaps Marx operated according to some Jewish memes, despite his rejection of Judaism. You no doubt know that Marx ended up saying about what was being touted as his doctrine, “If that’s Marxism, I’m not a Marxist.” But it’s the same with Jesus vs. Christianity or Mohamed and the Quran vs. Islamism. Still, we have to put the ideas into practice. I think you’ve been burned by too many armchair Marxists. I know (and respect) people that genuinely put Marx’s ideas into practice whether or not they call themselves Marxists, just as I know and respect people who put the ideas of Jesus or Mohamed into practice, whether or not they call themselves Christians or Muslims.
GA: I totally agree with the above, however, I do not like the notion of ‘Islamism’. I actually contend that it is a Zio-centric term set at the hub of the Western discourse in order to transform Israeli wars into a universalized call.
As far as I am concerned, Jewish chosen-ness could be explored as a different form of self-love. Would you agree?
EW: Perhaps in its benign manifestation, though I think from the start it has been a tribal/ racial thing, and looks like a dinosaur in our “postmodern” world. It’s a shame that Zionism has so discredited the concept of being a Jew. It will take years and a major cleansing operation to salvage anything beyond a preference for line dancing and gefiltefish.
GA: I actually think that the problem goes far beyond Zionism. For the sake of the matter, I am actually critical of any form of Jewish secular political setting for being racially exclusive. In fact, Early Zionism was initially an anti-Jewish movement. It was a unique moment of critical reflection, self-awareness and even collective self-hatred. It was an attempt to identify the causes behind Jewish cultural abnormalities. Zionism failed for many reasons such as being inherently plunderous. It was set to be celebrated on the expense of others (Palestinians). It is actually the triumph of Jewish ideology within the Zionist and Israeli reality that unveils the problematic nature of Jewish self-love, Jewish culture and collectivism. Zionism and Israel are there to remind us all what happens when tribalism goes wrong.
But Israel, Zionism and Jewish politics are not alone. Is not the Western discourse driven by enlightenment fetish, multiculturalism, and fake tolerance, a form of self-loving?
EW: This is part of the bad socialism/ Marxism. You don’t tolerate spoiled food. Relativism and faux tolerance of the other does not promote social harmony. We need a renewed moral base to our lives which at this point requires overthrowing the neoliberal order. In some ways, Islamophobes have a point, as only Muslims have maintained their moral and ethical roots. Secular Judaism and Christianity either need to self-destruct and rebuild, or disillusioned people from those traditions can embrace Islam. Breivik and his neocon friends know this deep down. But just as Communism was not an external threat neither is Islam. They both are only threats because they stood/ stand as a beacon of hope for the disillusioned.
GA: I actually do not agree with a few notions you raise here. I would argue that there is no such a thing as ‘secular Judaism’, what we really mean is ‘secular Jews’ which is an ethno-centric and racially supremacist form of affiliation. Also there is no such a thing as ‘secular Christianity’. Unlike Jews, Christians and Muslims who drop God adopt other forms of identification. However, I totally agree with your insight regarding Islam and Communism. I argue that we tend to project our vengeance on others. We did it with Communism and now we do it with Islam. I call it the war against terror within.
In your must-read new book Postmodern Imperialism you identify the role of Jewish ideology and Zionist politics at the centre of our current world affairs (Great Game III). Would you go as far as reiterating this idea locating Jewish self-love at the hub of contemporary Western thought?
EW: In the sense that “we are all Jews now”, i.e., all worshippers of Mammon, promoters of the ego/ self, yes. The obsession with money and glamour, the worship of the superrich, is a kind of projection of your self onto the dream version of reality as presented by the mass media. But there are many people who inherently find this distasteful, whether or not they can articulate why. Once the critique of Israel and “Judeo-Christian” cultural hegemony gains a foothold in mainstream thought (this really has to follow if BDS keeps growing and Israel is finally recognized for what it is), I think it’s possible to strengthen the strains in Western thought that reject this false self-love. Greens, socialists, real (paleo) conservatives, Christians, not to mention ex-Israelis and diaspora Jews who have a love of their moral and ethical selves and have the courage of their convictions… There’s good grounds for hope.
GA: Eric thanks for your time. I guess that the war for justice continues.