What the National Museum of African American History and Culture Gets Wrong, What It Gets Right, and What Jewish Museums Can Learn from It

“Typically,” wrote Edward Rothstein in a 2016 essay in Mosaic, “the contemporary American identity museum tells of a group’s distinctiveness” as well as its “grievous sufferings,” and then concludes by showing how, “by fully embracing its own identity and aggressively affirming its rights, the group begins to undermine the rigid prejudices of the surrounding culture and to attain freedom on its own terms.” The exception, Rothstein argued, are Jewish museums, which inevitably embrace the universal over the particular. To Chloe Valdary, a comparison between the Smithsonian’s Museum of African American History and Jewish museums confirms Rothstein’s thesis—and that’s generally to the former’s credit:

[B]y balancing a focus on the particular with an aspiration toward the American vision of equality and freedom, the DC museum is far more inclusive than one that overstates the virtues of universalism. . . . The National Museum of African American History and Culture should serve as a template and moral vision for others. What we all ought to seek is not universalism but transcendence, which cannot be achieved without honoring the particular. Transcendence cannot come from romanticizing the suffering of a people or by universalizing it—which is ultimately a form of ignoring it.

This is not to say that there is no danger in overdoing a focus on the particular; too much individuality to the exclusion of others leads to atomization and disintegration of the spirit. This is perhaps most strikingly manifested in the Nation of Islam (NOI) exhibit which is included in the museum’s discussion of the religious traditions of black America. NOI’s inclusion isn’t problematic per se—after all, it is part of [African American] history—but NOI’s theology is entirely antithetical to the spirit of the museum.

[Thus] it’s not surprising that the museum makes no mention of the specifics of Muhammad’s teachings. In order to be true to itself though, it ought to be self-critical about this chapter in its history.

Read more at Tablet

More about: African Americans, Jewish museums, Museums, Nation of Islam

The Possible Death of Mohammad Deif, and What It Means

On Saturday, Israeli jets destroyed a building in southern Gaza, killing a Hamas brigade commander named Rafa Salameh. Salameh is one of the most important figures in the Hamas hierarchy, but he was not the primary target. Rather it was Mohammad Deif, who is Yahya Sinwar’s number-two and is thought to be the architect and planner of numerous terrorist attacks, of Hamas’s tunnel network, and of the October 7 invasion itself. Deif has survived at least five Israeli attempts on his life, and the IDF has consequently been especially reluctant to confirm that he had been killed. Yet it seems that it is possible, and perhaps likely, that he was.

Kobi Michael notes that Deif’s demise would have major symbolic value and, moreover, deprive Hamas of important operational know-how. But he also has some words of caution:

The elimination of Deif becomes even more significant given the current reality of severe damage to Hamas’s military wing and its transition to terrorism and guerrilla warfare. However, it is important to remember that organizations such as Hamas and Hizballah are more than the sum of their components or commanders. Israel has previously eliminated the leaders of these organizations and other very senior military figures, and yet the organizations continued to grow, develop, and become more significant security threats to Israel, while establishing their status as political players in the Palestinian and Lebanese arenas.

As for the possibility that Deif’s death will harden Hamas’s position in the hostage negotiations, Tamir Hayman writes:

In my opinion, even if there is a bump in the road now, it is not a strategic one. The reasons that Hamas decided to compromise its demands in the [hostage] deal stem from the operational pressure it is under [and] the fear that the pressure exerted by the IDF will increase.

Read more at Institute for National Security Studies

More about: Gaza War 2023, Hamas