A Philosopher’s Specious Argument That Religion Must Be Eliminated for Democracy to Thrive

March 7 2019

In his recent book This Life: Secular Faith and Spiritual Freedom, the literary critic and philosopher Martin Hägglund offers a utopian vision of democratic socialism in which citizens will have not only material comfort but the time to enjoy it. In his review, James Chappel notes that Hägglund “does not do the work to show how [such a vision] might plausibly be on the horizon, or ask how it might be possible in a globalized economy.” But he objects more strenuously to the book’s main argument: that until people abandon religion—which takes focus away from humanity in this world and toward the supernal—democracy cannot reach perfection. Chappel writes:

The most obvious objection to Hägglund’s thesis is simply that religious people care about the world, and other people, all of the time. . . . His response is that when they do so, they are not in fact acting religiously but are, despite their own self-perception, honoring the secular faith that is at the heart of the human condition. . . .

Religious believers claim, [however], that their care for the finite world is enlivened and awakened by their sense that the world is not dead matter, but rather emanates from the divine. Hägglund considers this to be impossible, but he does not directly explain why. . . He believes that you can either love the world in its finitude, or you can love the eternal creator, but you cannot possibly do both, and one could not possibly enrich the other. . . .

The problem is that, for a book so concerned with theology, Hägglund does not really have a theory of religion. He does not, in other words, have a theory to explain why so many people, today and historically, have devoted themselves to (what he sees as) transparently false understandings of the universe.

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More about: Democracy, Religion & Holidays, Religion and politics, Socialism

Who Changed the Term “Nakba” into a Symbol of Arab Victimization?

April 19 2019

In contemporary Palestinian discourse, not to mention that of the Palestinians’ Western supporters, the creation of the state of Israel is known as the Nakba, or catastrophe—sometimes explicitly compared with the Holocaust. The very term has come to form a central element in a narrative of passive Palestinian suffering at Jewish hands. But when the Syrian historian Constantin Zureiq first used the term with regard to the events of 1948, he meant something quite different, and those responsible for changing its meaning were none other than Israelis. Raphael Bouchnik-Chen explains:

In his 1948 pamphlet The Meaning of the Disaster (Ma’na al-Nakba), Zureiq attributed the Palestinian/Arab flight to the stillborn pan-Arab assault on the nascent Jewish state rather than to a premeditated Zionist design to disinherit the Palestinian Arabs. “We [Arabs] must admit our mistakes,” [he wrote], “and recognize the extent of our responsibility for the disaster that is our lot.” . . . In a later book, The Meaning of the Catastrophe Anew, published after the June 1967 war, he defined that latest defeat as a “Nakba,” . . . since—just as in 1948—it was a self-inflicted disaster emanating from the Arab world’s failure to confront Zionism. . . .

It was only in the late 1980s that it began to be widely perceived as an Israeli-inflicted injustice. Ironically, it was a group of politically engaged, self-styled Israeli “new historians” who provided the Palestinian national movement with perhaps its best propaganda tool by turning the saga of Israel’s birth upside down, with aggressors turned into hapless victims, and vice-versa, on the basis of massive misrepresentation of archival evidence.

While earlier generations of Palestinian academics and intellectuals had refrained from exploring the origins of the 1948 defeat, the PLO chairman Yasir Arafat, who was brought to Gaza and the West Bank as part of the 1993 Oslo Accords and was allowed to establish his Palestinian Authority (PA) in parts of those territories, grasped the immense potential of reincarnating the Nakba as a symbol of Palestinian victimhood rather than a self-inflicted disaster. In 1998, he proclaimed May 15 a national day of remembrance of the Nakba. In subsequent years, “Nakba Day” has become an integral component of the Palestinian national narrative and the foremost event commemorating their 1948 “catastrophe.”

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More about: Arab World, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, New historians, Yasir Arafat