Close Reading

I’ve sort of laid off the Spine-blogging, since if Martin Peretz doesn’t own The New Republic anymore it’s not obvious what his significance is, but I guess he’s still got the editor in chief title and his latest post is a very nice example of deliberate efforts to foster anti-Arab sentiments in the United States. The post begins with some rhetorical questions: “Is there no limit to the barbarity of which Iraqi Arabs are capable? None?” Peretz then offers up a story of behavior that really is awful. Why, though, is this supposed to tell us specifically about the bararism level of Iraqi Arabs? Why not Iraqis? To be sure, it wasn’t done by a Kurd. But neither was it done by the overwhelming majority of Arab Iraqis. And, certainly, we know that Germans are capable of running a concentration camp, that Russians will run a GULAG, that Americans will enslave millions and exterminate a continent’s native inhabitants. The human capacity for “barbaric” behavior is, in short, quite large and Iraqi Arabs, like the rest of us, sometimes do awful things.

To Peretz, though, this is not an illustration of a point about humanity or of a point about this particular war that he helped unleash, but specifically a point about Arabs. “This, of course, is a result of Israeli mistreatment of the Palestinians,” he snarks at the end. It’s clear, though, that nobody of consequence is making the argument Peretz objects to here. Rather, it’s Peretz who wants to drag the Palestinians into the conversation, advancing his view that Palestinians, as members of the larger and uniquely barbaric Arab tribe, must be treated roughly by civilized folk.