I’m afraid I have some depressing news. And I’m not saying this because The Immanent Frame did not ask me to contribute to the “Gaza 2009” section of its otherwise thriving discussions of Charles Taylor and friends. Seriously. Nor is it the case that I, along with others, don’t see the many reasons for elation (one of which being that Barack Hussein Obama, soon to be crowned emperor of the world by the rising, worldwide tide of expanding fan-Americanism, finally uttered the word “Muslims.” He even said, “I have Muslim members of my family,” so imagine my political exhilaration at the manifest demise of structural islamophobia. And he cares about children, if not about “childish things”).
It’s just that a random search I recently conducted on Google brought up close to nothing. To be quite exact, there does appear to be a “Christian Lobby,” but it is found all the way down under, in Australia. The first item of local news that belatedly comes up in the subsidized search, addressing such a non-phenomenal phenomenon in the United States of America, goes back to 1996 (the piece is written in London, to be sure, published in The Independent, and it is about the Christian Coalition—the Christian Right, you know, as if there were no other kind). And you should see the marked difference between the entries on Wikipedia. The Christian Coalition does not even receive half the space the Israel Lobby seems to deserve there. You would think Christians are not engaged in lobbying this country or in the other Holy Land. You would think Christians are not engaged in ruling in this country. You would think Christians are not engaged, period.
You see, the interview on Al Arabiya (the transcript of which I will be quoting from can be found here) confirms that the politics of fear can safely endure, barely disguised as the politics of love. It’s (Christian) politics as usual, in other words. The extended hand of love and friendship—for the enemy—continues to veil the indisputable fact that there is only one iron fist in “the region as a whole.” No, not Iran, which continues nonetheless to be portrayed, of all things, as the lone danger to the region and—why not?—to the entire world (it controls OPEC, you see, and the WTO, the UN, the EEC, the World Bank and the IMF too!). Quoting Obama, who helpfully spells out the veiled references he had left in (or out) on January 20th, “and as I said during my inauguration speech, if countries like Iran are willing to unclench their fist, they will find an extended hand from us.” Let’s just say that when it comes to being “helpful,” I am not entirely clear on the lessons the United States (or its new communicator-in-chief) has to deliver. What the U.S.of A. has delivered (showing no signs of abetting) are billions of dollars, megatons of weapons, the latest technology in concrete wall building, and numerous military superbases, government contracts all of them, to the region as a whole, and to its great peoples. Now that’s an extended hand for the love of love.
Says the prez:
The Iranian people are a great people, and Persian civilization is a great civilization. Iran has acted in ways that’s not conducive to peace and prosperity in the region: their threats against Israel; their pursuit of a nuclear weapon which could potentially set off an arms race in the region that would make everybody less safe; their support of terrorist organizations in the past—none of these things have been helpful.
Yes, let us try “helpful.” That sounds like change. But wait a minute. Isn’t there one particular state that has been attentively helpful in deploying more than “threats,” that has behaved otherwise than through the mere “pursuit of a nuclear weapon,” and whose take on the arms race has had little to do with setting off things “potentially”? Actually (precisely), make that two states. And I am not speaking about the “solution” by that name (the infamous “two-state solution”). What then? “I think the most important thing is for the United States to get engaged right away.” Engaged? Right away? You mean weapons and money and consistent diplomatic shielding at the UN and then some more money, not to mention the “pursuit” of war politics when it comes to “the Muslim World”—all this did not qualify as sufficient, or suitably speedy, “engagement”? You mean that the screams to “end the occupation” are not something that both Israel and the United States (or at least George Mitchell) should listen to—and right away too?
But I am helpfully told to be patient, that real change takes time. Just look at how long it took to set up the whole “war on terror” thing, from the devastation of Afghanistan and the massive remaking of major and notoriously flexible government agencies in the name of Homeland security to the drastic rearrangement of our glocal travel habits, not to mention private liberties and the children left behind (before the children, there were the Afghanis of old and the Kurds. They were left behind in a jiffy, too. Watch the Iraqis and the Gazans go). Think of how long it took to abandon our collective airwaves to the phone companies and to CCTV, to build up and beef up the borders of the free world—change you can fast believe in—and redesign the new and improved global apartheid (have you traveled on a Pakistani passport lately?). Think Keanu Reeves in (and on) “Speed.” Only in Gaza. And please understand that I do understand that here and there, there’s going to have to be “somebody with extraordinary patience as well as extraordinary skill” since “that’s what’s going to be necessary.” Lots of extraordinary patience.
I also want to embrace our collective exercise in diplomatic restraint. I do not wish for the president to upset sensitive constituencies either. He might therefore consider doing, diplomatically, something the corporate media (and the other security apparatuses) obviously won’t. In fact, is it not a matter of responsibility for the leader of the free world to use his official mega-Blackberry and kindly remind his constituencies that the United States has been more than actively “engaged,” more than enough and fast enough, to say the least? Incidentally, it would also be a matter of responsibility for the commander-in-chief to announce that fear does not constitute a political program (on either side, since we like our “sides” balanced), which is to say, that he himself and we, the people over which he presides, will not extend any more arms to the fists of terror we have long wielded (in our media and military-industrial incarnations), the corporate extension of hands (the extension of corporate hands) we ourselves have been practicing for a little over eight years (but try one hundred and fifty, in another conservative estimate). He should say, in his turn, that we shall not pursue the politics of fear we have been lovingly sowing in ourselves and, with equal if not surpassed efficiency, in others. All in the name of love and friendship. Let me put this otherwise. If, as has recently been acknowledged by David Miliband, the U.K. Foreign Secretary, “the war on terror was a mistake,” this might indicate that it is time for a local political figure to rise to the same occasion and finally state the obvious: fear is bad politics (but I rusticize, functioning as I do according to a scheme whereby good corporate business is not, still not, good politics). Put yet another way, the president should inform us that we all don’t have to blame smokers anymore (starting with himself), that we don’t have to take off our shoes, except when peacefully entering the mosque, ‘cause it’s not really bringing security to our airports or to our shores. It’s only bringing more fear into our collective habitus. And you should see the other guy—I mean, the rest of the smoking, trembling, and smoldering world.
No more shoelessness at airports. And see how fear, the wicked witch of the West, might just be melting. Now that would be zippy change you wouldn’t even have to believe in! And think of the savings on the latest biometric iMachines!
This, on the other hand, is not a pipe (nor a pipedream), nor is it a political statement:
Now, Israel is a strong ally of the United States. They will not stop being a strong ally of the United States. And I will continue to believe that Israel’s security is paramount. But I also believe that there are Israelis who recognize that it is important to achieve peace. They will be willing to make sacrifices if the time is appropriate and if there is serious partnership on the other side.
Political statements do not, or at least, should not, strictly speaking, commit to such a foreclosed future. Which does not mean, of course, that they have nothing to offer by way of reading. Just consider that, in this otherwise fascinating statement, Barack Hussein Obama mentions that there is an Israel peace camp—change you can believe in—but introduces it as if it were in contradiction (“but”) with that other fact, namely, that Israel and its mighty right to security will always be supported by the U.S.A. No statement could be clearer that the “serious partnership on the other side” in the hunt for peace—some people still call it “support”—should be searched for in a more proximate neighborhood watch. Let’s give ourselves a collective hint: if we want peace, we shouldn’t sign weapon contracts that top all other international “peace” dealers. But that would be democracy you can believe in.
So why on earth did I start with the Christian Lobby? Because as massive as the Israel Lobby is (believe me, I know, I teach at Birzeit-on-the-Hudson, I mean, Columbia University in the city of New York), as important as the new focus on “the region as a whole” and the extended hand to “the Muslim world,” nothing has changed about the “balance” of which we Americans are so fond. Obama is perfectly clear. There are two sides, in his narrative, and two sides only:
Ultimately, we cannot tell either the Israelis or the Palestinians what’s best for them. They’re going to have to make some decisions. But I do believe that the moment is ripe for both sides to realize that the path that they are on is one that is not going to result in prosperity and security for their people. And that instead, it’s time to return to the negotiating table.
This, in a nutshell, is how the Christian Lobby works. It is not a side. Nor does it take sides. It doesn’t even engage unless it has to, poor thing. That is how it can make its loving stakes, and its own role—indeed, its engagement—in the region as a whole invisible. The United States of America is God’s country. It is a Christian country because of its politics of love. Check out 1 Corinthians 13:11, and ask yourself who is the adult and who the child, who the loving paternalist. The United States is the Christian Lobby, and it proves it every day (on Al Arabiya even) by continuing to present itself as a mediator for peace, as the subject of infinite love (God protect its object!) that will bring conflict resolution to perennially troubled, Semitic adversaries (one of which recently proclaimed itself, according to its senior leaders, “mad”—and proceeded convincingly to demonstrate). Like the Aryan Jesus, of which Susannah Heschel just described the intricacies, the Christian Lobby wants us to believe that it can whitewash—yes, whitewash—the damage it itself inflicts and start anew, New Testament style. This peculiar situation, in which the judge is the offender and there’s no other court to turn to, Jean-François Lyotard called a “differend” in an important book by that name. Difference could be another word for change. “Differend” here just means more of the same.
And at a glocal airport near you.
This isn’t change? So after one week, Anidjar has decided that Obama’s foreign policy = Bush/Cheney’s foreign policy? This sort of sounds like the argument of the people who voted for Ralph Nader, which is what got us saddled with Bush in the first place.
Obama’s imperative is to lead the United States, which unfortunately, is not primarily composed of leftists. If he attempts to lead like a leftist, he will suffer the same eternal mockery as Jimmy Carter, which would in the long run not help anyone. I have a feeling that Obama’s political instincts are more astute than those of Gil Anidjar.
I can understand the emotion that runs through this post. Undoubtedly, it is disappointing to many that Obama must be so sensitive to so many constituencies—including pro-Israel ones—when bold action is needed to change the nature of diplomacy on the Middle East conflict. But Anidjar is too quick to lay the entire history of US involvement in the region on Obama’s shoulders, suggesting he means only to continue past policies as they were.
I must admit to be quite confused as to the point of the entire post—is it desirable or (to use the post’s most frequent word) helpful to reject any possibility of policy change from the US in the region; or for that matter to box in Christians in the US with hostile words—just when many American Christian communities are experiencing or on the verge of changes to more progressive politics? Toning down the bitterness may help observers of the situation to be more optimistic for change.
Gil Anidjar: The United States is the Christian Lobby, and it proves it every day (on Al Arabiya even) by continuing to present itself as a mediator for peace.
What is the Christian lobby? Is it the Church? The true Christian Church is underground, for the most part not involved in political affairs. The Religious Right is what you see, and they aren’t Christian. They comprise the wealthy, taking advantage of the poor for money as the bushacks, neocons, and the elites have done for the last century.
Emily: Just when many American Christian communities are experiencing or on the verge of changes to more progressive politics?
Does it seem plausible for the Church, this late in the game, to get involved in politics? I doubt it, but it would be nice.