Friday, January 26, 2007

The Perpetually Perfervid Martin Peretz

Jack Shafer, writing in Slate, 1/9/06:
Peretz's view from space is easily summarized. The Arabs are an undifferentiated mass, consumed by antique tribal hatreds, fated to fratricide, torn asunder by their religious sectarianism. The "general afflictions of Arab politics," he wrote March 14, 1988, are "the principal resistance to compromise, the intoxicating effects of language, the endless patience for vengeance." How about that for a MacNeil/Lehrer conversation-stopper? "[The Lebanese] fight simply because they live. And the culture from which they come scarcely thinks this is odd. Their men fight on and on, and the women and children bleed" (March 19, 1990). Has a guest slot opened up on Washington Week in Review? The moderate Arab "is a figment of the imagination" (May 7, 1984). Has Oprah called yet?

One definite Peretz theme that clangs in column after column is that there are no Arab nations. The partisan of Zion hasn't staked this position for the convenience it lends in delegitimizing the call for a Palestinian state. Nor has he adopted it to make it easier to repel the arguments of those who would paint the nation of Israel as a counterfeit creation of Western imperialism. Peretz actually believes what is in his clips.

"There are many Arab countries, but there is hardly an Arab nation-state," he wrote September 3, 1990. By that he means the Arab polities have not aspired "to the kind of solidarity that goes beyond political difference" and results in what he calls "nation-building." "[T]here is no Lebanese nation...there is no Iraqi nation....Not that Kuwait or Saudi Arabia is a nation either." This definite idea grows so definite as to become self-parody: "The problem with Saudi Arabia is that there are no Saudi Arabians. Most of its people live in remote mountains by the rules of their clan or of their tribe; they don't even know what a nation is."

"By the way," Peretz added on January 18 of this year, "Syria is no more a nation-state than Iraq."

And on. And on. "The Kuwaitis and the Saudis are not historical peoples the way, say, the Poles are—or, to put things in perspective, the Jews, who first gave meaning to the very notion of peoplehood nearly four millennia ago," he wrote on October 8, 1990. That's right. Thousands of miles of rock and sand and fig trees and palms and only one nation-state. Only one historical people.

In time, most writers publish a paragraph or two they should yank back. Peretz's came in a particularly windy "Diarist" in the March 10, 1986, New Republic. The column started out about Palm Beach charities, segued to strategic minerals, skipped off to the subject of Cory Aquino, and then settled once again on those nationless, violent Arabs. "[N]onviolence is foreign to the political culture of Arabs generally and of the Palestinians particularly," Peretz wrote. "It is a failure of the collective imagination for which no one is to blame." Peretz's chief nemesis, the Nation's Alexander Cockburn, pounced on the column a week later, calling Peretz a racist and insisting that the Palestinians had shown remarkable restraint under occupation. Vanity Fair's James Wolcott homed in on the same Peretzism in 1988, deriding the New Republican's approach to Israeli-Arab relations as iron-fisted and ugly.

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