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August 3, 2015 / 18 Av, 5775
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Nir Rosen And Totalitarian Stupidity


One snowy day back in college, I was returning from class to my dorm and began to cross a small intersection. A woman was waiting at the stop sign in a large gray vehicle. As I began to pass in front of it, she suddenly drove forward into me. I banged on the hood, she came to and stopped, and I barked some remark about using her eyes. The incident was more startling than injurious, so I moved on.

I entered my dorm and saw my friend in the main gathering room. I went to him and breathlessly unloaded what had just happened. While narrating I referred to the woman driver in my youthful shorthand as “this chick.” A girl I hadn’t seen sitting nearby exploded: “CHICK? What is THAT?” I marveled to myself: I was just nearly run over by a car, and her moral priority is to police my language.

A possibly clinical emotional idiocy underpins extremism. Conspiracy theories about America and the Jews, the embrace of disinformation, an attraction to totalitarian thinking – these are some criteria for diagnosis. Above all we have the moral stupidity, the bent priorities of the true believer, the eggs which need to be broken to make the omelet of the radiant tomorrow.

Out of today’s noxious lineup of antiwar extremists steps Nir Rosen. During the celebration that erupted when Hosni Mubarak stepped down in the face of Egyptian popular revolt, Lara Logan, a CBS News correspondent, was ambushed, beaten and sexually assaulted. In response, Nir Rosentweeted, in part:

Yes yes its wrong what happened to her. Of course. I don’t support that. But, it would have been funny if it happened to [CNN correspondent] Anderson [Cooper] too.Jesus Christ, at a moment when she is going to become a martyr and glorified we should at least remember her role as a major war monger

Rosen is a war correspondent whose reductive anti-imperialism rivals Ward Churchill’s. Yet he’s been celebrated, thanks to the comparative complexity of his subject matter and the troubled occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq. Besides the acute viciousness of his attack on a woman who had been mercilessly attacked, what’s interesting is this is hardly the first time Rosen has made vile public statements. It’s just the first time he’s been called out on it by more than a few people.

As we’ve seen relentlessly since the Second Intifada, many roads lead to the intersection of revolutionary politics and anti-Semitism. Predictably in pitch with his totalitarian stupidity, Rosen often targets Israel. On Twitter and Facebook he’s eagerly fantasized about its destruction.

He writes: “[the] new racist Israeli citizenship law should be celebrated. It [will] speed [Israel’s] demise” and “Yes to a 3rd Intifada. This time hopefully with the support of the Palestinians [sic] citizens of ‘Israel.’ ” He hopes “[Israel will] be part of greater syria [sic] in the future, which will include palestine [sic]… all of Palestine, that is.” “Israel’s existence is a blight unto the nations” and “an abomination.” In one quote Rosen lays it out in the Manichaean terms native to the totalitarian mind:

i have always opposed israel and supported anybody who is opposed to israel. just as anybody concerned with justice and freedom must.

This all-or-nothing manner of thought is consistent with what is perhaps the key feature of radicalism: an inability to consider the individual. Instead life is a moil of warring collectives.

Rosen is concerned about anointed groups – the Arab and Muslim streets, the Egyptian revolutionaries, people of color, the poor, the Palestinians – and he gleefully wishes misery and harm on anyone set against them in his political passion play. Rosen first characterized his comments as a joke, and then he backed off from his expressions of remorse, calling the outrage “sanctimonious and silly.” His comments weren’t a joke; they were a slipped mask revealing hate.

Because it was individual, the odiousness of Rosen’s attack on Lara Logan surpasses his public fantasizing about Israel’s destruction. But the latter didn’t provoke outrage, or much response at all, which shows how acceptable that line of thought has become.

Rosen is now crushed under the weight of tardy opprobrium. He gave a Michael Richards-style interview to FishbowlDC in which he didn’t do himself any favors, explaining:

A part of me was bothered by how celebrities, especially white ones, get so much attention, and before I realized it was a sexual assault I was sort of anticipating a return to the old theme about unleashed brown natives attacking a white woman. Another part of me was bothered by the knowledge that Arab victims would never get attention, that this would detract from everything else that was happening, and that most victims of sexual assault, whether in Egypt or the US will never get attention.

A woman had just been beaten and sexually assaulted by a gang, and Rosen’s moral priority is policing our emotional response, lest it be racist or focused on the wrong victim.

People lament the damage Twitter has done to the art of written communication, but I appreciate the economy of language it enforces. The poet Richard Wilbur wrote, “The strength of the genie comes from being in a bottle.” Last September, Twitter proleptically forced Rosen into an apt summary of his downfall:

thanks to twitter i can destroy my career 140 characters at a time.

John-Paul Pagano is a Brooklyn-based writer who focuses on utopian and totalitarian ideas, mostly as they find expression in anti-Semitic reaction to Israel, Zionism and modernity. He maintains a blog called The Socialism of Fools (http://socfools.blogspot.com).

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More Articles from John-Paul Pagaon

One snowy day back in college, I was returning from class to my dorm and began to cross a small intersection. A woman was waiting at the stop sign in a large gray vehicle. As I began to pass in front of it, she suddenly drove forward into me. I banged on the hood, she came to and stopped, and I barked some remark about using her eyes. The incident was more startling than injurious, so I moved on.

In the New York Review of Books back in 2003, Tony Judt published his view that the Jewish state should be deleted. This was the predicate of his proposal to reanimate the corpse of the one-state solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Steeped in academic authority and writing during the overlap of the second Intifada with Bush’s invasion of Iraq, Judt argued that Israel was a harmful anachronism. He was not the first to express an abolitionist anti-Zionism, but his prestige and timing led him to become the celebrity spokesman for the internationalist case against Israel.

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