Wednesday, December 29, 2010

"Nazi" No More Part 1: Tea, Cookies and Serious Talk

Nazi imagery is immensely powerful.
We have seen the images: Israeli soldiers or Palestinian militiamen caught in mid goose-step. The wall / security barrier photo-shopped with a barbed wire overlay to suggest the concentration camps. A picture of the Mufti of Jerusalem meeting with Hitler. We have heard the words too: the emails I receive warning me of the genocidal plans of the Nazi Muslims among us, The popular campus speaker Amir Abdel Malik Ali pointing his finger at a crowd of Israel-supporting Jews and saying “You are the the new Nazis!”
Let’s face it. Calling someone a Nazi is a showstopper. Simply implying it is enough to derail almost any discussion. Nothing conveys the absoluteness of evil like the Nazi example. As an accusation, it is so shocking that it allows for no real response. The best you can do is say “No YOU are the Nazi!” Is there really any other response? Its power is so great that simply implying that someone is a "Nazi" is enough to simply shut down any meaningful communication with a cloud of anger and confusion. Some people know that. Their agenda is to end discussion in favor of their own demagoguery and power-grabbing. They use the “Nazi”epithet tactically to further those ends. Shame on them and I am not talking to them. They are not going to hear me anyway. I am speaking to the others who follow their example unwittingly, who want to express the power of their convictions without realizing what it is doing to the discourse.

At some level, we do use the term "Nazi" meaningfully. When the Jew calls a Muslim a Nazi what he may mean is “Your hatred of Us is blind. It has nothing to do reality. You talk about “Yahud” as some kind of demonic class of being not as individuals with the ability to do right and wrong. Its all about baseless blind violent hate and you won’t be happy til we are gone.” When the Muslim calls the Jew a Nazi what he may mean is “Given your history of oppression, how can you Jews not sympathize with the Palestinians? How can you use military might in the way you do to control a people when you saw the dangers of totalitarianism first hand? How can you chauvinistic nationalists when it was German nationalism that nearly destroyed you? Separated, marginalized and ghettoized for centuries, how can you do that to others? You are becoming what you hate.”
Fleshed out like this, most of us will conclude that there is enough of a lie to be feel like a serious misrepresentation of our reality and enough truth to really hurt. Both sides will agree that there is something to talk about.
Is there an element of baseless hatred in Muslim attitudes towards Jews? Yes, in some quarters there is. That’s what Sheikh Hamza chose to address at the CAIR dinner. He didn’t have to call anyone a Nazi to do it. He merely had to remind them of their own stated values.
Are there voices in the Jewish world who can and do raise those crucial questions? Sure there are. No less than the great Rav Kook questioned whether Jewish values could endure being involved in the normal exercise of state force. The controversial and sometimes caustic thinker Yeshayahu Liebowitz raised precisely these kind of questions in relation to the war in 1967 and its aftermath.. There are proud committed Jews who do raise these questions not by calling each other Nazi’s but by appealing to values..

The big lie in calling folks Nazis is that not only are very few people actually genocidal and evil but maybe more importantly virtually no one sees themselves that way. Being called a Nazi is experienced universally as an enormous lie of defamation.

When you imply that someone is a Nazi, its hard ball. Maybe I just don't like hardball. Maybe I am afraid of tough talk. A commentator on this blog referred to me as “sweetly mingling” with others. I love that expression. I believe that real relationships do have a lot of sweet mingling to them. Sweet mingling is what allows for serious communication.. Building relationships allows folks to talk seriously with another. Serious talk gets business done. Tough talk derails communication.
Amir Abdel Malik Ali, who speaks annually at UCI, is fond of encouraging Muslim students to avoid social contact with “Zionist Jewish” students by saying that “You don’t sit down for tea and cookies with Nazis.” I agree. If you sit down with someone and discover that that they are absolutely evil genocidal maniacs bent on your destruction, get up and leave. I have yet to have this happen to me. Time and time again, I find myself sitting across from other human beings with whom I may sometimes vehemently disagree but whom I can understand because their concerns are my concerns; fairness, safety and security, justice, making a livelihood, dealing with relationships and figuring out the universe. This would include Amir Abdel Malik Ali. So to him and the folks who send me emails about the evil “Islamo-Nazis” and to anyone who would slime another human being with that word I say, “Please stop calling each other Nazis and pass the tea and cookies.”


  1. I don't think this is all that aplicable to the topic at hand and I don't want to take away from it's seriousness but have you ever heard of this?'s_law

  2. I had never heard of this. Its funny but to take it seriously for a second, it is an expression of that "show-stopping" quality of Nazi analogies. When all else fails..

  3. Here is how Godwin's Law applies to your article Lee. You referred to the accusation of "Nazi" as "hardball" or "tough talk". While I don't disagree that your word choice is inappropriate, I believe it is too forgiving. I find it really showing that your entire alternative "meaningful usages of the term” in the second paragraph of the article are questions. It is showing because these alternatives are actual examples of conversation, it allows if not demands a response from an opposing viewpoint; while calling someone a Nazi does the exact opposite, it deters any voice other than your own, because the other voice is after all illegitimate. The Irony is that the labeling of someone as a Nazi is itself a form of Fascism. Godwin's law is that the longer a "conversation" occurs online and really in real life for that matter the likelihood is that it will become a circular one, once that occurs it is no longer a conversation and therefore it justifies the label Nazi so that it can desist. The Question is: are we ready to have a conversation or are we still simply satisfied by our own viewpoints? The latter sounds to me in all honesty to be the case, even for well intentioned people who seek progress. In my experience I find that most people who seek dialogue have no clue what to do with said dialogue, it just a more acceptable existence to their understanding to civil society. I think more productive than dialogue is a harsh self assessment of how we define ourselves. The more critical we are of ourselves the better we are qualified to exist with others. But again I’m just repeating your earlier statements.

  4. Words can enlighten and words can destroy. Sometimes their effect is due to misunderstanding, and sometimes their effect is due to perfect understanding. Too often, the power of effective words is used to obscure the intent and purpose of communication. What is important is that knowledge and logic find a place within a passionate discussion. What is critical, though, is that the participants do not lose sight of the passion that engendered the discussion in first place.