Monday, November 05, 2012

Parallel Perspectives

The Cults of Bosnia and Palestine, by Richard Ziegler
Baico Publishing, Ottawa, 2012
136 pages (softcover)

Two years or so ago, the "Gaza flotilla" incident made me wonder whether Israel was getting "Serbed." It was just a brief glance at some patterns too eerily similar to be coincidental. Yet the whole subject of propaganda, manufactured consent and perception management simply begged for a more detailed study, by someone who could devote enough time, resources and scrutiny to it.

Canadian author Richard Ziegler's second book, "The Cults of Bosnia and Palestine" is one attempt at such a study. A self-identified leftist (his first book was titled "Reclaiming the Canadian Left"), Ziegler has chosen to examine the strange parallel thinking on the Western Left when it comes to the Bosnian and Palestinian conflicts.

Having spotted the same "invective" used to describe the Bosnian Serbs in use against Israel, Ziegler ventures to answer the question "whether some of the charges against [Israel] are made in good faith, or are merely an imitation of a proven strategy." (p.2 ) This comparative approach characterizes all four sections of the book.

In the short, introductory chapter Ziegler explains that the Left's obsession with Bosnia and Palestine most likely lies in its tendency to look for the "victims of oppression" and identify with them. The second chapter dwells on the concepts of "genocide" and "ethnic cleansing," both of which have been employed in crafting the narratives of Bosnia and Palestine. Ziegler notes the dubious emergence and questionable meaning of the term "ethnic cleansing", arguing it was used as a catch-all condemnation of Serbs. But he also tackles the thorny subject of genocide, first noting the absurd contortions applied to Rafael Lemkin's definition by war crimes prosecutors (p.29), then examining the implications of comparing Bosnia to the Holocaust (p.35). Of particular interest is Ziegler's argument that seeing genocide everywhere in effect tends to devalue the significance and distinctiveness of the Holocaust, thus indirectly amnestying its perpetrators.

Chapter 3 deals with Islam and history involved in both regions. Here Ziegler makes an important observation that the Left has not only adopted myths about peaceful coexistence of everyone under Islam, but generally dismissed history as a factor in both conflicts (p. 70-71). He explains the Leftist reluctance to criticize Islam as a result of perceiving the Muslims as the oppressed, and therefore being on the "good" side of identity politics.

Ziegler's venture into explaining the development of anti-Serbism on the Western Left in the final chapter is a very intriguing read. He may not be entirely right to dismiss the lack of prior anti-Serb sentiment on the Left - Engels wrote a scathing attack on the Slavs following the failure of the Hungarian Revolution in 1849, which is often mistakenly attributed to Marx and even excerpted out of context to sound worse - but certainly paints a detailed picture of the circumstances in which the modern anti-Serb thought in the West coalesced in the early 1990s. This is contrasted with prior anti-Semitism on the Left, and the many projections, false analogies and cognitive dissonance that characterize the Left's hostility to both Serbs and Jews. A good overview of the pattern that emerges in both instances is laid out at the very end (p. 118-119). Ziegler's conclusion is that leftist beliefs about Serbs and Jews are almost religious in nature, "and thus impregnable to argument, evidence or reason." (p. 120).

If anything, the book is too short. Documenting the instances of anti-Serbism in the Western press, both mainstream and alternative, over the past two decades would result in a multi-volume work by itself. Yet if Ziegler's conclusion is correct, and the quasi-religious conviction on the Left is impervious to reason, the quantity of evidence becomes somewhat irrelevant, and the quality of the argument more important than ever. To someone who has decided that Serbs and Jews must be evil, no amount of proof to the contrary will suffice to persuade them otherwise.

Nonetheless, Ziegler has done extensive research. Fully 54 pages of the volume's 136 are filled with  often explanatory footnotes. He doesn't cherry-pick favorable authors, either, but includes arguments from all over the spectrum (including myself at one point). Unlike many a scholar, however, he doesn't try to pad the volume with needlessly complex verbiage; Ziegler's prose is crisp, clean, and legible. One doesn't have to be a scholar to understand what he's arguing, or to appreciate the amount of time and effort that went into condensing what could have been a sprawling argument into such a compact volume.

Though plenty of targets of Imperial "liberation" have been softened up by propaganda, no one else has received the "full Serb" just yet. But with the demonization proving so effective, that may only be a matter of time. A great deal of its effectiveness is due to the involvement of the Left, which has successfully styled itself as standing for niceness and tolerance and against all name-calling. Except when it comes to those "disgusting Serbs" and Jews, of course.

The Cults of Bosnia and Palestine, by Richard Ziegler, will be presented on November 14, at Ottawa's Collected Works bookstore.


Steve Hayes said...

I can see distinct paralles between the way Israel has treated the Palestinians and the way the West has treated the Serbs

Anonymous said...

@Steve Hayes

I'm not seeing that.

Unlike the Serbs at least in Kosovo the Palestinians have received billions in aid, have there own recognised government with there own police force and paramilitary/terrorist groups and representation at the UN with the media in Europe tending to be more favourable to Palestinians.

Strahinja said...

Except the difference is that:

1. Serbs are an actual nation, 'Palestinians' are not. They are only the people who inhabit the region called Palestine. They were never a distinct nation, nor did they ever have their own political entity.
Unlike Serbs, who were always a distinct national group, and throughout history have had their own political entity. (numerous ones actually)

2. Serbs don't have organizations like Hamas or the Muslim Brotherhood or Hezbollah, which attack their enemies, trying to kill as many of their citizens as possible with the eventual goal of eliminating the very polity they see as an 'enemy'. While the 'Palestinians' do.

3. Serbian identity isn't intrinsically tied to the extermination of a certain people. If you remove the anti-semitism from the 'Palestinian cause', what differentiates Palestinians from the Lebanese, Syrians or Jordanians? Nothing.

The parallel you make Steve Hayes is a flawed one.

Unknown said...

Steve Hayes,
Did you mean counter-parallels?
I don't get your point.
Israel is reacting to Palestinian terrorism. Palestinian Muslims are just as violent to Christian Muslims as they are to the people of Israel.
In the case of the West vs. Serbs the West simply carries on with its agenda of propaganda, sanctions, wars, interference in internal affairs, sponsoring local anti-Serb groups.
Where do you see the parallels?
The only glaring anti-parallel, if you wish, is that Palestinians attack Israel(is) and Israel retaliates, whereas the West attacks the Serbs and the Serbs ask for more!