Children sometimes mimic the sounds and gestures of characters, whether fictitious or real, that they see as frightening and omnipotent, including parents, teachers, and older siblings. These become rich sources for emulation in play, alone or with other children. From the inception of consciousness, humans search for mechanisms to cope with perceived threats from external sources of power. Primary among these mechanisms is the attempt to thrust ahead through emulation, defined here as adopting the methods, tools, attitudes, or aggression of that which frightens and awes. The psychological imbalance induced by anxiety over potential threat is thus averted by becoming one with that threat, either by exchanging roles or by internalizing the perceived source of overwhelming fear.
Hence, one may alleviate anxiety caused by a perceived threat, if only temporarily, by projecting the threat onto third parties, real or imagined. Yet by fabricating a shoddy and fragile imitation of the original threat, potential victims restore psychological equilibrium only at the expense of losing their balance in the larger context of personality, identity, or even humanity. Although not physically injurious, the resultant, self-inflicted wound cuts to the integrity of the person threatened.
Adults are no different in their need to control perceived sources of anxiety and threat in order to maintain mental and psychological balance. They attempt to emulate seemingly more authentic sources of actual or potential threats, even if their attempts to emulate such sources of danger take more socialized and politicized forms and expressions. Still, the basic process of self-alienation remains the same: the perception of an overwhelming threat generates the need to restore psychological and mental balance by internalizing that threat, then projecting it outwards, or by becoming one with it through emulation, to bridge quickly and thoroughly the wide gap between the inferior's feelings of worthlessness, weakness, and guilt and the imagined omnipotence of the perceived aggressor. At the core of this process, then, lies a relationship of inferiority between: the fearsome and the fearful, between the powerful and the powerless, between the wealthy and the impoverished, between the conqueror and conquered.
This process is the mechanism by which the values and perspectives of ruling elites in any society become those of the “mainstream.” It is also the means by which the world today is being Americanized. To be sure, this is a two-way process. It is true that ruling elites in all societies, and at the global level, control the production of contemporary symbols and values, through control of the mass communications media and of the means of intellectual production (and thus of intellectual property rights). Yet that control only furnishes the material basis for creating a pliable mainstream. The prerequisite for controlling the mainstream (or the masses, in more archaic political terminology) is that the latter be completely self-alienated, and utterly disposed to emulate the wealthy, the powerful, and the fearsome.
Over a century ago Thorstein Veblen, in his Theory of the Leisure Class, traced the process by which the values and beliefs of the ruling classes become those of the rest of society through economic emulation. What Veblen described as “conspicuous consumption” by the wealthy led to the emergence of a cult of “consumerism,” whereby the rest of society attempted to imitate the rich and thus bridge their perceived inadequacy.
In the relationship between the colonizers and the colonized, the process of emulation leads the colonized to adopt the positions and the attitudes of the European colonizers toward them. This leads to self-hatred and self-degradation on the part of the colonized. In his Black Skin, White Masks, Frantz Fanon analyzes the process by which European colonizers made some Africans loathe their race and seek to become “whiter,” so to speak. In his letter of resignation from the hospital where he worked as chief psychiatrist during the Algerian war of independence, Fanon discusses how his therapeutic work with his Arab patients revealed that many of their problems originated with feelings of inferiority inculcated over decades by the European colonizers: his patients had internalized their oppressors' image of them.[see note]
Paulo Freire, in his well-known work, Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1970), raised the political and social analysis of emulating and internalizing the oppressor to new heights. Freire dissected the process by which revolutionary regimes become oppressive, like the regimes they have just overthrown: during the struggle the new regimes had absorbed the value systems of their former oppressors, and their attitudes towards the oppressed. To these revolutionaries, liberation meant “becoming like the oppressors.”
Why revolutionary regimes turn oppressive is beyond the scope of this article. The point remains that Veblen, Fanon, and Freire, at different times, and on different social and political levels, each discovered how the oppressed internalize their oppressors and their oppressors' worldview, including their perception of the oppressed. At the micro level, the level of the individual, Anna Freud was the first to identify, in 1936, the process of internalizing the aggressor among children. Finally, in his Social Backwardness: An Introduction to the Psychology of the Coerced (first published in 1981), a classic that makes for highly illuminating, indeed indispensable reading for any Arab progressive, Dr. Mustafa Hijjazi of Lebanon establishes an analytical linkage between the internalization of the aggressor at the individual level and the internalization of the oppressor at the social and political levels. Unfortunately, Hijjazi does not mention Veblen or Freire in his book: these two writers could have greatly enhanced his analysis.
The thesis of these works can be abstracted as follows: the oppressed, because of their condition, develop feelings of inferiority, incompetence, and vulnerability, which in the absence of objective awareness (real consciousness) of the relationships that create that oppressive condition, lead them to adopt the oppressor's view of the world and themselves. This deepens their sense of inferiority and pushes them further to emulate the oppressor, in a vicious cycle that reinforces their condition of oppression. Stated simply, being the inferior in a relationship based on fear impels the oppressed to adopt the oppressor's worldview.
In cultural and political terms, one can apply the emulation paradigm to Arab intellectuals and social strata seeking to sever their connections to their Arab-Islamic heritage and identity, and to devour and regurgitate the rhetoric and narratives of the Zionist movement and of the overseers of the “New World Order.” Feelings of guilt and ineptitude grow as the oppressor's worldview is internalized, turned against oneself, and even more so against one's group, as an extension of the self. The self-alienated Arab then begins to associate his Arab identity — suddenly grown flat, monotonous, degraded to a stereotype — with all that is negative and inferior. Everything positive, enlightened, and superior is now ascribed to America, the West, Jews, Zionists. This state of psychological imbalance can only be resolved by the self-alienated Arab's attempted escape from self, his becoming a bridge to the values, beliefs, practices, and the oppressor's worldview.
For the average Arab, this self-alienation becomes an obsessive fascination with the lifestyle, music, culture, food, clothes, and gadgets of the dominant societies. Like certain “British Indians” or “French Algerians” before them, for these Arabs salvation becomes the ability to lose their identities and to melt into that of the aggressor, oppressor, or invader.
Self-alienated Arab intellectuals, on the other hand, express their alienation by becoming spokespersons for globalization, Zionism, and peace with “Israel.” To the extent these Arabs speak for their oppressors deliberately, either to cultivate them for personal benefit or privilege, or to avert reprisals and punishment, one may call them opportunistic. Insofar as they rationalize oppression out of conviction rooted in their self-alienation, however, they better fit the emulation model: they have completed the process of self-abnegation.
To underscore this point, it might be useful here to bring up a crucial difference between supporters of the Oslo “peace process” and those Arab politicians and intellectuals actively promoting Zionism, in theory and practice, to their fellow Arabs (where Zionism, as defined by Herzl, is the creation of a national homeland for the Jews in Palestine).
To be sure, both groups represent defective social and political ways of coping with overwhelming oppression, namely, the Jewish invasion of Palestine. Supporters of Oslo tell their constituents that they are merely enduring a status quo they cannot change (and thus might as well make the most of it), a transparently defeatist argument. The Arab politicians and intellectuals promoting ideological rationalizations of oppression are, in the long run, infinitely more dangerous. They typically advance arguments and standards that present imperialist and Zionist domination as acceptable, even desirable, to Arabs. One such brainchild of the self-alienated is the self-destructive embrace of the notion of “Middle Easternism,” by which the Arab-Islamic heritage and identity is to dissolve in a globalized “Middle East,” in which the Arabs are to be even further fragmented along sectarian and ethnic lines.[see note]
The self-alienated Arab intellectuals and politicians, who may oppose Oslo clamorously, promote arguments and ideas that lead to the moral acceptance of “Israel,” not merely the recognition of its right to exist, as Oslo supporters do out of political expediency. Examples of such ideas include the notion of the bi-national state (which abrogates the Arab identity of Palestine); criticizing Zionism primarily for its racism (rather than for its occupation of Palestine); advocating winning over Israeli public opinion by abandoning armed resistance against the occupation (although, as the historical record from South Lebanon to the Vietnam war shows beyond question, it is effective armed resistance that is most capable of swaying public opinion in the enemy camp); proclaiming adherents to the Jewish religion as a nation with the right to self-determination in Palestine while denying, for example, that the Arabs are a nation (self-evident alienation when coming from an Arab); and the whole slew of contrite calls for “dialogue with the other” and for “understanding the other” (where the now neutral “other” is nothing but the invader and oppressor). In short, exactly what we would expect from Arab intellectuals or politicians who realize themselves only through absorbing and voicing values and ideas that bring them closer to the oppressor, albeit as inferiors.
The practical difference between the opportunists and the emulators is that political expediency can change with political circumstances, whereas ideas and value-systems that bind the oppressed in subservience to the oppressor are much more stable. Evidence of this can be readily found in the active role supporters of the Fateh organization in the West Bank and Gaza are playing in the current Aqsa Intifada: for the previous seven years they were seen as the enforcers of Oslo, mere policemen serving as security for the invader. Clearly the ideological subjugation of the oppressed penetrates more deeply into the collective mentality than does political subjugation, and therefore it is much more dangerous. Words may wound worse than weapons. Indoctrination from within is far more brutal than external domination. External domination stimulates resistance, even if it be entirely covert; indoctrination is a self-made prison for the spirit, that serves only the oppressor.
Frequently, meek submission to external domination sets the stage for indoctrination. The process typically starts with self-delusions about “playing the PR game,” “playing it smart with the mainstream,” and other rationalizations designed to take the edge off defeatism or capitulation before an irrationally overwhelming force. Let us next examine how certain Arabs deal with the oppressive narrative of the “Holocaust,” a narrative of which the Arabs, in particular Palestinian Arabs, have been primary victims.
The “Holocaust” has long since ceased to be about the Jews who died in the Second World War, or about opposing all forms of racialism, including Nazism. It has become instead a generator of contemporary symbols and political values for rationalizing Zionist power and its support by ruling elites in the West in furtherance of their own imperialist interests in the Arab world. Oppression cannot prevail solely by the argument of force; to achieve long-term stability it must be complemented by the force of argumentation. Thus acceptance of the received version of the “Holocaust” has become a necessary condition for rationalizing Zionism and its international support network. To be specific, the “Holocaust” serves three simultaneous objectives:
Many Arabs chide themselves for not campaigning effectively enough in the media to win over public opinion in the West. In their much-needed media efforts to explain their cause to Westerners, however, these same Arabs insist on ignoring the biggest obstacle to their success: the fact that the most important source of sympathy for Israel in Western public opinion is the received version of the “Holocaust,” and the mass-communications media's churning out of daily “Holocaust” reminders to constantly increase that sympathy, overshadowing every Zionist injustice or excess. Therein lies the importance of revisionist historians to Arabs. These brave souls (who are of varying ideological backgrounds) work meticulously and systematically to undermine the three basic pillars of the “Holocaust": 1) the myth that the Nazis pursued a policy of genocide against the Jews (the Nazi policy regarding Jews was deportation, including, unfortunately, deportation to Palestine); 2) the myth that six million Jews died in the Second World War (that number exceeds by far the numbers of Jews living in Nazi-occupied areas during the war); and 3) the myth of the gas chambers in which millions of them supposedly perished (no one has yet been able to prove the existence of, or explain the way in which,19-25 these chambers supposedly functioned).[see note]
In a classic show of self-alienation, however, fourteen Arab intellectuals recently called on the Lebanese government to cancel a historical revisionist conference in Beirut. By doing so, these intellectuals were derelict in their duties as Arab intellectuals. They asked an Arab government to ban an intellectual forum. More important, they publicly gave their unreserved credence to a false narrative that empowers Zionism, instead of exposing it. Such acceptance of the “Holocaust” is the essence of cultural “normalization” with the invader; it is intended to lead eventually to making Arabs no less intellectually subservient to the “Holocaust” myths than Westerners are today. Thus these Arab intellectuals, either out of indoctrinated self-alienation or for opportunistic reasons, become the intellectual beachhead from which Zionism launches its invasion of the Arab mind.
It is perfectly understandable that Zionists grow enraged when the totem of the “Holocaust” is scrutinized critically. After all, it is a lucrative source of income, arms, and Zionist legitimacy. Thus when the Jerusalem Post (of June 8, 2001), reported on a symposium on historical revisionism organized in Amman, Jordan by the Jordanian Writers Association (JWA) on May 13, 2001, it was most unsurprising to encounter a constellation of Zionist academics, politicians, and commentators frenziedly denouncing the symposium and the JWA.[see note] It was not the first time, nor will it be the last, that Zionists attacked Arabs who dared to put the “Holocaust” to rational discussion.
Predictably, the long story in the Jerusalem Post did not contain a single sentence in response to the scholarly research that debunks the three basic myths of the “Holocaust.” Instead, it conveyed two messages, one for Arabs, the other for Westerners. Arabs were told: leave the “Holocaust” alone. Questioning it is bad media strategy (since when have the Zionists worried about the Arabs' media strategies?). The message to Western public opinion, on the other hand, was that Arabs who challenge the “Holocaust” are equivalent to Arab who lay claim to the “Temple Mount” (site of the Al Aqsa mosque) and other property and prerogatives claimed by the Zionists in Palestine.
Note that there is a great, though undeclared, psychological extortion at the heart of both messages, based on the Zionists' success in establishing the myths of the “Holocaust” in the Western mind beyond a shred of doubt: the “Holocaust” has acquired a potency that overwhelms and oppresses. None of those interviewed in the Jerusalem Post article remarked on the logical and scientific evidence refuting the myths of the “Holocaust.” Instead, they invoked the “Holocaust” as an overpowering, numinous force with which to threaten Arabs: Stay out of this fight. Give up! Back off! Adore our gods or else! For their part Westerners, more deeply initiated into the rites of the “Holocaust” religion, are told: A few of the Arabs dare to question the “Holocaust,” and denying the “Holocaust” is no different from denying any of the Jewish claims to Israel.
In the face of such an onslaught, there can only be three kinds of Arab responses: that of the self-alienated Arabs, who embrace the “Holocaust” religion wholeheartedly; that of the defeatist Arabs, who pay lip service to the “Holocaust” out of political expediency, without embracing the “Holocaust” cult; and finally that of those Arabs willing to stand up for truth and justice by fighting the Holocaust imposture.
Thus when the Jerusalem Post story quoted Hussein Ibish, communications director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), as taking part in the Zionist attack on the Jordanian Writers Association and on all Arab intellectuals who dare to question the “Holocaust,” the immediate question became: What kind of Arab (or Arab-American) is Ibish? Is he the kind that embraces the values of the enemy's religion wholeheartedly, as do certain Arab intellectuals, or is he of the sort that serves the false cult out of political expediency?
Examining Ibish's statements against Arab intellectuals who question the “Holocaust,” one will note that the evident strategy closely resembles that of the supporters of Oslo: yield to the enemy on basic principles, settling for scraps while improving one's position against the enemy wherever possible. In this case, the ADC's communications director capitulated to the Zionists by: 1) lending them the voice of the ADC to condemn Arabs who dare to question the “Holocaust,” 2) publicly declaring the adherence of the ADC to the three founding myths of the “Holocaust” religion, and 3) reassuring Zionists and Westerners that those Arabs willing even to listen to a critical appraisal of the “Holocaust” are too few to worry about.[see note]
All the same, despite having yielded so much of basic principle, the ADC's communications director appears to have sought to avoid a slavishly pro-Zionist stance on the “Holocaust.” Thus Ibish included Gypsies, Slavs, and others in the “Holocaust,” which somewhat diminishes Zionist claims for its historical uniqueness. He also pretended to take issue with Arab criticism of the “Holocaust” as a tool to justify Zionist excesses, only to present what he “disagreed with” at length. Notwithstanding these petty subterfuges, Ibish still gave the Zionists the invective they needed from an Arab for their attack on the Jordanian Writers Association and on the Arab intellectuals who dared to question the myths of the “Holocaust.”
Had Ibish's critique appeared from an Arab forum, instead of as a voice in the Zionist chorus from the Jerusalem Post, it might be better classified as a case of indoctrinated self-alienation. But when the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee was called upon by the Jerusalem Post to show its “goodwill” towards Zionists by venerating the “Holocaust,” it capitulated meekly before what is (rightly) perceived as an overwhelming threat, the prospect of vilification by and exclusion from the Western media. By mimicking the gestures and words of the oppressor, Ibish and the ADC preserved their threatened psychological equilibrium at the expense of a larger imbalance in their personal and political integrity.
What Zionists fail to understand when dealing with supporters of Oslo, the Palestinian National Authority, or those Arabs who yield to overwhelming Zionist force, is that we Arabs have long experience in humoring oppressive forces. For more than a thousand years now, our people have had to endure both external and internal oppressive structures, including the Zionist occupation. The defeatists and opportunists among us may compromise basic principles, a reprehensible practice by any standard, but even they will try to filch whatever scraps they can from the oppressor on the sly. Even when the Zionists accuse the Palestinian enforcers of Oslo of not abiding by this or that detail of their one-sided relationship, the Zionists underline the larger realities of the Zionist oppression and occupation. Enter those Arab intellectuals who reconcile Arabs ideologically to Zionism: their work, far more serious, much more dangerous, aims to implant the equivalent of an Israeli agent in every Arab mind. This threat makes the fight against cultural normalization with the invader one of the most important aspects of the Arab-Zionist conflict today.
The above remarks on emulation and on the adoption of the value-systems and beliefs of others should be interpreted strictly in the context of oppressive conditions between humans on the individual or social level. In the absence of oppressive conditions, that is, in cases where people work, communicate, interact, and struggle together for a common goal in a spirit of camaraderie and cooperation, it is quite normal for shared beliefs, symbols, perceptions, and values to arise quite naturally. The difference, of course, is that in the latter case social interaction makes persons whole, not self-alienated. To repeat, oppression, exploitation, occupation, victimization, calls for “dialogue with the other” and “understanding the other” can only reflect the fundamental imbalance of power between victor and vanquished. To preserve the humanity of the oppressed under such conditions, the necessary form of dialogue with oppressors is the kind that occurs in revolutions, whether political or intellectual.
Mustafa Hijjazi, Social Backwardness: An Introduction to the Psychology of the Coerced (in Arabic). 7th ed. Beirut: Arab Development Institute, 1998.
Ibrahim Alloush, “Cultural Normalization Psychologically” (in Arabic), in the Jordanian weekly Assabeel, September 19, 2000.
Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Seabury Press, 1970.
Thorstein Veblen, The Theory of the Leisure Class. New York: Augustus Kelley, 1965.
Freud, Anna, Le Moi et les mécanismes de défense. 4th ed. Paris: P.U.F., 1967.
|Title:||Between public relations and self-alienation: Arab intellectuals and the 'Holocaust'|
|Source:||The Journal for Historical Review|
|Issue:||Volume 20 number 3|
|Attribution:||“Reprinted from The Journal of Historical Review, PO Box 2739, Newport Beach, CA 92659, USA.”|
|Please send a copy of all reprints to the Editor.|