Thursday, February 06, 2003

Browsed through the brand new Borders bookstore in Melbourne last night. Despite Borders being a US-based multinational, they can hardly be faulted for doing to books for (say) what Starbucks have done for coffee. Nor, for that matter, have Borders done what Nike et al have done for their third world workforces. A book megastore definitely could be a dispiriting monoculture, but this Borders ain’t. My main gripe: no instore remainders/bargains table anywhere.

One of my finds in the magazine racks was the serious-looking and sounding journal, Index on Censorship (vol 4/2002). At $37.50 for the issue, it was definitely going to be a case of a browse’n’speed-read. In the event, I didn’t get past reading a bit of one article. Unusually for these media-lite days, I had chewed off more than I could cranially swallow in the aisle. Hence, it was first stop on the Internet today to track it down, hopefully in full-text. And yes, bullseye!

The article, “The new anti-Semitism” by Harold Evans is at:

From its title, I had expected a fairly generic summation of the rise of populist right-wingers in the West over the last decade or so. Not so – there has recently been a paradigm shift in anti-semitism – away from Europe and the Western Right, and towards the Middle East/Arab World (& the USA, to an extent) and the Western Left.

I emphasise that the above is my take/paraphrase on what Evans says, in this obviously delicate area of discourse, where there is room for infinite misunderstandings, tangents, and grandstanding. I am also still digesting much of it.

From my January 29 blog on Iraq and suicide bombers – and now this – my views in this area may already sound hollowly and intransigently partisan. Possibly, they are – but I genuinely consider myself a fence-sitter on Israel/Palestine. To call this a “local issue” is a naïve understatement, but nonetheless I am quite comfortable having strong views on Iraq and suicide bombers (and so on virulent, rationality-defying anti-semitism) but none of any strong colour on Israel/Palestine.

There is also the attraction of the intellectual gauntlet that Evans throws down: to understand the seemingly disproportionate power of the Internet in spreading perverse misinformation (most notoriously, that the Jews and/or Israel were behind September 11). If you want a ready example of what Evans perhaps over-dramatically terms this “open sewer”, go to this US-headquartered, blandly-titled hate site:

Most worrying, and intriguing, of all for me is a point that Evans just touches on a couple of times: the corrective, salutary powers of satire, and the [connected] complete absence of satire in the Arab-world media. While the fact that the Arab-world media are not at all a monolith, and do include dissenting voices was rightly made in the Index on Censorship reply, by Mai Ghoussoub and Moshe Machover:
the ratio decidendi of this all is that Messrs Ghoussoub and Machover couldn’t help but be unintentionally comic themselves – unless they are truly, genuinely ignorant of the Internet – in pressing their case; viz:

“Evans has an inflated idea of the Arab media and their organization. The reality is almost the reverse. There is hardly any organised strategy in social or political fields.”

Quite so – like comedy, information abhors a vacuum, and can and will be spun out of nothing, if that is the only resource available.

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