Tuesday, April 08, 2003

First of all, I love stories that are unspinnable. Stories that are so stark, so black-and-white, that they cannot be interpreted any other way than how they appear. The report of the liberation of the children's prison in Baghdad is such a story. It makes the other side--not only the Iraqis, but the most stridently pro-Saddam of the antiwar protesters, and the entire political leadership of France, Germany, and Russia--look very, very bad. They will do their absolute best to ignore this story.

I went to see Daniel Pipes at Swarthmore last night.

The specific talk was on the subject of the future of Israel and Palestine.

It was a fascinating evening. The audience was divided into three basic groups: The group that invited him, Students for Truthful Israel Representation, was apparently an activist pro-Israel organization of mostly Jews. I would never have thought that such a thing could exist on Swarthmore's campus, but the world is full of surprises. With many of them wearing yarmulkes, they made up about a third of the audience.

Another third was a group of Muslims and their sympathizers. They were the ones with kaffiyehs around their necks, the black women wearing the hijab. Not too difficult to miss.

The rest of the audience was, except for oddball townies like me, just the usual Swarthmore peaceniks, apparently dressed for a Phish concert.

Pipes was eloquent and direct, and had basically one message: Prevailing understanding of the issue is that the Arabs have accepted the existence of Israel and the only problems in forging peace lie in specific modalities: Jerusalem, settlements, water, etc. This understanding is incorrect. On the contrary, there is a fundamental Arab rejection of the right of Israel to exist, and until this state of mind changes, there can and will be no peace in Israel/Palestine.

So the question and answer session reflected the makeup of the audience. Basically, the Jews asked supportive questions, the peaceniks asked cynical questions, and the Muslims asked hostile questions. The dramatic highlight of the evening was when a self-identified Palestinian challenged Pipes's terminology. How can you not call it an occupation, was the loaded question. When Pipes answered by pointing out that he had kept his own language judgement-free ("I used the term 'violence' rather than 'the despicable act of blowing up women and children at Passover dinner'"). Of course the Palestinian took exception to this, and started responding, and Pipes dismissed him: "I'm not debating tonight."

Then one of the Jews stood up and walked over to the Palestinian, and said, "He SAID, he's not debating tonight." And the guy quieted down. At that point, you could see a lot of the peaceniks start to get all oogy inside, and several of them left at that point.

After the lecture, as Pipes was signing (he signed my copy of The Hidden Hand my favorite of his books), this woman came up to the Jewish guy who'd confronted the Arab. She had been sitting behind me at the lecture, where from time to time I'd heard her cluck-clucking under her breath.

"I thought you created a GREAT DEAL of NEGATIVE ENERGY in the room," she said to him, exactly like that, in that preening tone that can only be mastered by the truly self-righteous, "And that is NOT how we CONDUCT ourselves within the TRADITIONS of this University."

It was a glorious moment. One for the Self-Righteousness Hall of Fame.

A campus news report of the event is here.

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