The Washington Post on Khalidi

May 13, 2004

The Washington Post on Khalidi

Posted by Ed

Just a quick note: today's Washington Post features a profile of Rashid Khalidi, a former University of Chicago professor (with whom I took a course in Orientalism my first year.) He has a new book out, declaring the Iraq war a "policy born out of ignorance."

The article as a whole struck me as okay, but far from outstanding. One particular passage bothered me:

"There are kids I know in the service," he says, worried about what will happen to them if they're captured. "Every time I hear these laptop neocons talk about international law. . . ."

He trails off, disgusted. "Neocon" and "neoconservative" are among Washington's most fraught rhetorical markers, used by some people in much the same way that "liberal" was once used to dismiss an entire category of supposedly failed thinking. Others, including the AEI's Pletka, see a more sinister resonance.

"I think the phrase 'neocon' is much more popular among people who think it shields their anti-Semitism," she says. "But it doesn't."

It seems like a serious charge to claim that someone is anti-Semitic--especially if that person is a prominent scholar of Palestinian ancestry. (In the case of Khalidi, it's my sense that this allegation is nonsense.) The juxtaposition of quotations in the article suggests that Pletka is accusing Khalidi of anti-Semitism, however. That may not have been Pletka's intention at all, of course; she may not have had Khalidi in mind when she said this, and the context of the quote may not be entirely fair to her. If nothing else, however, the quotations seem to have been thrown together sloppily, in a manner that's unfair to Khalidi, Pletka, or both.

Moreover, Pletka's broader charges--that the term "neo-conservative" is most often bandied about by anti-Semites--strikes me as greatly overstated. A majority of the people often described as neo-cons are Jewish, it's true; moreover, when someone like Pat Buchanan uses the term, I think it often does function as a code word for "Jewish." In the vast majority of cases, however, my sense is that the term has nothing whatsoever to do with Judaism--some leading neo-cons, like Donald Rumsfeld, aren't even Jewish. My bigger concern with the term is that it just isn't very helpful. (What's the difference between a neo-con like Paul Wolfowitz and a more traditional conservative?) The term is often used to suggest that a cabal of extremist presidential advisers has foisted a disastrous policy on the country (which shifts the blame away from where it ultimately belongs, with the president); plenty of descriptions of neo-conservatism overstate its connections to Leo Strauss or make shallow analogies to Trotskyism, which doesn't help clarify the ideology of many of the president's foreign policy advisers. I might well avoid overuse of the term, but I think it's a poor choice of words because of its vagueness, not because of its connection to anti-Semitism. At least so far...

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