What else Iain Banks can do

Iain Banks reading from The Crow Road was the first literary even I ever attended. I was very impressed at the time, but these days Banks is advocating making “Israelis understand how morally isolated they really are” and urging other artists, writers and academics to do all they can to “convince Israel of its moral degradation and ethical isolation”.

Cultural boycotts don’t work like that, and it’s hard to know what Banks’ efforts at isolating Israel(is) mean in practice. No more invitations to the Jerusalem Quartet? Hectoring any Israeli in the vicinity? Weird, given that he has omitted to mention anything approaching ethical isolation and moral degradation on the part of Hamas. John Levy reacts:

“The use by Iain Banks and friends of language reminiscent of the National Socialists (Letters, 3 and 4 June) arouses the most atavistic of Jewish fears, not least because their criticism of Israel is so grotesquely overstated. Israel, as a fully functioning – and therefore by definition flawed – democracy, should be subject to serious analysis and rigorous criticism. But it is not a rogue regime installed by putsch (cf Gaza June 2007). It is a multi-faith, multicultural entity, in which eight calendars of religious festivals are protected by law and cultural diversity prevails – as opposed to the Taliban-lite regime now in power in Gaza. Hamas, as your recent reports indicate, is imposing an ever-more rigorous Islamist template on all Gazans. Israeli hospitals are full of patients from the Palestinian Authority receiving advanced medical care. Many academic and research colleagues in Israel are engaged in serious and mutually respectful collaborative projects with Palestinian counterparts.”

Writing in today’s Observer Nick Cohen reminds readers that many alleged progressives have flipped about Israel and cautions about the difference between intentions and their effects:

“The leaders of Ba’athist Syria or theocratic Iran or monarchical Saudi Arabia do not faithfully reproduce the fantasies of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion solely because they hate Jews. They need a conspiracy theory to divert the attention of their subject populations from the failures of their rule as badly as the tsars did in the 1900s and the Nazis in the 1930s. Then, as now, the ability to brand political opponents as Zionist fifth columnists and liberal principles as decadent Jewish ruses that divert the faithful from fulfilling their religious or racial destiny are essential aids to the maintenance of their power.

Hamas, around which the disputes about aid to Gaza rage, is a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, which fused fascist and radical Islamist ideas during the German push into the Middle East during the Second World War. Large chunks of its constitution are lifted from European racism – Jewish money controls the world’s “media, news agencies, the press, publishing houses, broadcasting stations”; the Jews were behind “the French revolution, the communist revolution and most of the revolutions we hear about” and so on.

As with the European reactionaries of the 20th century, Islamists do not stop with Jew hatred. Advances for radical Islam are always disasters for women, homosexuals, democrats, socialists and free thinkers. Put like this, the behaviour of European liberals seems more reprehensible than ever.”

Nick Cohen goes on to point out that antisemitism cannot fully explain the bias of the Gaza debate, citing the political failure of the Netanyahu’s right wing coalition government. He’s right about that, but there are also some campaigns that make the same noises whoever’s in power in Israel. A left wing government in Israel would interfere with their world view.

Returning to Iain Banks’ boycott, Steven Poole writes:

“Iain Banks himself realizes too that it is a stupid (and actually vicious) idea: his plaintive “what else can we do?” doesn’t even pretend to be a justification; it is merely the Politician’s Logic of “Something must be done; this is something; therefore, we must do it.”

So Banks presses on regardless, proposing to cure the “ethical isolation” of Israel by, um, isolating it even more, without, or so it seems, even beginning to imagine how that might affect the balance of internal politics in Israel itself.”

Norm answers Banks’ rhetorical question “what else can we do?” with:

“What else you can do is not engage in forms of collective punishment that you condemn when it suits you; but rather adopt forms of protest and action that meet the standards you demand of others.”

and a further relevant post about academic boycott.

(And Iain M. Banks? Silent. Probably ashamed.)