Saturday, February 19, 2011

Progressive Except on Israel

by Mark D. Tooley

Right on cue, a Princeton Seminary professor recently suggested for the Huffington Post that the revolution in Egypt was actually a time for pondering how American “hegemony” might be overthrown throughout the Middle East. He also lamented how many fellow left-wingers are PEPS, i.e. “Progressive Except on Israel.”

The revolts in Egypt and Tunisia are special challenges to the Religious Left. For much of 30 years it has said nearly nothing about human rights abuses in the Arab world, not even under pro-Western regimes. To do so would distract from exclusive focus on Israel as the primary regional villain. Critique of Arab regimes also might risk critically examining political Islam, especially Sharia, which the Religious Left emphatically wants to avoid. Such examination might impair its version of interfaith dialogue. And it would distract from focus on the American Christian Right as the primary theocratic threat to global peace and justice.

Accordingly, Princeton theologian Mark Lewis Taylor was impatient with questions about whether Islam can generate an Enlightenment transition into modern democracy. He was far more interested in the “Christian Question,” which is: “Can Christians, especially in the U.S., discern the extent to which their own nation is an economically and militarily exploitative power in the Middle East/West Asia, and then voice and organize as part of a counter-power to that U.S. hegemony?”

Presumably Professor Taylor does not confine America’s hegemonic exploitation just to the Mid-East but was focusing on America’s crimes in that region in reaction to the latest Egypt events. He complained that American celebrants of the Egyptian revolt were failing to “acknowledge the politics of abuse the U.S. has long tolerated in Egypt for its interest in controlling oil prices and maintaining alliance with Israel.” He particularly faulted Egypt under Mubarak for “servicing both U.S. politics of oil price control and alliance with Israel.”

It’s not clear why Taylor tagged Mubarak’s Egypt, which is not a major oil producer, as an agent for suppressing America’s oil bill. Almost certainly Taylor is more disturbed by Egypt’s role as an “ally” with Israel, or more factually, not being an open belligerent. He was also troubled by Egypt’s ostensible fraternity with the “transnational elites” that similarly exploit “Main Street” USA as part of “U.S. neocolonialism.” Taylor forlornly wondered whether U.S. Christians would “find their voice to name this U.S. imperialism?”

Professor Taylor is not satisfied with just angry words. He wanted enlightened U.S. Christians, i.e. mainly the Religious Left, to “act in conjunction with Egyptian and Arab movements against U.S. imperialism, in ways both subtle and dramatic.” Will American Christians confront decades of America’s “vicious neocolonialism?” Taylor was skeptical. After all, America has its own sordid domestic past of “overlooking the freedom struggle that women, labor and racially disparaged groups.”

Predictably, Taylor was deeply concerned that the U.S. is a “homeland” to “large numbers of Christian Zionists and American Christian theocrats,” who are not just “patriots” but also suppliers of “material aid” to Israel. These mindless Christian supporters of Israel facilitate the “occupation, apartheid’ wall, demolition of homes,” and “siege” of Gaza. And Taylor was frustrated that the American left is not sufficiently condemning Christian Zionists because of provoking charges of “anti-Semitism.” They are afraid of the “Israel Lobby” and the inevitable “death threats” that descend on Israel’s critics. Too many intimidated Leftists are PEPs, i.e. “Progressive Except on Palestine.”

Taylor found encouragement from the left-leaning, Swiss-based World Alliance of Reformed Churches’ “Liberation Theology” influenced “Accra Confession,” which he rejoiced “bore witness against the ravages of Western imperialism.” He was also heartened by groups like Jim Wallis’ Sojourners and Michael Lerner’s Tikkun, which have supported the Egyptian revolt while understanding the sinister dimensions of U.S. imperialism. “From these seeds some redress of the ‘Christian Question’ may come,” Taylor hopefully concluded his jeremiad against the American Empire.

No doubt to Taylor’s delight, last week Jim Wallis dispatched “A Letter to Young Egyptian Protesters, From a Veteran U.S. Activist.” He assumed he had much to teach! Wallis’ experience during the Vietnam protest years of helping to enthrone Southeast Asian communist tyrannies perhaps can be recalled. So too can his 1980’s belligerency on behalf of Central American totalitarian movements.

“Remember, the United States was not talking about democracy in Egypt, not advocating it, not saying a transition is necessary and urgent, UNTIL you risked your security, safety, and lives for the sake of democracy,” Wallis sanctimoniously told “Egyptians,” i.e. mainly his U.S. leftist blog readers. In truth, Wallis himself was not previously talking about “democracy” for Egypt or other nations in the Middle East very much either. “My government, which still calls itself the beacon of freedom, has sacrificed democracy in your region of the world (and many other places) for American ‘interests,’” Wallis announced. “And our foreign policy around the globe has put our interests before our principles. But they are not really the interests of the American people, but of oil companies, big banks and corporations, and rich and powerful people.” Wallis warned ostensible young Egyptians not to listen to hypocritical U.S. policymakers but, by implication,” to listen instead to “veteran” activists like himself.

It’s doubtful that many Egyptian protesters were actively re-tweeting Jim Wallis’ broadcasts. And we can hope and pray that more discerning Egyptians will not embrace the anti-American and anti-Israel ideology that the U.S. Religious Left, at least as represented by Wallis and Professor Taylor, so eagerly tout. A successful Egypt will look to building its own democratic institutions, not succumb to the anti-American and anti-Israel conspiracy theories that the Egyptian media, even when controlled by Mubarak, have long peddled.

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Mark D. Tooley

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