Judith Butler, renounce the Adorno Prize

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Dear Judith Butler,

I have recently read up on the controversy surrounding your getting the Adorno Prize. After an initial survey of the field, I think you need to seriously consider the criticism leveled against you. Even those who do not question your sincerity, worry about your judgment. Their case is strong. Although you disassociated yourself from Hamas and Hizbullah’s violence, you did stress the “extreme” importance of “understanding [them] as social movements that are progressive, that are on the Left, that are part of a global Left.”

Does that mean you have no strong objections about their pervasive misogyny, their blatant homophobia, their cult of death, their genocidal discourse? They are the antithesis of everything we on the global Left stand for: the dignity of voluntary human interaction. They display all the most prominent of the totalitarian impulses that imprisoned minds and murdered tens of millions in the last century. How can you not denounce the shocking notion that a group pervaded by such violently regressive attitudes, be even thought of as “social movements that are progressive.” What about them is progressive?

You clarify: “They are “left” in the sense that they oppose colonialism and imperialism, but their tactics are not ones that I would ever condone.” Later, you clarify further: they “define themselves as anti-imperialist, and anti-imperialism is one characteristic of the global left, so on that basis one could describe them as part of the global left.” This is, you assure us, a purely descriptive, even academic position.

Are you serious? Do you know what these groups formally believe? Have you read Hamas’ charter (which considers your solution an abomination)? Do you not know of the imperialism of global Islamism? Have you even checked to see if they’re perhaps not against imperialism in all its forms, like you, but only against the imperialism of others? Would it make a difference to your thinking if it turns out they’re a ferocious strain of monotheist imperialism, embracing one of the most destructive beliefs in the history of humanity?

Honestly, do you really believe that the people who join these groups share the anti-hierarchical, anti-domineering values of the civic culture you, we all, thrive in? The signs are everywhere that, “no.” They are violently hostile to every one of your espoused concerns. Indeed, even as we carry on this conversation, violent imperial Islamists drive Christians and Jews from lands they’ve inhabited for millennia, while moderate Muslims are cowed into submission.

How on earth can you make a mistake as huge as to say: they say they’re anti-imperialist so that makes them “arguably” on the progressive, global left? Who are so uninformed on these matters that they’d even make so foolish an argument, and why on earth do you cede to them? This is not serious scholarship; it is “academic” only if that word has become a synonym for principled gullibility.

You claim that you are not a representative of the left, that there are lots of elements of the Left that you do not approve of. What kind of cowardly retreat is that? Your entire audience is on the “Left.” That’s where you get you kudos. And when it’s time to criticize them, you absent yourself? It’s a fundamental Jewish principle – diaspora and Zionist – “do not stand idly by on your neighbor’s blood” (Lev. 19:16). And yet, all of a sudden you want to be a by-stander while your comrades go after the violent deities of “destroying the world to save it”?

You claim to understand the criticism of your work, even though you say it’s not articulated very well. Really? It’s cogently articulated, both without reference to your particular case, and directly about you. You think your critics accuse you of anti-Semitism, and that they’ll do that to anyone who criticizes Israel. Instead, the criticism is that you, and some others, go so far overboard in your hyper-criticism of Israel, that you scapegoat her, even as you deny the threat to your people. In so doing, you empower the real anti-Semites and their genocidal impulses. In other words, you’re the dupe of enemies of your people, diasporic as well as Zionist. If you, who declined the Berlin Pride award out of concern that “bi, trans and queer people can be used by those who want to wage war,” should you not also ask yourself if others, even possibly the most high-minded of Jews, also can suffer that fate. You say we need to recognize and fight anti-Semitism in all its forms. Start with your own comrades. (Or is it only right-wing warmongers that disturb you?)

Indeed, you actually missed a great opportunity that day in Berkeley (and so many times since). You could have stood up for all the values of the “progressive Left” and certainly of anyone committed to a global civil society. Instead, you punted. You spoke not a word of rebuke; you granted the key premise; you mumbled your objections to some vaguely defined violence for the record. What you should have said is, “OMG no! These groups are the antithesis of our values.”

So, alright. It happens. We all have moments when we should have spoken and failed to find the words. Everyone has a volume of their ésprit de l’escalier tucked away in the memories of embarrassment. We all have moments that we rue, when we failed to speak truth to power.

In Berkeley that day in September 2006, you made the same mistake that the Iranian communists did in 1400 AH, when they allied with Khoumeini. You allowed people who embraced revolutionary violence of the most revolting kind, to use you to Jew-wash their violent hatreds. You not only failed to distance yourself from the emperor’s new clothes (a “revolution” of hatred and violence), you failed a moment of redemptive performativity, to make a transformative intervention in the global Left movement that thinks it seeks collective redemption but was (and is, alas!) pursuing a self-destructive path. You failed to perform a true tikkun of the world of social justice, and instead you empowered the sitra achra, a world of violence and oppression.

So surely, you can understand if you can’t speak out against such terrifying behavior and beliefs, but do not hesitate to pour existential accusations against Israel, some people think you’re reckless, especially those who live with the violent forces you identified as “socially progressive” (!). In these Israeli victims’ experience, H&H are explicitly anti-Semitic groups by the most stringent definition – genocidal, delirious, paranoid.

Sadly, the only thing that H&H have in common with the global Left today is their anti-Zionism and anti-Americanism, arguably some of the ugliest manifestations of progressive thought in the 21st century. For all their hegemonic political and military deeds, the USA and Israel represent two of the most fruitful hot-houses of progressive techniques and initiatives in every major area of the social and ecological fabric, local, national, and international, and their armies try to adhere to the most stringent moral standards. Unlike H&H, Israel and the US have cultures pervaded by a progressive ethos.

On that day in Berkeley, in that moment of failure, you comforted to your people’s merciless enemies, and as a Jew, betrayed them. Why did you do it? Ultimately only you can know.

Were you intimidated (which is why your response has so many “uh”s)? The atmosphere in later 2006 still reeked of the waves of riots that, starting with the vandalism throughout the French Zones Urbaines Sensibles a year earlier, had given way to a global wave of violence and its threat, in response to the Muhammad Cartoons, six months earlier. Maybe, like Yale University Press, you didn’t have the courage to speak out, in your case, against this crazy alliance on the Left.

Can you recognize that your critics are sincere, that they are human beings who really feel pain and fear? Can you acknowledge that your own people have real and remorseless enemies? Can you realize that you are the one now dehumanizing a people and paving the way to their extermination?

If you can, you will refuse the Adorno Prize.

Then, let us have a conversation. Come to Israel for a year and speak primarily with people who disagree with you. You’re very smart, you’ll actually learn a lot.

Richard Landes, who, with his friends, welcomes you to Israel for a serious discussion of Judaism, Tikkun Olam, and the state of the world today.

Judith Butler, renounce the Adorno Prize

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AUTHOR

Richard Landes

Richard Allen Landes is an American historian and author, specializing in Millennialism. He retired from teaching history at Boston University in the Spring of 2015. He currently serves as the Chair of the Council of Scholars at SPME.

His work focuses on the role of religion in shaping and transforming the relationships between elites and commoners in various cultures. He has coined the expression "demotic religiosity," an orientation that prizes 1) equality before the law, 2) dignity of manual labor, 3) access to sacred texts and divinity for all believers, and 4) a prizing of moral integrity over social honor. Trained as a medievalist, his early work focused on the period around 1000 CE, a moment, in his opinion, of both cultural mutation (origins of the modern West), and intense apocalyptic and millennial expectations.

From 1995-2004, he directed the Center for Millennial Studies at Boston University which held annual conferences and published an online journal, Journal of Millennial Studies. This involvement refocused his work on millennialism the world over and in different time periods, and has resulted in the Encyclopedia of Millennialism and Millennial Movements, (Berkshire Reference Works; Routledge, NY, 2000); Heaven on Earth: The Varieties of the Millennial Experience (Oxford U. Press, 2011), and The Paranoid Apocalypse: A Hundred-Year Retrospective on the Protocols of the Elders of Zion (NYU Press, 2011).

His work on the apocalyptic currents that built up during the approach to 2000 has led him to focus on Global Jihad as an apocalyptic millennial movement, whose relationship to the internet may parallel that of Protestantism to printing, and whose active cataclysmic apocalyptic scenario (Destroy the world to save it), makes it potentially one of the most dangerous apocalyptic movements on record.

In addition to his courses on medieval history, he offered courses on

Europe and the Millennium,

Communications Revolutions from Language to Cyberspace

Honor-shame culture Middle Ages, Middle East

The Biblical origins of the Democracy.

In 2011, he is a fellow at the International Consortium on Research in the Humanities at Alexander University, Erlangen, Germany. There he is working on the study with which his medieval work first began, the history of the “sabbatical millennium” with its expectation of the messianic kingdom in the year 6000 from the creation of the world: While God Tarried: Demotic Millennialism from Jesus to the Peace of God, 33-1033.

In 2005 he launched a media-oversight project called The Second Draft in order to look at what the news media calls their “first draft of history.” Since January 2005 he has been blogging at The Augean Stables, a name chosen to describe the current condition of the Mainstream News Media (MSNM) in the West.

As a result of this work on the MSNM, he has come to understand the role of cognitive warfare in the campaign of apocalyptic Jihad against the West in the 21st century, and the abysmal record of the West in defending itself in this critical theater of War. He plans a book addressing these issues tentatively entitled They’re so Smart cause We’re so Stupid: A Medievalist’s Guide to the 21st Century. 

Books

  • Landes, Richard A.; Head, Thomas J. (eds.) (1987). Essays on the Peace of God : the church and the people in eleventh-century France. Waterloo, Ontario: Waterloo University. OCLC18039359.
  • Landes, Richard A.; Paupert, Catherine (trans.) (1991). Naissance d'Apôtre: Les origines de la Vita prolixior de Saint Martial de Limoges au XIe siècle. Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols. 9782503500454.
  • Landes, Richard A.; Head, Thomas J. (eds.) (1992). The Peace of God: social violence and religious response in France around the year 1000. Ithaca, N.Y: Cornell University Press. ISBN 080142741X.
  • Landes, Richard A. (1995). Relics, apocalypse, and the deceits of history: Ademar of Chabannes, 989-1034. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. ISBN 0674755308.
  • Landes, Richard A. (ed.) (2000). Encyclopedia of millennialism and millennial movements. New York: Routledge. ISBN 0415922461.
  • Landes, Richard A.; Van Meter, David C.; Gow, Andrew Sydenham Farrar (2003). The apocalyptic year 1000: religious expectation and social change, 950-1050. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195111915.
  • Landes, Richard A. (2011). Heaven on Earth: The Varieties of the Millennial Experience. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Landes, Richard A.; Katz, Stephen (eds.). The Paranoid Apocalypse: A Hundred Year Retrospective on The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. New York: New York University Press.


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