On Dreams and Disconnects: the Ambiguities of a Liberal Sage


Suzanne Schneider in The LA Review of Books's Marginalia:

Before engaging Walzer’s argument in depth, it is worth noting that some might raise an eyebrow at the inclusion of Israel alongside India and Algeria as an instance of national liberation. In his review of the piece, Richard Falk notes that “India and Algeria were genuine liberation movements waged by indigenous nations to rid from the entire territorial space of their respective countries a deeply resented, exploitative, and domineering foreign presence.” Placing Israel in this category, while mostly ignoring the expulsion of Palestinian Arabs that its state formation entailed, “seems dubious, indeed polemical.” While I largely agree that Walzer’s personal support for Israel often overrides his own logic (more on that below), one of the peculiarities of Zionism is that, in the words of Ella Shohat, it constituted “a redemptive nationalist narrative vis-à-vis Europe and anti-Semitism and a colonialist narrative vis-à-vis the Arab people who ‘happened’ to reside in the place designated the Jewish homeland.” In my view, it is difficult to understand the internal reasoning of Israel without being attentive to the Janus-faced nature of Zionism, including the striking parallels between its political maneuvers and cultural production and those rooted in anti-colonial national struggles like India. None of this renders the nakba somehow inconsequential, but it does suggest that if we want to understand why Israel does the things it does, it is helpful to maintain a sense of historical simultaneity that either/or paradigms cannot quite accommodate. Within this context, Wazler’s comparison is not as misguided as it might initially seem.

With this in mind, let’s turn to the substance of the Walzer’s argument. Though it seems deceptively simple, the nuance of Walzer’s interpretation is best arrived at by understanding what he does not argue, as the general contours of his position might seem familiar at first glance. As he sees it, scholars have forwarded two prominent explanations to explain the salience, and indeed resurgence, of religious politics in post-colonial settings. The Marxist one, which he deems “more usefully wrong,” views nationalism as yet another form of false consciousness that shields the masses from recognizing their true material interests. Accordingly, “whatever the pretended opposition of nationalism and religious revival, these two reinforce each other, and they make for a narrow, parochial, and chauvinist politics.” The other explanation to gain credence in recent years is the post-colonial stance that regards fundamentalist religion as both a byproduct of colonial rule and the “dark twin” of national liberation.

More here.