Monday, July 5, 2010

Brains Overboard: The Tribal Mentality

"Several of the victims of an Israeli raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla were shot in the head from above, presumably from a helicopter, according to the forensics report released Monday by a human rights group." (Flotilla victims shot from Israeli chopper, Turkish report shows,, 29/6/10)

"All but two of the 9 Turks killed in an Israeli raid on a Gaza-bound aid ship were shot more than once, and 5 died from bullet wounds to the head, according to forensic reports... The 9 volunteers were shot a total of 31 times, according to the documents." (Forensics: Turks shot multiple times on Gaza-bound ship,, 29/6/10)

"Activists on board a six-ship flotilla carrying aid to the Gaza Strip tried to lynch the the Israel Navy commandos who boarded their Turkish-flagged boat early Monday, Israel Defense Forces sources told Haaretz on Monday afternoon. At least 9 people were killed and several more were wounded in the fighting that erupted aboard one of the ships." (Israel Navy commandos: Gaza flotilla activists tried to lynch us, Amos Harel, Haaretz, 31/5/10)

Israeli talking points aside, how to explain the disparity between the data revealed in the Turkish forensic report on the Gaza flotilla massacre victims and the earlier Israeli story?

Glenn Greenwald's must-read The Israeli flotilla attack: victimhood, aggression & tribalism (, 3/6/10) is as good an explanation as any. Some excerpts:

"How could anyone with the slightest intellectual honesty claim... that armed Israeli commandos were the victims of unarmed civilian passengers; or, more generally, that a nuclear-armed Israel with the most powerful military by far in the Middle East and the world's greatest superpower acting as Protector is the persecuted victim of a wretched, deprived, imprisoned, stateless population devastated by 40 years of brutal Israeli occupation and, just a year ago, an unbelievably destructive invasion and bombing campaign? The casting of 'victim' and 'aggressor' is blatantly reversed with such claims - which is exactly the central premise that has been driving, and continues to drive, US foreign policy as well. In Imperial Ambitions, Noam Chomsky - talking about America's post-9/11 policies - described the central mental deception that is at the heart of all nations which dominate others with force: 'In one of his many speeches, to US troops in Vietnam, [President Lyndon] Johnson said plaintively, 'There are 3 billion people in the world and we have only 200 million of them. We are outnumbered 15 to 1. If might did make right, they would sweep over the United States and take what we have. We have what they want'. That is a constant refrain of imperialism. You have your jackboot on someone's neck and they're about to destroy you. The same is true with any form of oppression. And it's psychologically understandable. If you're crushing and destroying someone, you have to have a reason for it, and it can't be, 'I'm a murderous monster'. It has to be self-defense. 'I'm protecting myself against them. Look what they're doing to me'. Oppression gets psychologically inverted; the oppressor is the victim who is defending himself.'

"Thus nuclear-armed Israel is bullied and victimized by starving Gazans with stones. The Israel Navy is threatened by a flotilla filled with wheelchairs and medicine. And the greatest superpower the Earth has ever known faces a grave and existential threat from a handful of religious fanatics hiding in caves. An American condemnation of Israel, as welcome as it would have been, would be an act of senseless insincerity, because the two countries (along with many others) operate with this 'we-are-the-victim' mindset.

"A prime cause of this inversion is the distortion in perception brought about by rank tribalism. Those whose worldview is shaped by their identification as members of a particular religious, nationalistic, or ethnic group invariably over-value the wrongs done to them and greatly under-value the wrongs their group perpetrates. Those whose worldview is shaped by tribalism are typically plagued by extreme persecution complex (the whole world is against us!!!; everyone who criticizes us is hateful and biased!!!) Haaretz today reports that 'Jewish Republicans and Democrats in the US gave a rare demonstration of unity on Wednesday when they backed Israel's raid of a Gaza-bound humanitarian aid flotilla'. Gee, whatever could account for that 'rare demonstration of unity' between these left-wing Jewish progressives and hard-core, Jewish right-wing war cheerleaders who agree on virtually nothing else? My, it's such a mystery. I can't express how many emails I've received over the last week, from self-identified Jewish readers (almost exclusively), along the lines of: 'I'm a true progressive, agree with you on virtually every issue, but hate your views on Israel'... On this one issue, they magically abandon their opposition to military attacks on civilians, their defense of weaker groups being bullied and occupied by far stronger factions, their belief that unilateral military attacks are unjustified, and suddenly find common cause with Charles Krauthammer, The Weekly Standard, and the Bush administration in justifying even the most heinous Israeli crimes of aggression.

"It will never cease to be mystifying (at least to me) that they never question why they suddenly view the world so differently when it comes to Israel. They never wonder to themselves: I had it continuously drummed into my head from the time I was a small child, from every direction, that Israel was special and was to be cherished, that it's fundamentally good but persecuted and victimized by Evil Arab forces surrounding it, that I am a part of that group and should see the world accordingly. Is this tribal identity, which was pummeled into me from childhood - rather than some independent, dispassionate analysis - the reason I find myself perpetually sympathizing with and defending Israel?

"Doesn't the most minimal level of intellectual awareness - indeed, the concept of adulthood itself - require that analysis? And, of course, the 'self-hating' epithet - with which I've naturally been bombarded relentlessly over the last week - is explicitly grounded in the premise that one should automatically defend one's 'own group' rather than endeavour to objectively assess facts and determine what is right and true. This tribalism is hardly unique to Israel and Jews; it's instead universal. As the Bush years illustrated, there is no shortage of Americans who 'reason' the same way."

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