“[I]t’s Incandescent Horse Shit” was the phrase utilized by the mathematician and philosopher, David Berlinski, to express his disgust and bewilderment at the pretensions of Alan Guth’s inflationary theory of Big Bang Cosmology.(1) Having noticed the blatant arbitrariness of the entire theory, its failings, and its Rube Goldberg like assembly(2), the normal equanimity of scholarly discourse failed him, and the luminance of supposed scientific insight was described in terms more appropriate to its substance, equine fecal excretions of pungent olfactory sense.
Berlinski is a skeptic’s skeptic. He has amassed a great deal of enemies in the scientific community mostly because he neither cares for their pugnaciousness nor their want of respect. I applaud and cheer him in every effort. One scientist found himself at the epistemological bottom when he said that Berlinski uses the “powers of doubt” to attack scientific pretensions to knowledge, this he found to be more of sophistry than critique. But “Doubt,” to capitalize it and thus embolden it with the power of a universal, is an essential component of scientific method, and is usually induced by someone waving red flags when they need to be waved. Berlinski holds a red flag in either hand, and waves them with great effect and great consequence.
I highlight the case of Berlinski because the phrase used by him in relation to Guth’s theory can as easily, and with greater severity, be used in the case of a book entitled A History of the Modern Middle East by William L. Cleveland. It is surely and unabashedly “Incandescent Horse shit.”
Laymen reviewers of the tome have complained that it is incredibly “detailed,” one women going on for almost a thousand words on Amazon.com complaining that the book was too expansive, and that it required foreknowledge of the region. It was not an introductory text, “do they have a Middle east for Dummies?” she queried. If not for the “selected bibliography” — a good way to tell that a book is not properly sourced, and thus not worthy of consideration beyond that of an Op-ed — I would have assumed Cleveland used as his only source the “Middle East for Dummies” edition.
The 500+ page exasperation qualifies as “Incandescent Horse Shit” in its entirety and I would be delighted if someone had the time and patience to dig through the manure. But here I will be referring to and elucidating Cleveland’s bias against the state of Israel and its formation. In this book, he carelessly omits relevant facts, diminishes Arab intransigence, and white washes the role of Islam as it relates to the formation, and rejection, of the state of Israel.
Let us begin with this sweeping declaration that encapsulates the entire perspective on the formation of Israel that this book provides:
Jewish immigration and land acquisition lay at the heart of the communal tension in Palestine. The Zionist objective was to build up the Jewish population of the mandate through unrestricted immigration so as to have a credible claim to the existence of a national home. In order to settle and feed the immigrants, it was necessary to acquire as much cultivable land as possible. In pursuit of these twin objectives, Zionism resembled a project of settler colonialism undertaken at the expense of the local Arab population. The Arabs of Palestine recognized that the goals of Zionism represented a threat to their existence and they opposed them by attempting to negotiate with Britain to restrict immigration and land transfers: when that tactic failed, they turned to armed revolt.(3)
Before engaging the facts, we need to first examine where the tone of the passage is propelling the reader. A historian’s credibility should be judged on the language he employs when presenting a situation — Jewish Immigration to Palestine — which spanned nearly 60 years. So when Cleveland proclaims that “Zionism resembled a project of settler colonialism undertaken at the expense of the local Arab population” and that “the Arabs of Palestine recognized that the goals of Zionism were a threat to their existence,” some Berlinski style flag waving must commence, and questions need to arise, and they need to arise immediately.
If Zionism resembled a project of colonial settlement at the Arab’s expense, who did the perceiving? And since it is in the past tense, who stood around in the mandate anywhere between 1882 (the first aliyah, which he alludes to but doesn’t mention, as it doesn’t fit the narrative of colonialism, as the Ottomans were in power then, and only western powers are colonial) and 1948 and said “this looks like colonialism,” wrote it down, and archived it, so that it can be cited as a credible disposition that occupied the minds of the Arabs? Also, when he maintains that Arabs “recognized” that this was a threat to their existence, in what ontological terms? As Arabs? As Palestinians? As human beings? And when he uses the leading term “recognized” instead of the more scholarly “believed” or “thought” or “were concerned” he is suggesting that the Jewish immigrations were, in fact, an objective threat that he, the Arabs, and the reader should also recognize as it relates to all three ontological categories. This line of thought can lead one to believe that the Jewish goal in the region was to ethnically cleanse the entire area, and a great number of people now believe it. But it is, in fact, “Incandescent Horse Shit” as the facts will demonstrate.
The first traces of foul odor can be detected in the conjecture that there were, at all times, and at every moment throughout the mandate, one centralized and homogeneous goal of the Jews, and one centralized homogeneous theme of concern or belief of the Arabs. This is false. When Theodore Herzl published Der Judenstaat in 1895, making the case for the necessity of the Jewish state, it was both novel and controversial within the European Jewish community. The expose made no implication as to where the Jewish state was to be located, but was an argumentative tract on its necessity, as Herzl writes:
The Jewish question persists wherever Jews live in appreciable numbers. Wherever it does not exist, it is brought in together with Jewish immigrants. We are naturally drawn into those places where we are not persecuted, and our appearance there gives rise to persecution. This is the case, and will inevitably be so, everywhere, even in highly civilised(sic) countries—see, for instance, France—so long as the Jewish question is not solved on the political level. The unfortunate Jews are now carrying the seeds of anti-Semitism into England; they have already introduced it into America.(4)
Jews had always maintained a presence in Palestine since the revolt against Rome in the 1st century CE., so any notion of colonialism fails, and as Alan Dershowitz writes:
Palestine was never without a significant well-documented Jewish Presence. By the time the ottoman Turks occupied Palestine in 1516, approximately 10,000 Jews lived in the Safed region alone. In the sixteenth century, according to British reports , “as many as 15,ooo Jews lived in Safed, which was “a center of Rabbinic learning.” Many more Jews lived in Jerusalem, Hebron, Acre, and other locations. Jerusalem, in fact has had a Jewish majority since the first population figures were gathered in the nineteenth century, and, according to the British consul in Jerusalem, the Muslims of Jerusalem “scarcely exceed(ed) one quarter of the whole population.” …. By the middle of the nineteenth century—thirty years before the first aliya of European Jews— Jews also constituted a significant presence, often a plurality or majority, in Safed, Tiberias and several other cities and towns.(5)
The increase in Jewish immigration was not always seen as a detrimental situation by many in the Arab community, and in many instances it actually caused the Arab population to swell, as Jewish innovation brought jobs and opportunity to the peasant Bedouins and Arabs.(6) The notion that there was any stable or consistent Palestinian people that felt “threatened” by Jewish immigration is false. In fact, many Arabs and other ethnic groups moved from places like Egypt and Turkey to Palestine after the Jews had built up the infrastructure on the land.(7)
As far as Cleveland’s claim that “Jewish immigration and land acquisition lay at the heart of the communal tension in Palestine” we can regard it as an unbelievably stupid thing to suggests given the above accounts, and is further diminished by the analyses given by Benny Morris, a historian who is thought to lean against the Zionist narrative, and is considered by many to be biased against Israel, when he stated:
“historians have concluded that only several thousand families were displaced following land sales to Jews between the 1880’s and 1930’s.” My emphasis(8)
Leave it to a scholar to interpret land sales as forced “displacement.” And as Alan Dershowitz surmises:
Even years later, when Jewish land purchases were increasing, it was found that “the quantity of Arab land offered for sale was far in excess of the Jewish ability to purchase.” A professional analysis of land purchases between 1880 and 1948 established that three quarters of the plots purchased by the Jews were from mega landowners rather than those who worked the soil. Even as pro-Palestinian a writer as Proffesor Rashid Khalidi acknowledges that there were considerable land sales by “absentee landlords.” David Ben Gurion, former Prime minister of Israel, instructed the Jewish refugees to never by land belonging to local “fellahs or worked by them.” I challenge anyone making a case against Israel to produce any objective data…that contradict this historic reality. (9)
As far as Jewish land acquisition being the “heart” of the tensions we can be safely assured that this was not the case. Jews brought more Arabs to the region, built the infrastructure, provided housing, hospitals and sewage systems, and in general made the region a more congenial place to live. If we are to establish the cause of the tension, then we must look elsewhere.
In the entire section under the heading 1929 not once does Cleveland say anything about the 1929 massacre of Jews in Hebron. The only thing referred to is the “Wailing wall Disturbance” where he characterizes the massacre of Jewish civilians and the subsequent riots as being “provoked” by Jewish demonstrations demanding equal access to the holy sites of Jerusalem, as Jerusalem had been claimed as a waqf by the Grand Mufti.
The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Amin AL-Husseini stirred up anti-Semitic riots on numerous occasions. This had very little to do with land, and a lot to do with the Mufti’s desire for power and his manipulation of the intolerance imbedded in Islamic culture. Rumors were spread that Jews were killing Arabs, and then there was an actual massacre of Jews. This cycle continued until the Jewish residents of the area finally armed themselves and began defending themselves for the first time in nearly 2000 years.
Cleveland’s book is full of “Incandescent horse shit” and it is lacking in actual analysis. The Grand Mufti, who was an adviser to Hitler(10), is said to have been “moderate.” That should be the quod erat demonstratum. But the real luminance here, the real crime, the real disturbing aspect, the one I saved for last, is that this book is required reading as an authoritative text on the Middle east for anyone studying to receive a Bachelors Degree in History from Kennesaw State University. This constitutes shameful and embarrassingly large piles of “Incandescent Horse Shit.”
8) Ibid. Page 25. Quoted by Dershowitz. Morris, Benny.
10)ibid. Page 40
I have often found myself astonished while perusing the multifarious and ancient narratives accounting of a great flood. From the Near east — the Sumerians, Babylonians, Egyptians — to Asia, the New World native traditions, and the Masai people of sub-Saharan Africa, and, of course, the ever cherished Noah, the ubiquity of these stories and their similarity is nothing short of amazing and perplexing.
The scholars have enlisted the aid of the psychologist. In an effort to dismiss everything and reveal nothing, scholars of ancient traditions explain the phenomenon in hopelessly confused terms. They claim that there may exist something in the human mind that acted forcefully, or experience which acted incidentally, on the ancient scribes that induced them to put to print stories of such global demolition, something of an arcane, perhaps limbic, reaction to the noticed contingencies of life — earth, wind, water, fire — and their potential for great benefit and great suffering. And like today, bad news is profitable news. Modern cynicism having been superimposed over the detailed and ancient sketches of human experience, they are reduced to mere mechanisms of political and social control. This is what scholars suggest, and it is suggested frequently.
Picking up on this tone, literary atheists and secular scholars chime with great enthusiasm that there exist no extra-biblical evidence that suggests the Israelite exodus from Egypt and subsequent conquest of Canaan occurred, or that the Kingdoms of David and Solomon were more than mere tribal chiefdoms. This is not true, as we will see in forthcoming posts. However, let us assume, for the sake of this exposé on the discipline, that it is true.
Archaeology is not in the business of ontological proofs. Lack of evidence should never be considered evidence of lack. When dealing with a text “innocent until proven guilty” should be the maxim of analyses, as the Historian and legal scholar J. W. Montgomery notes,
historical and literary scholarship continues to follow Aristotle’s dictum that the benefit of doubt is to be given to the document itself, not arrogated by the critic to himself. This means that one must listen to the claims of the document under analysis, and not assume fraud or error unless the author disqualifies himself by contradictions or known factual inaccuracies.
With this dictum in mind, one must ask the relevant question: is there any evidence that compromises or contradicts the historical narrative, as it concerns the exodus and conquest, of the Biblical text? There exists none. Not a scrap. Not even the semblance of circumstantial evidence.
Moving back to the flood narrative one should notice the contrasting principles of what is expected in the conquest narrative and what is provided in the flood narrative. A specific, extra biblical, category of evidence that is demanded in the case of the political and demographic accounts of the Israelite excursions, is reduced to the universal psychological superfluity of ancient man upon the demand being met in the ubiquity of the flood narrative. Arguments now follow like tipping dominoes. It is modern science, critics proclaim, that precludes any flood on a global or large regional scale. Meteorologist and geologist repeat this with one tongue, while the other pontificates with serpent like duplicity that if global warming is not addressed, much of the lower lying regions of the continents will soon be covered in water. Dismal science, meet Dismal theory. Ancient myth, meet modern theory.
That the multitude of accounts of diluent devastation might be veridical is dismissed because of the encroaching theological suggestions. That the biblical text may not be mere mythic flotsam in cases of historical events has led some secularist scholars to occupy themselves with the concern that people of reasonable faculties may be more inclined to take its theological superstructure into more serious consideration. They are correct in their fears. In a man disposed to see historic accuracy, visions of metaphysical congeniality, if not accuracy, are not far behind.
The duplicity and double standard that the bible is subjected to should be sorely disappointing, but it never is. Keep these considerations in mind for the following posts. We are dealing with a narcissism that has plagued men of intellectual posture for millenia, thus the Greek historian Thucydides writes in his Peloponnesian War,
“For though I have found it impossible, because of its remoteness in time, to acquire a really precise knowledge of the distant past or even of the history preceding our own period, yet, after looking back into it as far as I can, all the evidence leads me to conclude that these periods were not great periods either in warfare or in anything else.”
Thucydides’ calm admission of both certainty and ignorance should not be dismissed as the ancient ramblings of a nascent discipline. The most salient feature of the history of Historians is the presumption of knowledge while disposed to ignorance, if not arrogance.
In the 3rd century BCE a man of strong physique and penetrating intelligence made his way across the Sahara to Egypt. He was born in Cyrene, in modern day Libya. Having noted that the local surroundings were as dispossessed of intellect then as they are now, he left for Alexandria. One can see him in a robe of wool, linen maybe, perhaps a staff in hand, maybe on camel back. He wore sandals or went barefoot, as the dust of his path surrounded him in patterns of elegance that are so often the expected descriptors of a man of such mental magnanimity. The lines on his face revealed the scorched erosion of a hostile and unforgiving sun. His eyes were steady, sharp maybe, his mind dicing the very air he breathed.
Ptolemaic Egypt was a congenial place, at a congenial time. Chronologically ensconced between the height of Hellenism, and the pragmatic ravishing of Rome, it was a center of learned culture and political stability.
Eratosthenes of Cyrene came into influence in Alexandria. He studied there until his Ptolemaic patrons decided to give him a position in harmony with his prodigious mind. He was appointed as the chief of the Alexandrian library, the one that later mobs, in religious zest, so frightfully destroyed. He was good friends with Archimedes of Syracuse. The two men were separated by nearly a thousand sea miles, a situation revealing then, as now, that men of considerable intellect are few and far between.
Eratosthenes has many monumental achievements to his name; he was the founder of a scientific chronology, laying out the history of civilization since the Trojan war, year after languishing year of rise, fall, abandonment; he is credited with having invented the astrolabe, a model of the Ptolemaic solar system, along with it came the necessary lines of celestial longitude and latitude. He knew the earth was round; he calculated its circumference with stunning accuracy. The sun’s zenith in Syene, a city south of Alexandria, at the summer solstice was reported to be directly overhead. This was not to be unexpected, Syene lies on the tropic of cancer. What was unexpected, and only in the character of man to discern, is that Eratosthenes found something to derive from this observation. Back home in Alexandria, the sun’s position on the summer solstice is 7°12′ south of the zenith or 1/50 of the circumference of a circle. Assuming that the Earth was 360° the calculation of its circumference was a matter of simple geometry: 360°/7°12′ times the distance between Alexandria and Syene. His calculation was only hampered by the difficulty of measuring the exact distance between the two cities. Nonetheless, his calculations were only off by a mere 2%. The knowledge of the earth’s spherical dimensions was known then, and it was known in 1492.
Dwight D. Eisenhower is known by liberals as the man who warned about the “military industrial complex” and known by everyone else for everything that he did, and everything of substance. Conservatives lament his above statement, consoled by the fact that if the old boy was still around for the fall of the soviet empire, his tune would have whistled more congenially.
Eisenhower was the supreme allied commander in Europe during WW2 and oversaw the campaign all the way to the gates of Berlin. The American forces having liberated Dachau, along with medical aid, he immediately ordered that photographs and film be taken because as he stated “sometime in the future, some son of a bitch is going to say this never happened.” He was prescient and abrupt.
The man was paternal in a way that only Generals can be. He successfully negotiated the political and egoistic rivalry between a cheeky Victorian General Montgomery, and a stalwart, uncompromising Patton. Like two fighting siblings, they both threatened to tear the family apart. Only Eisenhower’s equanimity in the face of puerile infighting united the American and British forces to become the greatest military machine the world had ever seen.
The Invasion of Normandy was the greatest and largest amphibious assault undertaken by any army, at any time, and at anyplace, and still is to this day. The projected casualty count makes our current wars look like farmers skirmishing with 22 rifles. The entire might of two nations was in play, and the future of Europe and the world was at stake. This was certainly audacious, the outcome of the invasion was not clear. Clarity of success didn’t come until the first week, and it was almost a year more of fighting ahead. The night before the landing, Eisenhower penned two letters, a letter of resignation, and a letter of victory, metered praise, and hopeful determination. He sent and read the latter.
I have recounted the above almost entirely from memory, with a quick glance at a book to reacquaint myself with Eratosthenes’s method. Some may find the admission haughty. And it may be so. But it is for this reason that when I hear our current leader of the western world, Barack Obama, declare that people who are skeptical of the his ardent and undying eroticism with green energy, and are unimpressed with his unyielding attempts to thwart new drilling, “would have been members of the flat earth society in Columbus’s day,” I know that his rhetorical skill is as keen as his intellect is not. Or when I hear our bumbling vice president, whose very name induces both laughter and disdain, say that the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound was “the most audacious military operation in 500 years,” I am morally outraged at this repugnant political twerps demotion of the thousands of American, British, and Canadian soldiers and French resistance fighters that died in June of 1944. Or I am reminded of the raid on Entebbe; or the Spanish armada’s defeat; or Gettysburg, Antietam, Bull Run. The list of military campaigns exceeding that of the raid in Pakistan in both quality and scope is almost endless.
Obama is the type of demagogue that is all too comfortable both praising an unhistorical narrative—an intellectually courageous Columbus, a valiant explorer bringing Europe out of the dark ages and progressing it towards greater understanding—and at the same time lamenting its later effect, colonialism, he finds himself in a position of both utter ignorance and pernicious dubiousness. He knows one, but scant of the other. Perhaps if instead of reading Cornell West, he read Burke, Locke, Plato or Aristotle, his machinations of mendacity and intellectual pretensions would not make themselves readily apparent. We are now under the guidance of a man who knows not from where we came, dislikes what we are, and wants to lead us away from the very civilization that he is so uncompromisingly ignorant of.