Lindy West, intersectional victim

We saw on Tuesday that New York Times contributor Lindy West is preoccupied with her status as a woman – and thus a member of a certified victim group. We’ve seen her beat up on male comics for daring to tell jokes that (she claims) hurt her feelings as a woman.

Lindy West

But she also belongs to another victim group. In a May 2016 piece for the Guardian she writes about being fat. Just as she doesn’t like the way men treat women, she doesn’t like the way non-fat people treat fat folks. Fat people are “infantilise[d]” and “desexualise[d].” They are viewed as “helpless babies enslaved by their most capricious cravings.” They “don’t know what’s best for them.” They “need to be guided and scolded like children.”

But of course fat women have it worse than fat men. Intersectionality, you see. Society, she argues, has a “monomaniacal fixation on female thinness.” Having started off talking about being fat, she takes a detour into the topic of being female:

Women matter. Women are half of us. When you raise women to believe that we are insignificant, that we are broken, that we are sick, that the only cure is starvation and restraint and smallness; when you pit women against one another, keep us shackled by shame and hunger, obsessing over our flaws, rather than our power and potential; when you leverage all of that to sap our money and our time – that moves the rudder of the world. It steers humanity toward conservatism and walls and the narrow interests of men….

And so on. This sort of thing, of course, writes itself. There is nothing new here. West seems to think she is some kind of oracle, but in fact she is nothing more than a fount of cliches on the subject of group victimhood.

James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano

Anyway, she then returns to the subject of being fat. She’s been fat all her life. She doesn’t see it as a health issue, or a matter of self-control. No, it’s all about prejudice and the male gaze.

“The ‘perfect body’ is a lie,” she writes. “As a kid,” she complains, “I never saw anyone remotely like myself on TV….There simply were no young, funny, capable, strong, good fat girls. A fat man can be Tony Soprano, he can be Dan from Roseanne [a character played by John Goodman]….But fat women were sexless mothers, pathetic punch lines or gruesome villains.”

What? What about Roseanne herself? She’s not all that heavy now, but back when her sitcom was first on TV, she was at least as big as Dan. And her character was the very definition of funny, capable, strong, and good. 

Roseanne, in her own overweight days

West proceeds to carry out a rather jejune survey of fat females in popular culture. It’s not worth going into here. The point is that when West writes about being fat, it’s entirely about being a victim.

As one reader comment on her piece put it: “We need to find ways of curing the obesity epidemic…instead of going on about fat being beautiful and obesity not being an issue at all.”

Aziz Ansari

Lindy West writes a lot, but pretty much everything she’s written is a version of the couple of pieces we’ve discussed here. For example, we’ve already seen West slam male comics for sexism; on January 1 of this year, the New York Times ran an item by West in which she called out stand-up comedian Aziz Ansari for a recently reported date-gone-wrong episode in which he had behaved in a tasteless, immature manner, although his conduct fell far short of rape. We’ve seen her go on about being fat; well, in July 2015, the Guardian ran a piece by her headlined “My wedding was perfect – and I was fat as hell the whole time.” Subhead: “As a fat woman, you are told to disguise, shrink or flatter your body. But I wasn’t going to hide at my wedding – the older I get, the harder it is to depoliticise simple acts.” Like most of her work, that essay went on forever, even though everything she had to say was in the headline and subhead.

Ricky Gervais

It goes on. Want more about sexism? Writing in the Times this year on the day before the Academy Awards ceremony, West complained about the depiction of women in Hollywood films and cheered the #metoo movement. Want more about how nasty male comics are? On March 28 she resumed whining about members of that profession, this time singling out Ricky Gervais. Headline: “The World Is Evolving and Ricky Gervais Isn’t.” Evolving in what way? Well, in the sense that more and more white men are taking orders from scolds like Lindy West. West sneered at those who worry about politically correct censorship on campus, who use the word “snowflake” to label people like herself who are constantly calling out supposed acts of verbal oppression, and who claim to be defending free speech. “What they’re actually reacting to,” West insisted, “is the message deep at the heart of the March for Our Lives, of Black Lives Matter, of the Women’s March: The world is bigger than you, and it belongs to us too.”

Mao Zedong

Needless to say, this is stupid stuff – pure ideological claptrap. Empty calories. But its stupidity doesn’t keep it from also being scary stuff. Idiots like Lindy West, who are incapable of thinking past these trendy categories, slogans, and buzzwords, are little more than would-be Thought Police, the contemporary heirs of the engineers of Mao’s Cultural Revolution. Thanks to people like West, more and more first-class comedians are deciding not to perform at colleges, because they know that any joke that isn’t tame and PC will be greeted with groans, protests, or much worse. Thanks to people like West, more and more high-school boys are deciding against going on to college, because the atmosphere at American colleges has become toxically anti-male. And the poison that has already infected campuses is quickly spreading, thanks to the likes of West, into the general culture – making the free exchange of ideas very difficult indeed, and turning real humor into a crime.

Gil Anidjar, serial liar

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Gil Anidjar

Yesterday we met Gil Anidjar, a professor at Columbia University who’s famous for his so-called “Hate” course. In 2005, Hugh Fitzgerald wrote that the “Hate” course was about two things. First, Europe’s creation of “the Other” in two forms, Arab and Jew. Second, Europe’s persecution of “inoffensive Arabs” and Jews, which, in Anidjar’s view, is the root cause of all current tensions between those two groups. “In other words,” wrote Fitzgerald, “Jew and Arab are equally victims – not of each other, except insofar as each ‘creates’ the other in imitation of the ur-villain Europe, that has ‘created’ both Jew and Arab as the enemy. In Gil Anidjar’s world, European history is replete with hatred – equal hatred – and persecution – equal persecution – of the Jew and of the Arab. This equality in suffering is central to his world view.”

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Columbia University

As Fitzgerald pointed out, the only problem with Anidjar’s concept of Jews and Arabs as equal victims of European prejudice is outrageously ahistorical. The Jews, a non-violent people, were in fact unfair victims, subjected to more than a millennium of hatred and oppression while trying to live peaceful lives in the midst of European societies. By contrast, the Arabs, “or rather the Muslims,” were an outside force, an enemy, that persisted in waging war against Europe “until finally Muslim power came to an end in 1492” in Iberia and 1683 in the Balkans.

Fitzgerald reminds us, moreover, that “for a thousand years, Arab raiders went up and down the coasts, not only on the Mediterranean, but as far north as Ireland and Iceland, and razed and looted whole villages, and kidnapped…about 1 million white Europeans (and killed many more) who were taken back to North Africa, enslaved, and forcibly converted.” Jews did no such things, needless to say.

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Ramallah, West Bank

Fitzgerald writes that Anidjar “fails to understand the threat that Muslims continued to pose, for roughly a thousand years, through these raiding and slaving expeditions,” all of them “impelled by the doctrine of jihad-conquest that is in Qur’an, hadith, and sira.” During those thousand-odd years, while Muslims were aggressors, Jews were universally victims of aggression. In Europe, they were tormented and oppressed by Christians; in the Maghreb and the Levant, including their own Holy Land, Muslim armies conquered Jewish communities in the same way that they conquered Christian communities, subjecting the inhabitants to slaughter, enslavement, or the systematic subordinate status known as dhimmitude. Is Anidjar, as Fitzgerald suggests, unaware of all this? We suspect not. Anidjar, we believe, is fully aware of all this history, and has chosen to replace the historical facts with his own fantasies in order to present Christian Europeans exclusively as colonial oppressors, to present historical Jews as the victims solely of Christian Europeans, to present modern Jews as calculating characters who, in the name of self-preservation, have sold out their own heritage in order to identify with the Western imperialists, and to present Arabs and Muslims as pure victims, then and now.  

In short, Anidjar is selling an outrageous set of historical whoppers – in Fitzgerald’s words, “a fiction, an ideological hippogriff, created only so that ‘the Arab’ may claim for himself, at the hands of Europe, a false victimhood, based on the real victimhood of Jews.” It is this set of lies that Anidjar has made a career of spreading throughout his tenure at Columbia University. That his propagandizing should be allowed to go by the name of teaching is nothing less than a disgrace; and that any of this should be happening at what is widely considered a great American university all but beggars belief.

Gil Anidjar: Ph.D. in hate

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Gil Anidjar

Last week we med Hamid Dabashi, a professor of Iranian Studies at Columbia University who – well, just scroll down and you’ll see what he’s been up to over the years. Today we’re moving on to one of his colleagues in Columbia’s Department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures (MEALAC). His name: Gil Anidjar.

Anidjar’s anti-Israel credentials are manifold. In 2009, he took part in a pro-Palestinian “teach-in” that called for “divestment from the Israeli occupation.” In 2014, he joined several other prominent professors of Middle Eastern Studies (including Dabashi) in pledging to boycott Israeli institutions of higher education.

From time to time, Anidjar has taught a course called “Hate.” The course’s premise is that European history can be understood as nothing more or less than a series of persecutions of “The Other,” notably Jews and Arabs, and that these persecutions are responsible for the hostility between those two groups.

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Columbia University

To analyze the relationship between Jews and Arabs in this manner, of course, is to reduce all relationships between non-Western cultures to – and to blame all the problems in those relationships on – Western imperialism and colonialism. This is, needless to say, a thoroughly ahistorical way of explaining the relationship of Jews and Arabs, or, if you will, Judaism and Islam. It erases the destructive role of violent Islamic conquest during the immediate post-Mohammedan era, which in today’s academy is (shall we say) an unwelcome topic, and replaces it with a generic, academically acceptable Orientalism on the part of Europeans.

Anidjar has also taught a class called “Semites: Race, Religion, Literature.” In it, he argues that Arabs are “the last Semites and the only Semites,” which is basically a slick way of trying to delegitimize Israel. Anidjar further argues that while Arab Muslims are still attached to their religion, Jews “have in fact become Western Christians,” and have thereby wiped out their own religious and ethnic identity – thus rendering them undeserving of their own nation.

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Jerusalem

What, then, to make of Israel? Isn’t it the ancient homeland of the Jews? Well, not as far as Anidjar is concerned. In his view, it’s nothing more or less than “a colonial enterprise, a colonial settler state.” In other words, an outpost of Europe, an inappropriate Western incursion into Arab territory.

By contrast, Anidjar fully rejects the idea that there’s anything whatsoever wrong with Islam: “Can anyone seriously claim,” he asks, “that the problem with Islamic countries is Islam?” While pressuring Columbia University to divest itself of any financial connections to Israel, Anidjar has urged his colleagues and students to align themselves more strongly with the Palestinian cause.

There’s more. In 2005, Hugh Fitzgerald wrote a savvy piece about Anidjar’s notorious “Hate” course. We’ll get to that tomorrow.