White Guilt & the Middle East

I was led to this article by my trawling through the blogosphere, and was reminded that Rick Lowe made a note of Shelby Steele's book White Guilt some time ago.Now I am familiar with Steele's work, having once been an avid subscriber to Harper's Magazine, and still having a fondness for that magazine, specially for its Index. And I admire Steele for being an African-American intellectual who doesn't parrot the party line.That doesn't mean I agree with him.In this article, he has a point. I would agree with him here, only I would substitute the word "bigot" for his word "anti-Semite":

The anti-Semite is always drawn to the hatred of Jews by his own unacknowledged inadequacy. As Sartre says in his great essay on the subject, the anti-Semite "is a man who is afraid. Not of Jews of course, but of himself." By hating Jews, he asserts that his own group represents the kind of human being that God truly wants. His group is God's archetype, the only authentic humanity, already complete and superior. No striving or self-reflection is necessary. If Jews are superior in some ways, it is only out of their alienated striving, their exile from God's grace. For the anti-Semite, hating and fighting Jews is both self-affirmation and a way of doing God's work.So the anti-Semite comes to a chilling place: He easily joins himself to evil in order to serve God.

But I would differ with him regarding the concept — implicit in his article — that white oppression is over, or that it is so incidental today as to be insignificant. I may be spouting liberal blahblah here, but I do not buy the argument that Israel is merely a defender of its territory. It's true that Palestine seems paralyzed by its victimhood, yes, much in the same way that African Americans and even some Bahamians use the idea of oppression to justify stagnation. But we cannot forget that Israel is the only nuclear power in the region, and that until this war, fought all battles with superior firepower. What is frightening to it is that for the first time in a generation its enemy appeared to be evenly matched with it.Further, I resist Steele's idea that this love of death is a particularly Muslim thing. Fundamentalist, perhaps; human, surely. The love of glory and honour in death being exhibited by today's suicide bombers is no different from the love of glory and death-for-God practised by white Europeans during the Crusades.What makes the difference now is the fact that the love of life comes from comfort and material wealth, and that, no matter what arguments are put forward, people who see them but don't share in them become desparate. I do not believe for one moment that Bin Laden wishes martyrdom upon himself. Rather, he is expert at turning the desperation of young men who have nothing — no identity, no homeland, no wealth, no future — into his very own weapon of mass destruction.We Bahamians should take heed. After all, there is not a huge difference between the plight of the Palestinian Arab or the young men who identify with him and the plight of the child of Haitian parentage growing up in today's Bahamas. White guilt is not the key here, though it may play some part in masking the real problem. At the bottom of this struggle is that good old Marxist bugaboo — class.