July 22, 2002

Simon Tisdall Said What?

One of the nice things about the developing wired intellectual culture is that one is required to link to whatever one is criticizing--and so people can immediately surf over and see if your summary of it is accurate. The hope is that misrepresentation and sleaze will be harder if people can--and many will--check whether your summary is fair.

I don't like the Guardian's general take on how to deal with our current problem of wholesale terrorism. So I didn't necessarily expect to find something amiss when I clicked through to check on Andrew Sullivan's giving the "Sontag Award" to Simon Tisdall...

www.AndrewSullivan.com - Daily Dish

"It has taken the IRA 30 years to apologise. Let us hope it does not take the Israelis and Palestinians so long, writes Simon Tisdall." - The Guardian, equating IRA terrorism with Israel's self-defense. I wonder why he doesn't ask for Britain and Ireland to apologize to the IRA as well. Oh, never mind...

...but I guess I should have expected to find something amiss. Here are Tisdall's nut paragraphs:

...without time - time to stop, pause, think, reconsider and change - those most directly involved in the conflict could never have hoped to see the day that finally dawned in Dublin last Tuesday.

The sorrow and the pity is that it took 30 years.

Those committed to violence in Israel and Palestine should look at Northern Ireland this week and also take a moment to pause and think. Just as at various times, over various issues, Britain has apologised to Ireland, the US to the formerly enslaved of Africa, Japan to Korea and China, and the Germans to almost everybody, so, too, will Arabs and Israelis one day apologise to each other for all the harm that they have done.

When that day comes, people will surely once again look back and wonder why it took so long and what was the point of all the bloodshed, the purpose of all the tears.

Some date the conflict from 1948 and Israel's creation, some from the 1967 war and Israel's seizure of the West Bank. But after several years of faltering peace talks, the current intifada began less than two years ago. Must it now continue, like Northern Ireland, for another 28 years before the guns are finally put aside?

It is a peculiarly human conceit to believe that a given cause to which one is committed is unique, unprecedented, non-negotiable and irreducible. It is a particular fact of human history that this almost never proves to be the case.

All disputes, however entrenched and however principled, are settled in the end. But in the modern era of international law, the United Nations and global interdependency, the aim must be to settle them peacefully and as quickly as possible. Brute force and superior power no longer confers legitimacy and diminishes those who resort to it. Many sensible people in Israel and Palestine fully understand this - but at present, their voices are drowned out by explosions.

Yet even for Palestine and Israel, peace can and will happen one day. It is just a matter of time.

The sorrow and the pity is that it still seems so far away.

Rather different from Sullivan's " equating IRA terrorism with Israel's self-defense," isn't it. I don't agree with Tisdall's column--it hides the fact that just as the principal obstacle to peace in Northern Ireland was the IRA's apocalyptic and murderous fantasies that terror could produce the forcible absorption of Northern Ireland into the Irish Republic, so the principal obstacle to peace in the Middle East today is the PA's fantasy that suicide bombings would serve their interest. But it doesn't say what Sullivan says it says.

So the key question: why doesn't the existence of the link--the ease with which one's claims can be checked--enforce intellectual honesty? It's a big puzzle.

Posted by DeLong at July 22, 2002 10:10 AM | TrackBack


I wonder, have you ever heard of Irgun or the Stern gang? Are you unfamiliar with the many acts of terrorism committed by the Israeli IDF? These weren't acts of self-defense: they are terrorism pure and simple.

Posted by: Jim Candom on July 22, 2002 10:21 AM

And the point is? That Arafat's breaking his Oslo Accord promise to follow the road of politics rather than that of terrorism was a good thing?

"Your ancestors killed my ancestors so I'm going to kill you!" is precisely the kind of thinking that Simon Tisdall is condemning. It's ironic and sad that you resort to it so quickly, and don't seem to get Tisdall's point.

Brad DeLong

Posted by: Brad DeLong on July 22, 2002 10:53 AM

Referring to your question: I suspect that the answer lies in the fact that a) most people don't click through and b) those who do are already self-selected to agree with the blogger's (in this case, Sullivan's) point of view. This latest Sullivan-bash (we need a new term desperately) is a case in point; I'm not reading this on Dynamist or Instapundit.

Then there's Posner's contention from Public Intellectuals that all public intellectualizing should be viewed as entertainment anyway, so this is to most readers no more serious than the Enterprise making a "whooshing" sound as it enters warp speed or TIE fighters screaming through space.

Posted by: Paul on July 22, 2002 12:10 PM

My Arab Israeli friend told me that the principal obstacle to peace is Israelis' illusion that they impose a humiliating compromise on Pateslinians by force. His thinking was that an Arab would typically prefer death over humiliation. As far as he is concerned, he's long left his country because he has lost any hope for peace and is disgused about both sides (yes, both.)

As about the key question: seems to me that disclosing the horrible stuff that enters mass production cookies has never prevented most consumers from using them as stapple food... This is also a bit of a mistery to me.

Thing is: People don't actually read labels and wouldn't know what to think about them anyway. So, please keep educating people and fostering a healthy economic-political debate, Professor DeLong, you can't go wrong with that.

Posted by: Jean-Philippe Stijns on July 22, 2002 01:20 PM

You imply that Andrew Sullivan is being intellectually dishonest, despite linking to tisdall's comments. Isn't it more likely that Andy simply doesn't understand what Tisdall said or what he meant?

Posted by: rea on July 22, 2002 02:41 PM

You mean that he's reading too fast? Glance at the headline. Zip. Blog. Go do something else?

That actually seems to make the most sense...

Brad DeLong

Posted by: Brad DeLong on July 22, 2002 02:48 PM

Brad, you are dangerously treading down the path towards an AndyWatch blog. Stay with the light, follow the light ....

Posted by: PJ on July 22, 2002 04:00 PM

>>Brad, you are dangerously treading down the path towards an AndyWatch blog. Stay with the light, follow the light<<

But he writes so well! And is so annoying!

Perhaps you have a 12-step program to offer?


Brad DeLong

Posted by: Brad DeLong on July 22, 2002 05:36 PM

"You mean that he's reading too fast?"

That's the most charitable explanation of his lack of comprehension. He seems to be getting pretty chronic with this type of error lately.

Of course, sometimes he gets something right, which is one reason why I read him--but then, so does a stopped clock . . .

Posted by: rea on July 22, 2002 08:38 PM

Actually, a stopped clock gets it right twice a day, much better numbers than Sullivan.

Posted by: Paul on July 22, 2002 10:52 PM

It is true - Andy is the ultimate troll, capable of bringing Blogistan to a complete stop as we all debate his latest spew...

Posted by: Atrios on July 23, 2002 06:01 AM

I think the most interesting parallel between Israel and Northern Ireland is that the Israelis and the Protestant Ulstermen shared the belief that the other side literally wants to push them into the sea, and it has to be said, not without reason.

Posted by: Daniel Davies on July 23, 2002 08:20 AM
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