Uncategorized

Islamic Society at Imperial College hosts Norman Finkelstein, who praises Hezbollah leader, justifies violence


The following was written by K. Gena, a student at Imperial College London who attended Norman Finkelstein’s talk at the University on November 26th as a part of the Islamic Society’s Justice Week.  The talk was a part of Finkelstein’s UK lecture tour.

If you’ve ever taken a pessimist on a hard journey you will know that the journey becomes hell. The person sees only the bad side of the coin, conveys suspiciousness and uses superstition to predict the failure of the journey. Well, a pessimist eventually can be left home alone, but what can be done with a controversial radical, who also happens to be a charismatic speaker?

One of these individuals is Norman Finkelstein, an invited speaker by the Islamic Society to Justice Week. He was introduced as a professor, although his academic rank would be equivalent to a lecturer (he was denied tenure in the US), and he has a track record of controversy among academic colleagues.

Being at his lecture reminded me of the movies by Michael Moore which supposedly reveal hidden conspiracies behind any action or event. But if the movies by Moore are usually taken with a pinch of salt, I was surprised to see a lack of critical reflection on behalf of the people in the audience who failed to challenge any of Finkelstein’s views.

Worse than that, the inaccuracies of some of the facts presented went mostly unnoticed because of the crowd’s almost naive willingness to believe.

Most of the focus of the talk was on the operation “Cast Lead”, a 3-week armed conflict in the Gaza strip during winter 2008-2009. Israel started the operation after an escalation of rockets fired into its territory by Hamas militants.

Hamas is the largest Palestinian militant Islamist organisation widely recognised as a terrorist organisation, which took over control of Gaza in 2006.

From the beginning Finkelstein brilliantly downplayed the necessity of the Israeli action, and made the situation into an almost one-sided-conflict portraying Israel as an unprovoked aggressor. His rhetoric reminded me of that of a politician who highlights those aspects which favour his statements, while ignoring others that don’t support his case.

For example, he “forgot” to mention the reasons why the Israeli government decided to go into the complicated operation in the first place. Restoration of security for Israel was absolutely essential after more than 3000 rockets were fired into Israel during 2008 alone.

He forgot to mention the reasons for the blockade, implemented to restrict the influence and power of Hamas and to stop them from smuggling weapons, consequently used to attack Israel. He did, however, mention the humanitarian crisis and purported starvation in Gaza, while forgetting to mention that Hamas had no shortage of the rockets or ammunition before and during the fighting.

As is commonplace in talks regarding this topic, Finkelstein used emotional metaphors to engage the audience rather than offer rational arguments to defend his cause.

However, what made me most anxious was the fact that he praised Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of the Lebanese paramilitary group and political party, Hezbollah. This group calls for the imminent destruction of Israel and is regarded by the international community as a terrorist organisation. To much amusement from the crowd, he glorified the leadership of Nasrallah while jokingly suggesting the illiteracy of King Hussein of Jordan and of Hosni Mubarak (President of Egypt) with whom Israel has peace agreements. This, for an Israeli in the midst of an apparently tolerant UK university was very disturbing and simply unacceptable.

Sadly, Finkelstein also abused his privilege of lecturing to Imperial students by using a rhetoric which did not fall short of calling for resistance. By using phrases like “Israel understands only one language – language of force”, “Israel wanted a bloody conflict …”, “before they (Israel) go for the kill …”, “Israel would attack in the next 12-18 months …” he actually looked to escalate hatred.

Finally, by saying “we have to get prepared for their exercise in insanity”, “we have to act”, “things will not change”, he seemed to encourage a call for action! This is hardly something that can provide a constructive force or harmony which can help bolster any peace process in the Middle East.

The Middle East is at a very important cross-road. The journey to peace is hard and at times can be unpleasant. It is clear that both sides, Israel and the Palestinians, have made and will continue to make mistakes. In this context, a radical speaker can only hinder the journey, and should be left at home. We all need leaders and speakers who can see beyond specific events of a conflict, who can inspire an audience with peace initiatives and proposals, and pave the way for a time when harmony will be achieved. With God’s Help = Beezrat Ha Shem = Inshallah!

20 replies »

  1. Thank you for this, K Genna, which, although depressing, is entirely predictable when you look at who the key players are.

    It sounds very much as though Finkelstein was glorifying terrorism in his praise of Nasrallah. Was this the case? If he encouraged “preparation for action” (which of course means Islamists getting their retaliation in first) can he be arrested for it, or will he escape arrest because he didn’t actually call for killing of Israelis/Jews by the most egregious apology for a human being since Hitler? His saying “We have to act” seems to me to be sufficient cause for notifying the police.

    And if this is what is meant by Islamic justice, then they can shove it. I want none of it.

  2. I just suggested a rogues’ gallery for images of all the ghastly ugly faces CiFWatch makes us look at.

    May I here now suggest a Hero and heroines section for all those intrepid people who step into the gutter to let us know what all the spiritually dead are up to?

  3. There’s a very good British blog where Geert Wilders’ speech in Tel Aviv was posted. One of the antis held up Finkelstein as knowledgeable! Finkelstein may not be so physically ugly but he certainly belongs in a rogues’ gallery.

  4. Ariadne

    What’s this about a rogues gallery?

    Noam the Chump and Norman the Fink

    From a reliable authority.

    At Nottingham Uni a couple of weeks Norman had the Islamic soc., and not a few self abasing Jews, frothing at the mouth and baying for blood.

    One ‘brave’ soul then stood up and asked how we can all assist in destroying the state of Israel. The cheers reaching a crescendo and then Norman so dissapointed.

    No! No! He exclaimed – I don’t mean that. Whatever Israel has done to the ‘poor and starving’ palestinians, the British and Americans have done one hundred times worse, murdering tens of thousands of Iraqis and Afghans in their pursuit of imperialism and oil.

    Norman you’re a bloody coward ! A real fink (creep)!

  5. Sadly, Finkelstein also abused his privilege of lecturing to Imperial students by using a rhetoric which did not fall short of calling for resistance.

    Resistance to occupation. What’s the problem?

    he seemed to encourage a call for action!

    Ditto.

    That said, Finkelstein is clearly a nutter. Even if I agreed with all his views (which I don’t) I would not invite him to speak.

    Islam Soc, eh? I don’t suppose they’ll be discussing the countless injustices within the Muslim world? One billion Muslims, 5 (?) million Palestinians. Gimme a break.

  6. Millfield, the article written by AKUS Shakespeare-Marlowe on Helen Thomas inspired me to ask if, instead of having to look at the ugly mugs (with ugly everything else), we could just have a link to the ugly characters in a rogues’ gallery. Then perhaps we could make a game of them.

  7. R Tebboth,

    From your link.

    “…Well, first of all the Jerusalem Post is not a newspaper… Nobody takes it seriously….”

    This sounds like a professor to me. Wouldn’t you agree?

  8. I was at the lecture and wrote an accurate account of Finkelstein’s *argument* (rather than a response to it).

    http://www.davidcharles.info/2010/12/norman-finkelstein-on-gaza-and-israels.html

    I recommend that people who are commenting on or reading about this lecture without having experienced it read this post.

    In fairness to Norman Finkelstein, I would stress that on no occasion did he encourage violence towards Israel. In fact, his closing remarks – his ‘take-home’ message – urged cooperation with Israel to seek a ‘way-out’ of the current bloody impasse. His final words were a quotation from the poet Aimè Cèsaire:
    “There’s room for everyone at the rendezvous of victory.”

    This could not be clearer.

    Be careful not to hear only what you want to hear. Finkelstein did have a lot to say that would be displeasing to Israeli ears, but his final message was not one of belligerence.

    To your other points:
    1. Finkelstein did not “forget” to mention the reasons why the Israeli government decided to go into the complicated operation in the first place; he simply disagreed with you that the true reason was to neutralise the threat of Hamas rockets into Israel.

    2. Ditto for “forgetting” the reason for the blockade.

    3. He also *did* tackle the issue of Hamas’ possession of weapons, stating that international law was ‘neutral’ on the legality of the supply of arms to a people fighting for their independence.

    4. He too expressed your disappointment at the fact that he was ‘preaching to the choir’ (although evidently not in your case – I’m sure knowledge of your presence would please him). He repeatedly stated that it was of paramount importance to make the case for Palestinian independence to the ‘mainstream’ public.

    5. The mockery of President Mubarak (and others) can easily be defended, peace agreement with Israel or no: he is a dictator more interested in his self-preservation than with the cause of either regional peace or social justice in his own country. In a different context, I’m sure that you would agree with Finkelstein on this point. It is true that Finkelstein’s praise of Nasrallah is less defensible, but there is no question that Nasrallah’s political career has been ‘effective’. You and I may disagree with his aims, but his efficacy is unquestionable. It was this that Finkelstein was admiring, in comparison with the unprincipled dictatorships of the wider Middle East.

    6. On the subject of the ‘conspiracy theory’: he too found this laughable nomenclature – but there is an easy way of testing his ‘theory’. If Israel invades Lebanon in the next 12-18 months, then Finkelstein was correct; if Israel does not, then he was wrong and possibly guilty of peddling conspiracy theories. Let’s see, shall we?

  9. David Charles, apart from the overarching conspiracy that Finkelstein seems to have manufactured he has the disgraceul HRW, the disreputable “Breaking the Silence”, the discredited Goldstone as “evidence” and he is pimping for Hamas and Fatah.

    It seems to me that an examination of Finkelstein’s psychoiogical makeup would be far more illuminating than his confabulations.

    I don’t see any truth in your account of what he said.

  10. Hi Ariadne –

    I appreciate your opinions of HRW, Breaking the Silence and Goldstone, but you should understand that these organisations/people *are* all well respected by many politicians, professors and people, both inside and outside Israel.

    For this reason, I think it’s a little extreme to criticise Finkelstein for using these mainstream sources. Furthermore, these were not the only sources that he used – although I’m sure that your opinions of Amnesty International, Oxfam and the UN Human Rights Council are just as low as those for HRW!

    I completely disagree with your final point: my “account of what he said” was as close to 100% truthful (i.e. faithful to the thrust of his argument) as I could manage without recording the whole lecture word-for-word. The truth of *what he said*, on the other hand, is certainly questionable and I respect your right to do just that. Like I said: we’ll see 🙂

    Regards

    David

  11. David, thank you the response. It’s too late to elaborate but I meant that the fiction was Finkelstein’s. I have no doubt that your rendering is faithful.

  12. David

    I appreciate your opinions of HRW, Breaking the Silence and Goldstone, but you should understand that these organisations/people *are* all well respected by many politicians, professors and people, both inside and outside Israel.

    Yes, but not people I respect! Those who do the work instead of swallowing the ubiquitous propaganda and sound-bites know better

    For this reason, I think it’s a little extreme to criticise Finkelstein for using these mainstream sources. Furthermore, these were not the only sources that he used – although I’m sure that your opinions of Amnesty International, Oxfam and the UN Human Rights Council are just as low as those for HRW!

    Indeed they are. Again it’s a matter of those who take the trouble to find the truth and present it having more credibility.

  13. Hi Ariadne,

    Would you be able to tell me what organisations or people you consider to have taken the trouble to find the truth?

    We obviously follow very different news sources and it would be very interesting for me to read your sources as well as the ones I am already familiar with.

    Thanks

    David.

  14. Ariadne: an interesting choice of nom-de-internet
    – Wikipaedia leads me to ‘thread-spinning and winding associations’ also to leading Theseus out of the Minotaur’s labyrinth.

    Lots of metaphore here