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Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Infantilize

in·fan·til·ize

tr. v.,  ized, -iz·ing, -iz·es.

The action of prolonging or perpetuating a state of infancy. *

<Rant>

Every single time I come across a discussion of the Palestinian people or leadership that contains the word 'infantilize', I experience one of these moments of resonating clarity that can only be experienced when a pure truth is told.

Starting from the first intifada and continuing to this very day, the news media and various well-wishers have used terminology to describe the well-planned, carefully orchestrated and perfectly executed actions of the Palestinians as if they were the involuntary , spontaneous actions of a small child.

Entire people's do not spontaneously abandon their livelihood and take to the streets in a destructive, violent rampage.   The primeval 'fight or flight' instinct would not compel an entire population to pull itself apart at the seams just because Ariel Sharon decided to take a stroll onto the Temple Mount!

When the media continuously spoke of the first intifada as a 'spontaneous uprising' as if it were something over which nobody could exercise any control... it raised some troubling issues for anyone (e.g. Israel) who might be asked to face the Palestinians in the grown-up game of making peace or war. 

Either the Palestinians were completely beyond restraint, in which case their leadership was not in a position to enter into any agreements concerning their future behavior.  Or, they were being carefully controlled/orchestrated, in which case the leadership could reasonably be expected to turn off the violence spigot at any moment of its choosing. 

Yet not one mainstream media outlet came to the logical conclusion that it couldn't work both ways.  Not one of them raised the logical fallacy of demanding Israel negotiate in good faith with a powerless leadership representing a people that were completely out of control.

What the media willfully ignored was that the entire Palestinian people didn't suddenly surge from their homes with whatever weapons were at hand as though touched by a live wire!  There were months, or even years of extensive groundwork/planning already done... complex communication networks tested and ready... multiple layers of management in place to relay instructions to the 'masses'... extensive supply lines established to place weapons, ammunition and explosives in the right place at the right time... and sophisticated media contacts in place and fully operational to feed the 24-hour news cycle a well rehearsed version of facts and figures. 

To this day the media recaps that era as if the Palestinians were little children spontaneously acting-out in anger and frustration.

When the second intifada broke out, the Palestinians were again portrayed in the press as spontaneously venting anger and frustration due to the hopelessness of living under brutal military occupation.  Far from having matured as a people from the previous disaster of an intifada, they were once again relieved of any semblance of responsibility by the media, the UN and much of the world.

All one has to do to in order to see that this trend has continued to this very day is to look at recent events with the word 'infantilization' held firmly in mind:

When the prophet Mohamed was portrayed disrespectfully in a series of political cartoons, an entire religion was portrayed to the world as being unable to control their emotional outburst. They threw a worldwide temper tantrum and began kicking and punching anything and everything within reach.   And nobody seemed particularly bothered or surprised by this.  Not the media, and certainly not the supporters and apologists of Islam.

People willfully ignored the fact that the poor down-trodden Muslims of the word who lack for every possible material possession, suddenly had a nearly limitless supply of shiny new Danish flags to burn. 

Unlike childish emotions, flags are a commodity that must be manufactured, purchased and shipped.  A sizable order requires lead time... a budget for purchasing... logistical planning... a distribution network. 

We Israelis have access to a dizzying array of communications equipment, financial credit and supporters around the world.  But if the Palestinians enraged us to the point that we wanted to take to the streets, simultaneously attack both civilian and governmental Palestinian targets and burn thousands of Palestinian flags... I can't even imagine overcoming the logistical nightmare of laying our hands on such a large number of Palestinian flags, much less convincing a large portion of the Israeli population to give up gainful commerce and become volunteer vandals!!

This word 'infantilization'  most be brought into consistent and mainstream use wherever and whenever the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is discussed.  It is untenable that Israel be the only party cast in the role of grown-up; making concessions, living up to agreements, being held accountable for actions (or inaction), simply because the other side is allowed to be portrayed as too immature and undeveloped to be held to the same standard.

There is a reason that small children aren't allowed to drink, smoke, drive, vote or own a gun.  All of these things require the ability to make an informed decision and to accept resulting consequences.  Diplomacy and war are no different.  If an entire people - or even an entire religion - is going to be granted the status of a minor who is incapable of self-control (i.e. not liable for its actions), then they cannot reasonably be expected to be able to enter into binding agreements or engage in any other accepted machinations of statecraft.

But if we are going to acknowledge that this religion, and these people, are fully capable of demanding self-determination, engaging in diplomacy, conducting legally-binding elections and managing their own financial affairs... then the world can no longer be allowed to infantilize them and pretend that each act of terrorism, each incitement to mass violence, each abrogation of agreements and each public call for the destruction of Israel is akin to a harmless juvenile tantrum... that they didn't really mean it.

The infantilization of the Palestinians (as well as the rest of the Muslim world)  can no longer be allowed to continue.  They are not children.  They are not immature.  They are not naive.  They are not incapable of understanding the difference between wrong and right.  They are none of these things for which we would understandably excuse an infant. 

They are fully capable of entering into legally binding agreements.  They are fully capable of declaring and waging war.  They are fully capable of extremely sophisticated thought and action.  And most of all, they are legally and morally aware of the short and long-term consequences of their actions.

These are the standards by which all civilized nations determine legal competency.  The time has finally come to refuse to allow anyone to infantilize our enemies. 

</Rant>

* Source:  The Oxford English Dictionary Second Edition 1989

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Posted by David Bogner on February 21, 2006 | Permalink

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Excellent, once again.

Posted by: Yehuda Berlinger | Feb 21, 2006 3:05:29 PM

My first reaction is that of a cheer. The more practical part of me wonders why this concept/definition of what a Palestinian inherently is will be any easier to remove than the word itself which you admitted before to being a fact on the ground.

Posted by: -y- | Feb 21, 2006 4:01:33 PM

oh, I have sooooo many things to say here (flags of my country were burned as well). But not the time to sit and make sure that my thoughts are expressed in a way that does justice to my opinions about your post (both in agreement and in disagreement). I will do it though, I promise. I have so many great articles that I wish I had the time to translate from Norwegian. Not everyone was infantilizing (would that be with an 's' in England?). Not everyone was making excuses. But there is, as I always tend to believe, a place in the middle where reality rings truer for me. I'll get back to you on this!

Posted by: nrg | Feb 21, 2006 4:06:49 PM

You know, I used to kid around about supplying flags for them to burn. But they got a hold of them so darn quickly I figured that I'd lose money on the deal.

People like simple. It is much easier for them to say underdog/oppressor, good/bad than to dig into the real meat.

Posted by: Jack | Feb 21, 2006 4:31:01 PM

Yes. So... war?

Posted by: Doctor Bean | Feb 21, 2006 4:57:01 PM

Yehuda Berlinger... Thanks. I'm getting pretty tired of writing political posts, but this is where my mind takes me when I wake up in the morning.

-y-... Because calling someone a Palestinian (or a martian, for that matter) doesn't change their status or level of accountability at the negotiating table. Saying that the Palestinians aren't accountable for their actions while allowing them continued freedom to act is an impossible position for Israel.

nrg... I'll be interested to see where you disagree with the need to hold the Palestinians to the same standard of conduct and accountability as the rest of the civilized world.

Jack... Nowhere in my post did I ask for people to make a judgement call or award black and white hats to the various sides. I'm simply saying that if someone is going to be a passionate advocate for the Palestinians (or the Muslims), it is disingenuous to pretend that these people are unable to make informed decisions about the consequences of their own actions.

Doctor Bean... No thanks, we already have one. Maybe another time. :-)

Posted by: treppenwitz | Feb 21, 2006 5:10:55 PM

I completely agree... I just don't know how to make it so. At the point where the Danes are bending over backwards to apologize for their comics I feel like uphill battle is a bit of an understatement. My question is not one of are you right but one of how?

Posted by: -y- | Feb 21, 2006 5:20:23 PM

Hear, hear!

A rare for me case of an article by a fellow Jew I can agree with unreservedly. Running to link to it.

One remark, if I may. Either I am not up to date on Denmark, but your remark, David, on their bending backwards, is a bit cruel. I am not sure they are.

Posted by: SnoopyTheGoon | Feb 21, 2006 5:28:35 PM

So... do I get brownie points for having used it on different boards weeks ago?
www.shaister.com/index.php/?p=804#comments
"By saying that all of their actions are forced by the “situation” people who claim to support them actually infantilize them."

I'm not sure about poor Muslims though. Oil anyone?

Posted by: Lisoosh | Feb 21, 2006 5:35:03 PM

And what about the tremendous fear of provoking temper tantrums? See here:

http://www.boston.com/news/globe/editorial_opinion/oped/articles/2006/02/19/when_fear_cows_the_media/

Some reliably anti-Israel news outlets make reference to the cartoon protests as the fault of a right-wing Danish publication that printed the cartoons simply to get a rise out of the Muslim population so that the Right could say told-you-so about those Islamist extremists, etc. and so on like that.

Who believes that those folks cannot think for themselves and instead act only in response to the so-called dominant culture? Isn't that a racist, condescending, and/or patronizing position? Can't Muslims think for themselves just as others do and decide whether to riot and burn? Why do they supposedly only *react* to Israel, the U.S., Europe, et al.? Why is it (theoretically) so easy to push their buttons according to Indymedia and such? Is the only reason people do things such as become suicide bombers, torch embassies, fly buildings into airplanes, or vote for Hamas because of the actions of their "oppressors," and never because they reached considered conclusions? How to explain the higher educational levels of many (most?) suicide bombers, the doctoral candidate Mohammed Atta, etc.?

Everyone can be (and is) "manipulated" to some extent by education, culture, experience, religion, parental influence, etc. But at some point one must take responsibility for building something and not just tearing down the work of others.

Posted by: Drew | Feb 21, 2006 5:58:34 PM

Well reasoned and well expressed...which is why I find myself coming back to the "well" of your writing so often. Thanks for another excellent post.

Posted by: Elisson | Feb 21, 2006 6:05:37 PM

David,

I wasn't suggesting that you are the one making this a black and white issue. My comment was in response to your comment about the press and their coverage of this.

Posted by: Jack | Feb 21, 2006 6:07:01 PM

I wish I could remember who said it, but there is a phrase that would be appropriate here: the soft prejudice of low expectations.

This is what the world has for the Palestinians, and it has terrible consequences both for them and for us.

Posted by: westbankmama | Feb 21, 2006 6:42:24 PM

Every single time I come across a discussion of the Palestinian I hope for some other discussions for the next day.

I guess most people deal with reality and discuss it, and I gotta deal with that.

Posted by: Shevy | Feb 21, 2006 7:04:06 PM

I don't have the time to make my point as extensively as you have nor should I take up so much of your blog so I will give the Hiaku version.

David shows us the conspiratorial dimensions of what the world chooses to believe is spontaneous on the part of the Pals.

I would use the exact same examples and method to point out the conspiratorial character of the liberal (leftist) press.

If you don't think there is a concerted organized effort to manufacture and control public opinion by the main stream media .... you probably also think Pals are childlike.

Posted by: Scott | Feb 21, 2006 7:22:20 PM

What I want to know is how can I get my hands on the Zionist Death Ray. I could have a lot of fun with that one.

Posted by: Jack | Feb 21, 2006 8:38:10 PM

Jack

I saw an article a few days ago, containing an interview with a Palestinian merchant who sells flags - turns out he gets the Israeli flags (which are bought for burning) from an Israeli.

Posted by: Eyal | Feb 21, 2006 8:43:54 PM

Your response to me made me giggle. Thanks!

Posted by: Doctor Bean | Feb 21, 2006 9:07:24 PM

-y-... I wasn't aware that the Danes had done an about-face. Where did you read this?

Snoopy the goon... If you go back and check, you'll notice that -y- is the one who said that... not I.

Lisoosh... You get full points for such a wise statement. Brava! :-) As to my statement about poor Muslims, I doubt you are going to see the Sultan of Brunei or any of the Saudi Royal family at any of these 'spontaneous' demonstrations. With the exception of a tiny handful of autocrats, almost all of the Muslim world would be considered by most to be 'have-nots'.

Drew... Of course you are correct. The cartoons were actually published much earlier in an Egyptian periodical with not one hint of a reaction. It is only when the infidel dares insult Islam that they lose all control. This isn't respect they are demanding... it is subservience.

Elisson... Aw shucks. And I keep coming back to your site because you are one of the few people who is a bigger nerd than I am (and not afraid to admit it!). :-)

Jack... I got that. My point was simply that one can support the Palestinians/Muslims or even be completely innocent of background of the current conflict and still read the news objectively. Any intelligent person - no matter who they support - should be able to see that infantilizing any party in a conflict is playing with fire.

Westbankmama... I've seen that expression attributed most often to the current president Bush, but given his having been born with a silver foot in his mouth (c'mon Bean... even if you love the guy you have to admit he isn't exactly Abba Eban!), I'm assuming one of his speechwriters should get the credit.

Shevy... Good to hear I'm not the only one getting really tired of hearing me discuss politics. :-)

Scott... Despite what Shakespeare may have said on the subject, Brevity is always the better part of valor where your comments are concerned. You know you had that coming for trying to sneak a dig in at the lefties, right? :-)

Jack... Or the poison that the Mossad slipped into Arafat's ear. :-)

Eyal... This doesn't bother me one bit. Israel respects its flag, but we don't have the same cultural baggage wrapped up in our flag that the Americans do. If I could get the Palestinian exclusive for Israeli flag sales I'd jump at the chance! I love my country and love its flag. But if some idiot wants to pay me to make an empty gesture for the TV cameras... I'd rather he bought the flag from me than from some Internet site in China.

Doctor Bean... Happy to help.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Feb 21, 2006 11:39:56 PM

Elaborating on Scott's point about manipulation... I think the "infantilizing" you describe so accurately stands somewhere in the middle between manipulation and denial. One may think of these two things as exact opposites, but in a way they aren't. People who are in denial are agreeing to be manipulated because they don't want to deal with the emotional baggage of comprehending what actually is going on. They *want* to be misled... and they *allow* themselves to be manipulated. As for the media, it's only going with the popular trend. Media is simply business and it will show the angle people who tend to watch it are willing to swallow. I don't necessarily think they are being devious for political goals... but for business ones.

Posted by: Irina | Feb 22, 2006 12:50:09 AM

Well, a bird in the hand gathers no moss.

Posted by: Scott | Feb 22, 2006 2:50:06 AM

Irina,

Nope. They are nearly all hemorrhaging viewership and readership at a breakneck rate but their loyalty to their cause is greater than their desire to make money. It's fun actually watching them all committing suicide. Refusing to admit to themselves that they are steadily losing audience BECAUSE of their slanted ( hell, tipped completely over ) idological spew in place of straight news.

Posted by: Scott | Feb 22, 2006 2:57:57 AM

David,

For a great analysis of how the media are able to twist themselves into these illogical positions, read this book:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1893554945/

It's called The Other War by Stephanie Gutmann. It's a fascinating account and an easy read. It will frighten you.

Posted by: mike | Feb 22, 2006 8:03:56 AM

Scott: "Well, a bird in the hand gathers no moss."

I love messed up idioms. That's a new one to me. I guess the shoe's on the other hand now.

Posted by: Doctor Bean | Feb 22, 2006 9:34:54 AM

Irina... I think it is less sinister than that. I wrote a post a looong time ago that dealt with misguided western sensitivity to 'older' or 'costumed' cultures. Feel free to check it out.

Scott... You don't know sh*t from granola. :-)

Mike... "It's...an easy read." Whew! I hope there's lotsa nice pictures too! ;-) Seriously, I'll check it out. Thanks.

Doctor Bean... Absinthe makes the heart grow fonder. :-)

Posted by: treppenwitz | Feb 22, 2006 10:02:28 AM

Dear Mr Treppenwitz-you are in my latest post and there are already 43 comments. I wanted you involved because you are a married man with experience-please come and leave your thoughts

Posted by: Dating master | Feb 22, 2006 10:37:36 AM

Dating Master...Please do not mention me or treppenwitz on your site. I do not read you and am not interested in joining in. Please respect my wishes.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Feb 22, 2006 10:48:40 AM

"nrg... I'll be interested to see where you disagree with the need to hold the Palestinians to the same standard of conduct and accountability as the rest of the civilized world."
Trep, that isn't fair. I haven't even commented yet, so please don't set me up like that. Although your post, if boiled down to one sentence, was about holding Palestinians to the same standard of conduct and accountability as the rest of the world, there could conceivably be other aspects to what you wrote that make assumptions and provide opinions with which an individual can take issue without actually disagreeing with your main point on accountability. I'm hoping that you are just curious to hear my eloquent presentation of my American/Norwegian perspective, without judging what you haven't read yet. Remember, I wrote that I both agreed and disagreed. I'll get back to you outside of work when I can spend some time and thought so my presentation of ideas doesn't come out haphazard. That tends to create confusion.

Posted by: nrg | Feb 22, 2006 12:01:09 PM

Thanks for the link to that post! Ironically, this type of "orientalist" attitude is what Edward Said was condemning... and yet it wound up being used to support his own condemnation.

I actually wound up thinking a lot about your post yesterday, and then something else happened... and I think I'll wind up expanding on this subject later on. I think what you mentioned in your post is very important... but there's also more to this picture than simple naivete, and that's what's troubling me.

Posted by: Irina | Feb 22, 2006 9:12:29 PM

Sorry, that's what I get for being unclear - the Danes are bending over backwards to try to apologize while still not saying its ok to kill us, an odd feat. I guess it's more like equivocating over apologizing enough to get their flags to stop burning (or their legos to start selling) and still saying that threatening to kill them is bad. The editor is still suspended, the debate of who to blame in Europe has still not squarely fallen on people in the street throwing a temper tantrum, and the Danish government from what I'm reading is using this as a political issue between the ruling party/opposition rather that a strait forward stance of unity. I guess I'm just not seeing enough hope for the maturity approach in the reactions I'm seeing. Maybe I'm not being optomistic enough.

Posted by: -y- | Feb 23, 2006 10:23:41 AM

Thanks for a most intersting piece. Have thought that the general attitude of the West towards non-Western peoples, especially in the Middle East and Africa, has been patronizing in the extreme. A sort of modern day version of the Colonial Era's White Man's Burden brought up to day, but equally racist. Patronizing and Infantilism are two different words for the same racist, and that is what is, attiude that denys non-Westerners can be held to the same standard as Westerners.

Posted by: David All | Feb 28, 2006 12:56:56 AM

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