Writing an open letter to Butler in The Times of Israel, Richard Landes, a historian at Boston University who considers himself part of the left, asked Butler — whose sincerity he does not question — to consider other things. First, Landes asks if she has “no particularly strong objections about their pervasive misogyny, their blatant homophobia, their cult of death, their genocidal discourse? They are the antithesis of everything we on the global left stand for: the dignity of voluntary human interaction.” How, he asked her, “can you not denounce loudly the shocking notion that a group that pervaded with such violently regressive attitudes be even thought of as ‘social movements that are progressive.’ What about them is progressive?”
Honestly, do you really believe that the people who join these groups share the anti-hierarchical, anti-domineering values of the civic culture you, we all, thrive in? The signs everywhere say “no.” To every one of your espoused concerns, they are violently hostile. Indeed, even as we carry on this conversation, violent imperial Islamists drive Christians and Jews from lands they’ve inhabited for millennia, while moderate Muslims are cowed into submission.
How on earth can you make a mistake as huge as to suggest that if they say they’re anti-imperialist, that makes them “arguably” on the progressive, global left? Who are so uninformed on these matters that they’d even make so foolish an argument, and why on earth do you cede to them? This is not serious scholarship; it is “academic” only if that word has become a synonym for principled gullibility.
I admire Landes’ desire to go on the offensive against Butler, and to expose her gullibility and hypocrisy. I would, however, ask Landes the following question: Why is it that so few on the left — either in the United States or especially in Europe — do not take your position?