Massad’s alcohol analysis


If you were a secular, liberal Palestinian intellectual (and perhaps a Christian to boot) living in the West Bank, would you have forebodings about Hamas coming to power? You might, and with good reason. Edward Said agonized over the Hamas problem, before reaching this conclusion: “For any secular intellectual to make a devil’s pact with a religious movement is, I think, to substitute convenience for principle.”

Ah, but there’s another explanation for this secular, liberal reticence, offered by the deep, brilliant and possibly tenured Professor of Modern Arab Politics and Intellectual History at Columbia University, Joseph Massad. From the heights of Morningside, he assures us that these Palestinians oppose Hamas because… it might take away their booze. Here he goes:

West Bank-based Palestinian intellectuals, like their liberal counterparts across the Arab world, have been active in the last several years in demonizing Hamas as the force of darkness in the region. These intellectuals (among whom liberal secular Christians, sometimes referred to derisively in Ramallah circles as “the Christian Democratic Party,” are disproportionately represented) are mostly horrified that if Hamas came to power, it would ban alcohol. Assuming Hamas would enact such a regulation on the entire population were it to rule a liberated Palestine in some undetermined future, these intellectuals are the kind of intellectuals who prefer an assured collaborating dictatorship with a glass of scotch to a potentially resisting democracy without….

The journey of West Bank liberal intellectuals, it seems has finally come to this: after being instrumental in selling out the rights of Palestinians in Israel to full equal citizenship by acquiescing to Israel’s demand to be recognized as a racist Jewish state, and the rights of the diaspora and refugees to return, they have now sold out the rights of Palestinians in Gaza to food and electricity, and all of this so that the West Bank can be ruled by a collaborationist authority that allows them open access to Johnny Walker Black Label (their drink of choice, although some have switched to Chivas more recently). In this context, how could Israel be anything but a friend and ally who is making sure Hamas will never get to ban whiskey?

This isn’t tongue-in-cheek. That’s it—the sum of Massad’s political analysis of why, in Ramallah, there’s no desire to fall into the grip of Hamas and its “resisting democracy.” Massad’s approach is always the same: caricature and dehumanize anyone who won’t kill and be killed to destroy Israel—even (and especially) if they’re Palestinians and their sympathizers. Massad once even claimed that the regret over Gaza’s secession expressed by the late Palestinian poet Mahmud Darwish “can be explained by the monthly checks [Darwish] receives from the Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority.” If it’s not booze, it’s cash. A bit reductive, even for Columbia.

And what of Professor Massad? When the New York Times visited him at home in Manhattan to profile the armchair resister, it reported that the reading material on his coffee table was The World Atlas of Wine. “His elaborate freestanding Egyptian water pipe is stoked with apple-flavored tobacco as a weekend indulgence, accompanied by Cognac, after dinner parties.” How ennobling it is to champion Hamas—from a safe distance.

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