[URBANTH-L]'Sanitized Language'

Dan Monk dmonk at mail.colgate.edu
Fri Jan 9 18:27:51 EST 2009

Dear Colleagues: Like Jamie Sherman, I've been following these exchanges on Gaza with interest and, I have to admit, also with a measure of concern.  At the risk of triggering another episode in the dynamic I'm trying to address: I cannot help but to get the impression that calls for reflexive speculation on our own critical engagement -what I consider to be the hallmark of criticism in good faith - are too easily dismissed as a cynical or misguided pleas for symmetry or balance in a strategic context where none exists.  It is important for us to distinguish between the ideological dimensions of calls for 'evenhanded' portrayals of what is taking place in Gaza and southern Israel, and reasoned and reasonable calls for critical scrutiny of the assumptions that 'go without saying' in our exchanges.   If we can define 'sanitized' language as the stuff that normalizes untruth in the form of unquestioned 'truths' about the conflict, then let's make sure we don't assume our own insights to be potentiated by anything other than certain types of blindness.  If nothing else, perhaps it might help us to diminish the performances of indignation -like the bombshell piece, or the moderator's defense of its good bits about 'sanitized language'--  that have been taking place on these pages.   Indignation  may have origins in heartfelt feelings but it subtly transforms us into the subject of suffering, rather than those bound within a horrific reality of war and terror.  Hundreds of thousands -if not millions-- groan as we perform such mischief.   The talk of sanitized language in itself sanitizes. Subjugating criticism to blame,  bombshells about bombshells turn the victims of this conflict into nothing more than a collective
'first cause for what is said about them,' to paraphrase Edward Said.  Facile criticism about the IDF's spokespersons' hair and Ha'aretz's sanitized language actually constitutes an abrogation of responsibility to perform a criticism worthy of the name.  By contrast, Ha'aretz itself does a lot better: refusing to consider mere indictment enough, its columnist Gideon Levy examines in exactly what ways the ethos of this operation in Gaza  coincides with the sentiments of the nation as a whole. (in this, his project complements the admirable efforts of Professor Marranci, whose contributions I also appreciated). I don't present Levy's essay as a model of what academics on Urbanth should be doing in the face of this crisis, but as a caution to those who might think that in dismissing his efforts as anything other than heavy lifting, we're doing any better.   (See: Gideon Levy, "The Time of the Righteous," http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1054158.html).


Daniel Bertrand Monk
George M. and Myra T. Cooley Professor of Peace and Conflict Studies
Director, Peace and Conflict Studies Program [P-CON]
Professor of Geography
Colgate University
13 Oak Drive
Hamilton, NY 13346
dmonk at mail.colgate.edu

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