Monday, November 8, 2010

The Chosen Peoples (2010) - Gitlin and Leibovitz

Gitlin, T., & Leibovitz, L. (2010). The Chosen Peoples: America, Israel, and the Ordeals of Divine Election. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Reading Todd Gitlin’s book – Although there is one more author - is always enjoyable, at least to me. Probably, anyone who completed communication theory course would know Todd Gitlin, as a main critic of so-called effect study which might be traceable to Paul F. Lazarsfeld’s work. Unfortunately, Gitlin’s work, as one of Annenberg students, is remembered as one of unhappy works because his main critic goes for Elihu Katz, the last Ph.D student of Paul Lazarsfeld.

However, as far as I’ve remember, Elihu Katz was – and probably am - very positive toward Gitlin’s criticism (while he does not want to fully agree with Gitlin’s punch-line). E. Katz praises his creativity, novelty, and activism. Probably due to the academic enemy’s praise, I started to read some of Gitlin’s books.

The newest book is the same, it is enjoyable and fun to read. The book comprises of four main chapters with one short chapter (ie, introduction). The main argument is well summarized in the subtitle. It deals with two religious tradition, Jewish and (evangelical) Christian tradition. So-called ‘Divine selection’ – The God choose one ethnic group to realize the God’s will on the earth – was one of main faiths in two religious traditions, which easily creates potential (including already realized) controversies or fights with other ethnic groups who frequently have different religious traditions.

The first chapter, “A stiff-necked people,” summarizes the history of construction of Israel in originally Palestine land. As the title implies, the authors seem to argue that the divine selection leads to its believers to be stiff-necked, i.e., arrogant and rude toward other groups who do not agree with the idea. The second chapter, “His almost chosen people,” summarizes the history of construction of the United States in originally Native Americans’ land. The title comes from Abraham Lincoln’s address that the US is the land to realize God will and Americans are God’s almost chosen people.

While the first two chapters deal with the stories of peoples who believe that they are chosen by the God, the third chapter deals with the other side of those peoples, mostly original Palestine residents. I think the contents are already introduced much in other literature or books (e.g., West Bank or Gaza).

The final chapter is about the fact why Israel and the US are so well wed in international politics. Probably, the most unique argument could be found in the last chapter because Gitlin and Leibovitz argue that there are something emotional bonds between two chosen peoples, and it is not enough (note that their arguments add something previous, not replace it) to consider the link as economical and/or political. Of course, the emotional bonds, according to the authors, can be traced to the idea of “Divine selection.”

I do not have full information and expertise to tell whether their conclusion is true or not. However, it is interesting idea with two reasons. First, the construction process of nation-building in Israel and the US highly resembles each other. Second, two nations emphasize importance of spirits in order to unite the intra-national differences, but two nations wield very secularized power in order to maintain their will or spirits in international conflicts.

Personally interesting because the authors showed the relationship between religions and politics with historical records and secular (i.e., without spiritual) reading of the religious texts. However, two questions remained and (I think) are not mentioned or addressed:

(1) Muslims are not chosen? I do not think so. Maybe they believe that they are chosen. Differently, other religion holders will think that they are chosen (e.g., Shinto believers in Japan). Personally I do not agree with the argument that the uniqueness of the idea of ‘Divine selection’ is special in Jewish and/or Christian traditions. The difference is the ‘self-esteem without despising others’ versus ‘self-esteem by ignoring others.’
(2) The “special friendship” between the US and Israel hit one question in my head. If Jewish thinks they are chosen and American thinks the same, then why they fight each other? According to divine selection idea that the authors introduced, (I assume) God selects only ONE people. If so, then one of two chosen peoples is probably wrong and hurts own identity and faith. Then natural question would be: why they do not fight each other?

PS: By the way, it would be ambivalently interesting to mention South Korea, as a comparable examplar nation of Israel in the US's relationship. For example, the authors said that "Neither the United States nor Israel parades any particular affinity with democratic India, say or South Korea. These nations are friends, but not special friends (p.187)"

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