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Jon Schwarz

Jon Schwarz is editor of and was research producer for 'Capitalism: A Love Story.' He's also contributed to the New Yorker, New York Times, Atlantic, Wall Street Journal, Slate, Saturday Night Live and NPR.

November 10th, 2013 9:38 AM

Mark Dubowitz Is an Object Lesson in Where Bigotry Comes From

Mark Dubowitz is the director of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a think tank which was "founded by a group of former U.S. officials and visionary philanthropists shortly after the attacks of September 11, 2001 to help free nations defend themselves."

Right now Dubowitz is defending America by making sure we aren't fooled by Iran in the current nuclear negotiations. He recently told the New York Times "the Obama administration has entered the Persian nuclear bazaar and gotten totally out negotiated," and the Daily Beast that it "sounds like Obama decided to enter the Persian nuclear bazaar to haggle with the masters of negotiation and has had his head handed to him." And he's not the only one: Washington Post foreign policy specialist Jim Hoagland has warned "Fooling foreigners and adversaries is an ancient Persian art form." Israeli columnist Smadar Peri writes that the U.S. could be facing "a trick in the spirit of the Persian bazaar." And Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute says it's too late: "The world’s great bazaaris are chuckling because they’ve just sold their nuclear weapons program to the world’s worst bargainers."

So the message is clear: Iranians are extremely sneaky – and simple, honest folk like ourselves are vulnerable to their devious machinations.

But are Dubowitz & co. right? I can't claim I've conducted a careful, in-depth study on comparative Iranian sneakiness. In fact, I'm not even sure how you'd do that. So let's look at it from another angle: have people like Dubowitz ever been convinced that another group was particularly wily and ready to take advantage of our naiveté at any moment?

Spoiler alert: yes.

• Let's start with Native Americans, who were awful from the beginning. A Jamestown colonist wrote "A Breif discription of the People" in 1607, where he explained:

The people steal anything that comes neare them, yea are so practized in this art that lookeing in our face they would with their foote betweene their toes convey a chizell knife, percer or any indifferent light thing: which having once conveyed they hold it an injury to take the same from them; They are naturally given to trechery

You have to admit, that sounds pretty Persian.

• In 1789 a doctor named James Makittrick Adair wrote Unanswerable Arguments against the Abolition of the Slave Trade, which contains a chapter titled "Moral and Political Character of the Africans." It turns out they were just like Native Americans:

CUNNING. Most savage nations are artful...and their acumen in concerting the best means to attain the end desired is wonderful; and the artifices and pretexs they use...are so various, and often so uncommon, it is very difficult to detect them.

• Then there are Jews, who, as described by Joseph Goebbels in 1941, turn out to be exactly the same as Native Americans and Africans:

It is difficult to detect their sly and slippery ways. One has to be an experienced student of the Jews to recognize what is happening...the Jew is the master of the lie. He is such an expert on twisting the truth that he can tell his innocent opponent the exact opposite of the truth even on the plainest matter in the world.

Just as the Germans were lucky to have Goebbels, we're lucky to have Mark Dubowitz, who's an experienced student of the Persians and can recognize what is happening.

• During Pakistan's civil war in 1971, Richard Nixon had strong feelings about the people of India, who were giving him problems with their neutrality in the cold war. And it turned out regular Indians were indistinguishable from American Indians:

The President [said] they [Indians] are "a slippery, treacherous people." He felt that they would like nothing better than to use this tragedy to destroy Pakistan. ... The President said that the situation "smells bad." The Indians are not to be trusted.

At another point Nixon told Henry Kissinger that what "the Indians need" was "a mass famine."

• During the late seventies, Richard Helms – the former head of the CIA and ambassador to Iran – told Congress that Eastern Europeans and "Asiatics" can easily lie in a way that honest Americans just can't:

We discovered there were some Eastern Europeans who could defeat the polygraph at any time. Americans are not very good at it, because we are raised to tell the truth and when we lie it is easy to tell are lying. But we find a lot of Europeans and Asiatics can handle that polygraph without a blip, and you know they are lying and you have evidence that they are lying.

• Finally, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak revealed this about Palestinians in 2001:

[Arafat] did not negotiate in good faith…They will exploit the tolerance and democracy of Israel...They are products of a culture in which to tell a lie…creates no dissonance. They don’t suffer from the problem of telling lies that exists in Judeo-Christian culture. Truth is seen as an irrelevant category. There is only that which serves your purpose and that which doesn’t...There is no such thing as "the truth."

So, what should we make of all this?

It's a little easy to call Mark Dubowitz a hateful bigot. So let's do it: Mark Dubowitz is a hateful bigot. And his grandchildren will be embarrassed by him just as white American teenagers today are embarrassed when their racist grandfather starts blathering about Obama being born in Kenya.

Nevertheless, it's a mistake to view Dubowitz as inexplicably, irredeemably awful. What history demonstrates is that every group of human beings tends to see itself as uniquely honest and trustworthy, and other groups as abnormally tricksy. And this tendency becomes especially pronounced within a powerful group when it's brutalizing another and has plans for further brutalization. Human beings can't do terrible things to people who are just like them, so they invent reasons why those people aren't.

In other words, racism is generally structural rather than the fault of specific, bad human beings. James Makittrick Adair didn't start out as a racist and then decide that made it cool for him to own Africans. Instead, he wanted a bunch of other people to work for him for free, and that made him a racist.

Likewise, Dubowitz didn't start out as a racist and then decide that, because Persians are so sneaky, the United States has to run the mideast. Instead, he started out by believing the U.S. has to govern the mideast with no Iranian influence, and – because it's insane to think it makes sense for a country 6,000 miles away to run a region with no input from the people who live there – he had to become a racist in self-defense.

Et voilà, the sneaky Persian bazaar. So people like Dubowitz won't stop being bigots and then give up on their bizarre, impossible fantasy of eternal U.S. power over every inch of planet earth. It can only happen the other way around: if they give up their fantasy, their bigotry will evaporate. It's not impossible this will happen to Dubowitz. (And then he'll have to get another job.)

P.S. The New York Times and Daily Beast would never publish people expressing this kind of garbage about non-Muslims. Hopefully it won't be long before they won't publish it about anyone.

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