Here is a man who has been in public life for more than 50 years (he was an assistant to Anthony Eden in the general election of 1955), and yet he compared Israel's attack to the most famous genocide of the 20th century. What possessed him?What we are witnessing is a psycholgoical defensive maneuver that has become perhaps, the most common response to the worldwide threat of Islamofascism. It is a very specific kind of psychological denial, known as displacement.
I ask the question, not because I am interested in Sir Peter - he is not an important figure in the current debate, though he may differ on this point. I ask, rather, because his remark seems to me a symptom of a wider unreality about the Middle East, one that now dominates. It tinged the recent Commons speech by William Hague, the shadow foreign secretary. It permeates every report by the BBC.
You could criticise Israel's recent attack for many things. Some argue that it is disproportionate, or too indiscriminate. Others think that it is ill-planned militarily. Others hold that it will give more power to extremists in the Arab world, and will hamper a wider peace settlement. These are all reasonable, though not necessarily correct positions to hold. But European discourse on the subject seems to have been overwhelmed by something else - a narrative, told most powerfully by the way television pictures are selected, that makes Israel out as a senseless, imperialist, mass-murdering, racist bully.
It is the same defense that is at the root of Bush Derangement Syndrome. And it is alsothe dynamic behind the current rise of anti-semitism and anti-American sentiment that exists right here in America--even among relatively normal individuals otherwise.
You can think of psychological displacement as a process analogous to how attenuated viruses work when a person is immunized with them to prevent the catastrophic consequences of an otherwise life-threatening virus.
Psychotherapy itself revolves around, and works because of the temporary displacement of the patient's psychopathology onto the therapist--which is called transference. Let's say, that the patient has a conflict with his father. For all intents and purposes, the therapist becomes the psychological brother and the therapeutic relationship plays out the drama in a less threatening, and more manageable setting.
The entire purpose of displacement is to gain control over the conflict. By focusing on something you have some control over, the psyche is much less threatened. You can fire your therapist; you can express your hatred unreservedly and there will not be the consequences if that hatred were directed toward the real object of conflict. You can even pretend, that if it weren't for the therapist, everything in your life would be perfect.
Displacement can be thought of as an slightly more mature type of projection. In projection, the individual remains oblivious to the fact that he owns and is responsible for the emotions that he imagines are in the person or group into which he is projecting. In other words, ownership of the idea and/or affect is banished from the self.
In displacement, the idea or emotion is deflected from one object to another, less threatening one, but the ownership of the negative emotion or idea (e.g. animosity, anger) is retained--and is often raised to a virtue. A common example is the person who is angry at a loved one, but settles for kicking the dog. The anger is evident in the action and is still owned by the person experiencing it.
At its most primitive, anti-semitism is a form of psychological projection (just as all racism is). We see this infantile defense used repeatedly in the Arab/Islamic world. They seem unable to appreciate the irony of their labelling of Islam as a "religion of peace", for example, and dismiss the barbarism done in the name of Islam as misunderstandings or the actions of only a few. In other words, they dismiss their own aggression in toto; asserting that it is the Jews who are always the aggressors; that it is the Jews who are out to destroy them; and that they are the poor, helpless victims of the Jews. By distancing themselves from their own aggression and projecting it onto Israel and the Jews; they have retained their honor as the peace-loving people they claim to be.
It is essential to the success of the defense that they portray themselves as the victims and be seen as the victims in the eyes of the world. Even when their own behavior is responsible for the deaths of innocents, it is rationalized away and ultimately also blamed on the Jews.
Displacement, too, is also an effective method for psychologically avoiding reality. It is a step above projection and is considered simply neurotic. While projection can often appear to be completely uncoupled from reality, displacement has the advantage of allowing someone filled with unpleasant emotions to have an acceptable object onto which to express those emotions. Note that in projection, the individual completely denies that he or she even possesses or is capable of possessing those unacceptable emotions--it is the "other" who possesses them, and wants to inflict them on you.
Historically, the Jews have been the offical scapegoat (object of displacement) for many societies. If only the Jews were gone, then all would be well. The world would be perfect.
We see something similar in much of the rhetoric of the left. If only Bush were gone, everything would be perfect. None of these awful things--like 9/11 would have happened and the U.S. could go back to the idyllic days of the Clintonian utopia.
Likewise, if only the world put a halt once an for all to Israeli aggression, then the Middle East would be at peace.
As one commenter in a recent thread phrased it:
The cure must be a potent septic that can kill the patient (Israel) and the problem is finish.--Nightmare
This is as clear a case of "blaming the victim" as you will ever see. It is far too threatening to blame the real aggressor; and the real source of hatred and genocidal intent-- who is incapable of being rationally dealt with or deterred anyway. This real aggressor repeatedly states its intentions clearly and unambiguously. Yet, for some curious reason, those in the West to whom it is stated refuse to believe them! Their words are dismissed, and the actions that logically derive from their words are minimized or ignored. No rational person can deal with someone who glories in victimhood to a degree hardly paralleled in human history and who screams "god is great" even as he blows you and himself up in a nihilistic frenzy. To say the least, this is fairly frightening and inexplicable behavior for the modern man to psychologically metabolize. Thus, it must be defended against and prevented from being digested and analyzed.
The dynamic of displacement goes a long way to explain the remarkable and sometimes lunatic appeasement of Islamofascists aggression and violence by so many individuals and governments and around the world, even as they trash the US (and particularly Bush) and Israel. Denial and displacement give you the illusion that you are in control of the situation and that the solution is simple.
The only problem is that reality doesn't go away simply because you have found a way to satisfactorily (and temporarily) deflect it; and have managed to hide the unpalatable truth from yourself.