IN MANY respects Oscar van Heerden represents all that is wrong inside South African academia. Its de-emphasis of evidence-based research in favour of pure scholasticism. The rote repetition of other’s opinions, in an uncritical process which edifies ‘woke logic’ and the writings of the country’s institutional founders, in essence a thought-process emphasizing tradition and dogma.
Reading his latest missive published on News24, a title whose publisher sought my gagging in 2007 and then proceeded to lodge ecclesiastical charges on the basis of my attendance at a ‘mixed race’ nightclub on the Jewish Sabbath (in what can only be termed a racist inquisition of secular religion), one is struck, by the manner in which van Heerden fails to frame his writing within the context of secular humanistic norms and values.
I write this over the same weekend in which Salman Rushdie has been stabbed multiple times by an assailant enthralled by a fatwa issued against the author (and since retracted) by the Iranian regime.
Witness the callous manner in which van Heerden’s article: “The Israel-Gaza conflict and the ‘banality of evil’ proceeds to launch a bare assertion fallacy (ipse dixit) – “a claim that is presented as true without support, as self-evidently true, or as dogmatically true.” And thus a fallacy which “relies on the implied expertise of the speaker or on an unstated truism”. Which would not be all that troubling if it were not for the fact that van Heerden holds an MPhil and PhD from the University of Cambridge, (both in International Relations), and Salman Rushdie does not.
Van Heerden should know better than to posit a bald reversal of the context of Hanna Arendt’s “A Report on the Banality of Evil“. Written by a Jew who fled Germany during Adolf Hitler’s rise to power, (who subsequently reported on the trial of Adolf Eichmann, one of the major organizers of the Holocaust), the resulting restatement would require extraordinary evidence. Evidence which he fails to either supply nor even cite.
Not even the much-maligned Amnesty Report into Israel and the Crime of Apartheid goes so far as to claim that the country is involved in anything resembling a ‘genocide’. Instead van Heerden relies upon a single source, namely the controversial opinions of one Gideon Levy, an Israeli author and journalist, resulting in immediate objections of exaggeration and hyperbole from the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, exercising its purported ‘right of reply’, a right which I myself (as a person accused of being Jewish), do not possess.
Instead of reporting Levy’s views as his own opinions, van Heerden complicates matters by immediately assuming these views to be demonstrable facts. Thus the journalist’s open speculation as to why Israel does what it does, when the state, rightly or wrongly, practices a policy of asymmetric warfare, allegedly in defense of its own sovereignty, is presented as all true without the requirement of any further support.
The unhappy result is most certainly both a decontextualisation of history and current affairs which reaches out into the world of fantasy fiction. I am not going to continue with further analysis here suffice to add that I have already characterised the tragic situation in Israel/Palestine as one of ‘injustice versus injustice’, echoing writer Amoz Oz, who claims ‘a sad case of competing juridical systems’. In other words, a war over secular meaning.
One should add though, that Arendt appears to contradict her own thesis by arguing in The Origins of Totalitarianism, that “the evil of the Nazis was absolute and inhuman, not shallow and incomprehensible.”
And note, van Heerden also appears to ignore the fact that Israel barely occupies 35% of Mandate Palestine, with Arab states holding 65% of the territory. I therefore urge readers to read: “Everything you know about the Palestinian Struggle is Wrong“