The Woke Contrarian

I don't think I'm one of them either. I'm one of mine.

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On the cynical use of “open dialogue”

… why is it that “enlightened centrists” who want “open dialogue” just want an excuse to be racist, sexist (especially transphobic, but also homophobic or misogynistic), xenophobic, ableist, classist, or otherwise prejudicial?

It’s to the point that I distrust anyone who calls for “open dialogue,” because I know that people who want me dead or miserable are going to be brought onto the stage. I don’t mean talking to a dominant or privileged group—as I have said repeatedly, I do not see people as being The Oppressor just because of their skin colour, ancestry, gender, or any other characteristic other than their actions. I am talking about people who actively argue for sex-based restrictions on religious fundamentalist or “feminist” grounds, claim to be “race realists,” or raise the question of severe disabilities to strip all disabled people of their agency.

I don’t like a lot of the woke movement either, but it’s time to distinguish vulnerable minorities from our ostensible spokespeople. (I’ll write more about that later.) I am sick to death of feeling that I have to choose between woke assholes who defend Hamas as a decolonial movement or just shout slogans instead of explaining their position, or chauvinistic majoritarians who cast themselves as iconoclastic (Look, I’m straight and white and that’s not allowed any more!) even though they’re just like everybody else.

Vengeance is not justice.

The key to breaking the cycle [of tragedy] is to move social discourse away from the quest for vengeance (often mislabelled “justice”), to the goal of building a society together with one’s former enemies.

—Nicolai Petro, The Tragedy of Ukraine

On “decolonial” states

Since the forces of imperialism which oppress independence are allied on an international scale, the struggle to oppose imperialist domination and oppression and defend independence, too, cannot but be an international undertaking. Because of the community of their historical backgrounds and interests, the formerly oppressed nations and peoples who have been subjected to colonial slavery, with their independence and sovereignty downtrodden by imperialism, are united together on the same front of struggle to oppose imperialism and defend independence.

The peoples of small countries who have long suffered oppression by foreign forces need so much the more the sense of national dignity and revolutionary pride.

The heroic struggle waged by our anti-[imperialist ruler] revolutionary fighters of the past is an example that teaches the truth of real life and struggle to the younger generation who have not experienced the ordeals of the revolution. Schools should make great efforts to educate the students by referring to the shining examples set by our anti-[imperialist ruler] revolutionary fighters of the past.

Picture this: there is a state that has recently overthrown its imperialist overlords, led by a charismatic guerrilla fighter. Built on principles of national self-determination, sovereignty, self-sufficiency and community cohesion, the new anti-imperialist, decolonial state works quickly to unify its people after a brutal war. Local culture is protected thanks to robust laws that are designed to uphold its people’s national heritage.

Click the “read more” tag to find out what that state is.

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EU gives Kiev carte blanche to weasel out of accommodating Russophones

Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten about Ukraine’s continuing efforts to impose a rigidly ethnonationalist agenda on a deeply divided country. Ukrainian officials have claimed that ethnic Russians and Russian-speaking Ukrainians aren’t a “real” ethnic minority—they’re just Ukrainians who happen to speak Russian—and don’t need special protection under the law, unlike Hungarians, Romanians, and Tatars who live in Ukraine. Go ahead and force them to stop speaking Russian—after all, they’re not a real minority worthy of protection. The EU has no plans to intervene on Russophone Ukrainians’ behalf, either. (Link is in Russian.)

I think this is yet another own-goal by the Ukrainian government. One of Russia’s “justifications” for invading Ukraine was the country’s supposed oppression of Russian-speakers. By constantly doubling down on anti-Russian-language laws and statutes, Kiev is simply giving the Russians talking points. If I were less informed about Moscow’s propaganda, I would have thought Putin was telling the truth. (In general, Russia has a tendency of noticing real problems—Ukrainian ethnonationalism and its connections with Nazi collaborators, racial tensions in the US, labour disputes in France—and using them to justify its own actions and deflect criticism.) Remember, the best lies contain a grain of truth, and this is no exception.

(To learn more about the divisive nature of Ukrainian nationalism, I strongly recommend reading Nicolai Petro’s The Tragedy of Ukraine or some of the articles that preceded the full book.)

What not to do if you actually want people to support Palestinians

It’s spouting reductive, jargon-packed, essentialist bullshit (and, in the case of the Students for Justice in Palestine chapter, pogrom-inciting antisemitism) that will convince nobody outside your narrow academic circle of identitarian leftists. “Settler-colonial” (or just “settler”) is the identitarian-leftist equivalent of the Marxist “bourgeois”—or the right-wing “degenerates” or “groomers.” It’s a way to throw people into a bin and label them. I am sick to death of political movements that are predicated on just trying to wipe out the other guy. You keep doing that and we’re not going to have anyone left. Unless that’s what you want.

There is no one “Zionism” or “anti-Zionism”

Despite what the media and loudmouthed activists on both sides would have you think, there are multiple kinds of Zionism and anti-Zionism. Some are worse than others. This isn’t a scientific study; it’s based on my observations as an armchair (though not amateur—I went to grad school for public policy) analyst of the situation. I’ll order them from one extreme (eliminationist Zionism) to the other (eliminationist anti-Zionism).


Some Zionists want to wipe out all Palestinian Arabs from Israeli territory and ensure that the entire Land of Israel is reserved for Israeli Jews. Prime Minister Netanyahu and his coalition clearly fall into this category. This kind of genocidal Zionism is to be condemned. It is these Zionists who exemplify settler colonialism, since it is their goal to displace all Palestinians, who are merely an obstacle to their version of Manifest Destiny. They are typically Islamophobic and associate Muslims with terrorism, even though most Muslims are peace-loving, just like anybody else. They have forgotten, like their extremist anti-Zionist counterparts, that both Jews and Arabs are native to this part of the Middle East. Rightists with identitarian politics (those who treat certain races, genders, religions or nationalities as virtuous or damned, no in-between) often hold these views—well, except for neo-Nazis and other antisemites, unless they want to deport all diaspora Jews to their own Bantustan.

Other Zionists will allow Palestinians to live, but only in squalid apartheid conditions. This was the status quo in Gaza for several years, even after the Israeli government claimed it would disengage from Gaza in 2005. This kind of Zionism is also to be condemned. These people typically want Judaism to be the state religion. Like the genocidal Zionists, segregationists are Islamophobes and think that keeping people in an open-air prison for 16 years is an acceptable way to fight terrorists—even though a large portion of the Gazan population is children and adolescents. They typically support the West Bank settlements.

And other Zionists are against the apartheid system and Netanyahu’s genocide, but they still prefer to maintain a single Jewish state in which Palestinians are not afforded the same rights. They may or may not support the West Bank settlements. This kind of Zionism is also to be condemned, since it is a mirror image of Middle Eastern Jews’ experiences as dhimmis (a protected but subordinate group) under Islamic rule. These Zionists are probably worth having a dialogue with, since they are opposed to the obvious crimes against humanity committed by the Israeli state.

Some Zionists support the existence of the state of Israel, but they are open to a two-state solution or something else based on the wishes of both Israelis and Palestinians. They generally want to end the occupation of the West Bank and the apartheid regime in Gaza. Like the single-state Zionists, two-state Zionists are worth having a dialogue with. Most western governments fall into this category. The problem arises is when two-state Zionists try to appease the more extreme factions, which some of them do.


Some anti-Zionists want to end the West Bank occupation and apartheid system and want a single secular state that includes both Jews and Arabs. Zionists are often opposed to this solution because it would create a Palestinian majority and dilute the Jewishness of Israel—and possibly open its residents to the antisemitism they escaped in Europe and in the Arab states before the establishment of the Israeli state. (This can probably be circumvented with laws explicitly protecting Jews from antisemitism and honouring the history of the Israeli state, even if it is now secular, as well as quotas for Jewish and Arab representation.) This group of anti-Zionists is usually worth talking to. This flavour of anti-Zionism is common among some leftists, typically Marxists. A variant of this view is anarchists’ anti-Zionism, which opposes both Israeli and Palestinian nationalism—and the existence of any states, regardless of the ethnicity or religion associated with them. Some of these anti-Zionists may support the uprising in general (and show a disturbing lack of regard for Israeli civilian deaths), though they usually disapprove of Hamas’s theocratic beliefs and desire to wipe out all Jews in the area.

Other anti-Zionists want a single state whose official religion is Islam, though they will allow Israeli Jews to remain on the territory. This would be a return to the dhimmi status to which Jews were subjected before the creation of the Israeli state. These anti-Zionists are possibly worth talking to, though their desire for a theocracy means that they are less likely to be reasonable than supporters of a secular state.

And finally, there are anti-Zionists who want to dismantle the state of Israel and kill or deport all the Jewish residents to establish an Islamist Arab ethnostate. This is the view held by Hamas, Hezbollah and some other Islamist groups, as well as some “decolonial” supporters who (wrongly) liken Hamas’s terrorist acts to those by Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress and other resistance fighters. (The currently jailed Marwan Barghouti is a better analogue to Mandela.) Unfortunately, this group of anti-Zionists tends to dominate the conversation, and they really shouldn’t. Leftists with identitarian politics (the lefty version of right-wing fascism or religious fundamentalism) can fall into this category. I find this group the most offensive since they claim to speak in the name of social justice and fairness, but they’re advocating wanton violence and defending terrorists who slaughter civilians instead. I expect right-wing Zionists to be heartless, but not people who are supposedly on “my side.” The sad thing is some tankies—yes, the ones who stuff their articles with quotes from Stalin and praise North Kor—I mean, the “DPRK,” as many times as they can—have been more reasonable than the identitarians. Tankies at the very least usually reject Islamism, even if they frequently fail to condemn Hamas’s killing of civilians. Identitarians don’t give a shit about theocracy if it’s not Jewish or Christian. The idea that a religious or ethnic group can be an oppressed minority in the West and an oppressive majority in the Middle East has not occurred to them. They also tend to see Jews, regardless of race, as white settlers who have displaced native Arabs, even though a plurality of Israeli Jews have ancestors from the Mediterranean or Middle East. They outnumber Ashkenazi Jews, though in Western countries, Jews are typically associated with Ashkenazim because of 19th- and 20th-century immigration patterns. (I spend more time criticising this group than any other because I am surrounded by identitarian leftists who spout this antisemitic genocidal bullshit. I don’t know any Zionists who are calling for a genocide, just progressive Zionists who want equality for both Israelis and Palestinians, as well as the other ethnic groups living in Israel/Palestine.)

The Woke Contrarian’s Views

I lean toward the two-state solution or a single secular state. Either is better than the current situation or anything else Jewish or Islamic theocratic nationalists are proposing. Unfortunately, the Israeli regime and Hamas are pushing the worst possible solutions—singular, monoethnic, theocratic states with no room for compromise or coexistence.

War is not a sports game.

War is not a sports game. And yet, and yet.

I’ve seen this with Ukraine and Russia, and now I’m seeing it with Israel and Hamas. In the past, I saw it with the Iraq War. It’s like being in Ancient Rome and watching gladiators go at it against each other—but worse.

I get this impression that people are thinking, “Three-nil to Russia!” “Touchdown! Israel clinched it in the nick of time! Look at that crowd over there! It’s unbelievable!” “Foul for Israel: goaltending!” “Kiev scored an own-goal—oops!” “Send them off the pitch! Russia—red card!” “Hamas scored a home run! And that’s a ball game!” “And that was a surprise save by Ukraine! If you look over there, Putin is fuming!” “Slam-dunk by Hamas!” “And Netanyahu’s been sent to the penalty box!” “Penalty kick to Ukraine!”

You want to watch sports? Watch Arsenal or Real Madrid or Dynamo Kiev. Watch the LA Lakers or Boston Celtics or Chicago Bulls. Watch the Dallas Cowboys, New England Patriots or Oakland Raiders. Or watch the Boston Red Sox, San Francisco Giants or New York Mets (boo!). Watch England and India play cricket. Hell, you can even watch Donald Trump make an idiot of himself on the golf course. But Israel and Ukraine are not playing fields. They are war zones. These are people’s lives we’re talking about, not just points on a scoreboard.

It’s saddest from people who support a particular side because they want to see justice in the world. But even in just wars, even after the American Civil War and World War II, it was changes made in peacetime that brought about justice, not just the wars themselves. (There are vanishingly few just wars. Rarely is your opponent going to be an Adolf Hitler.) You can win the war and lose the peace.

But these justice-seekers treat the wars in Israel and Ukraine in the same way the thrill-seekers do: like a sports game. All they want to do is score goals over the other guy. You can’t point out the problems with the other “team” because if you do, it means that their team loses. You can’t find a solution for both Israelis and Palestinians, or the different ethnic communities in Ukraine. Someone’s got to win and it has to be them. These people want to win the game, not heal the pain.

War is not a sports game.

Enough is enough. No more weapons to Kiev.

After nearly two years of supporting the Ukrainian effort (though there’s not much I can do as an armchair observer), I’ve changed my mind about supporting Kiev militarily. At this point, the war is unwinnable by either Ukraine or Russia. This is a war of attrition. It is a meat grinder. Ukraine’s counteroffensive has spluttered. Russia has barely gained any territory, and it didn’t “take Kiev in three days” as it planned to last year.

The world has been flooded with propaganda, both Russian and Ukrainian, claiming that each side will win handily. Anyone with a pulse who paid attention to the Western mainstream media knew about Russian propaganda, which was indeed full of shit. But Ukrainian propaganda, too, misled the Western public. Ukrainian propaganda doesn’t tell outright lies like its Russian counterpart, but it distorts, exaggerates, minimises, denies and obfuscates. “If you just give us enough weapons, we’ll win the war,” Zelensky said over and over again. For a while, it worked: Russia’s troops failed to take major cities like Kiev, Odessa, Lviv and Kharkov. Ukraine was able to recapture Kherson. But this year, Ukraine’s luck ran out. The Russians took Bakhmut, even though it was a hollowed-out shell with very few inhabitants. “Putin is the next Hitler,” they said. Russia can’t even manage to take over the entirety of Ukraine. There is little chance that it will try to take Poland, Georgia or any other nearby country. Putin’s goals have been as quixotic as Zelensky’s. If Russia resorts to using nuclear weapons, even China will stop dealing with it. It is likely that Russia’s only ally will be North Korea, a worldwide pariah state.

I really hate to admit this, since… the Ukrainians did not deserve what Russia did to them—the Bucha massacre, the daily bombings, the child abductions, the fake referenda, the crushing repression in all Russian-occupied areas. The injustice is palpable. As much as I have complained about Ukraine’s ultranationalist politics and its accommodation of the extreme right, ordinary Ukrainians are not synonymous with their leadership. Remember that Zelensky won his election handily because he ran on a peace platform. He ran to bring all Ukrainians together, whether they came from Lviv, Vinnytsia, Kiev, Odessa or Donetsk. Instead, he and the Rada passed Poroshenko-like laws that favoured Western Ukraine. But that’s not what Ukrainians voted for in 2019. They’d had enough of that after Poroshenko. These are ordinary people trapped in extraordinarily bad circumstances.

But at the same time, it’s time for some policy realism. Ukraine needs no-strings-attached humanitarian aid—and a change in government to flush out the ultranationalists, not more weapons from the US, NATO and the EU. It is time for Moscow and Kiev to go to the negotiation table. Enough is enough.

Yes, your tone matters.

I don’t think it’s necessary or required to be nice and polite all the time. There’s no such thing as a polite revolution, even if there should be. But the idea that tone does not, or should not, matter when you’re defending a cause is 100% bullshit. In rhetoric, tone matters. It’s not just what you say—it’s how you say it.

Shouting “Trans women are women” won’t convince people who aren’t familiar with how gender identity works—and it definitely won’t convince people who are right-leaning or centrist but are open to listening to either side. Yelling at them will send them into the arms of transphobes like TERFs and fundamentalist Christians, who reinforce their preconceived notions about gender and sexuality. Your average person is extremely unlikely to be trans, and they are also unlikely to know a trans person, so treating these arguments as truisms does not help this just cause.

Shrieking to a pacifist or soft Zionist, or even your average person who doesn’t know much about the relationship between Israel and Palestine, that Israel is a settler-colonialist imperialist project will merely shut them down. They don’t know what the hell settler colonialism is, and they may not even think that “colonial” is a bad thing—after all, brand names like “Colonial Window Company” and “Imperial Margarine” are common in the US. “Settler colonialism” is an academic talking point. If you say that you don’t care about Israeli civilian casualties or hostages, you’re not going to bring a single person to your side. You just look like a heartless supporter of terrorists (which you are—ironically, you sound a lot like the hard Zionists who will happily bomb the shit out of regular Palestinians to get Hamas). If you call Hamas a bunch of freedom fighters when the news says they’re terrorists over and over again, then they’re not going to listen to you. They’re going to look at you as though you’ve grown two heads. There is a reason why the mainstream media has no time or reason to listen to anti-Zionists: it’s because you keep undermining a good cause (ending the Israeli apartheid regime and stopping Netanyahu’s barbarous attacks on Gaza) by demonstrating a lack of empathy, consideration, patience or basic decency. I am furious at most of the anti-Zionists I’ve spoken to because they’re being heartless assholes. I despise Netanyahu. He’s a genocidal creep. I think Israel’s actions toward Palestinians have been abominable. But Hamas is not the answer. They’re slaughtering civilians. Through their indiscriminate violence they have undermined their own goddamn fucking cause.

I am against all sexisms, including transphobia. I am not a Zionist. If I didn’t already agree with these causes, either in whole or in part, I wouldn’t be convinced. In fact, I would probably double down because I was tired of being scolded over and over again. You cannot make your case by pouncing on people and yelling at them every time they fuck up, every time they merely repeat what the news has pelted them with for the past decade, every time that they ask questions and want to learn more. If you don’t have the energy to argue politely, find people who do. (There are some topics I can debate, like geopolitics, but I can’t debate LGBTQ+ rights, for example.) There is more than one way to organise. I can’t engage with homophobes and transphobes, so I refuse to debate them. There are other queer people who can do that. I used to in the past.

This is why you keep hearing right-wingers and centrists talking about “woke scolds,” even though these people are far from representative. (The worst scolds are on the right.) A jerk for a good cause is still a jerk—and most people will respond accordingly.

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