A Careful Reader of Finkelstein’s New Book Responds to Tariq Ali

January 9, 2023

In Cancel Culture And Academic Freedom Letters To Finkelstein Norman Finkelstein

Dear Norman Finkelstein,


I just finished reading ‘I’ll burn that bridge when I get to it’ from the pdf you sent to me which I printed out. I have to confess, seeing the ‘advance praise’ from Tariq Ali made me think that you might have gone insane- or at least that you had written a bad book and were misinterpreting honest criticism. Having read it, I’m glad that those thoughts were wrong. The book was great and I have no idea what Tariq Ali was talking about. Every insult seemed to be heavily backed up by citations, and every line that could have been taken as ‘zany’ offered relief from the otherwise mind numbing stupidity of your subjects. I found myself on two occasions being confused as to why I could no longer properly interpret the sentences, only to look up and realise that I had been reading for several hours and was mentally exhausted.


I don’t feel the use of heaping praise onto a person’s work, as it comes off as needy. Still, I wish to make two comments. Firstly is to the hilarity of the book; reading “I’m she/ her and im packing a thick, juicy nine-incher” (p.61) and “DiAngelo fancy dat peeps of colour be trustin ‘ her” (p106) …etc, were all laugh out loud passages. Secondly, the exhaustive quotations from Obama’s memoir made me wan’t to kill myself. Prior to reading this, I was planning on reading a selection of memoirs by past US presidents that my local second hand book shop sells- the quotations from (p272, footnote 72) quickly changed my mind.


In the DiAngelo chapter you write “begging the readers forgiveness”- you don’t have my forgiveness. This chapter was particularly painful, so much so that I did not believe that what you were citing was accurate. I had to go online, find a pdf of ‘White Fragility’ and skim the better part of it to realise that what you were citing was in fact true. I recall in my primary school there was a small class of mentally disabled kids who would only mingle with the rest of the students at lunch time. Children, being the horrible creatures that they are, would swarm the disabled kids, making fun of them, pointing out their every mental deficiency. They would ask questions like what’s ten plus ten, waiting for the disabled kids to become so frustrated that they would burst into tears. Reading the DiAngelo chapter reminds me of this- there is no way someone could so thoroughly humiliate themselves without being at least somewhat cognitively impaired.

I hope your book is widely read. God knows people need to read it. I can only handle so many ‘trigger warnings’ given before discussion of homelessness in a class on drug addiction, or a warning about animal abuse before a class on animal experiments in psychology. There are too many examples of faculty insanity when it comes to progressivism to list, and to be honest I wouldn’t want to burden you with them- I don’t know how you’re still sane after going through the material cited in your book.


I had a few questions pertaining to the book that I hope you have enough time to answer:


1. In chapter 3, you establish that reparations are not politically tenable and their dogmatic advocacy serves to harm the Sanders campaign. To what extent do you think it damaged Sanders chances at winning or to what extent was it just a nuisance?


2. In chapter 2 you argue that intersectionality is being used to play the oppression olympics. Despite this usage, do you think intersectionality holds any strength as a way of analysing the world? For example, does it not hold as an important method of analysis when looking at, say, addiction. (Many drug addicts are unemployed. Many more have been raped. Many more are Aboriginal. Should these three factors both not be combined to look at the level of oppression and need a person has in treatment)


3. Somewhat unrelated but at the start of Obama’s chapter, you cite Trotsky’s opinion on Kerensky as a ‘grandiose zero’. I’ve always viewed Kerensky through the more traditional view: an ambitious socialist politician in a difficult political position. What’s your opinion on him?


4. I was very surprised by Fredrick Douglass’s opinion on native americans and Bertrand Russel’s opinions on black people and aboriginals across the globe. I have to admit, by these examples, you completely changed my mind on the degree to which certain opinions should be discussed in an academic space. Given these great minds’ fallibilities, it makes me more cautious of my own opinion. Can you recommend any books that effectively argue the Israeli position on the current crisis? Or any competent books that dispute the Chomskyite position of the world? At present it seems that I’m in somewhat of a political bubble.


Thanks again for sending the book. I can’t overstate the pleasure it was to read.



James Willee