When Ken Livingstone hid in a disabled toilet at Westminster this afternoon, it's a safe bet Edward Said's "Orientalism" (1978) wasn't the first thing on his mind. Nevertheless, by yet again choosing his words about Israel so carefully - not, as his defenders have it, carelessly - Ken has again provided a living, breathing example of a mindset common on the British Left: that foreigners, and especially those from a region we persist in calling the "Middle East" (East of where, exactly?) are children.
I'll return to this hypothesis in a moment, but first let's get a few facts out of the way. In his interview on BBC London, Livingstone said: "Let's remember when Hitler won his election in 1932, his policy then was that Jews should be moved to Israel. He was supporting Zionism – this before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews."
Actually, there's a good case for arguing that Hitler was a little bit "mad" long before 1932. In 1925, for instance, when he wrote in Mein Kampf: "The moral and physical cleanliness of this race [the Jews] was a point in itself. It was externally apparent that these were not water-loving people, and unfortunately one could frequently tell that even with eyes closed. Later the smell of these caftan wearers often made me ill. Added to this were their dirty clothes and their none too heroic appearance. Perhaps all this was not very attractive; aside from the physical uncleanliness, it was repelling suddenly to discover the moral blemishes of the chosen people."
A few other facts that Ken may wish to consider, when remarking that as late as 1932, Hitler was actually helping the Jews reach the Promised Land via the so-called Haavara Agreement - which even now is used by Ken's many supporters as "proof" of some sort of charitable act on Hitler's part.
Prior to this generous agreement, the Dachau concentration camp was being built. Jewish-owned shops were attacked. Jews were forbidden to work as doctors. I could go on - but consult an expert if you're interested.
I'm more interested in why, yet again, a British Left winger - who in so many respects has an impeccable history of fighting racism in all its forms - has such a blind spot when it comes to Western Asia. Why is he so much more interested in what the IDF is doing than what Isis are doing to women, to kids, to homosexuals, to every minority and even to Sunnis? Because deep down, like his comrades George Galloway, Seumas Milne, Piers (and probably Jeremy) Corbyn - Livingstone probably regards foreigners (or, even more problematic, British-born but of "foreign" heritage) as children, incapable of rational thought - only of responding to acts of "Western Imperialism."
If a few lads from Yorkshire blow up some tube trains and a bus - it's Tony Blair's fault for invading Iraq. If some feckless Belgian boys blow up an airport, Filipino nut-jobs hack off a Canadian's head, Mohammed Emwazi chooses to revel in the slaughter of a Salford dad trying to help Syrian kids - it's all "our" fault. "We" - by which they mean white English people - made "them" - darker, not that dark TBH but a bit darker than us - commit these acts. It's all "our" fault. "They" are pure; "they" are noble savages who'd still be living lives of peace, love and tolerance if "We" hadn't spoiled everything. It's a despicable and harmful viewpoint - and it matters, because it's polluting the Left, and discouraging honest debate, and it's dividing communities.
Next time you're hiding in a disabled toilet, Ken, why not catch up on a bit of reading? History might be a good place to start.