Monthly Archives: July 2006

Israel = Nazis: Chronicles in Moral Schadenfreude

The tall story we Europeans now tell ourselves about Israel

By Charles Moore
The UK Telegraph

7/29/2006

Sir Peter Tapsell is, if the phrase is not a contradiction in terms nowadays, a distinguished backbencher. He first entered the House of Commons in 1959. Noted for his grand manner, he is the longest-serving Tory MP.

At foreign affairs questions in Parliament on Tuesday, Sir Peter rose. He wanted Margaret Beckett to tell him whether the Prime Minister had colluded with President Bush in allowing Israel to “wage unlimited war” in Lebanon, including attacks on civilian residential areas of Beirut. These attacks, he added, were “a war crime grimly reminiscent of the Nazi atrocity on the Jewish quarter in Warsaw”.

Mrs Beckett firmly rejected the premise of the question – that Mr Bush had permitted “unlimited war” – and moved on, but I found myself winded by Sir Peter’s choice of words.

What is happening in Lebanon? After the kidnapping of two of its soldiers and the firing of hundreds of rockets against its people from across the Lebanese border, Israel is trying to crush the Hizbollah fighters who have perpetrated these acts. In doing so, it has also killed civilians. Some 500 people have died in Lebanon as a result.

What was the “Nazi atrocity on the Jewish quarter in Warsaw”? There were many, of course. But Sir Peter was probably referring to the events of April-May 1943. The Nazis had earlier deported 300,000 Polish Jews to Treblinka. As news of their fate reached Jews in Warsaw, they decided to revolt against further round-ups. For about a month, they resisted. They were subdued: 7,000 of them were killed and 56,000 were sent to the camps.

Sir Peter surely knew this, yet he chose to speak as he did. 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?

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.

Not only is this analysis wrong – if the Israelis are such imperialists, why did they withdraw from Lebanon for six years, only returning when threatened once again? How many genocidal regimes do you know that have a free press and free elections? – it is also morally imbecilic. It makes no distinction between the tough, sometimes nasty things all countries do when hard-pressed and the profoundly evil intent of some ideologies and regimes. It says nothing about the fanaticism and the immediacy of the threat to Israel. Sir Peter has somehow managed to live on this planet for 75 years without spotting the difference between what Israel is doing in Lebanon and “unlimited war”.

As well as being morally imbecilic, this narrative is the enemy of all efforts to understand what is actually going on in the Middle East. It is so lazy.

Read the rest.

Stop Immediately: An Israeli PCPer Tackles the Lebanon Mess

Gideon Levy, veteran journalist for Ha-Aretz has this to say about the war in Lebanon. It is a near-perfect expression of the PCP trying to grapple with that which it cannot understand, with a heavy dose of moral perfectionism. I give it special attention because this editorial moved some of my progressive correspondants as both wise and rational.
[Levy in bold, blockquote]

Stop Now, Immediately

by Gideon Levy

This war must be stopped now and immediately. From the start it was unnecessary, even if its excuse was justified, and now is the time to end it. Every day raises its price for no reason, taking a toll in blood that gives Israel nothing tangible in return. This is a good time to stop the war because both sides can claim they won: Israel harmed Hezbollah and Hezbollah harmed Israel. History shows that no situation is better for reaching an arrangement. Remember the lessons of the Yom Kippur War.

This is a prime example of the even-handed approach that reflect cognitive egocentrism. Levy shows no sign that he knows what Hizbullah is about — ideology, training, goals, etc. And yet, and yet, how could he not? Perhaps the extensive presence of people reassuring him that Hizbullah, like all other terror groups, are really just interested in power, and ultimately will act “rationally” makes it too easy to miss some essentials of religious madness.

Israel went into the campaign on justified grounds and with foul means. It claims it has declared war on Hezbollah but, in practice, it is destroying Lebanon. It has gotten most of what it could have out of this war. The aerial “target bank” has mostly been covered. The air force could continue to sow destruction in the residential neighborhoods and empty offices and could also continue dropping dozens of tons of bombs on real or imagined bunkers and kill innocent Lebanese, but nothing good will come of it.

This is a good example of Levy’s reknown credulity (or rhetorical excess). Lebanon’s civil war of 1975-90? “destroyed” the country far more devastatingly than this incursion. The Lebanese political system is desperately dysfunctional, and Hizbullah, occupying Syria, meddling Iran, and Western and UN weaknesss, have all contributed to her condition. So Israel can’t be destroying Lebanon politically; on the contrary, this intervention opens a window of opportunity to help Lebanon recover by disarming its militia. And as for the physical damage… how does Levy know what kind of damage? TV?

But “destroying Lebanon” does sound ominous. Our media may, under Hizbullah instructions, show us the same corner of Beirut that’s been destroyed, just as they showed us the same corner of the refugee camp outside Jenin that was destroyed in April 2002, and lead us to think that Beirut and Jenin have been leveled. But why would an Israeli journalist (want to) believe that?

Bernard Lewis on Knowing Enemies and Friends

A friend has sent me this passage with his astute comment, which I came across while cleaning my desktop. If you read this let me know so I can credit you. It needs no further comment by me.

Source: Article by Bernard Lewis in Encounter Magazine, Feb. 1968 – Entitled Friends and Enemies – Reflections After a War

In the beginning of the article, Bernard Lewis quotes directly from Ibn Hazm of Cordova (994-1064) from Ibn Hazm’s work The Book of Morals and Conduct.

“The measure of prudence and resolution is to know a friend from an enemy; the height of stupidity and weakness is not to know an enemy from a friend.

Do not surrender your enemy to oppression, nor oppress him yourself. In this respect treat enemy and friend alike. But be on your guard against him, and beware lest you befriend and advance him, for this is the act of a fool. He who befriends and advances friend and foe alike will only arouse distaste for his friendship and contempt for his enmity. He will earn the scorn of his enemy, and facilitate his hostile designs; he will lose his friend, who will join the ranks of his enemies.

The height of goodness is that you should neither oppress your enemy nor abandon him to oppression. To treat him as a friend is the mark of a fool whose end is near.

The height of evil is that you should oppress your friend. Even to estrange him is the act of a man who has no sense, from whom misfortune is predestined.

Magnanimity (i.e., hilm) is not to befriend the enemy, but to spare them, and to remain on guard against them.”

In short … you must defeat your enemy and only then be magnanimous. If your stop before victory, you will be understood as weak and foolish. Your enemy will not respect you and will continue the fight and your friend will join the ranks of your enemies.

Islamophobia and Criticism of Islam

Islamophobia designates the irrational fear of Islam that drives people to make blanket judgments accusing all Muslims (over a billion people) of harboring the same murderous fantasies that Muslim extremists express and act upon. For most Muslims, Islam is a religion that demands moral behavior from believers who will be answerable to Allah for their actions on judgment day. Islam commands Muslims to care for the sick and the destitute, to organize communities according to principles of justice, to master oneself before one seeks to influence others. Islam does not have a strict hierarchy among its clergy; Islamic teaching comes from largely autonomous leaders in a wide range of communities. To reduce so complex a phenomenon to the “obscurantist rantings of Islamists defies responsible serious scholarship”, to accept a simplistic formula – all Muslims are Jihadis bent on world domination – can inspire both hatred and violence. The issue is one of international importance.

Some Muslims have started to compare the persecution against Muslims to what the Jews endured in the twentieth century. Writer Abid Ullah Jan, decried Western Islamophobia and stated that it was “paving the way for Muslim holocaust… towards mainstream fascism: a time when pogrom of Muslims would not generate any sympathy or reaction in their favour.” Pakistan’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, speaking on behalf of the 57 Islamic countries, declared the the phenomenon of Islamophobia was on the rise in Europe and urged Western countries to promote tolerance and respect for all religions. He warned about the dangers of Islamophobia: “If we read the trends closely and connect the dots, it is obvious Muslims are being dehumanized. This is painfully reminiscent of the pre-World War II era. That dark chapter of history and pogroms must never be repeated, this time involving Muslims.” Jews more than any group, should be sensitive to accusing other people of what the Nazis accused them: a ruthless people intent on slaughtering and enslaving the German people. To the even-handed observer, neither group should be subject to such slander.

The Commission on British Muslims and Islamophobia in its final report “Islamophobia: a challenge to us all” (1997) identifies

EIGHT COMPONENTS OF ISLAMOPHOBIA:

1) Islam is seen as a monolithic bloc, static and unresponsive to change.

2) Islam is seen as separate and ‘other’. It does not have values in common with other cultures, is not affected by them and does not influence them.

3) Islam is seen as inferior to the West. It is seen as barbaric, irrational, primitive and sexist.

4) Islam is seen as violent, aggressive, threatening, supportive of terrorism and engaged in a ‘clash of civilisations’.

5) Islam is seen as a political ideology and is used for political or military advantage.

6) Criticisms made of the West by Islam are rejected out of hand.

7) Hostility towards Islam is used to justify discriminatory practices towards Muslims and exclusion of Muslims from mainstream society.

8) Anti-Muslim hostility is seen as natural or normal.

In recent years there has been a growing trend to challenge those perceived as Islamophobes:

  • The creation of Islamophobia Watch, founded with the “determination not to allow the racist and imperialist ideology of Western Imperialism to gain common currency in its demonisation of Islam.”
  • The Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC) has an annual “Islamophobia Awards“to highlight what they describe as growing anti-Muslim prejudice.
  • Organization of conferences regarding the dangers of Islamophobia and the best ways to fight it. (See, CAIR Conference and UN Conference).

Islamophobia is a common accusation used in PCP circles where, like the accusation of Antisemitism, it is intended to stigmatize the person so designated as having gone far beyond the boundaries of acceptable discourse, along with racism and essentialism. Islamophobia has such currency that at least one academic at a US university felt justified in requiring his students to write a paper on “outright Islamophobes”, including major scholars like Patricia Crone, Fouad Ajami, Bernard Lewis, Niall Ferguson, Samuel Huntington. He justifies the assignment by denouncing Islamophobia as a “phenomenon that brings together right-wing Christians and right-wing Zionists.”

Among those accused of suffering from Islamophobia are:

DANIEL PIPES
: Director of the Middle East Forum Pipes has been accused of being an “enemy of Islam,” a racist, contributing to the dehumanization of Muslims. His opponents consider his views dangerous because they open the gate to persecution of Muslims. (see here, here, and here).

ROBERT SPENCER: Director of Jihad Watch he is the author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades).
Islamophobia Watch finds him hard to please, to say the least.

STEPHEN SCHWARTZ: A Sufi writer, director of the Center for Islamic Pluralism he blames the rise of Islamic fundamentalism on Wahabism, a puritan Islamic sect that has enormous influence in Saudi Arabia, and through them, throughout the world, The Two Faces of Islam : Saudi Fundamentalism and Its Role in Terrorism. Schwartz replies to accusations of Islamophobia.

THE DANGER OF EQUATING CRITICISM WITH ISLAMOPHOBIA

As some feel justified in denouncing Jewish use of the accusation of “anti-Semitism” to deflect legitimate criticism, however, so can Muslims use Islamophobia to deflect serious discussion about dangerous tendencies within Islam. Indeed, some define Islamophobia simply in terms of public image:

One who contributes to a negative public presentation of Islam and/or Muslims; whose political views and/or scholarship shape how Islam is presented today.

When any criticism or negative presentation of Islam becomes identified with Islamophobia, when any scholar who does not play the role of apologist can be so dismissed no matter how substantial his or her research, then the label has shifted from an important designation (and legitimate accusation) to a weapon of propaganda designed to smear opponents. In such cases, Islamophobia becomes a particularly powerful form of demopathic discourse, insisting that any criticism of Islam is a form of demonizing hate language.

The problem arises when we look more closely at the data. The two cases, however they may share this similarity in being both the objects of vilification, differ in most ways. The Jews were a minority in German (and other European) countries, with an understandably passive public discourse, and an extraordinary commitment to public law, as witnessed by their own passive obedience in assembling for deportation. Despite this public profile of Jews in their culture, Germans were taken over by a ruthless ruler who had plans for world conquest and genocide, and appealed to them by accusing the Jews of everything he planned to do. In other words, Hitler’s image of the Jew was the fevered projection of his own mad desires.

Muslims today represent over a billion people – possibly the most numerous religion on earth. They largely do not have societies, and certainly not polities, ruled by law. By the standards of civil society, male violence has few restraints (honor-killings, vendetta, assassination). Muslims of many ethnic and denominational groups have, shouting “Allah is great!” blown themselves up in the midst of tens, hundreds and thousands of civilians, hoping to kill as many as possible. Muslims openly make calls for world conquest, violent attacks on civilians – Muslim and non-Muslim – glorified as holy martyrdom; and a virulent discourse of world conquest and slaughter; and consider any Muslim who denies that terrorism in a part of Islam as a Kafir (unbeliever). Muslim and Arabic public discourse – media, circles of power – abound in conspiratorial thinking and action in which the “other” – especially the “Jew” – is, by definition, demonized.

Insofar as Islam is genuinely a religion of peace and tolerance for non-observant Muslims and non-Muslim neighbors, then sweeping generalizations about its ruthless imperial tendencies is indeed a form of Islamophobia. To the degree that Islam has yet to grapple with its own theocratic and imperialist elements (dar al Harb, which accounts for Islam’s bloody borders), to the degree that it has not yet developed a formal and powerful theological challenge to the Jihadi ideologies that drove an earlier, warrior culture to make war with the infidel, then fear and criticism of Islam by both non-Muslims and Muslims represents not paranoia but realistic concern. Nor need one express such concerns by demonizing.

In order to explore where legitimate criticism crosses the boundary into demonizing hate speech, we must establish a fair approach that applies the same rules to everyone and enables us to register evidence soberly. Thus we cannot merely say, “even-handedly,” that any criticism of Islam or Judaism is hate speech and constitutes either Islamophobia or Judeophobia, regardless of how Muslims and Jews behave. Otherwise, demopaths can demand that no one criticize them, even as they engage in the worst kind of hate-speech and violence.

THE PROBLEM WITH ISLAM

According to the PCP, Islam is a religion of peace. Violent Muslims, especially suicide terrorists, represent a “hi-jacking” of the religion, a deviation and distortion of the “true message” of Islam. Proponents of this perspective, including scholars like John Esposito and popularizers like Karen Armstrong, have dominated progressive public discourse for several decades. Even the President’s remarks in the aftermath of 9-11 reflected this public consensus.

The situation seems more than ironic. The US President, a man who had not even read the Quran in translation, tells the Muslims and the rest of the world what their religion is really about? In the meantime, radical Muslims, fully conversant with the contents of the Quran openly disagree and declare Islam a religion of war and conquest, and moderate Muslims noting Islamist use of violence in silencing criticism, bewail the role of Western intellectuals, who, alone, continue to insist that Islam is a religion of peace.

It is one thing to call oneself a religion of peace, another to act on those principles. The most disturbing aspect of Islam at the moment, is the reluctance of Islamic leaders has to denounce Islamic terrorism. In July of 2005, international representatives from Muslim nations opposed a UN attempt to condemn violence in the name of religion. These appointed, and supposedly qualified Muslim representative’s, then, saw the international condemnation of all religious violence as a specific and unacceptable attack on Islam. Since the London bombings, a distinct shift to a more accommodating Islamic position at least in public declarations has occurred, but it is not clear how much that shift is a response to a fear of retaliation.

Perhaps the best way to illustrate this fundamental problem with Islam and civil society right now is the Muslim attitude towards those they label apostates (Muslims who leave the religion). Islamic law holds that apostates deserve death. Right now, the people who qualify as apostates, and are therefore deserving of death, are Muslims who criticize Islam or call attention to problems and the need to reform. The standard response from the Islamic world to the voice of moderate Muslim dissent is outrage and death threats which effectively silence those voices. On the other hand, Muslims who engage in suicide terrorism, those people who according to the PCP are ‘high-jacking’ and ‘perverting’ Islam, do not qualify as apostates according to prominent and vocal Muslim theologians. Again, since the London bombings, there has been some movement towards condemning terrorism, although critics have questioned the value and sincerity of the fatwa.

The situation has a recipe for mafia-style protection rackets and a culture of homerta (silence) where violence and its threat control public discourse. Muslims themselves represent the first and most common target of this violence, from the silenced reformers to the terrorism of Jihadis who consider the vast majority of Muslims as infidels who have regressed to the period of ignorance preceding the Prophet’s revelations (Jahaliyya). The terrible tales of Iraq, Darfur, Algeria, etc.!, in which Muslim terrorists kill Muslim civilians, support the JP’s perception of this violence as that of a fanatic religious war, the most daunting of enemies. One of the terrible truths with which those who will only swallow the PCP blue pill refuse to grapple, is that the first and worst victim of Jihadi Islamism is Muslims who do not join the movement, perhaps that very Islam which really is a religion of peace. In that sense, these forces represent enemies of all those people, Muslims, monotheists, polytheists, agnostics and atheists, who want to live in fruitful and peaceful relations with their neighbors.

We are dupes when we wrongly identify demopaths as “moderates” and ignore genuine moderates. Tariq Ramadan presents himself as a moderate, and has been compared with Niebuhr and Tillich by enthusiastic scholars of religion, as a high-level advisor to the English government may please the PCP desire to silence “knee-jerk elements in the right-wing press and their prejudices,” but if Tariq Ramadan is not a moderate, if his discourse, more closely examined, represents a “modern” reframing of the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood, then the consequences of such trust may prove most dangerous. Were Ramadan a demopath aiming at a Muslim takeover of Europe, he would use his position to eliminate the hot-heads who give away the game, and empower a whole generation of Muslim communities prepared to wait for a more opportune time, when the demographics improve.

How to tell a demopath in this crowded field of noisy claimants to tell us about Islam? In this case, where Islam stands out right now for the intensity of its demonizing public discourse, the Geiger counter for detecting demopaths is quite simple: What do they say and do about the hate speech that comes out of Islam, especially its Judeophobia? If they deny it, minimize it, make excuses, denounce it with empty formulas… if they engage in it when speaking to the choir… if, when pressed, they resort to accusations of Islamophobia and partisan bias against their critics… then the odds are, you’re either dealing with a demopath or an aggressive dupe. For those committed to civil society’s values, to let such demopaths slide is to hold Muslims in moral contempt by failing to apply the simplest of the rules of fairness. Why? For fear that they will not meet even those expectations? In any case, it condemns Muslims to a continued existence as the victims of systematic cultural and religious violence. Nothing illustrates these dynamics better than the Danish cartoon incident — Islamic hyper-sensitivity to criticism, demopathic comparisons of these cartoons with Holocaust denial, the “Muslim street” rioting, Western fears and intimidation, and the effective extension of Sharia law to non-Muslim areas.

The solution lies not in war, nor in demonizing, but in honest discourse, in supporting friends and challenging enemies; in making true friends and having the right enemies. So far, Islamophobia — the irrational fear of Islam — seems far more a term for demopaths to manipulate than a genuine identifier of a paranoid position.

Is it World War III: A Post-modern Approach

Some meditations on whether we’re in World War III (hat tip: Jim Stodder). The problem is, “from whose point of view?” and “When does denial contribute to the condition over which one is in denial?”


“World War Three without the blood, sweat and tears”

By Gideon Rachman, FINANCIAL TIMES, Published: July 24 2006 19:05

If you are looking for reassurance at this time of international crisis, do not consult Newt Gingrich. “We are in the early stages of what I would describe as the third world war,” says the former speaker of the House of Representatives, who is currently a member of the Pentagon’s Defence Policy Board. Mr Gingrich is not alone in his diagnosis. Dan Gillerman, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, said last week that: “The third world war, I believe, has already started. What we’re seeing today in the Middle East is a chapter of it.” Even President George W. Bush has casually endorsed the idea. He told a television interviewer last May that the passengers who fought back against their hijackers on September 11, 2001 had staged “the first counterattack to world war three”. Symbolically, Mr Bush has placed a bust of Churchill (a gift from the British), in the Oval Office.

Good grief. Can’t this man even get a sentence right? What does “the first counter-attack to world war three” mean? It was the opening attack of World War III. (Actually I think the Second Intifada was that – the opening round of Global Jihad.)

Any argument simultaneously associated with Newt Gingrich, the Israeli ambassador to the UN and President Bush is likely to be dismissed on those grounds alone in much of Europe.

Not to mention our own “enlightened” circles drawn to BDS like a moth to the flame.

But the “third world war” crowd deserves a careful hearing. Essentially, they make two points. The first is that Islamist extremists are already waging a multi-front war. Fighting is under way in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine – and a confrontation with Iran is looming. Those inclined to dismiss this multi-front war as essentially a broad regional conflict are reminded that Islamist terrorists have also struck in New York, Madrid, London, Bali and elsewhere.

Agreed. We need to empathize this these folk, not by projecting our mentalities on to them, but by thinking the way they do. They are in a war with the West. The question here is not an “objective” one – are we or are we not in WW III? The answer is post-modern. They think we are; we think we’re not; and many of us think they’re not. Same was true in the 1930s. Hitler was already at war; the allies were not. The near future will decide the real question: Will we defeat them before it becomes a full-fledged war (as we did not with Hitler)?

The second argument is that these conflicts are all linked because Islamism is a “seamless totalitarian movement” – in the words of Michael Gove, a British Conservative member of parliament and author of a new book on the subject*. Mr Gove and many neo-conservatives in America argue that Islamism is a direct descendant of the totalitarian movements of the twentieth century because, like them, it is implacably and violently hostile to western, liberal democracy.

I agree. Anyone who looks into this will tend to agree as well. I’d just specify: Nazism, Communism, Islamism are all three active cataclysmic millennial movements (they all believe that they must trigger massive destruction in order to bring on the messianic age), and their totalitarian tendencies are a direct result of their urgent violence. When the messianic age does not come like a plant, then we must carve it out on the body politic.

The British government seems to subscribe to at least part of this argument. Tony Blair, prime minister, has spoken of an “arc of extremism” from Afghanistan to the Middle East. And while most British officials are not temperamentally inclined to talk about “third world wars”, they do see worrying links between the various conflicts. One reason the British have been unexpectedly sympathetic to the Israeli effort to blast Hizbollah out of existence is that they believe that many of the roadside bombs used to kill British soldiers in Iraq are based on technology supplied by Hizbollah.

And my bet is that one of the reasons that the French are as well-behaved as they are – although granted, there’s a lot of affirmative action behind that assessment – may result from messages from their intelligence community that Hizbullah is indeed part of global Jihad, and if they don’t start fighting this now, their own “lost territories” will end up looking like Hizbullah controlled Lebanon in a few years.

But the idea of a “seamless totalitarian movement” also has some obvious holes in it. It requires making almost no distinction between the Arab-Israeli conflict and the “war on terror”.

Yes, I’ll go with the formulation you seem to reject. One of the tragic misunderstandings of the Arab-Israeli conflict came after 1967, when the PCP (both variants) urged us to see this in terms of two peoples fighting for national self-determination – the Palestinian Israeli conflict. It has always had enormously powerful elements of Jihad, fed constantly by Muslim Brotherhood fascism, with the Palestinians as a pawn in the larger game. The faster we realize this, the sooner we can start dealing with the situation effectively. Haj Amin al Husseini was a Jihadist.

It glosses over the fact that Saddam Hussein was not an Islamist – and that it was the American-led invasion of Iraq that turned the country into a honey pot for “Islamofascists” (to use the neo-cons’ preferred term).

No. Saddam wasn’t an Islamist, and given a threat from them, he probably would have done to an Islamist opposition in Iraq what his “fellow” Baathist, Assad did to Hama in Syria. But let’s not forget two things: 1) Saddam’s hero was the totalitarian madman Joseph Stalin; and 2) Saddam did not hesitate to use the tropes of global Jihad (“mother of all battles”) and to support their troops ($25,000 to every family of a Palestinian suicide terrorist). The issue with Saddam has much less to do with what he thought he was doing (really what he told us he thought he was doing), but what forces he was rousing, releasing and riding.

And it struggles to make sense of the fact that the single biggest source of bloodshed in the Middle East at the moment is internecine conflict between Sunni and Shia extremists in Iraq. Indeed, some of those who now worry most about Shia militancy had convinced themselves a couple of years ago that the real problem in the Middle East was Sunni radicalism – and that the Shia were a key part of the solution.

And that illuminates the inadequacy of “normative” analysis when dealing with the dynamics of global Jihad. The third law of apocalyptic dynamics states: “My enemy’s enemy is my enemy.” The vicious fighting between Sunnis and Shiis reflects the kind of absolute hatreds that inhabit the heart of active cataclysmic apocalyptic “warriors.” There have been efforts to bring them together (in the 1980s there were efforts to link up the strands represented by Osama and Khoumeini and a fair amount of cross-fertilization). But the basic principle of those who want to bring on Armageddon holds that you may have to “destroy the world to save it.” So on one level they hate each other as “heretics,” on another, even if they are fellow Muslims, their destruction is part of the process.

But perhaps the most telling argument against the “world war three” thesis is that even many of those advancing it do not appear to believe their own rhetoric. In the same Fox News interview in which Mr Gingrich painted “a worldwide picture of efforts to undermine and destroy our civilisation”, he was asked by a clearly embarrassed interviewer about those who argue that “look, this is a costly war and maybe it includes raising taxes on the upper income to fight it”. Mr Gingrich was having none of it. The third world war will apparently not require “raising a penny in taxes”. Clearly, we are not yet at the blood, sweat and tears phase. The Bush administration is similarly reticent. It argues that we are engaged in a struggle to save western civilisation. But it is still all but inconceivable that the administration would re-introduce the draft – or even sharply raise taxes on petrol – to help win that struggle.

This is cute, and it does get at a critical issue in apocalyptic studies. When does one feel that the signs of an imminent cosmic convulsion are so great that one “steps out of the closet” — and that in itself has two phases, first by speaking and then by acting. In this case it’s clear that Gingrich’s economic policies bear no relation to the reality about which he speaks (and since the President seems to share the notion that WW III should be tax free we seem to be in for catastrophic deficits). Gingrich is still between speaking and acting, and partly that’s because until enough people get excited about this, it’s going to be hard to act.

To be honest, he probably thinks he’ll never get people to accept the notion that we’re at war if they think it’s going to cost them; and inversely, there are probably lots of people who don’t want to realize we’re at war because it will cost. Consider World War III the equivalent for the right that global warming is to the left: in both cases, the “other” side won’t recognize it because it would cost too much.

But that doesn’t mean that either global jihad or global warming aren’t threats. Sometimes as I think about the succession of challenges that face us, I feel like the 21st century is like the TV show “24” writ large. No sooner one crisis solved than another looms.

The constant analogies between the war on terror and the war on Nazism do still matter, however. Choose the wrong analogy and you may end up choosing the wrong policy as well. Slogans about “Munich” and appeasement have been heard before some of the worst foreign policy disasters of the past 60 years – such as the Suez crisis and Vietnam. The same talk was heard before the invasion of Iraq and is now rife in connection with Iran.

But there have been other events in history besides appeasement and there are other decades that can be learnt from besides the 1930s. In fact, the struggle between western liberalism and Islamism may end up looking a lot more like the cold war than the second world war. In the cold war, people had to get used to the idea that normal life was taking place against the backdrop of terrifying risks that could not be eliminated by military action alone: then it was Soviet missiles, now it is the fear that a terrorist might get hold of a nuclear bomb. Then, as now, there were episodes of “hot war” – in Korea and elsewhere. But the cold war ultimately turned on a struggle between ideologies and social systems, rather than armies.

To move to the cold war is like shifting from the Nazis to the Prussian aristocracy in thinking about Germany. These conservative elites, no matter how zero-sum they play the game, can be counted on to be pragmatic. But they can be swallowed in a minute by a genuinely popular movement promising immediate and total salvation even at the cost of total catastrophe. The cold war (especially MAD) was based on the understanding that the Russians were “rational” if zero-sum (ie they wouldn’t self destruct). These guys are not remotely rational despite what our specialists tell us.

Communism finally imploded because it could not produce prosperity or a decent society. Militant Islamism – a miserable, medieval philosophy – is bound ultimately to go the same way. In Iran, which has had to live with a fundamentalist regime since 1979, there is plenty of evidence of popular disillusionment with the system, particularly among the young. It is this disillusionment that offers the best hope for the kind of “regime change” that actually lasts. Incapable of offering the hope of a decent life (at least on earth), Islamism’s only real recruiting sergeant is an appeal to a sense of Muslim humiliation and rage against the west. There may be further occasions when the “war on terror” requires military action.

This reminds me of the dinner conversation I had with a friend. I was, typically, bemoaning the threat of Islamism and global Jihad, and warning darkly that we hadn’t seen the worst of it (I must be a lot of fun at dinner), when my friend said: “Look, in 25 years, this whole thing will have blown over.” Yeah just like 25 years after Hitler took power it had blown over. As Rachman points out, the analogy you pick plays a big role in the policy you chose. The point is not to pick the analogy by the policy it implies, but by its accuracy in describing the situation. The right policy at the wrong time will give you something very much like Oslo.

But each new military front will be eagerly greeted by Islamists as a validation of their world view. It is no accident that one man who would happily embrace Mr Gingrich’s vision of a “third world war” is Osama bin Laden.

I assume this is meant to be ironic, and a put-down of Gingrich and his companions. Ouch. It’s precisely because Osama is already living in WW III, has already, enthusiastically embraced the “clash of civilizations” that our own intellectual elite continues to heap its contempt upon, that puts us in our danger. We don’t want to be in WW III. The question is, do we have our heads in the sand (which makes our asses tempting targets)? As my Israeli friend put it: “The hardest thing for me to realize [after the second intifada] was that the question of war and peace was not in our hands.

Sorting out Blame: The Rarity of Self-Criticism

This just in: People don’t like to self-criticize. (Which is one reason most people misunderstand the Jewish eagerness to do it.)

By DANIEL GILBERT professor of psychology at Harvard, is the author of “Stumbling on Happiness.”
He Who Cast the First Stone Probably Didn’t
Published: July 24, 2006

LONG before seat belts or common sense were particularly widespread, my family made annual trips to New York in our 1963 Valiant station wagon. Mom and Dad took the front seat, my infant sister sat in my mother’s lap and my brother and I had what we called “the wayback” all to ourselves.

In the wayback, we’d lounge around doing puzzles, reading comics and counting license plates. Eventually we’d fight. When our fight had finally escalated to the point of tears, our mother would turn around to chastise us, and my brother and I would start to plead our cases. “But he hit me first,” one of us would say, to which the other would inevitably add, “But he hit me harder.”

It turns out that my brother and I were not alone in believing that these two claims can get a puncher off the hook. In virtually every human society, “He hit me first” provides an acceptable rationale for doing that which is otherwise forbidden. Both civil and religious law provide long lists of behaviors that are illegal or immoral — unless they are responses in kind, in which case they are perfectly fine.

After all, it is wrong to punch anyone except a puncher, and our language even has special words — like “retaliation” and “retribution” and “revenge” — whose common prefix is meant to remind us that a punch thrown second is legally and morally different than a punch thrown first.

That’s why participants in every one of the globe’s intractable conflicts — from Ireland to the Middle East — offer the even-numberedness of their punches as grounds for exculpation.

The problem with the principle of even-numberedness is that people count differently. Every action has a cause and a consequence: something that led to it and something that followed from it. But research shows that while people think of their own actions as the consequences of what came before, they think of other people’s actions as the causes of what came later.

I know the pattern well. Some people — I think it’s called passive aggression — will needle endlessly (I call it “playing the picador”), and then when they get hostility, they are genuinely surprised. For them, the fight starts when they get hit. Everything before was nothing.

In a study conducted by William Swann and colleagues at the University of Texas, pairs of volunteers played the roles of world leaders who were trying to decide whether to initiate a nuclear strike. The first volunteer was asked to make an opening statement, the second volunteer was asked to respond, the first volunteer was asked to respond to the second, and so on. At the end of the conversation, the volunteers were shown several of the statements that had been made and were asked to recall what had been said just before and just after each of them.

The results revealed an intriguing asymmetry: When volunteers were shown one of their own statements, they naturally remembered what had led them to say it. But when they were shown one of their conversation partner’s statements, they naturally remembered how they had responded to it. In other words, volunteers remembered the causes of their own statements and the consequences of their partner’s statements.

What seems like a grossly self-serving pattern of remembering is actually the product of two innocent facts. First, because our senses point outward, we can observe other people’s actions but not our own. Second, because mental life is a private affair, we can observe our own thoughts but not the thoughts of others. Together, these facts suggest that our reasons for punching will always be more salient to us than the punches themselves — but that the opposite will be true of other people’s reasons and other people’s punches.

This is what I understand to be the meaning of “love your neighbor/the stranger/the “other” as yourself,” that is, give him or her the same “break” you always give yourself. Most people think of themselves as innocent. At least give the other person the initial courtesy of trying to see how he or she might think that of themselves. It’s the empathic imperative, and civil society depends on it. It’s the opposite of the dominating imperative: rule or be ruled.

Examples aren’t hard to come by. Shiites seek revenge on Sunnis for the revenge they sought on Shiites; Irish Catholics retaliate against the Protestants who retaliated against them; and since 1948, it’s hard to think of any partisan in the Middle East who has done anything but play defense. In each of these instances, people on one side claim that they are merely responding to provocation and dismiss the other side’s identical claim as disingenuous spin.

Do I detect moral equivalence and the “cycle of violence” that so comfortably occurs to people who adhere to PCP?

But research suggests that these claims reflect genuinely different perceptions of the same bloody conversation.

I think a glance at my “conversation with Omar” reveals just how genuinely different the perceptions.

If the first principle of legitimate punching is that punches must be even-numbered, the second principle is that an even-numbered punch may be no more forceful than the odd-numbered punch that preceded it. Legitimate retribution is meant to restore balance, and thus an eye for an eye is fair, but an eye for an eyelash is not.

Now whose rules are these? Certainly not the rules that prevail in honor-shame cultures. Indeed “an eye for an eye,” which so many modern “moral” giants look down on for being so, well, primitive, was actually introduced a) to impose the kind of fairness Gilbert invokes, and b) to insist that, unlike every other system of revenge in the ancient world (Code Hammurabi), everyone was equal before the law: a nobleman’s eye was as valuable as a commoner’s. And, of course, it was never meant — at least according to the rabbis — to be taken literally. In any case, while I personally adhere to these notions, particularly if it’s what we’re teaching our children for use when fighting in the “wayback,” I think it’s absurd to think that everyone (or even a majority of people) automatically agree.

When the European Union condemned Israel for bombing Lebanon in retaliation for the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers, it did not question Israel’s right to respond, but rather, its “disproportionate use of force.” It is O.K. to hit back, just not too hard.

It’s not clear to me here whether Professor Gilbert understands the difference between hitting your brother in the back seat of the car, and dealing with groups like Hamas and Hizbullah. If he doesn’t, he’s a victim of liberal cognitive egocentrism, and his implicit affirmation of the EU’s condemnation of Israel fits right into the thinking of PCP. Such thinking actually prolongs the agony by rewarding the aggressor. Of course, in Gilbert’s calculus, there are no aggressors, just innocently egocentric responders, and a cycle of violence with no beginning.

Research shows that people have as much trouble applying the second principle as the first. In a study conducted by Sukhwinder Shergill and colleagues at University College London, pairs of volunteers were hooked up to a mechanical device that allowed each of them to exert pressure on the other volunteer’s fingers.

The researcher began the game by exerting a fixed amount of pressure on the first volunteer’s finger. The first volunteer was then asked to exert precisely the same amount of pressure on the second volunteer’s finger. The second volunteer was then asked to exert the same amount of pressure on the first volunteer’s finger. And so on. The two volunteers took turns applying equal amounts of pressure to each other’s fingers while the researchers measured the actual amount of pressure they applied.

The results were striking. Although volunteers tried to respond to each other’s touches with equal force, they typically responded with about 40 percent more force than they had just experienced. Each time a volunteer was touched, he touched back harder, which led the other volunteer to touch back even harder. What began as a game of soft touches quickly became a game of moderate pokes and then hard prods, even though both volunteers were doing their level best to respond in kind.

Each volunteer was convinced that he was responding with equal force and that for some reason the other volunteer was escalating. Neither realized that the escalation was the natural byproduct of a neurological quirk that causes the pain we receive to seem more painful than the pain we produce, so we usually give more pain than we have received.

So if it’s like that when people are trying to be careful, what on earth would lead anyone to think in these terms when dealing with the situation that Israel faces. The “responses” of Hamas and Hizbullah are not even tuned to this scale of things but to the need for vengeance pumped up by a hatemongering propaganda machine, and to think that the Arab-Israeli conflict represents this kind of spiral writ large suggests profound lack of understanding, to say the least.

Research teaches us that our reasons and our pains are more palpable, more obvious and real, than are the reasons and pains of others. This leads to the escalation of mutual harm, to the illusion that others are solely responsible for it and to the belief that our actions are justifiable responses to theirs.

This underlines how difficult it is to sustain a civil society in which these kinds of insensible escalations get short-circuited well before they lead to violence. The huge difference between honor-shame cultures and civil societies appears precisely at the threshhold to violence. In the former, the threshhold is low: I have the right to shed your blood for the sake of my honor. In the latter, it is high: “We can work it out” as the Beatles put it.

None of this is to deny the roles that hatred, intolerance, avarice and deceit play in human conflict. It is simply to say that basic principles of human psychology are important ingredients in this miserable stew. Until we learn to stop trusting everything our brains tell us about others — and to start trusting others themselves — there will continue to be tears and recriminations in the wayback.

Alas, one more well-intentioned, intelligent intellectual trips on his own liberal cognitive egocentrism. The entire exercise is predicated on the desire on both sides to be fair, that even when one does, it’s hard. A concessive sentence at the end about the roles that hatred intolerance, avarice and deceit play in human conflict does little to avert the impression that he thinks this kind of analysis can help in the Middle East, although he’s wise enough to not even try.

There are, it seems to me, several issues here of major concern.

The dramatic difference between the Israelis and the Palestinians on the matter of empathizing with the other. There are a long list of books — Yellow Wind, for example, the equivalent of Black Like Memovies, and “new, post-Zionist historiography” that show, sometimes to a fault, the effort to see the conflict from the Palestinian’s side, the Israeli willingness to be self critical. The Israelis are not only participants in the culture that Gilbert’s experiments assume, they are significantly accomplished in precisely the kind of effort he urges upon us all: “stop trusting everything our brains tell us about others — and to start trusting others themselves.”

The problem with this advice, is that it assumes good will on both sides. We should trust others because they, like us, naturally prefer the story that makes them feel good about themselves, but when it’s pointed out to them that they may be unfair, they make the effort to see it “from the other guy’s point of view.” The problem with people who live in the world of the dominating imperative — and that’s why Sagan called it the paranoid imperative — is that they immediately assume that if someone else hurt them, they did it on purpose. They are, in terms of what Gilbert asks from us, not trustworthy. If you apologize to them, empathize with them, try and work it out by compromise with them, they will take it as a sign of weakness and become more aggressive.

And there’s nothing for stoking anger than thinking someone did you harm on purpose. That’s the core of the blood libel, the power of the Al Durah icon: The Israelis did it “in cold blood.” So when most Palestinians (and many other Arabs and Muslims) think about what Israel has done to them, it’s not only a “natural” imbalance that can happen to anyone, it’s a malicious, malevolent, murderous, and it far exceeds any suffering the Palestinians have ever inflicted on the Israelis. As Omar puts it, in one out of many passages:

This is what I can call a drop in the ocean compared to what the Palestinians are facing each day inside the West Bank and Gaza of continuous humiliation and unbelievable levels of life. I can flood your blog with endless pictures of the most disgusting and horrifing pictures in the world describing children of three and four months scattered into pieces, I can bring endless pictures clarifying the kinds of weapons your peaceful and beloved Israel have used upon poor innocent civilians, I can swamp you with hundreds of thousands of horrible stories for Palestinians describing what the Israelis did to them inside their prisons. But what would I benefit by doing that? You’re ready to justify, you’re ready to come with opposite stories, you’re ready to tell me that Israel kills and butchers civilians because terrorists hide between them! But the real story remains that this has to be one of the most ridiculous and deceitful justification anyone could come with.

And in the honor-shame nexus they inhabit, revenge is the only answer.

To stand with Hezbollah in his resistance isn’t backwardness, supporting Nasrullah isn’t an act of blood seeking, Hezbollah, unlike every other Arabic resistance militia is capable of fighting back, Hezbollah is capable of making the Israelis feel what we have been feeling for the last 60 years, if you were Palestinian, your visions won’t be the same, if you go through what this nation had gone through, you’ll make a deal with the devil if he’s capable of fighting your slaughterers.

Suicide terrorism is the very symbol of Palestinian rage, not over what Israel has done to them — fellow Arabs have done far worse — but over a narrative they tell themselves that nurses grudges and breeds vengeance.

Here we come to the hatred, intolerance and deceit (avarice is a bit-player in the world of rage we’re dealing with) that Gilbert concedes may play a role in conflicts. Palestinians inhabit a culture where, from cradle to grave, they are fed images of hatred and encouraged to embrace genocidal ideologies. This is light years away from the nice, comfortable positive-sum world Gilbert and his colleagues and their subjects inhabit. If psychologists want to contribute to resolving the conflict, let them do experiments on how attribution of intention intensifies conflict… on how treating people dedicated to nursing grudges as if they were eager to renounce them produces unexpected results… on how when one side of a conflict commits to self-criticism and the other to demonization, all the nice suggestions of psychologists trying to make things better may well make things worse.

Compare Professor Gilbert’s well-intentioned but rather naive analysis (as applied to the Middle East) with a more realistic discussion:

It is a common error to assume the principle of proportionality relates to the proportion between the scale of damage and the scale of retribution. This argument might have been in order if it regarded a scuffle of two sides that agree to do so within known rules of engagement [i.e., brothers in the "wayback" -- RL]. But war is seldom like that. War is fought to try and obtain an objective. When the objective is legitimate it is referred to as a necessity. The principle of proportionality relates to the proportion between the amount of force used to the amount required to achieve the same necessity. When one side routinely attacks the other with no legitimate cause over years, and the other side has an interest to stop the aggression, it is allowed to use the required force to achieve that objective. In our case, we can see that a little force will not be enough, since all the force used so far is not sure to be enough.

Maybe rather than assume moral equivalence they should look for the possibility of a moral gap. They might find a chasm. Of course to do that, they’d have to realize what’s going on “over there…” I recommend that before Prof. Gilbert gives us more insights into what perpetuates the cycle of violence in the wayback, he spend some time checking out the up front, middle and wayback of the Palestinian vehicle.

Try your experiment of hand pressure on them and see how rapidly it escalates. We are dealing with people who immediately jump to the most hostile and violent conclusions. Professor Gilbert, what do you think would happen to your distribution of data if you were to include Palestinian male youth in your experiment? Is that even a question that can occur to you?

L’Affaire Van der Horst: Eurabia and the European Academy

This is the first of a number of French posts that I will put up with brief summaries in English. This article looks at the case of Dutch Professor of early Christian History, Pieter Van der Horst, who had the bad taste to want to give his retirement lecture on the myth of Jewish cannibalism (the blood libel) through the ages. That, of course, to any honest and courageous academic, meant dealing with its widespread presence in the Muslim world today, including its arrival via fascist links, in particular between the Arabs (Muslim Brotherhood, Palestinian Nationalism) and the Nazis. The response of his colleagues and superiors in the academy not only illustrate the mechanisms of Eurabia, but also answer the question that Jews have been agonizingly asking since 2000: why won’t anyone talk about this?

Retour sur l’affaire Van Der Horst: Eurabia et la mise au pas des universités européennes

Paul Landau *

Au moment où le Hezbollah vient de plonger le Moyen-Orient dans une nouvelle guerre, et alors que les regards de toutes les capitales occidentales sont tournés vers la frontière entre Israël et le Liban, un événement se déroule au cœur de l’Europe, loin de l’attention des médias internationaux, dont les conséquences et la signification à long terme sont tout aussi graves que celles de l’embrasement subit du front israélo-arabe.

Dans un livre récemment traduit en français 1, l’historienne Bat Ye’or, dont les travaux pionniers ont porté à la connaissance du grand public un pan inexploré de l’histoire mondiale – celui de la dhimmitude et des rapports entre l’islam et les minorités non musulmanes – a décrit la soumission grandissante des élites politiques européennes aux diktats de la Ligue arabe et du monde arabo-musulman en général, sous couvert de “dialogue euro-arabe”, et elle a inventé un terme pour décrire ce processus politique, culturel et économique, qui est en passe d’entrer dans le lexique politique contemporain : Eurabia.

Pour ceux qui douteraient encore de l’existence et de la réalité d’Eurabia, la récente affaire Van Der Horst vient illustrer les conséquences du processus décrit par Bat Ye’or, au cœur du bastion de la culture européenne : l’université. Cette affaire, qui vient de défrayer la chronique aux Pays-Bas et a été rapportée par plusieurs grands quotidiens américains et israéliens, a curieusement été passée sous silence par les médias français… 2

Pieter Van Der Horst est un professeur à l’université d’Utrecht, spécialiste du monde hellénistique et des débuts du christianisme, dont les travaux lui ont valu une renommée mondiale dans le monde universitaire. Au début du mois de juin 2006, il devait prononcer un discours d’adieu à l’occasion de son départ en retraite, après 37 ans d’enseignement. Le sujet de son discours était “le mythe du cannibalisme juif”, et il se proposait de faire la généalogie de ce mythe, depuis l’antiquité jusqu’à l’époque contemporaine.

Comme Van Der Horst le relate lui-même, il avait l’intention de suivre la trace de l’accusation selon laquelle les Juifs consomment de la chair humaine, depuis ses origines gréco-romaines, en passant par le Moyen-Age chrétien, et jusqu’à la période nazie et au monde musulman actuel. La démonisation des Juifs dans le monde musulman a en effet ses racines, explique Van Der Horst, dans le fascisme allemand. Et il rappelle que Mein Kampf, le livre-programme d’Adolf Hitler, a figuré sur la liste des best sellers dans de nombreux pays du Moyen-Orient.

La sympathie pour le nazisme dans les pays arabo-musulmans remonte à l’époque qui précède la Seconde Guerre mondiale. Le dirigeant palestinien Haj Amin al-Husseini, Grand Mufti de Jérusalem, a collaboré activement avec Hitler. Il a passé plusieurs années à Berlin pendant la guerre, poursuit Van Der Horst, et a visité le camp d’extermination d’Auschwitz, ce qui lui a inspiré un plan d’édification de chambres à gaz en Palestine, pour régler la “question juive”, sur le modèle nazi… 3

A sa grande surprise, Pieter Van der Horst ne put prononcer son discours d’adieu devant ses collègues de l’université d’Utrecht comme il l’entendait. Il fut convoqué par le doyen de l’université, qui le pria instamment de supprimer le passage de son discours concernant l’antisémitisme musulman. Ayant refusé d’obtempérer, Van Der Horst fut convoqué séance tenante devant une commission ad hoc, qui invoqua trois raisons pour supprimer le passage litigieux.

La première, c’est que ce discours risquait – s’il n’était pas expurgé de son passage litigieux – de provoquer la colère de “groupes étudiants musulmans bien organisés”, et que le recteur ne pouvait assumer la responsabilité des réactions violentes qu’il n’allait pas manquer de susciter. Par ailleurs, la commission craignait que ce discours ne porte atteinte aux efforts de rapprochement entre Musulmans et non-Musulmans au sein de l’université. Enfin, les collègues de Van Der Horst prétendaient que le discours de celui-ci était en-dessous des critères universitaires, allusion aux remarques sarcastiques qu’il contenait à l’endroit de certains politiciens néerlandais.

Abasourdi, Van Der Horst envoya tout d’abord son discours à des collègues spécialistes du monde musulman et de l’islam, qui confirmèrent unanimement l’intérêt et la véracité de ses allégations sur l’antisémitisme musulman. Ce discours, ajoutaient-ils, ne pouvait aucunement susciter l’ire des Musulmans, puisqu’il ne contenait rien d’injurieux envers l’Islam, le Prophète ou le Coran, mais abordait uniquement des questions historiques.

Le recteur de l’université d’Utrecht ne se contenta pas de ces explications et s’en tint à sa position initiale. La mort dans l’âme, Van Der Horst décida d’accepter le verdict de ses pairs, et de prononcer son discours d’adieu, après 37 années de bons et loyaux services en tant que professeur, expurgé du passage litigieux… Mais le jour même de la cérémonie, il eut la surprise de constater que les médias locaux s’étaient emparés de l’affaire. Le recteur de l’université prétendait qu’il n’y avait eu aucune censure et que le discours était simplement inacceptable de par sa qualité universitaire…

Pieter Van Der Horst conclut sa relation des faits dans le Wall Street Journal sur une note optimiste, en constatant qu’il a reçu le soutien de nombreux collègues et de membres de la communauté juive néerlandaise. Qu’il me soit permis de ne pas partager son optimisme. L’affaire Van Der Horst illustre à mon avis le niveau de dhimmitude auquel sont parvenues les élites universitaires dans de nombreux pays d’Europe aujourd’hui.

Le cas des Pays-Bas n’est pas isolé, et il n’est certainement pas le pire. On rappellera les nombreuses affaires de boycott universitaire à l’encontre de professeurs israéliens (souvent eux-même d’extrême-gauche, ce qui ne les a pas protégés…) de la part de groupuscules propalestiniens très influents dans les universités, en France et en Grande-Bretagne notamment. Mais le cas Van Der Horst est sans doute plus grave encore que les affaires de boycott, car il témoigne de l’auto-censure que s’imposent des membres éminents de l’université (et qu’ils imposent à leurs pairs), pour ne pas “offenser” les étudiants musulmans, sans même que ceux-ci soient intervenus en ce sens.

L’affaire Van Der Horst est la pointe de l’iceberg, et de nombreuses autres affaires similaires ont lieu, sans attirer aucune attention. Ce phénomène traduit l’émergence d’Eurabia au sein des universités européennes. Il touche tous les départements universitaires, non seulement ceux qui traitent des études islamiques (j’en donnerai pour exemple la revue de “l’Institut international pour l’étude de l’islam dans le monde contemporain”, publiée aux Pays-Bas, qui est un modèle de politiquement correct et d’islamiquement correct…), mais aussi les études non-islamiques, comme le montre le cas Van Der Horst. Dans les universités européennes aujourd’hui, certains sujets sont devenus tabous.

L’antisémitisme dans le monde musulman, le rapprochement entre le fondateur du mouvement national palestinien et les nazis, ou la perpétuation de mythes racistes antijuifs dans les pays arabo-musulmans, sont autant de tabous que les professeurs les plus éminents ne peuvent plus aborder, sous peine d’être censurés et humiliés publiquement… Quant aux étudiants, il est certain qu’ils n’en entendront jamais parler dans leurs programmes universitaires ! Erasme, réveille-toi, ils sont devenus fous !

* Journaliste et chercheur (Jérusalem)
Notes
1. Bat Ye’or, Eurabia, l’axe euro-arabe, Editions Jean-Cyrille Godefroy, Paris 2006.
2. Voir notamment l’article de Van Der Horst publié par le Wall Street Journal, “Tying Down Academic Freedom”, 30 juin 2006. En ligne sur le site www.campus-watch.org.
3. Sur la collaboration entre Husseini et les nazis, je me permets de renvoyer à mon livre, Le Sabre et le Coran, Editions du Rocher 2005.

Note the extraordinary first reason for not allowing the professor to speak: we’re worried about our Muslim street.

A Different Kind of War: Awakening from Liberal Cognitive Egocentrism

An Israeli friend told me today that in the aftermath of the year from the outbreak of the Second Intifada to 9-11, he awoke from his illusions. And the hardest, as he put it, that ripped my heart out, was that we didn’t have the power to chose peace or war, that it was not in our hands. Here is the chronicle of someone else who has realized that the great promise of the Positive Cooperation Paradigm (PCP) did not work, and that the Jihad Paradigm best describes what we are facing — all of us, Israelis, other Western infidels, moderate Muslims.

Daniel Gordis
The First War All Over Again
July 25, 2006

This is a different kind of war, and an old kind of war. In the last war, when they blew up buses and restaurants and sidewalks and cafes, Israelis were enraged, apoplectic with anger. This time, it’s
different. Rage has given way to sadness. Disbelief has given way to recognition. Because we’ve been here before. Because we’d once believed we wouldn’t be back here again. And because we know why this war is happening.

A rocket hit Haifa in the first days of the war, killing no one, but injuring a number of people. It also tore the face off an apartment building, leaving the apartments inside eerily exposed, naked, for all to gaze into. That small block of Haifa, with its shattered shell of a building, rubble all along the street, citizens dazed as they wandered about looking at it all, appeared to be exactly what it was — a war zone.

And yet, the people in the street stayed near their homes, going nowhere. The newscaster asked them why they didn’t go somewhere else, where it might be safer. One man answered with statistics. “Why leave now? We’ve already been hit. The chances of us being hit again are one in a million.” To which another man responded almost with outrage. “What do numbers have to do with it?” he asked. And then, he turned to the camera, almost screaming, pointed to the broken building, and said, “This is our home. Mi-po ani lo zaz. From here, I am not budging.” And he repeated his refrain over and over again. “This is my home. And from here, I am not budging.” “Mi-po ani lo zaz.”

Israelis understand what this is. This is a war over our homes. Over our homes in the north, for now, but eventually, as the rockets get better and larger, all of our homes. This is not about the territories.

This is not about the “occupation.” This is not about creating a Palestinian State. This is about whether there will be a state called Israel. Sixty years after Arab nations greeted the UN resolution on November 29 1947 with a declaration of war, nothing much has changed. They attacked this time for the same reason that they did sixty years ago.

At first, it was the Egyptians, Jordanians and Syrians. We put a stop to that in 1949, 1956, 1967 and 1973.

Then it was the Palestinians, who bamboozled the world (and many of us Israelis) into believing that they just wanted a State, and that their terror was simply a way of forcing us to make one possible. We fought the terror in 1982 (Lebanon), 1987 (Intifada) and even after Camp David and Oslo, once again in 2000-2005 (the Terror War). And then, we actually tried to make the State happen. We got out of Lebanon to put an end to that conflict. And even more momentous, we got out of Gaza, hoping that they’d start to build something.

And now, it’s Hezbollah. Or more accurately, Syria. Or to be more precise, Iran. What’s Iran’s beef with Israel? Territory it lost? It didn’t lose any. And does anyone really believe that Iran cares one whit about the Palestinians and their state? That’s not the reason. We know it, and so do they.

Now, the bitter reality of which Israel’s right wing had warned about all along is beginning to settle in. It is not lost on virtually any Israelis that the two primary fronts on which this war is being conducted are precisely the two fronts from which we withdrew to internationally recognized borders. We withdrew from Gaza, despite all the internal objections, hoping to move Palestinian statehood — and peace — one step closer. But all we got in return was the election of Hamas, and a barrage of more than 800 Qassams that they refused to end.

And then they stole Gilad Shalit. Not from Gaza. Not from some contested no man’s land. From inside the internationally recognized borders of Israel. As if to make sure that we got the point — “There is no place that you’re safe. There is no place to which we won’t take this war. You can’t stay here.”

Because as much as we have wanted to believe otherwise, they have no interest in building their homeland. They only care about destroying ours.

Six years ago we pulled out of Lebanon. Same story. In defiance of the UN’s resolution 1559, Hizbollah armed itself to the teeth, and as we watched and did nothing, accumulated more than 10,000 rockets. And dug itself into the mountains. And established itself in Beirut, effectively using the entire Lebanese population as human shields. And, assuming that there was little that we could or would do, it attacked on June 12, killing eight soldiers, and stealing Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev. Not from Southern Lebanon. Not from Har Dov, a tiny hilltop that’s still contested. But from inside Israel. Inside a line that no one contests.

Unless, of course, they contest the idea of the whole enterprise. Which they do. And which is precisely the point.

And which is why this incredibly divided and divisive society has rallied so monolithically around a Prime Minister who until last week wasn’t terribly popular, and around a war that may or may not accomplish all its military objectives. It explains why, even as the air raid sirens go off across the country, and may eventually start their wail in Tel Aviv, too, as people dash across streets, panicked, trying to find the nearest bomb shelter, no one complains about the government. No one’s complaining about the amount of time it’s taking the air force to put a stop to this.

It explains why all over this city, advertisements on bus stops have been replaced with a photo of an Israeli flag and the phrase Chazak Ve-ematz — “be strong and resolute” (Moses’ words to Joshua in Deut. 31:7). Even the people who’ve lost family members, who are interviewed while still overwrought with grief, have no complaints about the government or the army. “Finish this job,” they effectively say. “We’ll stick it out.”

But behind the defiance lies sadness, a tired and experienced renewed loss of optimism, a wondering if it will ever, ever end. Because we know what they want. It’s not the Golan Heights. It’s not the West Bank. And it’s not a State. We know what they want, and we know why they want it.

On TV the other night, one of the news shows started off with a brief comedic episode. It showed two guys, looking and acting Israeli to the hilt. One of them was speaking in a heavy caricatured Sephardic North African accident, spitting toothpicks as he carried on, telling his friend, over and over and over, “mi-po ani lo zaz. This is the only place where Jews can be safe, he insisted. This is the place we must
stay. From here, I’m not moving.” And then the camera panned back, until gradually, you realized that the background you were staring at was the London Bridge, and the Tower of London. It would have been funny, if it weren’t so sad. It’s sad, because deep down, people are starting to wonder. Would going
there be the only way to get beyond their hate? We got out of Lebanon. We left Gaza. Olmert was elected after he openly declared his intention to give back the majority of the West Bank. But without intending to, we called their bluff. And now we know: the issue isn’t their statehood. It’s ours.

The sadness comes from the clarity. We can sign peace treaties, and withdraw, and arm ourselves. But nothing’s enough. You sign a treaty with Egypt, but then Syria takes over Lebanon and uses Hezbollah as its proxy. You get peace with Jordan, but Iran joins the fray. You learn to defend your border, so they attack you from well within their countries. It feels relentless, because it is. It feels like it never ends, because it doesn’t. It doesn’t feel like the seventh war. It feels like a continuation of the first. Could it be that we’re right back where we started?

Maybe that’s why nobody I know actually laughed at the Tower of London skit.

Is this like the first war, because we could win it and still not have security? What if, as even the army says is likely, Hezbollah is left wounded but still intact at the end? What, we just wait until they
decide to lob more missiles at Haifa, or Safed, or even Tel Aviv? Bomb shelters will once again be part of the reality of Israeli kids? Have we returned to the late 40′s and 1950′s, when border towns had to live
with the ongoing dread that Fedayeen would sneak across the border and kill people? Except that now, in an era of missiles, most of the country is a border town.

This is like the first war because Israeli citizens, in the middle of the country, are getting killed by a foreign “army.” In 1956, 1967 and even in 1973, we mostly took the war to the border. And then to their
territory. Israel’s civilian population centers, even in those horrible conflagrations, were left more or less intact. But not in 1948, and not this time. Haifa is the front. Safed is the front. Nazarath is the front. And they’re all burying people. Adults, and children. Jews, and Israeli Arabs. And Tel Aviv, if you believe Nasrallah, may well be next.

And it’s like the old wars because all our hopes to the contrary notwithstanding, the casualties are mounting. Just days after the Israeli pundits were discussing whether or not a limited ground
incursion might be necessary, whether or not the air force could do this on its own, there are troops on the ground in Lebanon. Thousands of soldiers, the papers say this morning. And in the few days since
they’ve gone in, kids have been coming back in body bags. These are elite units, and though we’re told that they’re having some successes in finding and destroying the bunkers built into the mountain, they’re
encountering heavy resistance. And not all of them are making it home.

We’ve been here before, too. We’d thought we were done with that.

For the first few days of this new war, Israelis were relieved to see the footage of a hundred Israeli planes over Lebanon at any one point. We’d show them that they’d miscalculated. We’d put a stop to this.
We’d get our stolen boys back. A decisive victory, like in days of old. With fewer casualties on our side. But well into the second week of the war, we don’t have our boys back. And soldiers are dying, and coming home without legs. And the victory hasn’t been decisive. And Israeli cities are still being shelled, and traumatized Israeli kids by the thousands are still sleeping in bomb shelters. Just like in the
first war.

And it’s like the first war because the news is broadcasting photos of lines of Arab refugees fleeing the fighting in Beirut, heading north, or to Syria. Israeli TV is showing footage of a former city that looks
much more like Dresden than Beirut. There are probably some Israelis who couldn’t care less, but the ones that I talk to, work with and share a neighborhood with, do care. They understand that we probably have no choice, for Hezbollah has decided to use Beirut as its human shield, and for years and years, Lebanon did nothing to stop them. Or even to try.

And we have no choice but to survive.

But the Israelis I talk to all day long are still saddened by the miles-long lines of thousands upon thousands upon thousands of Lebanese refugees, fleeing their homes and rubble filled neighborhoods with white flags hovering outside their cars even as Israeli war planes roar overhead. Simply on a human level, we know that the suffering is incalculable. That, too, looks like that old black and white footage
from the War of Independence. And as a problem for Israel, we know, Arab refugees don’t disappear. They attack, we respond, they flee. And then the problem becomes ours.

And even though Jerusalem is, so far, beyond the reach of the rockets, even here, the air has started to take on a war-like feel. A colleague of mine, in her 40′s, cancelled a meeting yesterday because her
real-estate agent husband was just called up and sent to the Egyptian border. A friend I met later in the afternoon cut a meeting short because his son was getting a few hours off. The kid hasn’t even
finished basic training, but was sent out to Samaria to guard an outpost so that more experienced kids could get sent to the front. And we were going to try to get together with other friends this morning, but they can’t. Their twenty year old son got called up from his yeshiva, and sent to south of Hebron, and they’re going to try to get out there to bring him some food for Shabbat. And our daughter won’t be home for Shabbat — she’s got guard duty on base. With the other two kids away for the summer, we’re home by ourselves. The house feels empty, hollow.

Like the towns in the north.

And so it goes. Another all out war, when it could have been different.

If they’d wanted something else. But they don’t. Not the Iranians, not the civilians in Syria interviewed on CNN who spoke with admiration of Nasrallah, not the Palestinians on the West Bank who’ve posted his picture everywhere, and not even the Israeli Arabs in Nazareth who, from the depths of their mourning, blame Israel and not Nasrallah for the loss of their children.

So it’s the seventh war (Or the eighth, if you count the War of Attrition. Or the ninth, if you count the first Intifada). And the first war. It’s all the wars. They’re all the same, in the end, because we can’t afford to lose. We can’t afford to lose, so we won’t.

More decisively or less, with more destruction of Lebanon or less, sooner or later, we’ll win it. We have to. The whole enterprise is at stake.

It’s the seventh war, or the eighth. And the first. When the 1973 Yom Kippur War was at its height, Yehoram Gaon went to the front and sang the now famous lyrics, Ani mavti’ach lach — “I promise you, my little girl, that this will be the last war.” They never play that song anymore. Because no one believes it. There will be no last war.

It’s the eighth war, or the ninth. But it isn’t the last war. It’s the first war, all over again. We’ve got this war for the same reason that we had all the others. We have this war for the same reason that people
in Haifa are still saying “mi-po ani lo zaz.” We got this war for the same reason that we got the first, and the second.

We know why they attacked then. And we know why they’re still attacking. And we’re determined to hold on for the same reason that they’re so determined never to stop. There’s one reason, and one reason only:

The Jewish People has nowhere else to go.

Neither do the Europeans or the Americans. What an ironic beginning to the 21st, the global century!

Game Theory and Social Emotions

Game theory examines the ways that various people “play” their interactions with others. All games take place on at least two levels. The first is material gain or loss (often quantifiable, and the focus of most formal game theory), and the second, psychological perception of having won or lost (rarely quantifiable until recently, ignored). In honor-shame cultures, the perception of others’ actions plays a much stronger role than “rational” concerns about material gain and loss regardless of relative advantage which, in principle, governs civil society behavior (rational choice theory). Rational choice theory, focused on quantifiable self-interest as a motivation, tends to downplay emotional components of game playing. It discusses fixed- and variable-sum games. The following discussion analyzes the cultural and emotional dimensions of a player’s preference for one strategy over another, and focuses on zero-, positive- and negative-sum games.

ZERO-SUM GAMES are games in which one side wins and the other loses. Hard zero-sum insists that only when the other loses can one win. Hard zero-sum reflects an emotional demand that a victory can only be savored when the defeated one knows himself to be defeated. All sports and gambling games are zero-sum. War, theft and raiding are hard zero-sum. The dominating imperative: “rule or be ruled” takes zero-sum relations at a political level as axiomatic. I must dominate lest you do the same. Do onto others before they do onto you.

POSITIVE-SUM GAMES are games in which both sides win. In closed positive-sum transactions, although both parties may “win”, one side is guaranteed a significantly greater victory (noblesse oblige, or British imperialism). Open-ended positive-sum is based on a voluntary agreement to interact (contract, joint venture, constitution) on rules that apply equally to both sides, and an agreement that whatever results from the interaction, both sides will accept no matter how diverse the end result (civil society, meritocracy). Rationality and “rational choice theory” assume that actors will work to maximize their own advantage, with minimal concern for how it might help someone else even more.

NEGATIVE-SUM GAMES are games in which both sides lose. This represents the height of irrationality to positive-sum players, but it proves a surprisingly durable choice of game-players. The self-destructive element in conjunction with aggression often derives from losing a hard zero-sum game and not accepting an offer to switch to positive-sum. As the joke runs, a genie offers a peasant one wish, but whatever he chooses his neighbor will get double. “Poke out one of my eyes,” the peasant responds.

THE EMOTIONS AND LOGIC OF ZERO-SUM: I win, you lose; or, you win, I lose. In modern society, these interactions get played out in sports. When played out in economic life, however, zero-sum assumes a fixed set of resources (no economic growth). Therefore, whatever has worked to the advantage of the other has diminished the self. In its harshest forms, zero-sum holds that not only does one person win and the other lose, but in order for one to win, the other must lose. Zero-sum emotions include:

  • total scarcity — if you gain (wealth, status), I lose
  • Schadenfreude — your misfortune brings me gladness;
  • envy — your success diminishes me;
  • triumphalism — I’m bigger because you are smaller; and
  • resentment — as long as you have more success than me, I despise you, if necessary in secret.

The appeal of these emotions — risking all to feel triumphalism and dominion — is well-nigh universal. Hence, in civil societies, zero-sum games are delegated to sports and gambling. In prime divider societies, they invade the realm of real life: “war is the sport of kings.”

In order to understand this mentality, we have to put aside cognitive egocentrism. We are raised in a culture that places heavy emphasis on positive-sum relations, or on the notion of mutually beneficial win-win. We consider positive-sum so obviously appropriate that it is virtually synonymous with rationality. When our economists assume rationality as their axiomatic understanding of individual decision-making, they reflect this widespread cultural assumption that, at least formally, dates back to Adam Smith. And not surprisingly, the mentality of zero-sum – one wins, one loses – strikes us, as self-destructive.

Let us consider the nature and logic of zero-sum interactions, especially in terms of the emotional pay-offs. The basic rule of human interaction in many honor-shame cultures holds that honor is a limited commodity, that one person’s honor means the loss of honor of another. Politically this leads to what Eli Sagan has termed the “paranoid imperative”: rule or be ruled. “If I don’t rule over you, you will rule over me. I must therefore try to dominate you lest you dominate me. If you win, I lose; in order for me to win, you must lose.”

(I prefer the designation “dominating imperative” for this set of beliefs. The paranoid imperative I prefer to reserve for: exterminate or be exterminated. Hence the distinction in matters of Judeophobia between, for example, zero-sum anti-Judaism and paranoid anti-Semitism.)

This attitude of rule-or-be-ruled justifies what Mao used to call “pre-emptive retaliation strikes.” They happen all the time, from international relations to familial ones. The classic expression of this attitude comes in two forms: 1) the more basic “honor-shame” culture of the tribal warrior, where honor comes from dominion (that is, the Germanic, Celtic, and Mediterranean subterranean levels of European culture), and 2) the “civilized empires” in which a certain degree of restraint in the exercise of immediate dominion opened up both a space for an expanding “middle class”, largely urban, and for a much wider range of conquest and dominion for a small elite.

As the Romans liked to tell themselves, the first Romans quickly understood that they could either be masters or slaves, so they chose to be masters, and did it so well that they conquered the world. Rome is the poster boy for libido dominandi (the lust to dominate). Roman imperialism illustrates the accuracy of the Athenian remark to the Melians ca. 416 BCE that it had been a law long before their time and would be long after, “that those who can do what they will and those who can’t suffer what they must.”

This statement helps us understand the emotional and strategic logic of zero-sum in what seemed like a negative-sum choice in the genie-peasant joke cited above: “Poke out both my eyes.” If this were a chess move (i.e. a zero-sum game) rather than a joke, you’d put two exclamation points after it. In one deft move, this man has turned around a painful dilemma into a spectacular “win” for himself. The peasant’s dilemma was that anything that benefited him, made his neighbor twice as well off: a thousand head of cattle for him meant two thousand for his neighbor. In the world of the dominating imperative, one assumes that if one’s neighbor is twice as wealthy as oneself, that neighbor will use his superiority to try to control you. Our peasant resolves the dilemma with a dramatic queen sacrifice: “in the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed is king.” He has bought his dominion at the price of his self-mutilation. Envy unchecked is one of the key components of a culture of impoverishment.

THE LOGIC AND EMOTIONS OF POSITIVE-SUM: The logic of positive-sum seems clear to people brought up in civil society. Compromise is the essence of democracy; going for hard zero-sum blights growth and mutual prosperity. But the emotions of zero-sum can be quite demanding. In order to neutralize Schadenfreude, especially in a modern society where individuals’ conditions change rapidly, one has to learn to tolerate, even take pleasure in other people’s success. The “rational” response to the genie’s dilemma — one might call it the American response — is to say, “give me ten million bucks and good for my neighbor who gets twenty.”

To accept defeat without scape-goating, cheating, or using force to redress the imbalance requires a commitment to fair-play and self-criticism (i.e., to accepting the “bad” news that one has lost). This generous attitude towards others and modesty towards oneself are not easy and natural emotions. They must be fostered. Both civil society and demotic millennialism nurture these emotions, and great men like the Englishman William Blake can “root” for the Americans in their desire to be free of his own nation’s imperialism.

The emotional dimensions that determine these two worlds of social interaction also substantiate the emotional attachments some of us have either to the Politically-Correct Paradigm (PCP (we are all committed to positive-sum games) or the Honor-Shame Jihad Paradigm (JP) (they are committed to zero-sum desires). Our ironic dilemma is that the more those who favor the naturally generous view of positive-sum adhere to PCP, the more they contribute to the zero-sum behavior of demopaths and the hard-zero-sum players whose intentions they systematically misinterpret. Without understanding the interplay between the logic and emotions of zero- and positive-sum strategies, we will have difficulty figuring a way out of the current dilemma of the thrash of cultures.

Civil Society vs. Prime-Divider Society

CIVIL SOCIETY vs. THE PRIME DIVIDER:
NO PAIN, NO GAIN

I include this essay on civil society partly because Liberal Cognitive Egocentrism (LCE) fosters a remarkable naiveté about how difficult and rare it is to establish a civil polity. This failure to appreciate civil society may be the single most dangerous factor in our current inability to recognize and cooperate with its friends on the one hand (the Atlantic Alliance), and to beware its enemies (Eurabia) on the other. For the purposes of the discussion at this website, I define civil society somewhat differently from the (from my perspective) somewhat problematic way political scientists do. The definition most scholars use emphasizes voluntary associations independent of the state, e.g., NGOs. These voluntary organizations that mediate between the state and the individual, are a component, but not the defining element of the definition here proposed.

Civil society as I use it here, arises from a cultural project best described as the systematic substitution of consensual discourse of fairness for violence in dispute settlement. The definition entails a series of interlocking elements:

  • Same rules for all (equality before the law, what the ancient Greeks called isonomia
  • Independent law courts that determine fair judgments and pre-empt private (self-help) justice.
  • Public transparency and accountability of people in power (free press, freedom of speech).
  • Commoner populations empowered by education to assert and protect their own legislated rights
  • Commitment to voluntarism as a principle form of social interaction and political organization, emphasizing, mutual trust, contractual obligations, and moral autonomy.
  • Manual labor is not stigmatized, and manual laborers and their children can participate in public discourse and if sufficiently successful, enter the elite.

It is important to understand that these commitments are neither the norm, nor even a relatively common feature of most civilizations. On the contrary, the overwhelming majority of civilized polities for the last 5000 years, from the ancient empires of the iron age to the early modern period in Europe, are structured along a fundamental fissure — a prime divider — between elites and commoners that structures most of the features of political and social life in basic ways. These societies are based on the political axiom “rule or be ruled” and permit even require the use of violence to defend one’s honor. They contain following main features.

  • legal privilege for the elites (including exemption from taxation, lighter sentences for their misdeeds and heavier penalties for offenses against them).
  • self-help justice in which clans defend their members regardless of legal issues like intent (blood revenge, vendetta, feud, duel)
  • mystery surrounding political authority (e.g., monarchy above the law)
  • commoner populations illiterate, controlled by intimidation (Machiavelli’s: a ruler should be feared not loved)
  • manual labor stigmatized, vast majority (masses) excluded from public sphere except on choreographed occasions
  • elites with a monopoly on literacy, weaponry, rapid transportation, and political power

Societies with prime dividers have extremely powerful and wealthy elites (ca. 2-10% of the population) and vast masses of peasants who live close to subsistence levels. They are largely agrarian societies (Gellner called them agro-literate societies), and by the standards of modern civil societies they are poor. They are much stabler than civil societies, replicating patterns and structures from generation to generation. Prime divider societies comply with the hierarchical gravitational pull of most human societies; they contribute to their own poverty in that the elite would rather rule in poverty than share the wealth.

The passage from a prime divider society to a civil society is rare and difficult. It has only happened a few times in history, and the civic experiment in egalitarianism has almost never survived for more than a couple of centuries (ancient Greece, medieval urban communes). In the West, as commitment to the values of civil society reached a significant portion of the population and gained a public voice (free press), entire polities (US, France, Britain) shifted from traditional authoritarian, “top-down” styles of governing to ones based primarily on voluntary participation (social contract and constitutional states). “Conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal,” such civil polities explicitly adopt civil society’s principles as their founding principles: a discourse of fairness (equality and freedom) replaces violence in dispute settlement.

Civil polities depend on high levels of trust and the commitment to positive-sum outcomes in most transactions. Civil societies place high educational value on moral autonomy and voluntary acceptance of the rules. The dominant civil polities of the last two centuries have been cultures of abundance, using technology and legal egalitarianism to put an end to famines and to allow large numbers of people to raise their living standards and education well above subsistence.

Of course, no society so conceived and so dedicated can live up to such a lofty goal as true equality of justice for all, or a fair share of abundance for all. At this stage at least, such experiments can only hope to change the condition of the large majority of the population, not create an egalitarian utopia. Failing perfection, however, should not be invoked to argue a moral equivalence between civil societies and prime divider societies. Endowed with enough healthy self-criticism, any civil society can continue to improve. But human nature what it is, any culture will have its share of inequalities and injustices. The question is not do they or do they not exist, but how pervasive is the injustice? And how does a society respond to revelations of that injustice?

This praise of “civil society” is not an “ethno-centric” argument, but a cross-cultural one with a great deal of room for variety. Democracies are neither the only, nor even necessarily the optimum, shape that a civil society can take. One can also imagine, for example, affiliated communities governed by judges through whose decisions the public discourse of justice shapes social relations. To each political culture, each religious tradition, falls the ultimate task of finding its passage from violence to fairness. With the emerging global community bringing on exceptional levels of culture contact, our ability to live fairly with ourselves and “others” demands high levels of tolerance. At least democratic civil societies demand that tolerance in insisting that people in positions of authority accept criticism and challenges from highly educated and motivated commoners who speak their mind (public education, meritocracy, freedom of speech and assembly).

Eurabia

As part of a program to bring the blogosphere up to date on the elements involved in the Al Durah affair in preparation for some legal trials this Fall in France, we are bringing over some of the essays from the Second Draft to the Augean Stables on a regular basis. We’ll start with the background essays in Media Reflections, then move on to the essays on Pallywood and Al Durah. We welcome comment, suggestions, additions.

EURABIA

Eurabia” refers to the synthesis of Arab and European culture, a grand cultural project undertaken by European and Arab elites to create an open Mediterranean zone of economic, demographic and cultural symbiosis between Europe and the Arab world. Bat Ye’or, in her recent book, Eurabia: The Euro-Arab Axis, has denounced this project as a foolish alliance in which Europeans think that by helping the Arabs destroy Israel, they can use the Arabs to isolate and compete with America. In fact, she argues, the Europeans’ sacrifice of Israel will only whet the appetite of Islamists who aim to take over Europe as well.

Bat Ye’or traces the creation of the Euro-Arab dialogue in the seventies that created a journal by that name and orchestrated the growing symbiosis of Europe and the Arab countries:

[Eurabia] is a project that was conceived, planned and pursued consistently through immigration policy, propaganda, church support, economic associations and aid, cultural, media and academic collaboration. Generations grew up within this political framework; they were educated and conditioned to support it and go along with it. This is the source of the strong anti-American feeling in Europe and of the paranoiac obsession with Israel, two elements that form the cornerstone of Eurabia.

(See the interview here and here).

In addition to these diplomatic trends, she identifies a demographic and cultural level where an anemic European culture that has ceased to reproduce itself, whose increasingly aged population demands full social services, and whose youth refuses to do manual labor, import Arab laborers to avoid facing its own heavily mortgaged future. Over the last generation, these workers have immigrated in large numbers, to the point where a number of cities are a majority Muslim (Malmo, Sweden, Rotterdam, Netherlands).

Current demographic trends suggest that a significant number of European countries will be a majority Muslim by mid-century. As Bernard Lewis commented in a controversial interview with a German newspaper, “Europe will be Islamic by the end of the Century,” a prediction that Robert Spencer then took for the title of an article. And however the initial immigrants may have felt about the Western countries to which they moved and in which they accepted state support, recent years have seen the spread of a particularly powerful strain of Jihadi Islamism among many, especially an alienated youth.

Eurabia represents an extreme version of the Jihad Paradigm, an alarming if not alarmist update of Samuel Huntington’s 1996 thesis about the Clash of Civilizations. Eurabia anticipates a militarily weaker tribal population taking over and transforming a larger but declining “greater civilization,” a process that has not occurred since the fall of the Roman Empire.

If this indeed is taking place it seems to represent a situation where the European political elites, stricken with what Kenneth Minogue calls an “Olympian complex,” fall prey to their own hubris. They seem to think that this bargain, in which they compete with their natural ally (USA, Anglophone culture, other civil polities) by allying with their own natural enemy (Arab, Muslim, prime-divider societies) will work out to their advantage. Their calculus seems based on a prime divider mentality that takes an undifferentiated attitude towards commoners. For them, it does not matter whether the manual laborers are Christian, post-Christian, or Muslim. They expect to remain on top.

london rally danoongate 9

Rally held in London on February 11, 2006 to protest the Danish Muhammad cartoons.

The PCP reactions to Eurabia have been either to ignore it (Borders and Barnes and Noble do not carry it on their bookshelves), or to dismiss it as paranoid conspiracism or racism on the one hand, and an attempt to ally neo-conservative thinking with Christian fundamentalism on the other. More recently, as events increasingly corroborate the thesis, the Economist has dedicated an issue to the topic, in which the editors did not review Bat-Ye’or’s book, and in which they basically dismissed the problem. The thesis, critics claim, is at once absurd – an Islamic Europe? what nonsense! – and demonizing – viewing all Muslims in Europe as a fifth column. From this perspective, Eurabia feeds the worst Islamophobia even as it deflects criticism from the US and Israel, confusing legitimate European and Arab concerns about US imperialism and Israeli colonialism with conspiratorial back-stabbing.

Any description of large societal movements orchestrated by cultural and diplomatic programs will strike most readers as conspiratorial, to say the least. And it will be to each person to decide what degree of credence to accord these cries of alarm. In considering the case, however, it seems worth noting several observations:

  • Cognitive egocentrism can blind people to significant elements in the thrash of cultures. The danger here is that European elites, confident of their moral and cultural superiority are being duped by demopaths.
  • The issue is not just whether Islamists can take over Europe and the US, but whether they think they can, and what the unintended consequences of actions inspired by that aspiration will bring on.
  • Large cultural and social programs that serve to destroy civil society and restore an elite to decisive power are not wild conspiracy theories, but the stuff of history. In some senses, all prime divider societies are the successful conspiracy of the elite to dominate the commoners.
  • Not everyone who engages in behavior supporting a “conspiracy” like Eurabia need be either conspirators or malevolent. For reasons ranging from idealism to ressentiment, Muslims, Jews, European Christians and post-Christians can support and advance an agenda that they neither understand, nor approve of.
  • There is heavy pressure not to denounce Eurabia, both from the politically correct progressive camp, and from the Islamists, some of whom do not hesitate to use violence to silence criticism.

As with weighing JP and PCP, the judge must beware. If we decide to reject the thesis because we want to feel morally good, and refuse to believe such nasty things about others, or in order to find favor with progressive friends and colleagues who heap scorn on the thesis, or because we truly believe in the transformative power of multiculturalism to create a world of peace and understanding, we may be tempted to reject Eurabia as conspiracist racism. But if we are wrong, there are consequences. Unlike UFOs and the Loch Ness monster to whom some readers compare Eurabia, Jihadis have committed notable and highly visible acts of violence that reflect values profoundly opposed to civil society.

If, on the other hand, we decide to accept the theses because we feel threatened and angry, and morally offended by such wanton religious violence, theological intolerance, and patriarchal domination of women so characteristic of the Arab culture with which the symbiosis is taking place, and paint every Muslim an enemy and Islam a religion of terror, we close off avenues towards a real resolution to the problem. Identifying demopaths needs to be selective. When we allow no exceptions for the many people who will side with (those they think will be) the winners, we strengthen the conditions for apocalyptic warfare. Given the tens of millions of dead that such ultimate wars to exterminate the enemy have caused in the last century, that does seem like something worth avoiding.

Response to Omar: Part IV

Omar and I continue to exchange views. We move away from the details to the big questions.

Now, I’m now looking at response Part III, and I’m pretty sure that we’ll reach part 1000 if we continue like this, thus, I’ll overlook many points, which I’m able to respond to, that I think it’s not significant to the current Israeli-Arab conflict, and I’m going to respond to it generally, in order not to create needless branches of this debate.

Okay, although I’d like a response to my question about 1973. I think it raises important questions about the “clash of narratives” that characterizes the Arab-Israeli conflict.

About the whole dhimmi thing, Both you and I agree on the fact that Muslims today, regardless to what you’re trying to prove, believe without any question that they have treated Jews with nothing but respect all over their years of dominating the world, in other words, Muslims today feel obligated to treat the Jews the same way they think their ancestors did.

You lose me at: “in other words…” If the Muslims who argue they’ve treated the Jews (and Christians) well represented something more than apologists, intent on denying history so they can make Islam look good in the eyes of outsiders who don’t know any better, then maybe. But the idea that modern Sharia states will feel as obliged to treat their Jews as well as they pretend they’ve done in the past makes no sense at all and certainly has no bearing on the reality of places like Iran and Afghanistan.

This is exactly what’s happening to Arab Christians who live today among Muslim Arabs, I invite to visit Jordan, Syria, Palestine, and to some point Egypt if you like to see how Muslims and Christians are living together, I’ll give you a short and recent example on that, only recently, Jordan had banned the Da Vinci Code of being showed in public theaters out of respect for the Christian Minority inside Jordan, regardless to what you may say about banning anything, but that’s an example of what’s going on.

Well, I can’t visit all those places just right now. Certainly, what one hears from the Egyptian Coptic community undermines your argument dramatically. As for the Christians in areas under Palestinian control, they also are getting out as fast as they can (as they did from Lebanon). I personally visited Nazereth in the summer of 2000, after a Easter 1999 riot of Muslims had ransacked Christian stores. The visit confirmed that a) the Muslims were putting heavy pressure on the Christians to move out, and b) except for an occasionally courageous person, most of the Christians were claiming everything was fine even as they prepared to move out.

And another important note here, Jews were different than Christians, actually, it’s Christians who often encouraged Muslims to apply different ways of treatment upon Jews. (e.g. One of the things that Christians in Jerusalem wanted Omar Bin Al khattab to do when he conquerred/liberated Jerusalem in the 7th century was to kick the Jews out of the sacred city).

Agreed. Indeed, some of the most virulent anti-Zionists were Christian Arabs who thought that, by emphasizing Arab nationalism (and it’s favorite scapegoat boogy-man Israel) they could be accepted in the overwhelmingly Muslim Middle East.

I’m not backing off at anything here, I’m ready to flood you with endless books and incidents that show how great Muslims were in treating Jews and dhimmies, and at the same time where you will find these books unfair and biased, the same accusation will be applied on books written by biased dhimmes who often hated Arabs and Muslims. What I’m searching for here is something that we can call “common ground”, something that we can both agree on and move on.

Well I don’t know what we can do here. The books you’re going to inundate me with are not necessarily what I would consider historically reliable. There is a historical method that tries to sift out the propaganda from the reliable information. Are you willing to submit your books to historical critique? I am for mine.

I’ve revised our debates in part I and II to find the main and general points that we ought to discuss. What we have to focus on, in my point of view, is your vision about modern Israel, your vision about how peaceful and poor this modern state is, your vision of how unjustified any resistance to this state is, and most importantly, your vision of how this state isn’t causing any troubles to the Arab world but the Arab world and leaders are the ones who want to see Israel like this.

Let me start by going through what the UN (the world) has to say about Israel; here’s a list of UN resolutions against Israel (1955-1992) (Over 30 resolutions) 106,111,127,162,171,228,237,248,250,251,252,256,259,267,
270,271,279,280,285,298,313,317,587,592,605,607,608,636,
641,672, 673,681,694,726,799
List of SC resolutions (Over 20 resolutions)

237,259,271,446,452,465,468,469,471,476,478,484,592,605,
607,608,636,641, 672,673,681,694,726,799
For more details of these resolutions click here .

Not to mention what Israel is doing with constructing the apartheid wall.

This is what I can call a drop in the ocean compared to what the Palestinians are facing each day inside the West Bank and Gaza of continuous humiliation and unbelievable levels of life. I can flood your blog with endless pictures of the most disgusting and horrifing pictures in the world describing children of three and four months scattered into pieces, I can bring endless pictures clarifying the kinds of weapons your peaceful and beloved Israel have used upon poor innocent civilians, I can swamp you with hundreds of thousands of horrible stories for Palestinians describing what the Israelis did to them inside their prisons. But what would I benefit by doing that? You’re ready to justify, you’re ready to come with opposite stories, you’re ready to tell me that Israel kills and butchers civilians because terrorists hide between them! But the real story remains that this has to be one of the most ridiculous and deceitful justification anyone could come with.

Okay. You could. What we’re going for here is not piles of pictures, stories, and UN resolutions, but reliable evidence and good analysis. I’m not questioning the reality of Palestinian suffering. I am questioning the reliability of much of the information that you’re getting, including many of the pictures. Your brothers in the PA have made something of a career of doctoring and staging photographs precisely so they can have the effect on people like you who take them for real. Second, the UN resolutions reflect nothing other than the fact that the Arab block, with the collaboration of the European block, have united to villify Israel. The resolutions are little more than propaganda, completely unbalanced, and understandably, you find comfort in them. But let me ask you this:

Is what Israel is doing in the WB and the GS, as bad as it may be, in any way comparable with the slaughter of civilians by the Sudanese Arab Muslims against Black Sudanese Christians, animists, and Muslims in their south and west? And if not — which I hope you’ll have the decency to grant me — why would the UN spend more than 1/3 of its time condemning Israel and not mentioning Sudan (until very recently, when it’s been going on for decades)? I know it makes sense to you to believe in the honesty and integrity of the UN (while it’s on your side), but we’re talking here — I hope — about reality testing.

Finally, and here’s the crux of my argument — the cause of Palestinian suffering… while the immediate cause is Israel, the long-range cause (Arabs in Palestine were oppressed long before the first Zionist arrived) is the elites who sacrifice their commoners to their need for honor and dominion.

How could you prove to me or to any other Palestinian that the early Jews came and had no intention of butchering and wiping them out, while the Israelis today are commiting the most horrifing genocides in the history of man kind upon them!

Okay. Help me here. How on earth can you refer to what’s happening now as “the most horrifying genocide in the history of mankind”? Are you kidding? Do you not know what genocide is, or what past genocides have been like? You have a counter on your site of the number of Palestinians killed since 30 September 2000. 4104. That’s a couple of hours work in a death camp, or in Rwanda where they machetied about 10,000 a day, or with the Armenians or the Cambodians (doing it to themselves).

If there’s anything you answer in my current response, please address this. How on earth can you call the situation where Israel has had the power to exterminate over 2 million Palestinians for the last 39 years, and yet their population has risen steadily at a high rate for the entire period… genocide? Is this rhetoric? Do you believe it? Do you expect me to? I really don’t understand.


How could you justify to me or to anyone what the Israelis are doing today in Lebanon? How could you justify the destruction of a whole country, the unbelievable endless pounding of Bridges, Airports, Highways, and the constant slaughtering of civilians in cold blood! How could you tell me that this is the right thing to do when two soldiers of your army are kidnapped in a terrorist-free operation near the Borders!!!

We’ve touched on this before. It’s a long conversation. I think Judith’s comment addresses that issue rather well. I’d rather focus on the fundamentals. But I would call into question your use of terms like “in cold blood” when the Israelis drop leaflets urging civilians to leave the areas they are about to bomb, where Hizbullah has stored their weaponry; and “unbelievable endless pounding” when you in the Middle East who know about things like Hama (where you aware of what was happening there?) know what real cold-blooded pounding is about (10-20,000 dead in a week).

Why on earth should I (or any other Palestinian) look at Arabs inside Israel and say “ok, let’s go there” only because comparing to Jordan they relatively enjoy better conditions of freedom!!!???

Comparing them to any Arab state they enjoy better conditions of both freedom and economic prosperity. Why look? Because it’s an unbelievable anomaly: Israel treats its Arabs better than Arab countries treat… not their Jews, but their own Arabs. Aren’t you the slightest bit curious why? Do you want to understand where freedom comes from? What kinds of disciplines are necessary to tolerate others? Or would it be too humiliating to learn something from the despised Jews?

I appreciate your efforts of describing and clarifying some points in the history of this conflict, but I can’t find the words to describe to you how painful it is for me to face claims like that Israel is peaceful, or Israel isn’t an imperialistic existence!

Well I guess the real question is, is it painful because you refuse to give up the story you’ve been given, and all the righteous anger it wells up within you, and the solidarity with your fellow Arabs, all of you living either in cheap dictatorships or vicious theocracies and regardless of the “regime” all living in poverty? Is hatred more important to you than your future?

I can’t keep going in debates about small details while overlooking the facts on the ground! Maybe this confrontation of opposite radical sources of history be useful when we’re living in peace, maybe it might be useful when we reach to a solution to more important things.

Regrettably, we’re going nowhere with this debate, and this is the exact problem in the whole Arabic-Israeli conflict; negatiations had got us nowhere, the best thing that can happen is a temporal ceasefire, an agreement on the ownership of a small piece of land, but the fight will continue later. You can blame the Palestinians and hold them the complete responsibility for everything happening there, you can imagine that Israel is the peaceful innocent side of this conflict, but by doing that, your not helping any side; your intensifting the crack.

First of all, I don’t blame the Palestinians nearly so much as I blame Arab leaders (the Arab League) and European diplomacy. The Palestinians are victims of systematic abuse from their “brethren” in this one, and their “cousins” the Jews are stuck in the same dance of death orchestrated by these “elites.”

Secondly, I know few Israelis who blame the Palestinians alone. Some will even take the greater burden of the blame for what’s gone wrong. But that’s because of an intense tradition of self-criticism among Jews and Israelis.

My impression in the Arab world is that self-criticism can only — if at all — occur behind closed doors because otherwise it’s stabbing your own people in the back. That’s part of the reason that you can come up with such astounding claims as that Israel is engaged in the worst of genocides, even as you plan to take over using demographic growth in a couple of decades. Or that you (not necessarily you Omar) can claim in the same breath that the Holocaust didn’t happen and that the Israelis behave like Nazis. As we say in America, “whatever floats your boat.” If it makes you feel good (e.g., reviling Israel) then you’ll say it. No consistency, no self-criticism or self-correction. And if I had to pronounce on what the single greatest reason there are no democracies in the Arab world, i’d pick the inability to self-criticize.

A month ago, there was an explosion on a Gaza Beach and almost an entire family was wiped out. The pictures of little Houda sobbing over her father traveled the world over, inciting great indignation over her tragic condition. But the evidence strongly suggests that was a Hamas planted bomb that blew them up. Let’s for a moment say that’s the case (there are plenty of cases like this). Will you get as indignant over a Palestinian orphan created by Hamas’ actions as you will over an orphan caused by an Israeli shell? Can you blame the guilty rather than the scapegoat? Do you get nauseous when Nasrallah declares the two Arab Muslim children he killed in Nazereth “martyrs”?

In other words, is there any consistency to your moral indignation other than that you hate the Israelis? Is it going to be “my tribe right or wrong”? — in which case why do you expect me (or anyone not in your tribe) to side with you? Or are we talking about justice, and attacking the sources of human suffering and oppression?

Response to Omar: Part III

The continuation of Omar and my discussion. This is a response to Omar’s comments (in bold) on the first half of my comments (Part I).

Well, it’s good that you didn’t follow the usual attitude and simply considered me a terrorist only because I’m Palestinian, I appreciate that, honestly.

Is it because you’ve been treated this way before that you expected me to treat you like a terrorist, or just expectations built up from impressions?

Another thing I’m really appreciating here, the fact that you realize this is a controversy of historical resources, “two radically different sources of history”, but I have serious troubles bringing my sources here because of many facts. Most of what I know isn’t coming from reading on the internet, as a Palestinian, 50% of what we know is simply “eyewitnessed”, I don’t have to read books telling me about how Israelis are treating me! And when you grow up among elder people (politicians, fedayes,..) you have a walking sources of history, the remaining 50% is a collection of many TV documentaries, newspapers, books, and Internet. It’s hard to provide links, but I’ll try to do my best here.

I understand. Don’t feel you have to link every statement you make. Let me know where you get whatever information you have. I’ll trust you on that. Just, please, allow me the ability to call some of its reliability into question.

I’ll give you an example of what I mean. I was in a Boston area dialogue group put together after the second intifada started. At one point, one of the Palestinians in the group, whose family fled Haifa in 1948 and he grew up in a Lebanese refugee camp, told his story. Deeply touching. Especially when he was briefly in Cyprus with his father and he said, “Why can’t we live like this?” But when I asked him why his family fled Haifa, he told me they were fleeing the threat of massacres from the Zionists. Now I didn’t have the heart to tell him that the case of Haifa is the clearest one of the Jews begging the Arabs to stay, and that if his dad took the family out, it was because he believed the reports from Arab leaders about massacres and the calls to get out so the Arab armies could come in. In other words, his father had made a terrible mistake (those Arabs who remained in Haifa are in much better shape that the Palestinians in Sabra and Shatilla refugee camp, live better than the average Cypriot). So I understand that his dad would tell both himself and his family that he fled Zionist butchers in 1948 — how painful to admit so disastrous a lapse of judgment. But I also don’t think his testimony is reliable on what actually happened.

Response to Omar: Part II

This is the second part of my response to Omar’s long response to my comments on his questions about why he should not support Hizbullah and Hamas (and Syria) as long as they are fighting Israel.

What’s better for me as a Palestinian, supporting Syria (a country that’s fighting my everlasting enemy) or hiding behind the US; a country that’s conquering Iraq and torturing my brothers and raping my sisters for the sake of oil, not to mention its very obvious imperialistic ambition to the area as a whole?

Israel is only your “everlasting” enemy because your leaders have told you this, and because your definition of honor makes an independent Jewish state a humiliation to both Arabs and Muslims. Syria as a political culture is part of the Arab League that has made you Palestinians victims by definition, on purpose. They chose war in 1948 and 1967 and preferred to leave over two million Palestinians in a humiliating occupation by Israelis with their decision at Khartoum. They are not your friends by any means; and they are the ones who have told you Israel is your enemy.

Why should I now, after the situation exploded, judge what the Syrians are doing to their people inside prisons, not just judging them, but stabbing their resistance in the back, overlook the Israeli terrorist crimes and give them a green light to continue their cowardly attacks on civilains?

Even if I grant you all you say — that Israeli terrorism targets civilians (which I don’t) — your approach is not necessarily correct. You think that criticizing the people who keep the pot boiling with their hatreds and violence — which you consider resistance — is stabbing them in the back. This depends on your imagining the Israelis as a relentless aggressor (with imperialist goals from the Nile to the Euphrates) and your imagining that the Syrians/Hizbullah/Hamas are resisting this aggression. If you’re wrong, you may be making a really serious mistake, strengthening those who harm you and attacking those who would like to stop.

The search for the Arab honor, which you obviously have no idea what it is, didn’t cause our problems, this honor, which you obviously consider a stupid idea, can be defined by the following: “It’s your reaction when you wake up in the morning, whether you are in Gaza, West Bank, Lebanon, or Jolan (Syria), on the smell of your children’s burning corpses”. I hope that you come to realize this stupid honor one day, and then tell me what to do about it.

Response to Omar: Part I

Omar of Jordan took the time to write a long response to my post on his long question. I hope this is the beginning of a useful exchange. Before I start, it’s clear that one of the problems with our exchange is that we have two radically different sources of history on the Middle East, and I’m not sure how to reconcile that. Omar, if you can bring your sources to your subsequent responses, I’ll try as much as possible to bring mine to mine. Then maybe we can talk about the “clash of historical narratives.”

Before I start, I’m not sure if you’re the frenchfregoli who I was arguing for the last two days or not, but anyway, I’m going to overlook any relation and respond to you in general.

Thank you. I’m not.


I don’t believe that we’re on opposite sides about everything, the problem from my point of view is that you know less about the Arab world and about me, you base your opinions on information that are facts only according to you.

Let me start by your thought experiment, ok, our “friends” had arrived to Palestine, you’re inviting me to welcome them with hospitality, do you have any idea that Jews had been living in the hospitality of Arabs for over a thousand years, what made us change our minds suddenly?

I think you need to read some more about how the dhimmi Jews were treated by the Muslims in the pre-modern period. Try the works of Bat-Yeor and Bernard Lewis. Although the Christians may have engaged in some really vicious pogroms more often than Muslims, for systematic, legally sanctioned, oppression and humiliation of religious minorities, it’s hard to find a more consistent record than Islam. I don’t have the reference, but there’s a letter from a French Jewish educator who went to Algeria in the early 1800s to see about opening a school for Jews there and came back horrified at the degradation and humiliation of that community. I’m afraid you will have a good deal of difficulty making the case that the Muslims were kind and hospitable to the Jews. That’s part of the Anti-Zionist “narrative”: “We got along fine with our Jews until the Zionists came.” Well, I think if you look at the independent evidence (say the reports from travelers to the Middle East), you’ll find that “getting along fine” meant being on top and able to humiliate at will, and “before the Zionists got here” means before we had to deal with uppity Jews who did not accept their assigned position.


mmm, maybe [1] the Haganah gangs that were commiting genocides in Deir Yassin to terrorise native Palestinians, or [2] maybe Palestinians, regardless to their legendary hospitality, don’t like, just like every decent human, somebody coming from Poland taking over their houses over a night and butchering them and their innocent families, [3] maybe because those “peaceful” Jews wanted, and still do, to conquer lands from Iraq to Egypt claiming that it’s what their god had promised them 3000 years ago! Only by stumbling across this idea of yours, I feel so disappointed.

The Dangers of Honor: Response to Omar

Omar of Jordan, whose blog I cited yesterday has a long question up at his blog. Here is my interlinear answer.

Omar, we are pretty much on opposite sides of this particular issue, but I detect in your questions, even though they are fairly rhetorical (i.e., whose answer is obvious), some opening to a serious response. So here it is. I welcome your response.

But…they are fighting Israel, whoever they are!

I’m not allowed to thank Allah when I see an Israeli ship sinking in the sea, because I have to be more aware of what’s going on behind the scenes. I’m not allowed to thank Allah when I see Israelis who slaughtered my brothers in blood hide in shelters like dogs, because when I do, I’m an idiot who agrees on killing the Lebanese people. I’m not allowed to open that ancient box of dignity and have a look (without touching) at something that I really miss when I hear Hassan Nasrullah’s speech inviting me to have a look at that burning thing over there after uttering all the logic and the sense in the world, because if I dare to do that, I’ll become an oblivious Iranian agent. If I dare to raise my hands and ask Allah to help my fellow Muslims in their fight against that devil called Israel, then I’m a Syrian informer.

Before I commit any of these grave mistakes, can you please have some sympathy on me and try your best to enlighten me before it’s too late, can you please explain to my humble and slow mind how it’s better to repeat after Bush and Rice, how it’s better to give Israel a green light and to tell her that it’s the right thing to do, it’s not your resposibilty after all, it’s only a Shiite adventure. I’m finding this a bit hard to swallow, why should I curse the one whose fighting my enemy? Or maybe I shouldn’t have considered it my enemy in the first place!

Maybe that’s the case. As your opening Arab proverb states, one of the signs of a fool is mistaking an enemy for a friend. The inverse applies as well: mistaking a friend for an enemy.

Try a thought experiment. We are in 1900. The Arab world has, for a century now, awakened to realize that European culture has far outstripped them in technology, and they are on the defensive even in their own lands. Efforts at reform, starting with Muhammad Ali in the early 19th century have all failed. A new round of efforts known as “Arab nationalism” have begun. And all of a sudden, you start getting Jews from Europe coming to Palestine. They come because the Europeans are racists and anti-Semites. They have the secrets of modernity — both technological and cultural — and there is little love lost between them and the Christians they flee.

They could be your ideal allies. With them to help, you need not go to your real enemies, the European Christians, who have waged war with you for centuries and who even now, threaten to turn you into colonies. You can get all the information and insights you need from these Jews.

What if your people (Muslim Arabs) had treated them with your celebrated hospitality? My guess is, that the Arab world would not be the economic and political disaster area it is today, with the failure not only of Arab nationalism, but now the rise of Islamic theocracy, whose handiwork we can see in the Iranian’s treatment of their own sons in their war against Iraq, in the Taliban throwing acid in the face of women who do not wear the veil, and the massacre of populations — Christian, animist, Muslim — in the Sudan.

And again please, what’s so bad about Syria and Iran that is enough for me to stand with the US against them?

I’m not sure how to answer this. My guess is that you would have a very difficult time sustaining your blog in either place. You have picked two of the most oppressive regimes in the world (barring, of course, North Korea which is actually starving its people to death). Let me return a question: will you side with anyone who’s “on your side” (i.e., Muslim and fighting Israel) no matter how cruelly they treat your own people?

In other words, explain to me how important it is to consider Hezbollah a terrorist organization because it’s nothing but a Syrian tool. I for one never heard Al Assad expressing his ambition about conquering Amman, but again, he must be bad, because you know it’s impossible that our leaderships stab Lebanon in the back for nothing!

I have a little difficulty understanding what is apparently a lot of sarcasm. Correct me if I misunderstood.
1) Hezbollah is not a terrorist organization because it is a Syrian tool (actually, it’s more an agent of Iran than Syria, but it’s also independent). Hezbollah is terrorist because it teaches hatred that urges genocide, because it celebrates and participates in suicide terrorism (i.e., targeting civilians). And like most terrorist organizations, it terrorizes most and most often the very people among whom it exists and for whom it pretends to speak.
2) Assad and “Greater Syria”: I am astonished that you are unaware of Syrian designs on Jordan. Jordan, Israel and Lebanon are all part of “Greater Syria“, and the ambitions of the Syrians for your country are a major dimension of the politics of the last 60 years (including “Black September“). Surely you are aware of the Syrian occupation of Lebanon for the last half a century. That was foreplay.

It’s time for you to wake up, it’s time for you to realize what the Iranian and the Syrian devil is preparing for you, it’s time for you to understand that fighting Israel is not helping the Palestinians nor the Lebanese, it’s time to realize that anybody threatening Israel by any means is not helping the Palestinians and not serving the common Arabic interests which I have no idea what it is!

Since you have basically presented my position (although in a fairly simplistic way), I can only assume that the above was meant to be sarcastic. Let me just make two points here, starting with your closing question about the “common Arabic interests.” It seems to me that can go one of two ways: either the common Arab interest is the honor of the Arabs as strong and virile so that Arab leaders can strut on the stage of history, no matter what the cost to their own people, or it is the creation of states in which justice rules fairly and commoners have dignity.

If you want the former, then destroying Israel is important. If you want the latter, then allying with Israel is important. The pursuit of Arab honor (as defined by an elite who do not hesitate to exploit and sacrifice Arab commoners in search of their goal) has doomed the Palestinians to misery, to imprisonment in “refugee” (really concentration) camps, to statelessness, to occupation.

In 1967, for example, after the disastrous Six-Days War, the Arabs had a chance to get the entire West Bank and Gaza for a Palestinian state, free over a million Arabs from the yoke of Israeli occupation (and humiliation). Instead they proclaimed the three No’s of Khartoum, which effectively said, “our honor [i.e., Arab League leaders] is more important than the freedom and well-being of the Palestinian people.” No one consulted the Palestinians. They were the designated sacrificial victim on the altar of Arab “pride.

The point here is that “that ancient box of dignity” you would be happy only to look at has been poisoned. Your people (Arabs, Muslims) have so feverishly pursued one notion of honor that they have destroyed the very meaning of honor. As a result, they eagerly seek to play the victim before the whole world — look at what these wicked Israelis are doing to us! — when no honorable warrior would play the victim; they kill daughters for getting raped; they grind the faces of their poor and then blame Israel. This is not honorable. This is not dignified.

For some, it doesn’t need much analysis, wait for you bastards’ point of view, and simply follow. It’s not the same for me.

I’m for not simply following someone else’s point of view too. Take your own stance.

In your opening remarks you seek to avoid rejoicing over your enemies damage, a term called Schadenfreude in German, and, I believe, Shamtan, in Arabic. It is an important emotion to avoid, for as your proverb points out, if you mistake your enemy for your friend, you may, taking his enemies as yours, be rejoicing over your real friend’s suffering.

In your title you say, “But… they are fighting Israel, whoever they are!” Well who are they? And are you prisoner of “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” at all costs? Are you aware that Hezbollah is out to turn Lebanon into a Sharia state and impose dhimmitude on the Christians (and the “lax” Muslims) there? Do you care? Does it matter to you that Christian Lebanese are cheering the only people who stand a chance of breaking the yoke of terrorism on those among whom terrorists live.

Listen to the words of a Lebanese Christian, your friend’s enemy and your enemy’s friend. You can dismiss the Christian Lebanese as fascist if you want, but they are no less fascist than your Islamic and “Arab nationalist” movements.

For the millions of Christian Lebanese, driven out of our homeland, Thank you Israel, is the sentiment echoing from around the world. The Lebanese Foundation for Peace, an international group of Lebanese Christians, made the following statement in a press release to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert concerning the latest Israeli attacks against Hezbollah:

We urge you to hit them hard and destroy their terror infrastructure. It is not [only] Israel who is fed up with this situation, but the majority of the silent Lebanese in Lebanon who are fed up with Hezbollah and are powerless to do anything out of fear of terror retaliation…

The once dominant Lebanese Christians responsible for giving the world the Paris of the Middle East as Lebanon used to be known, have been killed, massacred, driven out of their homes and scattered around the world as radical Islam declared its holy war in the 70s and took hold of the country. They voice an opinion that they and Israel have learned from personal experience, which is now belatedly being discovered by the rest of the world.

Ask yourself if you don’t care what your allies do… as long as they attack Israel. Ask yourself if, when your friends, Arab Muslims, say “line up against the Jews and the Christians in a zero-sum war, our side right or wrong, you want to simply follow.

Why are Hizbullah and Hamas doing this?

For many, even in the Arab world, the gratuitous attacks of Hizbullah and Hamas on the Israelis seems incomprehensible. Why pick a fight with so strong an enemy? There are two answers, and they both relate to the problems of paradigmatic perception that we’ve discussed before.

#1: Retreat is weakness and invites aggression. (JP in action)

dry bones on lebanon-gaza
(Hat-tip, Sandmonkey)

I remember a conversation about a year ago with someone in the Israeli army about whether the Gaza withdrawal would lead to more or less violence. “That’s the million dollar question,” he replied. Not wanting to be too pushy, I mumbled gently something about how it’s pretty clear that it will, like Israel’s retreat in 2000 from Lebanon, appear on the Palestinian’s radar screen as a sign of weakness, that Hamas will claim it as a victory of violence (which it was in part), and that they will step up the violence.

He, like many Israelis, didn’t seem interested in such councils of doom. It’s a favorite ploy of the left in Israel to dismiss as fascists those who (in their words) think that “they only understand force.” Actually it’s not that “they” understand only force, but that without force they do not understand. There is obviously more to do than apply force, but the fantasy that we (and by this I mean the West) can talk our way out of this one — a fantasy the Europeans seem particularly addicted to — is the real misunderstanding.

#2: Picking a fight with Israel works insofar as the Western Media will then give the victims of Israel’s response the PR victory. (PCP in action)

The strategy of picking a fight with Israel even when you are bound to lose has two dimensions. The aspect that we cognitive liberal egocentrists would call “irrational” has been dealt with above: for honor’s sake whatever happens. The more rational one comes from the basic strategy of Palestinian and Arab suffering: the more we suffer, the more indignant the world gets with Israel; the more indignant they get with Israel, the more they villify her, feed the anti-Zionist attacks like divestment and boycott, and feed their hopes that they can, at the cost of immense suffering to their own people, somehow destroy her. This time, apparently, it’s started to get harder. But, as Chad Evans notes,

But there’s always much more behind it these attacks and it’s usually centered around attention. In that respect, Hezbollah has already won and the international community is allowing Hezbollah to score much-needed sympathy points.

The usual suspects line up, but then we have the big surprise: Saudi Arabia condemns Hizbullah (hint: Sunnis vs. Shiis).

Peacenik Punditocracy Prematurely Praises Nasrallah: Fisking Aluf Benn

A week before Hizbullah, under the orders of their leader Hasan Nasrallah, attacked an Israeli border patrol, killed seven, kidnapped two, and set off the current warfront, Aluf Benn, the Diplomatic editor of Ha-Aretz wrote a column praising Nasrullah as a paragon of reason. (Hat tip Naomi Reagen and IMRA)

A close read of the work reveals liberal cognitive egocentrism in full flower, even as the writer attempts to explain the irrational behavior of some of the players.

We need a Nasrallah

By Aluf Benn Haaretz 6 July 2006

What is more frightening: a Syrian Scud missile with a chemical warhead that can hit Tel Aviv and kill thousands of people with poison gas, or a Palestinian Qassam missile full of primitive explosives, which hits Sderot and sometimes Ashkelon, and causes a small amount of damage? The destructive power of the Syrian missile is far greater, and yet few, if any, Israelis think about its existence. The Qassam, however, is seen as a serious security threat, which is of concern to the prime minister, the security services, the media and the Israeli public.

There is a simple explanation for the inverse ratio between the performance capability of the enemy’s missiles and the level of anxiety about them: The security threat does not stem from the technology of weapons systems, but from the finger on the trigger. Israel’s leaders portray Syrian President Bashar Assad as the principal inciter of terror in the region and as the person responsible for the kidnapping of soldier Gilad Shalit. But they were not afraid Assad would launch Scuds, even after Israeli warplanes buzzed his palace. He may be a terrorist, but he is not crazy. If he presses the launch button, he will risk a harsh reaction from Israel that will endanger his rule and his country. That is why Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz can irritate him without fear.

As opposed to Assad, the Qassam operators in Gaza cannot be deterred by an F-16 fighter plane, and their hand does not tremble when they launch another missile over the fence. Their strength stems from the weakness of the Palestinian Authority and from the absence of a central security force in
Gaza.

Israel has suffered from this problem since its earliest days: Terror develops in a place where the Arab government is weak. That was the case in Jordan in the 1950s and 1960s, in Lebanon in the 1970s and 1980s, and now in the PA. Centralized governments with a strong army, like Syria, Egypt and Jordan today, are able to ensure quiet on the border, and their behavior is predictable. Wherever there is chaos, there are problems of “ongoing security.”

This discussion, of coure, overlooks the behavior of other strong states like Iraq (under Saddam) and Iran. Granted Benn can claim that they are not border states, but already the kind of “strong” historical analysis here reminds me of the kind of analysis we got from Larry Derfner. A slightly more modest formulation might have gone like this: Centralized governments with a strong army, like Syria, Egypt and Jordan today, are able to ensure quiet on the border when they want to, and their behavior seems to be predictable.

It is enough to see what is happening in Lebanon. The moment Hezbollah took control over the south of the country and armed itself with thousands of Katyushas and other rockets, a stable balance of deterrence was created on both sides of the border. The withdrawal of the Israel Defense Forces from Lebanon in 2000 was made possible not only because of the daring of then prime minister Ehud Barak, but also thanks to Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, who conducts a policy of “one law and one weapon” on the other side.

Now, in one fell swoop, we’ve descended into partisan fantasy, an unreconstructed Oslo proponent unleashes his “take” on reality. The “daring” of Barak, which Benn thanks for the stable situation on the Lebanese border reflects one of the straws in the wind to which the Israeli pro-Oslo camp has clung with great tenacity. For them, the withdrawal was a success because that border quieted down. For those who look at the larger situation, rather than isolate one area and treat it as separate, the withdrawal from Lebanon was a catastrophe, signaling great weakness on Israel’s part and inspiring the second “Intifada” among Palestinians convinced that if you make the Israelis bleed, they’ll withdraw.

As for the “stable balance of deterrence” to which Benn refers, it is his projection onto a relatively stable situation for a relatively brief period. For Benn six years may be a long time, for Hizbullah and other Jihadi opponents of Israel, it’s just a pause. The idea that the Lebanese border was a separate unit operating under its own rules, rather than part of a larger coalition of forces, produced the logic Benn now pursues.

Nasrallah hates Israel and Zionism no less than do the Hamas leaders, Shalit’s kidnappers and the Qassam squads. But as opposed to them – he has authority and responsibility, and therefore his behavior is rational and reasonably predictable. Under the present conditions, that’s the best possible situation. Hezbollah is doing a better job of maintaining quiet in the Galilee than did the pro-Israeli South Lebanese Army.

Now we step into the Oslo Syndrome looking glass. The notion that authority and responsibility bring rational and “reasonably” predictable behavior, is a standard tool in the cognitive egocentrist’s kit. Indeed it was rapidly trotted out by all the usual suspects when Hamas came to power. And not surprisingly, we find Benn informing the readers of the Guardian (no less) of the good news about a disciplined and rational Hamas:

The exiled Hamas leader, Khalid Mesh’al, appears to understand this. In his article on these pages last week, he clung to his destruction rhetoric while offering a long-term truce. Would he and his colleagues shelve their unacceptable ideology in return for political legitimacy? The past year has shown that Hamas is highly disciplined and adept at realpolitik. If pursued earnestly, this policy could be the kernel of the next stage of Middle East diplomacy.

It’s noteworthy that Benn often hedges his remarks with allusions to how this is the “best we can hope for.” Under the present conditions, that’s the best possible situation, he comments on Hizbullah patrolling the border. In the above quote from the Guardian, the “this” that Mesh’al “appears to understand” is that the Israelis are not really thinking in the long run, but want to know they won’t be blown up when they get on a bus. So… the truce that Hamas offers is good news to Israelis who will ignore the long-term consequences of the hudna in which the Palestinians leave them alone until conditions for a strike are more propitious. Benn, in other words, makes a virtue of short-range thinking. As the La Fontaine fable about the fox and the goat who saw no further than his nose concludes:

“Had Heaven put sense your head within,
To match the beard on your chin,
You would have thought a bit,
Before descending such a pit.
I’m out of it; good bye:
With prudent effort try
Yourself to extricate.
For me, affairs of state
Permit me not to wait.”
Whatever way you wend,
Consider well the end.

For Benn, though, the short term, with its illusions of stability and its systematic rejection of all evidence to the contrary, seems not only more interesting, but a basis on which to dismiss all the more pessimistic analyses.

In the territories there is no such Nasrallah today. PA Chair Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) is opposed to terror and wants diplomatic negotiations, but he operates as a tortured intellectual and a commentator, rather than as an authoritative leader. The Hamas government, which at first showed promising signs of organization and discipline, has behaved like him and shrugged its shoulders during the kidnapping crisis. The weapons in Gaza are split among organizations, gangs and clans, which Israel has difficulty deterring.

Here’s a fine piece of sleight of hand. The “promising signs of organization and discipline” are Benn’s own delusion, which he brings in not to criticize his own misguided hopes, but as a subordinate clause of no real relevance. Then the — by Benn’s own analysis — anomalous behavior of the Hamas government is mixed in with Abbas’ impotence as a sign of not an irresponsible government but a weak one: “they, like him (Abbas!?!) shrug their shoulders…” Haniyah shrugged his shoulders over the kidnapping? Apparently any analysis will do as long as it comes to the conclusion Benn wants to believe in.

The events of the past weeks in Gaza have once again demonstrated that the essential condition for a quiet border is a responsible finger on the trigger on the other side. The conclusion we must come to is that until the appearance of a factor that will take control of security and weapons on the West Bank – Israel will not be able to withdraw from there. Negotiations with Abbas are not sufficient, nor is an agreement with him. It is more important that his statement about “one law and one weapon” be implemented on the ground. Even if it is implemented by a Palestinian Nasrallah.

This remarkably naive conclusion is an almost exact duplicate of the Israeli (and American) thinking that brought us Oslo: Arafat will come in, we’ll arm him, he’ll give us “one law and one weapon,” and we’ll have someone we can work with. Benn, addicted to his paradigm, casts around wildly for the next candidate to promise him the hope of rational behavior on the other side that he so deeply craves. And it’s not enough for him to do this in the privacy of his own fevered brain, but in Ha-Aretz, where he can reassure all the others with similar resistance to reality, that they need not attend a meeting of PCPers anonymous.

Alas, the drives that give Nasrallah’s deeds their “rationality” come from a dimension of Arab thought from which apparently Benn keeps himself well-insulated: the Israelis only understand force. As a Omar, a Jordanian blogger who prides himself on not being a foolish man notes.

I for one felt proud today, Hassan Nasrullah made me feel proud today, this is the only way, it’s not because we love to kill or we love wars, it’s because we’re facing a terrorist army backed with terrorist international gangs, and in order to negotiate with them, you have to shoot them in the head first.

Now that’s already at one remove from Nasrullah who does love to kill and does love wars. Omar is just projecting the mentality of the people he “admires” (only force has meaning) onto the Israelis to justify Hizbullah. The sixth of the signs of a foolish man which, according to the Arabic proverb Omar cites at the top of his blog, is “mistaking foes for friends.” There’s a good definition of the dupe of a demopath.

Both Omar and Benn, each in their own way, illustrate the Moebius Strip of cognitive egocentrism. Benn projects rationality on an actor who is, despite his political position and his occasionally moderate reflections, a dedicated Jihadi and leader of an organization that thrives on hate-mongering for children, while Omar projects the very irredentism of Hizbullah onto the Israelis. Talk about a formula for dysfunction.

Arab Bloggers: Palestinian Suffering good for Arab Elites

Very interesting piece in the SF Chronicle on the discourse percolating up from below in the Arab world. (Hat tip: JJ)

Arab blogs that fight for reform
- Frida Ghitis
Sunday, July 9, 2006

When Israeli forces entered Gaza in late June, the news media in the Arab world spared no adjective to describe the “Zionist aggression,” as the Syrian News Agency labeled it, or the “crazed racist extermination war,” in the words of a writer in the Palestinian al-Ayyam paper. No observer of the Middle East would find that degree of invective and bitterness surprising.

However, buried below the furious, raging surface, a different sort of commentary flowed through the Internet.

In Arab blogs and deep inside the Web comment pages of some major news organizations, a few people dared to disagree. In fact, some Arab advocates of political and social reform saw recent events in the Palestinian territories as ammunition with which to criticize the dictatorial regimes they want to change in their own countries.

The Israeli incursion, with its controversial bombing of a Palestinian power plant, came less than three days after Palestinian militants dug a tunnel into Israel and captured 19-year-old Cpl. Gilad Shalit. About one year ago, Israel had completed a withdrawal from Gaza. This was the first major Israeli operation on that strip of land since the withdrawal and since the coming to power of Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement, considered a terrorist organization by Israel, the United States and the European Union.

Many — though not all — in the Arab blogosphere sharply criticized Israeli actions as excessive, but they saw in the fury of the Israeli government something lacking in their own: concern for the life of a single citizen. “They will turn the world upside down to get that soldier back,” wrote Sandmonkey, who describes himself as 25-year-old Egyptian living in Cairo. “I kind of envy how much they care about their own.” The sentiment was echoed by Isis, at BigPharaoh.com, wishing that “our government had half the respect” for its citizens’ lives “that the Israelis have for
theirs.”

This touches on one of the most painful contrasts between not only the Arab and Israeli cultures, but between civil societies and prime divider societies. The Israelis care far more for the lives of their own citizens (including their Arab citizens) than the Arab regimes care for the lives of their own people (subjects). It is characteristic of elites in prime-divider societies to treat their commoners as so many beasts of burden (in the Middle Ages the comparison was between peasants and oxen), and, in time of war, cannon fodder. Look at the ways in which Iran and Iraq threw their own people into the killing fields for 8 years. This differential derives, among other things, from the high value that civil societies place on the voluntary adherence of its citizens to the social contract (from Sinai to the social contract theorists of modern democracies) and the way they empower individuals. Prime divider societies rule by fear and impostion, and not only do not value individuals, they fear them.

The ultimate and bitter irony of all this is that the Israelis, who so value the lives of their own soldiers, put them in danger to spare the lives of Palestinian civilians — as in Jenin 2002, where 23 soldiers died because the Israeli army would not assault the neighborhood in question from the air. When you get right down to it, the Israelis care more about civilian Arabs than do their own regimes in general, and Palestinian regimes who thrive on the sacrifice and misery of their civilians, in particular.

Lebanese bloggers found bitter irony in the failure of their leaders to accomplish very much and yet find the time to rhetorically blast Israel. Lebanonesque (lebanonesque.blogspot.com) printed a local news item about a meeting of the country’s National Dialogue, which “failed to solve any of their own country’s problems … but they did manage to agree that the international community should step in to halt Israel’s offensive in the Gaza Strip.” A contributor noted sadly that “Arab ‘leaders’ are following in the grand tradition of posturing and emitting hot air while unable/unwilling to deliver bread to their own people.”

Several progressive Arab blogs quoted approvingly from the comments page of the satellite news channel Al-Arabiya. An article titled “Where is the Arab Brain?” and signed by “A Wise Muslim” beseeched Arab leaders to stop supporting terrorism and start helping their own people. “The Arab leaders cheat and lie their people and make them holocaust fuel to their wars with Israel to divert their people from their national and democratic rights,” the writer argues, adding, “Continuing the war with Israel is an advantage for Arab rulers and not their people.”

Wow.

Okay. When I say these things, I’m suspected of being a right-winger, blah blah. But at least, when Arabs say these things, can they be progressive? Or is the “leftist” dogma of Palestinian suffering caused by Israelis going to trump the progessive tradition of criticizing exploitative elites and their scagegoating narratives?

Syrian democrats also maintain that their government should stop supporting terrorism, particularly by playing host to Hamas leaders. After Israeli jets entered Syrian airspace and flew low over the home of Syrian President Bashar Assad, someone identified only as Fares wrote at amarji.blogspot.com, a Syrian reformer’s blog, “Now even myself for the first time ever I applaud an Israeli action. … Israel by this action has shown that it does not want to harm Syria. … (It is) time for Syrians to pick the message up and stop supporting radicals and terrorists.”

Now “for the first time” strikes me as a bit disingenuous, since Israel has repeatedly demonstrated that although it certainly can, it is not interested in harming Syria or Syrians. But we must be thankful for small things as well as large. It is interesting to wonder what made the shingles fall now from this Syrian’s eyes.

A recurring theme among many who want regime change in their own countries is a demand that their leaders stop supporting terrorists.

Hamas itself came under withering fire from several writers, including many who expressed impassioned support for Palestinians. In the Al-Arabiya page, someone asked, “What did Hamas expect” when it took the Israeli soldier? With concern for the Palestinians and little sympathy for Israel, he cries out, “the people in Gaza have enough troubles than to be occupied again due to the stupid, irresponsible actions of Hamas idiots.”

Hamas leaders fall into the same category as other regional governments that “enrich themselves and enlarge their external bank accounts” while speaking about the “glories of Jihad and martyrdom,” was the sentiment in an article quoted in the blog “Free Michel Kilo Now,” a site named after a Syrian writer taken prisoner by the authorities in a recent crackdown against the opposition.

The majority of the writing on Arab blogs and other Internet commentary was in support of the Palestinians and highly critical of Israel. Still, Arab democrats are increasingly noting that, however much anyone sympathizes with Palestinians, there is little doubt that Arab autocrats, dictators and assorted rulers-for-life have long used the Palestinian cause as a thick cloak to cover up the deficiencies of their rule.

The Internet, it seems, is slowly drawing the threads off that cloak, making it transparent enough to reveal the ugly truth. This time, even an Israeli crackdown in the Palestinian territories has provided an opportunity to bring more attacks against Arab regimes.

Frida Ghitis, who writes about world affairs, is a frequent contributor to Insight. Contact us at [email protected]

When Israel and Egypt signed the Camp David accords in 1979, I remember seeing a small news item about how the Syrian minister of Education declared darkly that it was only a matter of years now before the Israelis dominate the entire region culturally. At the time I smiled at the paranoia. Having better understood the Arab predicament and the cultural demands of economic development in the subsequent decades, I now realize that what he feared — and what these reformers no longer fear (or perhaps don’t fully understand) — is that in turning away from the prime divider politics of Arab political culture, they are indeed adopting the civic commitments that the Israelis have fostered from the earliest years of Zionism. In that sense, they are coming under Western, if not Zionist influence, a move that will necessarily rub the honor-driven among them the wrong way.

The real question is, when and how can the Arabs develop real self-respect, rather than the dysfunctional “honor” posturing that’s supposed to cover their own self-hatred? When they’re ready, I predict they will find many Israelis who not only would not dream of bombing them from their jets, but would love to extend a helping hand.

When the Jews first arrived in the land from Europe, they represented an incredibly valuable resource to the Arabs who were just awakening to the vast technological and cultural superiority of the West. These Jews were fully in command of the technological and cultural dimensions of modernity, and as much the victims of European imperialism and racism as the Arabs, with no particular loyalty to their European “homelands.” If the Arabs had used the incoming Jews as their way to learn about modernity, the history of the region might have been very different.

And it’s not too late.

Arabs to Palestinians: Grow Up

Youssef Ibrahim, the kind of Arab journalist one does not often find, writes a (perhaps wish-informed) summary of the reaction of the Arab press to the latest conflicts between the Palestinians and the Israelis.

Dear Brethren, the War With Israel Is Over

BY YOUSSEF IBRAHIM
July 7, 2006

As Israel enters the third week of an incursion into the same Gaza Strip it voluntarily evacuated a few months ago, a sense of reality among Arabs is spreading through commentary by Arab pundits, letters to the editor, and political talk shows on Arabic-language TV networks. The new views are stunning both in their maturity and in their realism. The best way I can think of to convey them is in the form of a letter to the Palestinian Arabs from their Arab friends:

Dear Palestinian Arab brethren:

The war with Israel is over.

You have lost. Surrender and negotiate to secure a future for your children.

We, your Arab brothers, may say until we are blue in the face that we stand by you, but the wise among you and most of us know that we are moving on, away from the tired old idea of the Palestinian Arab cause and the “eternal struggle” with Israel.

Dear friends, you and your leaders have wasted three generations trying to fight for Palestine, but the truth is the Palestine you could have had in 1948 is much bigger than the one you could have had in 1967, which in turn is much bigger than what you may have to settle for now or in another 10 years. Struggle means less land and more misery and utter loneliness.

At the moment, brothers, you would be lucky to secure a semblance of a state in that Gaza Strip into which you have all crowded, and a small part of the West Bank of the Jordan. It isn’t going to get better. Time is running out even for this much land, so here are some facts, figures, and sound advice, friends.

You hold keys, which you drag out for television interviews, to houses that do not exist or are inhabited by Israelis who have no intention of leaving Jaffa, Haifa, Tel Aviv, or West Jerusalem. You shoot old guns at modern Israeli tanks and American-made fighter jets, doing virtually no harm to Israel while bringing the wrath of its mighty army down upon you. You fire ridiculously inept Kassam rockets that cause little destruction and delude yourselves into thinking this is a war of liberation. Your government, your social institutions, your schools, and your economy are all in ruins.

Your young people are growing up illiterate, ill, and bent on rites of death and suicide, while you, in effect, are living on the kindness of foreigners, including America and the United Nations. Every day your officials must beg for your daily bread, dependent on relief trucks that carry food and medicine into the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, while your criminal Muslim fundamentalist Hamas government continues to fan the flames of a war it can neither fight nor hope to win.

In other words, brothers, you are down, out, and alone in a burnt-out landscape that is shrinking by the day.

What kind of struggle is this? Is it worth waging at all? More important, what kind of miserable future does it portend for your children, the fourth or fifth generation of the Arab world’s have-nots?

We, your Arab brothers, have moved on.

Those of us who have oil money are busy accumulating wealth and building housing, luxury developments, state-of-the-art universities and schools, and new highways and byways. Those of us who share borders with Israel, such as Egypt and Jordan, have signed a peace treaty with it and are not going to war for you any time soon. Those of us who are far away, in places like North Africa and Iraq, frankly could not care less about what happens to you.

Only Syria continues to feed your fantasies that someday it will join you in liberating Palestine, even though a huge chunk of its territory, the entire Golan Heights, was taken by Israel in 1967 and annexed. The Syrians, my friends, will gladly fight down to the last Palestinian Arab.

Before you got stuck with this Hamas crowd, another cheating, conniving, leader of yours,Yasser Arafat, sold you a rotten bill of goods — more pain, greater corruption, and millions stolen by his relatives — while your children played in the sewers of Gaza.

The war is over. Why not let a new future begin?

The reason that I say this is perhaps a bit of “wishful thinking” is that, however true for some voices, is not exactly an accurate depiction of a current Palestinian isolation. In addition to the Syrians and the Iranians (granted, not Arabs, but Muslims), and all the voices of global Jihad and the Islamist’s dream of a world under Sharia, there are the usual enablers in the West — the conspiracist, anti-American, “third-worldist” left that hungers to demonize Israel and broadcast the victimization of the Palestinians as a war drum, and a European press which can’t help but jump on the bandwagon.

But let’s say there is a population of the Arab intelligentsia that does think this way, that really has changed its mind on this issue. I think the least they could do for the Palestinians, rather than treat them like pathetic loosers, is to apologize to them for the long years that they encouraged them to behave in such self-destructive ways, the ways that Arab intellectuals and political leaders participated (even drove) the formation of a Palestinian identity around victimization (to the point of imprisoning them in concentration ["refugee"] camps), and making the Palestinians the victim sacrificed on the altar of Arab pride.

Then maybe the Palestinians wouldn’t feel so alone and betrayed on the one hand, and these enlightened Arabs could start their chastizement of Palestinian irredentism with a mea culpa, on the other. Then the criticism might be more palatable, and attractive enough to encourage like-minded Palestinian leaders to resist the siren song of the Islamist death cult of which they are the “nation of priests.” That strikes me as a more promising path to a flourishing and democratic Arab world.