The Middle East, Part IV

You are right, Paul, that what sticks in my craw is the grunt level.

We expect soldiers to follow the rules. When they don’t, we prosecute them, difficult as that prosecution is. The famous line in Apocalypse Now! puts it well: like giving speeding tickets at the Indy 500.

Val says on another thread that weapons are evil, and the more people they kill the more evil they are. I suppose that’s so until you are in a spot where you need a weapon.

The immorality of war in general is a position with which I tend to agree and so I’m not likely to go after Val about her position that, taken to it’s logical end, she thinks would lead to peace and I think would lead to hand-to-hand combat or flint knives.

You are right that in leadership I think there is moral equivalence.

But we don’t yet call a soldier a criminal for being a soldier. That may be a consummation devoutly to be wish’d, but that’s not the deal.

However, we also don’t reward soldiers for body count without regard to the identity of the bodies. We cling to the fiction that war is only between soldiers, and sometimes fictions are good things. When kids are killed, it better be an accident because if it’s not an accident it’s a crime. Unless you are a terrorist, in which case, for example, that husband and wife team who wore bombs into a wedding celebration in an American owned hotel in Jordan were doing the right thing. Not.

Steve Russell

Israel is a democracy. All citizens have the vote. Way back Arab Israelis used to vote mainly for the Labor party, which was like a Tammany Hall for them in providing some services. The 2 Communist members of the Knesset were Arab. Nowadays Israeli Arabs have their own political parties and are represented in the Knesset. Israeli Arabs lived under martial law until 1966. IA’s are not liable to the 3 year military draft, although Druze serve in the military.

City-dwelling haredim are a large percentage of the population of Israel, around 15%. (IA’s around 17%). They are overrepresented in the Knesset because they massively cheat in every election through multiple voting and voting the graveyard. Like in the US, the election boards consist of locals. So although observers from all paries are permitted to watch the voting, it is impossible for them to prevent black suited men with hats and beards from going from one precinct to the next to vote multiple times, presenting their voting credentials to the vote clerks who are likewise black suited men with hats and beards in on the scam. Like the IA’s, the haredim do not do military service. They are much resented by the Israeli majority as the welfare cheats that they are. Although they have enormous families, there is a considerable continual defection from their ranks by young adults who opt for a secular life.

Democraphics are everything. IA’s were dismayed as 1 million plus Russians poured into the country after the dissolution of the USSR and they saw their percentage of the population drop considerably. As for “the right of return” of the 1948 Arabs, ha ha ha. That is non-negotiable.

To call Israel a theocracy is PREPOSTEROUS. All religions there practice their cults publicly in churches, mosques and synogogues. Unfortunately for Jewish Israelis, legal marriage in Israel for them must fulfill Orthodox Jewish requirements. That is why sometimes secular Jewish Israelis are forced to fly to Cyprus to get married; foreign marriages are eo facto legal in Israel. The law for jews marrying of course does not apply to Christians, Moslems or Druze.

The West Bank settlers number around 300,000 (I am not up on this statistic). That is around 6% of the 5 million Jewish Israelis. A majority of Jewish Israelis are in favor of evacuating most of the West Bank settlements. That is why they voted for Olmert who succeeded Sharon who evacuated the settlements in Gaza.

As I have averred in a previous post, not taking Ben Gurion’s advice in 1967 to return the West Bank and Gaza to Jordan and Egypt which had seized them in 1948 was an egregious error.

I am not trying to do a core dump on the subject. There are many thousands of factoids which would have to come together to form the mosaic of having any kind of informed opinion about Zionism/Israel. With the factoids I have presented here I am merely trying to belie David H’s simplistic and uninformed opinions about Israel. As for Alan P, who has gone deeply, perhaps obsessively into the subject, his opinions about Israel’s perfidy, which he believes are proved by such evidence as Herzl’s diary entry, come from the realm where conspiracies are infallible and explain everything.

Mike Eisenstadt

Let’s not reduce this to a discussion of the meaning of the word “theocracy”. Israel identifies itself to the world as the homeland of the Jews. To establish such a homeland was the core rationale for Zionism. Israel is a nation where Jews have unique privileges. Any Jew can move to Israel and become a citizen. Not so with others. Property rights that produce housing segregation for Jews are recognized in Israeli law. The wall of separation is being built to preserve a Jewish majority within it. What is preposterous is to claim that it is a pure secular democracy where everyone has equal rights. That takes blinders.

Meanwhile, let us return to a few questions I raised earlier:

  1. How is your position relative to the current conflict between Israel and Hezbollah any different from George Bush’s position?
  2. Why is Israel typically isolated with the world’s principal imperialist power in global political conflicts – all those 180 to 2 votes in the UN General Assembly? Didn’t the current war increase that isolation?
  3. How do you account for the Israeli history of support for right wing military dictatorships in Latin America?
  4. Why should anyone accept the notion that Israel’s illegal nuclear weapons are benign?
  5. Should Israel continue to receive billions annually in military aid from the US, but Hezbollah be prohibited from receiving military aid from Iran and Syria?
  6. Why are Palestinians being routinely brutalized in the occupied territories? And do you support Palestinians being able to elect their own leaders or is that contingent on them electing someone Zionists approve?

Val hit the essence in one sentence. Your progressive political principals lack universality in regards to Israel. For example, “As for “the right of return” of the 1948 Arabs, ha ha ha. That is non-negotiable.”

David Hamilton

“Let’s not reduce this to a discussion of the meaning of the word “theocracy”. Israel identifies itself to the world as the homeland of the Jews. To establish such a homeland was the core rationale for Zionism. Israel is a nation where Jews have unique privileges. Any Jew can move to Israel and become a citizen. Not so with others. Property rights that produce housing segregation for Jews are recognized in Israeli law.”

Except for the last line which I don’t understand, what you say is absolutely true. Most countries restrict immigration for one reason or another; some do so on racial grounds as for example Germany where German ancestors permit Russian “Germans” and “Germans” from other eastern european countries to immigrate to Germany freely on the government’s nickel; some countries bar immigration entirely. I fail to see why Israel should be expected to receive anyone who might want to immigrate there.

“The wall of separation is being built to preserve a Jewish majority within it.”

WRONG. The wall was proposed by the Laborites to separate Israel from the West Bank and Gaza and prevent infiltration of terrorists. The Likudists and other pro-settlers long opposed it because it would put many settlements on the wrong side of the wall. As the number of suicide bombers increased, killing civilians on buses and in cafes and making public life a dangerous activity, it was finally agreed to by the right-wing government. Now that the wall is in place (most of it), suicide bombers have been virtually eliminated. The wall does not follow the Green Line (as I believe it should) because the Israeli government wants to include as many settlements as they can. If you look at a map of it, it is placed mostly on the Green Line. Palestinian Arab landowners have sued in Israeli courts to change its placement and have won in some cases. How’s that for innate Israeli cruelty? Finally, how would the lack of a wall threaten the Jewish majority as you say? That makes no sense.

“What is preposterous is to claim that it is a pure secular democracy where everyone has equal rights. That takes blinders.”

Arab Israelis who were under martial law from 1948 until 1966 as I pointed out earlier do not have all the rights of Jewish Israelis. I don’t wear blinders. They were after 1948 of course hostile to their new Israeli government and in some (many?) cases provided assistance to the Fedayeen fighters who infiltrated the border and carried out operations from the West Bank and Gaza during those years (the casus belli of the 1956 war). That is why they were under martial law. Fast forwarding to the present, Arab Israelis enjoy free medical care, a state pension when they retire, but do not serve in the military nor can they rent and buy real estate freely, nor with rare exceptions in certain professions such as medicine can they expect to hold managerial positions in the economy. As you must surely know, they can if they wish emigrate elsewhere but virtually none do so.

“Meanwhile, let us return to a few questions I raised earlier:
“1. How is your position relative to the current conflict between Israel and Hezbollah any different from George Bush’s position?”

I am surprised to find myself thinking that it is lucky that Bush is in the White House at this time as a Democratic president might have been more diffident in supporting Israel. The debacle in Iraq doesn’t help matters of course.

“2. Why is Israel typically isolated with the world’s principal imperialist power in global political conflicts – all those 180 to 2 votes in the UN General Assembly?”

The answer is either that Israel is in reality a manifestation of the Evil principle and the culmination of a cruel century-old conspiracy (Alan’s position) or it is the long time whipping boy of the Soviet bloc, before its dissolution, Arab countries and other corrupt third-world countries. Take a look at the names of the countries which condemn Israel’s behavior. Quelle galere! Nigeria and Sudan are to be the arbiters of justice. Taking you at your word that you really believe that Israel is “the world’s principle imperialist power,” I am nonplussed as to what one might say.

“Didn’t the current war increase that isolation?”

Probably.

“3. How do you account for the Israeli history of support for right wing military dictatorships in Latin America?”

Happily most of those dictatorships are toast. Israel’s relationships with them was a moral lapse.

“4. Why should anyone accept the notion that Israel’s illegal nuclear weapons are benign?”

Because they are intended as deterrence unlike those of Iran should it get ahold of any.

“5. Should Israel continue to receive billions annually in military aid from the US, but Hezbollah be prohibited from receiving military aid from Iran and Syria?”

Israel prospering as it is economically should not accept US handouts. So say I as do many in Israel. It should be noted that most or all of these monies must be spent by Israel in buying US military hardware so this kind of arrangement is also a way of subsidizing US manufacturers of military hardware by increasing their sales. Iran’s present government as their president himself says holds that Israel should cease to exist. As does Hezbollah. Should I, sympathetic as I am to Israel, be in favor of Hezbollah getting Iranian rockets and shooting them at Israel? Are you in favor of Hezbollah rocketing Israel? Is Alan?

“6. Why are Palestinians being routinely brutalized in the occupied territories?”

They are brutalized because that sort of behavior is a result of a military occupation. The occupied population resists and there ensues a cycle of increasing resistance and increasing repression. Look at American troop behavior in Iraq. You wouldn’t therefore conclude that American troops are innately cruel. Behavior deteriorates due to the circumstances. An inherently unjust situation begets unjust behavior.

“And do you support Palestinians being able to elect their own leaders or is that contingent on them electing someone Zionists approve?”

Why do you keep calling Israelis Zionists? Is Israel for you the “usurping Zionist entity” as Nasrullah of Hezbollah calls them? Israel is prepared to make a deal with Hamas if Hamas wanted to deal. Unfortunately they do not want to deal. Their position is that of Islamic extremism: every land that has ever been under the rule of Islam must be returned to Islamic rule. It is what god wants. I hope it is not what you want.

Val hit the essence in one sentence. Your progressive political principals lack universality in regards to Israel. For example, “As for “the right of return” of the 1948 Arabs, ha ha ha. That is non-negotiable.”

It is a univeral rule. Quoting Montesquieu “all regimes are founded on a crime.” Just as the US or Canada or Australia or New Zealand or Russia or Poland and Hungary or the countries of Latin America will not be giving back the land to those they killed, displaced or expelled (American indians, Australian aborigines, Maori, Siberian natives, ethnic Germans, etc.), the Palestinians expelled from the Israel area of partioned Palestine during the 1948 war will never return. As I explained in a previous post, it is now know from the publication of his papers that Ben Gurion did in fact order the Israeli army to expel as many Palestinians as possible in the course of the 1948 war (but not kill them as Arabs would have done). In the light of the corresponding fact that if Israel lost that war they would all be killed or at best driven out of the country, Ben Gurion acted on the principle of *raison d’etat.* IMO he acted correctly. I regret typing “ha ha ha.” I was getting a bit gaga from writing a long letter. The Israelis have suggested compensation but “the right of return” is non-negotiable just as it is for every other country in the world. It is Israel’s bad fortune to have commenced the colonial project late in history and done it in the wrong part of the world, especially now in light of the rising tide of fundamental Islamic sentiment.

Mike Eisenstadt

But let me see if I’ve got this straight. Cluster bombs – good. Car bombs – bad. F16s – good. Suicide belts – bad. 200+ illegal Israeli nuclear weapons – good. Iran even thinking about one – bad. Religious fundamentalist state in Israel – good. Religious fundamentalist state next to Israel – bad. Am I getting the hang of this moral equivalence thing?

David Hamilton

Close but no cigar.

I agree with what Alan says about war generally.

I do not agree that the steps people have taken to mitigate the cruelties should be ignored because the whole enterprise is immoral.

Cluster bombs, bad but legal.

Car bombs. Depends on the use.

F-16s, bad but legal.

Suicide belts generally bad and always bad when placed on children.

Religious fundamentalist state in Israel, not in existence but whether bad or good would depend on whether inclined to aggression to make the world Jewish. That has not been the case.

Next to Israel, bad you betcha. Willing to die to destroy Israel. Believing the Caliphate is coming back and the Madhi is born is OK. Believing that you have to help the process along with terrorism is not OK.

Israel nukes bad but probably benign.

Iran nukes very bad because “mutual assured destruction” will not deter nuke use, nor will the prospect of slaughtering Palestinians in the process of wiping out Israel. How do we know? Because they tell us so.

A world with no nukes would be best, but the second best is a world where they don’t get used.

Steve Russell

David asks: “I’ve long had the opinion that different Indigenous American groups all shared related religious concepts, for example, concerning humanity’s relationship with nature. Wondering if you agree.”

Yes, there are remarkable similarities. See Vine Deloria, Jr., God is Red, and Kidwell, Tinker and somebody else who slips my mind, American Indian Theology.

Steve Russell

Steve,
I read Deloria’s book long ago and don’t remember what I remember. My own prejudice, partially from reading the Popol Vuh and analysis of it, is that the principal font of Native American theology was the Maya. Got a take on that?

I particularly like the Maya concept of the principal deity not being gender specific. Is that a belief that other Native American groups share? All environmentalists must endorse the Native American religious concept that “man” is part of nature, not above and separate from it. The Western sky god types call that primitive!

David Hamilton

As a Mayanist, I have to take exception to your view that the Maya were the font of Native American theology; you have this impression just because you know more about their tradition than others. Most if not all Mesoamerican religions recognize deities that are multifaceted and have many different representations, male and female, good and bad, young and old, celestial and underworld, etc. There’s a good discussion of this in Eva Hunt’s Transformation of the Hummingbird (an oldie but goodie).

On the integration of man and nature, the Maya belief (not necessarily seen in the Popol Vuj, but part of Maya world view) is that people have three necessary parts: the human body, the soul that inhabits it, and the individual animal that shares the soul with the human (the so-called “nagual,” although this term comes from Nahuatl and is contaminated by the central Mexican sense that only witches have naguals, like witches’ familiars). The three parts are intimately related; if one is hurt or gets sick, the others do too (an explanation for illness of unseen origin). A person gets his or her personality from the animal they share their soul with (ergo powerful people are assumed to have jaguar naguals, etc.). This tripartite nature of man is a concept that is common from the Maya south to northern South America (see the Yanomamo, for instance), and it probably has a South American origin. Anyway, people are related to nature because a part of every person is a wild animal living out in the woods.

The other expression of the man and nature relationship is that the principal folk deity (not the guys the elite stressed) is Earth Owner (Dueño del Cerro, the Earth Lord, Mundo, etc.–everybody uses a different name [also Maximon, by the way]). This character owns all the material world, and has to be petitioned for reasonable use of his property (wood for construction, land for farming, animals to hunt, etc.); he also controls rain, and his celestial avatar is Lightning (see Chac). You petition him for use of his goodies, and enter into a contractual relationship with him; if you violate the contract, he may take your soul to labor in his extensive mines, fields, herds, etc.

These beliefs combine to encourage conservative use of resources. You take what you need (after asking for it) but don’t abuse the privilege. These are beliefs handed down from the ancestors, and the ancestors will protect their offspring (or the souls thereof) as long as they continue to follow the prescibed traditions. The ancestors worked out the way people should live, and as long as people live that way, they will be OK. Unfortunately for the modern Maya, it’s increasingly hard to do.

Nick Hopkins

Nick,
Thank you for your very interesting discussion. But I said “principal font”, not “the font”. That is based on the parallels one sees reading Maya cosmology and, say, “Black Elk Speaks” and assuming those parallel beliefs originated with the Maya. Still want to take exception with that?

David Hamilton

Gavan asserts that John Rawls is a liberal.

I suppose that’s true given the current lay of the land.

I like John Stuart Mill, too. His “harm principle” is for me a touchstone of criminal law, and a big difference between my views and those of, say, Scalia. In other words, in the great law and morality debate between Lord Patrick Devlin and H.L.A. Hart, I stand with Hart. Even if he’s a liberal.

Steve Russell

Steve. My point was simply that your statement: “If I perceive a disadvantage to some group, my attitude toward that disadvantage is formed by the attitude of the persons affected.” is incompatible with Rawls’ “A Theory of Justice,” with which you associated your views.

That Rawls’ difference principle (the part of Rawls’ theory that’s incompatible with your attitude toward disadvantage) shows him to be a liberal theorist was just an aside for the non-liberals among us. They might like to know that his project was legitimation of the bourgeois state. I would agree with you though that, if we are to have a bourgeois state, one based on Rawls’ principles would be more congenial than one based on the available alternatives.

Gavan Duffy

I’m wondering about something re youse guys who think a soldier is a terrorist.

I’m opposed to the death penalty for oh so many reasons, moral and utilitarian.

When I involve myself in a death case, which I have done several times, how can I act?

If the death penalty itself is wrong, and I believe it is, then how can I split hairs over whether a particular defendant is factually innocent or got a fair trial? Is that defendant not the moral equivalent of the person who is factually guilty and got a fair trial? Don’t I unduely dignify a corrupt process by my participation? Aren’t all the choices equally corrupt?

Steve Russell

Bernard Lewis: On the chances “MAD” would deter Iran from using nukes

Source: WSJ (8-8-06)

[Mr. Lewis, professor emeritus at Princeton, is the author, most recently, of “From Babel to Dragomans: Interpreting the Middle East” (Oxford University Press, 2004).]

… It seems increasingly likely that the Iranians either have or very soon will have nuclear weapons at their disposal, thanks to their own researches (which began some 15 years ago), to some of their obliging neighbors, and to the ever-helpful rulers of North Korea. The language used by Iranian President Ahmadinejad would seem to indicate the reality and indeed the imminence of this threat.

Would the same constraints, the same fear of mutual assured destruction, restrain a nuclear-armed Iran from using such weapons against the U.S. or against Israel?

There is a radical difference between the Islamic Republic of Iran and other governments with nuclear weapons. This difference is expressed in what can only be described as the apocalyptic worldview of Iran’s present rulers. This worldview and expectation, vividly expressed in speeches, articles and even schoolbooks, clearly shape the perception and therefore the policies of Ahmadinejad and his disciples.

Even in the past it was clear that terrorists claiming to act in the name of Islam had no compunction in slaughtering large numbers of fellow Muslims. A notable example was the blowing up of the American embassies in East Africa in 1998, killing a few American diplomats and a much larger number of uninvolved local passersby, many of them Muslims. There were numerous other Muslim victims in the various terrorist attacks of the last 15 years.

The phrase “Allah will know his own” is usually used to explain such apparently callous unconcern; it means that while infidel, i.e., non-Muslim, victims will go to a well-deserved punishment in hell, Muslims will be sent straight to heaven. According to this view, the bombers are in fact doing their Muslim victims a favor by giving them a quick pass to heaven and its delights — the rewards without the struggles of martyrdom. School textbooks tell young Iranians to be ready for a final global struggle against an evil enemy, named as the U.S., and to prepare themselves for the privileges of martyrdom.

A direct attack on the U.S., though possible, is less likely in the immediate future. Israel is a nearer and easier target, and Mr. Ahmadinejad has given indication of thinking along these lines. The Western observer would immediately think of two possible deterrents. The first is that an attack that wipes out Israel would almost certainly wipe out the Palestinians too. The second is that such an attack would evoke a devastating reprisal from Israel against Iran, since one may surely assume that the Israelis have made the necessary arrangements for a counterstrike even after a nuclear holocaust in Israel.

The first of these possible deterrents might well be of concern to the Palestinians — but not apparently to their fanatical champions in the Iranian government. The second deterrent — the threat of direct retaliation on Iran — is, as noted, already weakened by the suicide or martyrdom complex that plagues parts of the Islamic world today, without parallel in other religions, or for that matter in the Islamic past. This complex has become even more important at the present day, because of this new apocalyptic vision.

In Islam, as in Judaism and Christianity, there are certain beliefs concerning the cosmic struggle at the end of time — Gog and Magog, anti-Christ, Armageddon, and for Shiite Muslims, the long awaited return of the Hidden Imam, ending in the final victory of the forces of good over evil, however these may be defined. Mr. Ahmadinejad and his followers clearly believe that this time is now, and that the terminal struggle has already begun and is indeed well advanced. It may even have a date, indicated by several references by the Iranian president to giving his final answer to the U.S. about nuclear development by Aug. 22. This was at first reported as “by the end of August,” but Mr. Ahmadinejad’s statement was more precise.

What is the significance of Aug. 22? This year, Aug. 22 corresponds, in the Islamic calendar, to the 27th day of the month of Rajab of the year 1427. This, by tradition, is the night when many Muslims commemorate the night flight of the prophet Muhammad on the winged horse Buraq, first to “the farthest mosque,” usually identified with Jerusalem, and then to heaven and back (c.f., Koran XVII.1). This might well be deemed an appropriate date for the apocalyptic ending of Israel and if necessary of the world. It is far from certain that Mr. Ahmadinejad plans any such cataclysmic events precisely for Aug. 22. But it would be wise to bear the possibility in mind….

Posted by Steve Russell

Dear “Moral Coward”,
I was nicer than Michael King. I said “intellectual coward”. May have to resubscribe to your pitiful rag if Chomsky kicking your flacid intellectual ass is to become a regular feature. Please write a rebuttal so we can watch you twist slowly in the wind.

Still willing to bet $100 you’ve never read “Manufacturing Consent”.

David Hamilton

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