Barry Eisler

Friday, August 25, 2006

The Roots of Arab Muslim Sickness: Part 1, Introduction

Not all Arab Muslims are terrorists. But most terrorists are Arab Muslims. It's therefore worth asking what in the Arab Muslim world is producing this uniquely widespread cultural sickness. After all, if we don't know the cause of the disease, how can we hope to cure it -- or, barring a cure, contain its spread?

Most of the explanations I've come across cite one of two factors, or a combination of both. First, poverty; second, western foreign policy.

I don't think poverty and western foreign policy are irrelevant to Arab Muslim terrorism, but they're no more the cause of the disease than oxygen is the cause of a fire. There's been plenty of talk about oxygen. I want to talk about the combustible material and what is causing it to ignite.

Muslim Arabia was once a thriving culture, a center of trade, an explorer in science. Today it is not. I may be wrong, and I'd be grateful if anyone could tell me if I'm missing something, but I'm unaware of any significant scientific, artistic, economic, or other such development emanating from the Arab middle east. What patents have issued? What literature has been written? What products are made and exported? From fashion to philosophy, I know of no contributions.

It seems that all the Arab middle east has to offer is what by happenstance exists under ground there: easily accessible, plentiful, high quality petroleum. A godsend, you would think. But in fact a curse. The countries "blessed" with oil did nothing to achieve it, so it can't be a source of pride. And Arab fecklessness becomes significantly harder to explain in the presence of all that black gold and the hundreds of billions of dollars it generates.

The question being asked over there, I imagine, must be this: "Why, despite our history, our numbers, and our oil, are we so moribund?"

If Arabs are indeed asking this question, the answer they've arrived at seems to be, "It's not our fault. After all, there's nothing wrong with us. How could there be? We have a rich history. We follow the one true religion. And we have all that oil. External forces must be to blame."

As with all good conspiracy theories, there's a germ of truth in this one. The United States has a long history of backing some of the world's most oppressive regimes as long as they're willing to pump oil (the imperative and the policy remain, despite President Bush's recent rhetorical veneer about promoting democracy in the middle east). If the Arab middle east had no oil, the area would have the same strategic importance to the west as sub-Saharan Africa, and we would have the luxury of policies driven by our ideals rather than by our addictions. But the oil does exist, our addiction does distort our ideals, and it's understandable that citizens in these repressive countries would resent the United States for supporting their oppressors.

But the list of countries with plenty of poverty and heartfelt grievances about being oppressed by the US is long, and for the most part it's only Muslim Arabs who have responded with unrelenting suicide bombing. What makes Arab Muslims different from all the people of the world who are more interested in getting ahead than in nursing a grudge?

I don't know the specific answer, but I suspect it's rooted somewhere in the nexus of Arab history and Muslim religion. As for the general answer, the psychology is clear: it's painful to acknowledge that a failure is your own fault, and comforting to believe that the failure is the fault of some Other. If the failures are monumental, so too must be the treachery of that Other, and therefore the hatred the perceived treachery justifies and breeds.

The problem with concluding that something isn't your fault is that it's the same as concluding it isn't your responsibility. And concluding that you have no responsibility for something you care about is the same as concluding you have no power over it. The Arab Muslim psychology, it seems to me, is therefore one of extreme powerlessness.

The human psyche abhors a sense of powerlessness and will rebel against it. And the most fundamental, primitive way of asserting a sense of power is by demonstrating a power to hurt. I can't get what I want, I can't persuade you to change your behavior by positive means... but I can still matter to you, and convince myself of my own power, if only I can hurt you.

This, then, is the vicious cycle in which the Muslim Arab world finds itself: I am victimized by outside forces. Nothing is my fault, meaning I am powerless. Being powerless is abhorrent and robs me of my dignity. I will recover my dignity by hurting the outside forces responsible for my misery. But hurting others does nothing to change my circumstances, so I am left with nothing to care about but my ability to hurt. And thus my sole modern contribution to the world, my innovation, my emblem, my identity, is the suicide bomber. And what was once a thriving culture becomes merely a death cult.

Next week: Part 2, Palestine
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46 Comments:

Blogger Hardluck Writer said...

What I found very disturbing about the recent terror plot in England was that a number of the terorrists involved were recent converts to Islam (and btw. not of Arab descent). Equally disturbing was that a number of the members of Arab descent involved were 2nd generation British--that any hope of assimilation into Western culture failed. Somehow--at least in these case--I think their reasons for becoming potential suicide bombers were not over any sense of powerlessness inside the Arab world, but more due a feeling of isolation and dissatisfaction in their lives and an almost pathological need to feel connected to either a past they feel removed from, or something that will make people notice. Of course, hate plays a big role in all this.

Btw. I discovered your blog through crimespot. Will be checking inon your future posts along this subject.

Friday, August 25, 2006 4:37:00 PM  
Anonymous David said...

I think that perhaps another important component of the equation is that, in at least one interpretation of the Islamic faith, a martyr is promised a substantial heavenly reward.

Therefore a hopeless person can be more easily persuaded that, although they have nothing in their earthly life, if they make this supreme sacrifice in the name of God, they will receive a great bounty in the next life.

I'm not aware of any other faith that makes a similar promise; thus this would contribute to this strange and horrible nexus that exists in the Muslim world.

Friday, August 25, 2006 5:15:00 PM  
Anonymous Richard Morgan said...

hey Barry - long time since Gijon....how you doing?

just thought I'd drop in my two cents worth (about one and a quarter pence worth in UK terms). On the subject of problems at the root of contemporary Islam, and particularly how it relates to the cultural dead hand of Arab supremacist thought, you might want to check out Irshad Manjis book titled The Trouble with Islam Today. I just finished it. Good, fast read, and quite eye-opening as an intelligent insider's view. I'd also suggest Tariq Ali's Clash of Fundamentalisms, but you've probably already read it.

Meanwhile, I'm afraid going to take issue with a couple of things you've said:

1) "Not all Arab Muslims are terrorists. But most terrorists are Arab Muslims."

I'm not sure that this is quantatively or categorically true. A swift glance at Wikipedia (not an unimpeachable source, true, but usually a pretty good rule-of-thumb guide) lists 8 different varieties of terrorist group, of which religious terrorists are only the first. Moreover, it's questionable if you can list Palestinian groups like the PFLP or the PLF as Arab Muslim terrorists, since these organisations have leftist roots going back decades, and the struggle in Palestine, though often expressed in religious terms, is fundamentally a national liberation struggle. A fair (though flexible) analogy would be the extent to which you could reasonably qualify the IRA and the UDA as "christian terror groups".

Where does all this apparent nit-picking leave us? Well, with a qualification of your statement along the lines of "Not all Arab Muslims are terrorists. But most terrorists THAT WE GET TO HEAR ABOUT THESE DAYS are Arab Muslims." It's an important distinction, because it's very easy to become insulated from a more global view - to forget, for instance, the tremendous amount of death and destruction being inflicted by terror groups in Colombia who have nothing to do with Islam, or the fact that organisations like ETA and the Real IRA continue to operate with their own agendas in Europe - to become insulated, in fact, to any unpleasantness except the unpleasantness which we happen, nationally, to be suffering from. Which stance then leads us to make exclusive assumptions about the people inflicting that suffering on us. The British did that very thing with the Irish for much of the last century, based on the bloody evidence seen regularly in the headlines of British newspapers. The thing is, I don't think Islamic terrorism is a product of a widespread cultural malaise in the Arab world (not to deny said malaise may exist) any more than Irish sectarian terror was a product of any Irish cultural failing (of which there were a number, not the least of which being religious backwardness). Instead, terrorism is what you get when perceived injustice cannot be undone by legal recourse or nationally mandated warfare.

Which brings me to my second quibble:

2) "I don't think poverty and western foreign policy are irrelevant to Arab Muslim terrorism, but they're no more the cause of the disease than oxygen is the cause of a fire."

Hmm - It's an interesting analogy, but I think you're framing it back to front. It would be fairer to say that the colonial and neo-colonial west has been trundling around the world for decades setting fire to stuff in order to warm itself politically and economically, but that up to now we've not encountered a social substance that burns so catastrophically rapidly out of control as does islamic fundamentalism. The behaviour of the west (and the select elites it has chosen to nurture abroad) IS the cause of the fire - and the oxygen (in this case liquid, bottled, under very great pressure) is fanatical religious conviction - the same stuff in fact hat causes fundamentalist christians to shoot abortion providers in Alabama. Had South or Central America enjoyed such a powerful transnationally and transcendentally binding force as Islam does, 9/11 might well have come a couple of decades sooner at the hands of pan-hispanic terrorists seeking retribution for the slaughter in Chile, Argentina, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua and so drearily on. We ARE the firestarters - the problem is that we've finally lit a blaze we don't know how to control, and we're burning our fingers as a result.

Ouch.

Friday, August 25, 2006 6:06:00 PM  
Anonymous My2sense said...

Barry

In my view, the critical point you make - is denial of personal responsibility for one's circumstances. That is the common denominator the Muslim Arab shares with Western groups of political left, who are so curiously adamant in their support and justification of terrorist atrocities. There is no better example of the old adage - "politics make strange bedfellows" considering that stated believes and ideals couldn’t be more opposite on surface. The images of political debates, guaranteed by freedom of speech, or of San Francisco Gay Pride parade afforded by principals of pluralism and tolerance, under sharia law makes me laugh and cry at the same time.

I don’t think the parallels between Columbian FARCA, ETA, or IRA are meaningful – none of these groups proselytize suicide by their members, or looking for the World domination. They also did not focus on mass physical destruction of civilians, to the best of my knowledge.

Does anyone really believes that if or when Israel is no longer exist, and US troops are not present on Arab soil, the Islamofacists declare victory and stop their jihad? They already stated their next goal is return of Spain to Caliphate. West, America, and everyone else have surely contributed, and continue to contribute to misery of others, but most of us figure how to deal with the adversities in constructive ways.

Saturday, August 26, 2006 12:23:00 PM  
Blogger Barry said...

Welcome, Hardluck Writer, aka Dave Zeltserman, and congratulations on the terrific reviews your books have been garnering. Yes, the disease does seem to be spreading, although Muslim Arabia seems to me to be its epicenter (more on which below).

How does the disease spread? I think the answer lies in the way we instinctively identify with family, groups, and culture. Generally speaking, if you're Catholic, you feel some affinity for Rome. If you live in Boston, you root for the Red Sox. The sins of the parents are a psychic burden for the children. If you're Muslim, I imagine, you sense that the shortcomings of your co-religionists are in part your own. The Muslim affinity seems stronger than any corresponding Arab affinity, because Christian Arabs and Druze seem to have no interest in suicide bombing, while Muslim Asians in Indonesia and the Philippines, and apparently some European Muslims, have shown themselves to be susceptible to the disease. So the infection seems to propagate along religious lines more than ethnic or national ones, although again it seems the epicenter is Arabic Islam.

David, good points on the place of martyrs in Islam. Again, this isn't an area I know much about, but I'm sure there's much in Arab history and specific to Islam, and peculiar to the combination of the two, that are important causal factors.

Richard, great to have you here! For anyone who might not know of him, Richard Morgan is the bestselling and award-winning author of the acclaimed Takeshi Kovacs cyberdetective series -- Altered Carbon, Broken Angels, and Woken Furies, and the standalone Market Forces. He's got a strong political streak and can engage an audience on politics and writing in English, Spanish, and maybe a few other languages I don't know about...

Thanks for the book recommendations. There are at least a half dozen I ought to read, not just the ones you mentioned but also a number by Bernard Lewis and Fouad Ajami.

"I'm not sure [the statement, "Not all Arab Muslims are terrorists. But most terrorists are Arab Muslims"] is quantatively or categorically true. A swift glance at Wikipedia (not an unimpeachable source, true, but usually a pretty good rule-of-thumb guide) lists 8 different varieties of terrorist group, of which religious terrorists are only the first."

This one will come down to how one defines terrorists, and you're right, I've done a poor job of that. What I've got in mind is terrorism: (i) aimed at achieving mass casualties; (ii) worldwide; (iii) for unrealistic, merely ostensible, or religious ends; (iv) in which the desired ends are sufficiently utopian and the movement's fanaticism so deep that numerous perpetrators are willing to kill themselves in the process of carrying out their acts.

The terrorism that concerns me most is that which most threatens western civilization. Certainly there are local flavors of terrorism all over the world; always have been, always will be. It's the type I described above that I believe represents the greatest global peril and that has been developed and mass produced chiefly by Arab Muslims.

"Moreover, it's questionable if you can list Palestinian groups like the PFLP or the PLF as Arab Muslim terrorists, since these organisations have leftist roots going back decades, and the struggle in Palestine, though often expressed in religious terms, is fundamentally a national liberation struggle."

I'm sure there are other groups we might argue about, as well. But as some learned Roman once said, "Though there is twilight, still we have night and day."

As for the struggle in Palestine, it is packaged in a veneer of national liberation, true. But as I will argue in my next post, if the Palestinians wanted national liberation, they could have had it 40 years ago. They want something else, and that something else is what defines their movements and their culture, not national liberation. Stay tuned...

"A fair (though flexible) analogy would be the extent to which you could reasonably qualify the IRA and the UDA as "christian terror groups".

I'm no expert on either group, but to what extent is Christianity mixed in with their aims, their rhetoric, and their justifications? If the answer is, "By comparison with al-Qaeda, very little," I don't think the analogy will hold.

And this is why most of the terrorism we get to hear about is Arab Muslim -- not because of media bias, but because people correctly sense that the Arab Muslim variety represents the greatest threat. Certainly I find the Real IRA, ETA, and numerous other such groups abhorrent. But they are local in their aims and capacity, and therefore, naturally enough, less of a concern than groups that seek the acquisition of WMDs and hope to use them where I live.

"Terrorism is what you get when perceived injustice cannot be undone by legal recourse or nationally mandated warfare."

Certainly perceived injustice and the perception of no alternatives can explain some terrorism. But this combination exisits in other parts of the world (Tibet, for example) and doesn't always result in terrorism. Which is why I tend to think of the injustice/poverty/oppression part of the equation as oxygen -- yes, you need it for the fire, but it's everywhere, while fire is not. Therefore, what are the local conditions that are producing the blaze?

"Had South or Central America enjoyed such a powerful transnationally and transcendentally binding force as Islam does, 9/11 might well have come a couple of decades sooner at the hands of pan-hispanic terrorists seeking retribution for the slaughter in Chile, Argentina, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua and so drearily on."

Perhaps the discussion about fuel, oxygen, and spark is a distraction. So leaving it aside for the moment, I'll say that this is my very point: Latin American and other parts of the world have not produced the four part combination I describe above. What I'm grappling with is, why is this kind of terrorism coming our of the Muslim Arab world? The conditions you describe exist elsewhere, yet don't produce this kind of terrorism; logically, the difference must lie in something peculiar to the nexus of Arabs and Islam.

Sorry I started with such a poor (or even nonexistent) definition of terrorism; that might be the root of our argument. Or perhaps not -- regardless, I am confident you'll let me know...

Thanks again for stopping by here and for all your thoughts, my friend; I hope we're going to see more of you.

:-)
Barry

Saturday, August 26, 2006 12:40:00 PM  
Anonymous brooklynsax said...

"Terrorism is what you get when perceived injustice cannot be undone by legal recourse or nationally mandated warfare."

This is the standard left wing, post-colonial theory of terrorism that its proponents use to explain the actions of groups they champion or sympathize with. It's never used to justify terrorism of the Timothy McVeigh or Baruch Goldstein variety. It's also not applied to the Irgun when Israeli history is discussed.

The reason Arab Muslim terrorism receives more media coverage than any other terrorism is because it is a global phenomenon claiming the most lives, from England to the U.S. to Israel to Thailand.

It's really that simple.

Saturday, August 26, 2006 3:54:00 PM  
Anonymous Richard Morgan said...

Barry,

Are you kidding - you're never going to get rid of me :-)

Of course you're right that there is something idiosyncratic going on inside Islamic-based terrorism, but I think to attribute it to an Arab psychological profile is to miss the universalism of this dynamic's constituent parts. Violent religious fundamentalism is by no means a purely Muslim vice - it's common among a lot of US Christians and Indian Hindus as well, to name just the first two off the top of my head. Similarly, a fanatical commitment to death in battle is not the sole preserve of Muslims either. Suicide bombing has been used consistently by the Tamil Tigers (who are nominally Hindu but avowedly secular), and during WW2 the Japanese (nominally Shintoists) used kamikaze pilots quite successfully to sink a number of US warships. Come to that, both British and US military legend is replete with stories of brave men who blew themselves up in order to take down an enemy tank that was endangering their comrades. Giving your life in battle is considered in most cultures an honourable act. And finally, as you correctly point out, the justified grievances that the middle east has against the west are duplicated in any number of other nations. So what's happening here is that a constellation of these quite common human factors has come together in a particularly unpleasant way. Into which mix you can also throw the trans-national character of Islamic faith, the sense that for a Muslim an injury done to his co-religionist on the other side of the world is no less an injury done to him. (Incidentally, this latter is a marked refutation of the idea of a psychology that fails to take responsibility for things - Muslims take their responsibilities (as they see them) very seriously indeed. That's part of the problem.)

To be quite clear (because I get the sense of some animosity smoking off My2sense's comments above), I do not believe that there is any justification for the murder of non-combatants. But that applies equally to the civilian inhabitants of Iran and Afghanistan, just as it does to those in New York, Madrid and London. And it concerns me that we look for ways to demonise terrorists while conveniently excusing the atrocities committed in what is euphemistically called military action. Thus a man who flies a low risk bombing mission over Iran or Afghanistan and kills many hundreds of innocent civilians in the process is considered a fine soldier, while a man who straps on an explosive belt and kills many dozens of innocent civilians AND SACRIFICES HIS OWN LIFE IN THE PROCESS is considered some kind of psychotic anomaly. Both acts are barbarous and inexcusable, but it is hard to understand how the suicide bomber is somehow LESS morally worthy than the pilot. As the actor John Hurt put it recently in an interview, terrorism is simply another form of warfare, and all warfare is horrific; why is it that this particular variation on the theme has suddenly been singled out as "not on"? Or as another political commentator put it (the name escapes me): War is the violence of the powerful, terrorism is the violence of the powerless. To honour war while despising terrorism is simply to worship power while despising weakness. We must never forget that terrorists considers themselves to be soldiers every bit as much as any man or woman who wears a uniform - to denigrate them as murderous monsters instead is to willfully ignore the shape of the problem.

For My2sense's information, FARC have been implicated in more than enough non-combatant massacres to qualify themselves in the "mass destruction of civilians" club. The IRA may not actually have advocated suicide as a tactic, but Bobby Sands died on hunger strike in a British prison and was feted for it by his fellow Irish republicans. And the fact ETA and the IRA have only ever managed to get into double figures with any one atrocity is simply an indicator of relative success, not some defined moral difference. Again, this desire to place the current Al Qaeda tendency somehow beyond the pale simply won't wash. They are simply better at the game than their predecessors. We need to remember that 9/11 was not just the most morally repugnant act of terrorism ever committed - it was also the most stunningly successful. I'd suggest that it is the success, rather than the putative psychosis, of the Al Qaeda tendency that we need to concern ourselves with.

NB, Barry - the Irish "christian terror group" thing wasn't really meant to hold much water - except to point out that political goals and religious identity often go hand in hand and thus that just because a Palestinian has enlisted with Hamas, doesn't necessarily mean that he is a committed Islamist. He may simply be a disaffected young man who can still see the ruins of the farm his grandfather was evicted from in 1948, wants the land it stood on back from the people who took it, but cannot find a way to express these goals politically except through an Islamic militant group; in fact Israeli policy has long been hostile to secular Palestinian centres of learning (Palestinian scholars were refused permission to found a secular university in Gaza), but out of some misbegotten ideal of religious freedom has apparently allowed the founding of a Saudi-funded Islamic fundamentalist university in the same place, hence driving our disaffected young man right into the arms of the people least likely to teach him that a political accomodation can - or indeed should - be reached. Once upon a time, guys like this would have looked to revolutionary Marxism to carry the weight of their grievance, but of course that party is well and truly over - Islam merely beckons in its place.

Saturday, August 26, 2006 5:52:00 PM  
Blogger cwellins said...

Another element in the culture of the suicide bomber and the culture of hate is pent up sexual frustration.
The yin/yang of men and women interacting that we take for granted in our daily lives is largely absent for them.
The young men in this culture develop differently than they would in a more sexually blended environment.
When you add a promise of 72 virgins in heaven as a reward for martyrdom to the picture it is easy to see how that can add fuel or "oxygen" to the fire.
This still does not explain the "root cause" of the problem but identifies another tool that is used to manipulate those who become martyrs.
http://canadiancoalition.com/forum/messages/12057.shtml is a link to an article about the psychology behind suicide bombings by Pierre Rehov, documentary filmmaker that I found interesting.

Saturday, August 26, 2006 6:24:00 PM  
Anonymous Richard Morgan said...

brooklynsax,

I love how you go from "explain" to "justify" in one smooth movement, as if they were identical terms. I'm also very deeply impressed that you seem to know the writings and mind of every left-wing thinker on post-colonial history to such an extent that you can categorically state what they all "never" do. I think I've already made it clear where I personally stand on the justifiability of murdering civilians, so please don't lump me in with some confused vision you have of a vilely hypocritical unified leftist phalanx. Such a thing hasn't existed for decades, if it ever did, and I was never a part of it even then (I was barely out of nappies for one thing). For what it's worth, I see McVeigh's rationale as carrying quite as much weight as the 9/11 bombers - which is to say he was, like them, an angry, idealistic, confused and misguided young man. And, interestingly enough, he was also, like them, a young man whose bitterness seems to have derived in great part from the hypocrisy and violence of western political force as he witnessed it being deployed in the middle east. And I'll happily equate the Irgun with the PLO as well, if you like - both were a bunch of highly motivated killers who thought the best way to get hold of some land was to commit general murder and mayhem until everyone got fed up enough to give them what they wanted. Both skipped back and forth across the line between contextual legality and illegality, both were responsible for atrocities and both ended up relinquishing their name and their more repellent tactics for a fresh identity and more mainstream political methods.

also - re-read my post; I didn't at any point dispute WHY we hear so much about Muslim terrorism in the media. I simply contended that the fact we do does not absolve us of the need to recognise terrorism elsewhere, to recognise the common factors, and thus to place the Al Qaeda tendency within a realistic context.

Saturday, August 26, 2006 6:34:00 PM  
Anonymous Charlie Stella said...

"I do not believe that there is any justification for the murder of non-combatants. But that applies equally to the civilian inhabitants of Iran and Afghanistan, just as it does to those in New York, Madrid and London. And it concerns me that we look for ways to demonise terrorists while conveniently excusing the atrocities committed in what is euphemistically called military action."

Are you including non-targeted non-combatants (collateral damage) or does the equation include all non-combatants (across the board)? Terrorists seem to aim at non-combatants for the greatest effect/result. I don't think we do that intentionally. The net effect may be similar (and tragic) but still there is a difference.

If we are to preclude ourselves from taking actions against an enemy that hides amidst the non-combatant population, we might as well surrender (it seems to me). What we did in WWII to Japan to end the war certainly involved more collateral damage than military, but it did end the war.

I recently viewed Paradise Now (an interesting film about the Palestinian perspective of a suicide bomber) and found it interesting, but nothing so fascinating that I was stunned by its perspective. It makes perfect sense to me that any culture that feels oppressed would want its freedom on its own terms (i.e., I could see myself being as anti-Israeli as any Palestinian if I were born in Palestine). But I was not born in Palestine. I was born in America and my politics support Israel's right to exist without the constant threat of "being wiped off the face of the planet". Therefore, I support its right to go after those who would harm it with total disregard for an enemy that has total disregard for a non-combatant population.

I think Israel made a foolish mistake in pulling out of Lebanon without crushing Hezbollah.

I guess in my world view, "exterminate all the brutes" applies to my American/western world view … and those who seek to wipe an ally (and/or us) off the face of the earth can't go fast enough.

Saturday, August 26, 2006 6:55:00 PM  
Anonymous brooklynsax said...

Richard, you said:

'It would be fairer to say that the colonial and neo-colonial west has been trundling around the world for decades setting fire to stuff in order to warm itself politically and economically.'

AND

'I love how you go from "explain" to "justify" in one smooth movement, as if they were identical terms. I'm also very deeply impressed that you seem to know the writings and mind of every left-wing thinker on post-colonial history to such an extent that you can categorically state what they all "never" do.'

Sorry if you thought I was calling you a "hypocrite" or lumping you in with a crowd. You're obviously an intelligent and well written guy. It's just that I've heard your arguments before.

Edward Said's "post colonial studies" basically blames the West and Israel for Arab terrorism - and your ideas are in line with the writing of most MESA members and self-described leftist intellectuals, who are, well, outspoken in blaming Israel and the West for Arab terrorism.

I don't see anything wrong with pointing that out.

As far as the Irgun and the PLO. Yes, they were both terrorist organizations, but the Irgun was not high jacking people on airplanes in foreign countries. And the PLO never actually relinquished their more extreme tactics. Sure, publicly Arafat made some statements, but he supported suicide bombing until the very end, and never really accepted a two state solution.

'in fact Israeli policy has long been hostile to secular Palestinian centres of learning (Palestinian scholars were refused permission to found a secular university in Gaza), but out of some misbegotten ideal of religious freedom has apparently allowed the founding of a Saudi-funded Islamic fundamentalist university in the same place, hence driving our disaffected young man right into the arms of the people least likely to teach him that a political accomodation can - or indeed should - be reached'

I have no doubt that Israel has made some mistakes and has done some morally reprehensible things during the occupation - at one time, they actually were bolstering Hamas as a viable alternative to Arafat – but until you provide a reliable source for this specific instance, I’ll have to withhold judgment.

Regardless, a big reason for the Islamization of the Palestinians is the relentless propaganda that has been fed to Palestinian children in textbooks and through the PA media, which is often anti-Semitic and denies Israel's right to exist. Even during the Clinton years, when a peace process was supposedly in place, this was the norm. So, I really don't think that what you're implying - that Israel is to blame for the rise in Islamic fundamentalism - is true.

"I see McVeigh's rationale as carrying quite as much weight as the 9/11 bombers - which is to say he was, like them, an angry, idealistic, confused and misguided young man. And, interestingly enough, he was also, like them, a young man whose bitterness seems to have derived in great part from the hypocrisy and violence of western political force as he witnessed it being deployed in the middle east."

Interesting POV. I'm not going to dispute it. I think Timothy McVeigh was a sick, hateful, psycho and I could give a damn about how he felt about the Middle East or anything else.

As far as my comments about the media, I should have been clearer. I assumed that's what you were referring to, as did Barry, when you said that Arab terrorism is what we hear the most about. Sorry for the misunderstanding.

Saturday, August 26, 2006 10:44:00 PM  
Anonymous Richard Morgan said...

Charlie, you wrote:

"I could see myself being as anti-Israeli as any Palestinian if I were born in Palestine"

Yeah, me too. You also wrote:

"my politics support Israel's right to exist without the constant threat of "being wiped off the face of the planet".

Yeah, so do mine. But then you write:

"I guess in my world view, "exterminate all the brutes" applies to my American/western world view … and those who seek to wipe an ally (and/or us) off the face of the earth can't go fast enough."

So what you've done is lock yourself into exactly the mindset of the fundamentalists. Classic mistake, and for two reasons - one moral, the other practical:

Morally, if you can see the other side has a point then as a civilised human being you have a duty to look for just and workable solutions, rather than indulging in ape level hormonal response, which is what "exterminate all the brutes" is. Otherwise, what difference is there between you and the lunatics who want to wipe Israel off the face of the Earth?

Practically (and arguably more importantly) you CAN'T "crush Hizbollah" any more than you can "crush" water. Bomb them to pieces and the survivors will emerge from the wreckage and re-group with a whole new stack of justification for their hate. And they'll get funding and comfort because there are over a billion serious Muslims the world over, and some of them rank as the richest indivduals on the planet. What are you going to do - commit a planetary genocide? Build the camps again and gas anyone who professes the Muslim faith or has Arab blood? Is that your suggestion for peace in the middle east?

I once knew a retired police officer who'd served for nearly two decades in the British police's anti-terrorist unit, and he told me that the hardest part of the job was the recognition (vital in his opinion) that you are not fighting to annihilate the enemy, you are fighting to bring him to the negotiating table, to force him to adopt the norms of (so-called) civilised politics. And this doesn't only apply in terrorist contexts. After the first world war, Germay was crushed by the victors and the result was Hitler, the nazis and another world war. After WW2 America and its allies (tho' mostly with US money - thanks, guys) organised a total reconstruction and relaunch of German society, and the result is one of the strongest, richest and most liberal democracies in the world today.

These are hard lessons to learn, but if we don't learn them we're all fucked - and as inhabitants of the richest, most advanced and most liberal societies on the planet we have no right to sidestep intelligent engagement in favour of a moral stance more appropriate to a game of Doom.

Sunday, August 27, 2006 3:11:00 AM  
Anonymous Charlie Stella said...

Otherwise, what difference is there between you and the lunatics who want to wipe Israel off the face of the Earth?

Probably very little (as I tried to infer regarding Palestine/Palestinaians), but the "ape level hormonal response" is what I believe is required when dealing with lunatics (yes, and from either side--why we can't rule out preemptive war--because our enemy wouldn't/doesn't).

Build the camps again and gas anyone who professes the Muslim faith or has Arab blood? Is that your suggestion for peace in the middle east?

I didn't say that (or infer it). I don't believe there will be peace in the middle east before a nuclear war. Sorry, but that's what I believe. It's also my belief that if Israel doesn’t protect herself sooner rather than later, she'll be the victim. What then?

After the first world war, Germay was crushed by the victors and the result was Hitler, the nazis and another world war. After WW2 America and its allies (tho' mostly with US money - thanks, guys) organised a total reconstruction and relaunch of German society, and the result is one of the strongest, richest and most liberal democracies in the world today.

You don't mention how Germany was crushed in WWII (Dresden, etc.); it was pretty devastating. And what about Japan and the fact the war was ended with atom bombs? We weren't seeking to wipe out all those with German and/or Japanese blood. (And Japan recovered nicely, too, by the way.)

I think we're on absolute opposites of the puzzle. I understand my enemy's position; I just don't buy into your belief there's something negotiable with them--I think that is the real mistake--to assume we'll all hold hands before being stabbed in the back.

Sunday, August 27, 2006 8:55:00 AM  
Anonymous My2sense said...

Richard,

You said:

”I do not believe that there is any justification for the murder of non-combatants. But that applies equally to the civilian inhabitants of Iran and Afghanistan, just as it does to those in New York, Madrid and London. And it concerns me that we look for ways to demonise terrorists while conveniently excusing the atrocities committed in what is euphemistically called military action.”

The key differentiator here is THE INTENT, unless you imply that Allied troops in WW2, US and Israel today have intentionally targeted civilian population.

“He may simply be a disaffected young man who can still see the ruins of the farm his grandfather was evicted from in 1948, wants the land it stood on back from the people who took it, but cannot find a way to express these goals politically except through an Islamic militant group”

It would be useful if you could supply a reputable source to factually support this claim of Palestinian farmers eviction from territory of Israel in 1948. The concepts of the Truth and the Honor are quite different in Western and Arab cultures (just an observation, not a judgment), as a result a lot of history is being “revised” and the source of “information” needs to be taken into account.

Sunday, August 27, 2006 11:32:00 AM  
Blogger PBI said...

Charlie,

My read on Richard's points is that they have more to do with understanding causes and setting policy for the long term, than believing the problems of the Middle East can be resolved effectively through negotiation in the short term. Fundamentally, we are left with a pair of choices: We can pursue the "ape-level hormonal response" or we can undercut the very roots of our opponents' position. The West has been mucking around in Arabia and the Persian Gulf for a long, long time, and I think we need to recognize our own culpability in fueling Islamist extremism if we're to avoid making the same mistakes in the future.

While I also think that you make a very valid point that we are naive to believe that everyone sees things the way we do, I don't take away from that the idea that negotiation is impossible or ill-advised. What I see is the need to get inside the head of our adversary so that we can choose to negotiate with a reasonable expectation of his response, or alternatively, work to address the root causes of the conflict. Unless we do so, we limit our options, and limited options often paint us into a corner like the one we’re in right now. (DISCLAIMER: This is not an attempt to blog-whore, but I just wrote a piece on this very topic here.)

In any case we are not solely to blame for the growth of Islamist terrorism, but we ignore our contribution to it at our peril. It is too late to negotiate with those who have already crossed the line, but we can work to make sure that recruitment for groups like al-Qaeda grows increasingly difficult by going after the disease rather than the symptoms.

I suppose it may come down to what someone whose name escapes me once said (I’m paraphrasing): “The difference between American and British diplomacy is that Americans are focused on “winning,” while the British are focused on getting something done.” ; )
__________________

My2sense,

Two quick points:

1. I’m not sure how much comfort it is to those untargeted civilians killed - or their surviving families and friends - what the “intent” was. Negligent homicide is homicide; it’s just not necessarily premeditated murder. Justifying the killing of “untargeted civilians” seems an awful lot like something people do so they can sleep at night.

2. Interestingly, Charlie raises the issue of Dresden in his post, but not in response to yours. If you’re not familiar with the Dresden bombing campaign in World War II, the USAAF and RAF carpeted civilian targets with incendiary bombs, killing thousands of civilians purposely. Likewise, the vast majority of those killed in both Hiroshima and Nagasaki were civilians.
______________________

Finally, to anybody thinking about the Middle East right now and the role of military force, I highly recommend this video clip from The Daily Show entitled Tough Day, Great Opportunity. It is satire with serious bite, and when I saw it, it brought to the fore a lot of uncomfortable thoughts about the expectations we have for our fellow man.

Best,
Paul
Sensen No Sen

Sunday, August 27, 2006 1:51:00 PM  
Blogger cwellins said...

To Richard Morgan’s comment:
“Into which mix you can also throw the trans-national character of Islamic faith, the sense that for a Muslim an injury done to his co-religionist on the other side of the world is no less an injury done to him”

This does not hold water. In Iraq alone over 100 Muslims are killed by other Muslim “co-religionists” everyday.

In what we are calling Islamofachism, or the extreme Islam, life and the taking of life has a very different value than to most of the rest of us.

Honor killings come to mind., that a Father or Brother can kill their Daughter/Sister so that the “Family Honor” will survive reflects psyche that holds life, even their own families life in a very different regard.

This also brings up the personal responsibility issue of the culture who puts the onus on their women to cover themselves, and observe all the attending “appropriate” behaviors rather than addressing their own issues of self control, maturity and relationship skills they would need to develop deal with the opposite sex as people rather than possessions.

While it may not seem related to the topic, it reflects a culture of extreme rigidity and intolerance that embraces death as a viable solution

This makes the hopes of any meaningful negotiations rather dim.

The President of Iran said he would gladly sacrifice half of Iran to be rid of Israel
and it is no secret that Iran is funding Hezbollah and other terrorist organizations.

How would you begin THAT negotiation?
Yet the exchange of “Exterminating the Brutes” makes the point that to do so is to become the same as whom you are exterminating.
What is left?
We are at a crossroads of civilization and need to pull a new rabbit out of our collective hats to survive it.

Sunday, August 27, 2006 2:17:00 PM  
Anonymous Charlie Stella said...

What I see is the need to get inside the head of our adversary so that we can choose to negotiate with a reasonable expectation of his response, or alternatively, work to address the root causes of the conflict. Unless we do so, we limit our options, and limited options often paint us into a corner like the one we’re in right now.

Paul, I might agree if I thought we (or Israel) had the time to address the root causes, but I doubt we do. I really and truly believe there will be nuclear war in the middle-east (if not elsewhere) long before anything approaching "a genuine peace" takes root.

I agree we're painted into a corner. I happen to believe Islamic Fundamentalism has painted us there … but I will yield to anyone who wants to push the blame our way (for past misdeeds, our support of Bin Ladin vs. the Russians in Afghanistan, Palevi in Iran before Khomeni, Hussein against Khomeni, etc.) … the problem doesn't go away because we can assign blame. The problem exists in real time. There are people whose stated intent is to wipe other people off the face of the earth. Can Israel really afford to wait for negotiated peace when Iran secures the capability to deliver a nuclear weapon?

Interestingly, Charlie raises the issue of Dresden in his post, but not in response to yours.

I brought up Dresden because RM had mentioned Germany was crushed in WWI but didn't mention the devastation of WWII (what I took to be a suggestion that "crushing" or devastating an enemy can only lead to what RM inferred led to Hitler--more hate against the conquering nation). I don't buy it and I used Dresden and the bombs dropped on Japan as an example. (i.e., I don't see German or Japanese terrorists flying planes into our buildings.)

And I used it as an example of sometimes having to cripple a nation by hitting targets with much more civilian damage than military (Hiroshima and Nagasaki). It ended the war.

Those tactics might have to end the next one.

Sunday, August 27, 2006 3:35:00 PM  
Anonymous Charlie Stella said...

Paul: I went to your blog and read the entry. It was interesting, albeit a bit partisan (it was a Democratic President who gave Israel the "go ahead" (one of my favorite Presidents, by the way) and several after supported Israel … and it was Jimmy Carter who helped give birth to Islamic Fundamentalism by doing nothing when hostages were taken in Iran during his failed presidency (and I voted for him, too).

I'll go one further, however (regarding my prior comments and nuclear war in the mid-east). Assuming those on the left are ABSOLUTELY CORRECT (and I don't agree with the assumption at all), that we were responsible for all the ills befalling us today in the Mideast (whether it was our past policy, our current policy or a combination thereof), are we supposed to pay for those mistakes by taking a few nuclear hits (or by letting Israel get swallowed up with a few)?

I don't ask this question with any sarcasm at all, so please don't take it that way. My point being: as insane and horrific and inhuman as it may sound (or read), we're at the precipice of such nuclear doom. Ten years ago I never would've believed I'd see a nuclear war during my life and was only concerned for my kids and their future. Now, unless I croak in the next few years, I don't see how we'll avoid a nuclear war somewhere on the globe (most probably, the Middle East), but it could start in (or from) North Korea as well (or any other half dozen areas that now sport nuclear weapons).

I keep using Israel as an example because it is so geographically small that nuclear strikes against it would be extra devastating. How can they take the chance? How can we (or anyone else) expect them to? Are they really supposed to try and understand the root causes of why the Muslim world wants them wiped out? Do any of us really need to understand that degree of hatred?

I guess my point is, sooner or later it'll be us (America/Israel/the west) or them (Islamic Fundamentalists and all the innocents who inhabit the states where we and they exist) and I have to tell you, I just won't lose much sleep if it's them.

Sunday, August 27, 2006 7:19:00 PM  
Anonymous Richard Morgan said...

my2sense, you said:

"The key differentiator here is THE INTENT, unless you imply that Allied troops in WW2, US and Israel today have intentionally targeted civilian population."

You're kidding, right? The fireboming of Dresden et al, as Paul has already commented, was consciously conceived and intentional deployed as a terror campaign against German civilians with the intention of breaking their will to fight. The US firebombed Japanese cities with exactly the same intent. (The US has also at various times carpet bombed Vietnam and Cambodia, and illegally placed mines in the coastal waters of Nicaragua, to name but two in a long list of US terror tactics deployed since the last war.) In contrast, Israel shows remarkable restraint where military action is concerned, but the Israeli Defence Force still has no problem demolishing Palestinian homes on the merest suspicion that the inhabitants may be related to members of the Palestinian resistance. The cold hard truth of warfare is that any fighting force is supported in some way or other by a civilian backdrop, and all military action, be it state deployed or grassroots, takes that into consideration. To think otherwise is to live inside some John Wayne 1950s movie version of reality.

You also said:

"It would be useful if you could supply a reputable source to factually support this claim of Palestinian farmers eviction from territory of Israel in 1948. The concepts of the Truth and the Honor are quite different in Western and Arab cultures (just an observation, not a judgment), as a result a lot of history is being “revised” and the source of “information” needs to be taken into account."

No, seriously, you're winding me up aren't you. The Palestinians are MAKING THIS SHIT UP because culturally they're a bunch of liars???? What are you, still buying into Golda Meir's "A land without people for a people without a land" rhetoric? Come ON. You're arguing at the same level as some Holocaust-denial lunatic. Six million? Gas ovens? Come on, everyone knows those Jews are a shifty bunch of lying opportunists. I mean, LISTEN to yourself.....

The ultimate source of my knowledge about the displacement of the Palestinian people is Yitzhak Rabin - and he should know, because he was there. Rabin took part in euphemistically named "clearing operations" in 1948 which he himself characterised as "not very pleasant". (I saw an interview in which he talked about this, and you could see in his face how "not very pleasant" those memories were). Rabin also consistently argued that the land conquered by Israel in 1967 should be held as a bargaining block on which to negotiate a lasting peace, he was vehemently opposed to Jewish settlers moving in, he refuted, bluntly, Meir's rhetoric that Israel had ever been "a land without people", and he spent the latter part of his life striving to find a peaceful settlement with the Arab world. For this, he was murdered - by a Jewish extremist. He was a soldier and a statesman and an Israeli patriot all his life. I'd say his credentials, culturally and otherwise, are pretty impeccable.

Monday, August 28, 2006 2:32:00 AM  
Anonymous Richard Morgan said...

cwellins, you said:

"The President of Iran said he would gladly sacrifice half of Iran to be rid of Israel and it is no secret that Iran is funding Hezbollah and other terrorist organizations."

Yeah, and Ronald Reagan said he thought we were living in the End Times and that a nuclear war with the Evil Empire might signal the Apocalypse. And it was no secret that the US funded the Contras and other terrorist organisations throughout Latin America. Idiot rhetoric from ignorant men with too much power is hardly the sole province of the Muslim middle east, and nor is connivance at the slaughter of innocents. You have to look beyond that crap if you want solutions.

You also took issue with my point about the transnational nature of Islam by citing intra-islamic conflicts and honour killings - which is a bit like disputing American citizens' belief in democracy by citing US political support for repressive regimes around the world. Again, there is belief and aspiration, and there are the hard edges of reality. If you talk to ordinary Americans, you find they have faith in the idea of democracy, accountability and individual liberty - the excesses of the McCarthy debacle, support for the Pinochet coup, Iran-Contra and Ollie North, rendition flights, Guantanamo bay, illegal wiretaps...none of these things seem to shake their faith, despite the contrary nature of the evidence they offer. Similarly, if you talk to Muslims (and I'm guessing, perhaps unfairly, that you don't) you will find they genuinely believe in the Ummah, or pan-Islamic union of peoples. Contrary evidence like the Iran-Iraq war or Islamic upheld slavery in Tanzania does not shake their faith either. In fact they react much like Americans facing the carbuncles of US political brutality - they either deny it happens, or they find some way to rationalise it away. Believe me, the Muslim idea of Ummah is very strong, and it is a principle problem when it comes to addressing the issue of Islamic fundamentalist terror.

Monday, August 28, 2006 2:56:00 AM  
Anonymous Richard Morgan said...

Charlie - since you're gearing up for a nuclear war, there doesn't seem a lot of point in discussing sane policy - you seem to be saying "look, it's all going to go bad anyway, why not behave like chimpanzees on the rampage while we still have the chance." I'm not sure whether you're actually advocating a nuclear first strike on Iran et al, but you certainly seem to feel that pre-emptive mass slaughter is the solution. Which is curious, because it seems to be the thing that you;re most scared of as well.

You may want to think about these two facts:

1) Saudi Arabia has put an offer on the table which consists in an acceptance by the Arab world of Israel's right to exist in return for Israel's withdrawal to her pre-1967 boundaries. Now, I don't suggest that this should be taken up without looking it very carefully in the mouth, or that it would be without its teething troubles - but it is a powerful offer from a powerful force within the Arab world and seems to me a better solution than nuclear war.

2) On the subject of Saudi Arabia, the Wahhabi tendency within the country is fuelling Islamic terror world wide with both funds and recruits. It makes Iran's efforts in this direction look puny. It also advocates internationally some of the most brutal abuses of human rights on the planet. Its government is hopelessly corrupt and despised by a large sector of its own people. Yet, the US continues to treat the Saudi regime as a close friend and ally. Perhaps, just PERHAPS a little less vague anti-terrorist rhetoric from the US and a bit more diplomatic muscle applied directly to this regime might see some attitudinal shifts in the region. Instead of knee-jerking to Ahmadinejad's noisy rhetoric - which is exactly what he wants because it bolsters his own far from secure position - perhaps we should concern ourselves with the silent but very effective support of terrorist violence being advocated a little futher south by some of George W's best friends.

Monday, August 28, 2006 3:18:00 AM  
Anonymous Charlie Stella said...

Apes and chimps … I guess I’ve been called worse.

Somehow I feel you would’ve been in the camp who believed Churchill was blowing smoke prior to WWII … or of the same mindset as 85% of the U.S. populace that wanted nothing to do with the war in Europe until Hitler declared war on the U.S.

And I guess you were fine with Clinton’s response to the first attack on the World Trade Center.

I wasn’t. I prefer winning. I would prefer an air strike (the way Israel took out Iran’s reactors in 1988), but make no mistake, if it takes a nuke to get it done, I’m fine with that, too.

I’m a bit confused, though … you want us to listen to the Royal governments in Saudi Arabia even though they’re brutal and ruthless and corrupt (and it’s all our fault for that, too) … it seems to me you just want to blame the U.S. for pretty much everything. I’ll concede that (if it makes you smile) … but I wouldn’t concede to negotiating with lunatics. If refusal to talk (ad nausea) with lunatics puts me in the lunatic camp as well, than so be it. I wasn’t a big fan of the movie, Planet of the Apes … but if the shoe fits, I’ll wear it.

Monday, August 28, 2006 8:27:00 AM  
Anonymous Charlie Stella said...

RM said (to my2sense): You're kidding, right?

That's pretty much my feeling about your argument, RM, but I've learned keyboard restraint here. At least make an effort not to insult those who don't agree with you. We aren't idiots. Trust me, we're doing our best on the other side of the debate.

Monday, August 28, 2006 9:42:00 AM  
Blogger PBI said...

I might agree if I thought we (or Israel) had the time to address the root causes, but I doubt we do. I really and truly believe there will be nuclear war in the middle-east (if not elsewhere) long before anything approaching "a genuine peace" takes root.

Charlie, I agree that we are out of many of the options we would be better off having at our disposal, but I don’t believe that there will be nuclear war in the Middle East anytime soon. (Who would spark it? It’s certainly not in our interest to cut off more oil from the Persian Gulf than we already have, and there is nobody else with the fire power in the region. I’ll address the obvious Iran question in a second.) My belief is that we need to be realistic and less full of bombast about others not holding human life in the same regard as we do, or otherwise attempting to elevate ourselves above the people of other nations, as some sort of rationale for beating the crap out of them. Carry a big stick, yes, but admit one’s own shortcomings and think long-term as well.

… the problem doesn't go away because we can assign blame. The problem exists in real time. There are people whose stated intent is to wipe other people off the face of the earth. Can Israel really afford to wait for negotiated peace when Iran secures the capability to deliver a nuclear weapon?

I am not concerned at all with blame; I am talking about accountability and the need to learn from past mistakes. While I would prefer people not make errors, being people, they will. Where I have a problem is when we continue to make the same mistakes over and over again. Islamic fundamentalism has indeed pushed us in ways we’re not used to being pushed, but it was the administration’s decision to invade Iran - leaving us precious little in either physical resources or the international goodwill that would actually help us catch Islamist terrorists – that has done the damage. Aside from the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, all of the actual damage to al-Qaeda since the invasion of Afghanistan has been accomplished through intelligence and police work. We are wasting lives and time and making things worse.

With regard to potential or coming Iranian nuclear capability, I don’t believe Iran will nuke Israel if and when it gets the bomb. Ahmadinejad is a figurehead used by the mullahs in actual control of Iran to whip the street into a frenzy and keep the collective mind of the people off the repressive conditions under which they live. He says a lot of truly vile things that would be terrifying if he were capable of carrying them out, but make no mistake, the men who actually make the decisions in Iran are very serious and very rational. Obliterating Israel gains them nothing; having a nuclear program gives them street cred. Iran is much more concerned with being the regional power of choice over Saudi Arabia than it is with trying to wipe the United States - or even Israel - off the map.

And I used it as an example of sometimes having to cripple a nation by hitting targets with much more civilian damage than military (Hiroshima and Nagasaki). It ended the war… Those tactics might have to end the next one.

Sorry about my lack of clarity – I was noting an interesting coincidence more than anything when I cited your mention of Dresden. With regard to Dresden however, the view of history has largely been that it was one of the worst things we – and our allies – have ever done, and should not be repeated. There is also more than a little debate about whether or not the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki actually ended the war, and more than a few respected historians believe Japan was on its last legs anyway. It is very likely that the bombings saved American lives – with which I have no quarrel whatsoever; at that point it was them or us – but I’m not sure we’re anywhere close to that level of threat from the Islamists.

People say things and declare intentions all the time, but in the case of al-Qaeda, the “great uprising of the Muslim peoples” and the “unstoppable restoration of the Caliphate” simply haven’t materialized yet, and are unlikely to do so. For that reason, I think we need to step back, take a deep breath, stop just REACTING to everything, and start executing some forward planning based on fact as opposed to sweeping ideological statements. (And I’m talking about the administration's ideleology there, Charlie, not your's!)

Best,
Paul
Sense No Sen

Monday, August 28, 2006 11:13:00 AM  
Blogger PBI said...

I went to your blog and read the entry. It was interesting, albeit a bit partisan (it was a Democratic President who gave Israel the "go ahead" (one of my favorite Presidents, by the way) and several after supported Israel … and it was Jimmy Carter who helped give birth to Islamic Fundamentalism by doing nothing when hostages were taken in Iran during his failed presidency…

Charlie,

First, thank you for checking out my blog – much appreciated. But second, I must strongly demur on your charge of partisanship! I am a centrist who does not vote the line of either party and registers as an independent anywhere I live that I don’t have to pick a party. The post you reference is somewhat more aggressive than usual, but that is very much a product of frustration with the continual repetition of poor management coming out of the White House, the State Department and the Pentagon. I am all about results, and I am calling a spade a spade with regard to the Bush administration’s performance in the matters of the “war on terror,” Iraq, Iran and Lebanon. The examples you cite of mistakes by past Democratic presidents are absolutely spot-on; those men aren’t excused, but they also aren’t in charge any longer.

Short-sightedness and ideological blindness have reached new heights under George W. Bush, in my opinion, and it is the actions of his administration that has painted us into the corner I referenced in my first post. We have thrown away strong cards (international goodwill/cooperation in going after terrorists) and over-played bad ones (Iraq), and we have spent so much time reading our own press clippings that – just like in Vietnam (which, just to be clear, I do not in any way blame on the GOP) - poorer, more meagerly-equipped adversaries are exposing us for macho quick-fix artists.

… are we supposed to pay for those mistakes by taking a few nuclear hits (or by letting Israel get swallowed up with a few)?

Per my preceding post, I’m not looking for some sort of national self-flagellation, but we keep sticking our foot in it with short-sighted policies founded on ideology and cultural and historical ignorance. What I want is a plan that is based not solely on posturing and violence but on data-driven decisions that work toward long term success. No, we don’t accept a few nuclear hits in the name of looking like stand-up guys, and there are clearly a lot more potions before that is even an imminent scenario, at least in my judgement.

I don't ask this question with any sarcasm at all, so please don't take it that way… I keep using Israel as an example because it is so geographically small that nuclear strikes against it would be extra devastating. How can they take the chance? How can we (or anyone else) expect them to? Are they really supposed to try and understand the root causes of why the Muslim world wants them wiped out? Do any of us really need to understand that degree of hatred?

No worries, Charlie – from our previous discussion, I have a pretty strong sense that you are genuine in your opinions!

I may be reading you wrong, but I’m getting a bit of paradoxical read from your posts. On the one hand you state that you are concerned for the future and the world your kids will inhabit because of the looming threat of nuclear war in places like the Middle East. On the other, you seem to be advocating a pre-emptive strike by either Israel or the U.S. on Iran/Syria/whoever. This seems to be somewhat of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

In any case, I think your question is one that is ably answered, and in far greater depth than I can provide here, in Ron Suskind’s The One Percent Doctine, if you want to see where treating possibilities, no matter how slim, as certainties has taken us. My own answer however, is that every step one takes to understand and address the root causes of conflict makes the chance of that conflict escalating smaller.

I guess my point is, sooner or later it'll be us (America/Israel/the west) or them (Islamic Fundamentalists and all the innocents who inhabit the states where we and they exist) and I have to tell you, I just won't lose much sleep if it's them.

It will only be them or us if we let it get to that point, and if we continue to ratchet up the violence. The only way it gets to that point is if we continue to help radicalize Muslims across the globe by playing into the crusader stereotype with which the bin Laden’s of the world like to paint us. Without popular support, al-Qaeda is just a bunch of guys – dangerous guys to be sure – and not entire countries full of men, women and children trying to live their lives, improve their lots and raise their families in safety. In fact, the best way to make al-Qaeda wither and die is to expose them within their own communities for the radical terrorists they are, rather than letting them control the dialogue and portray themselves as freedom fighters.

I won’t be a party to wholesale murder just so we can continue on as we have; the United States needs to change the way it conducts itself and be a citizen of the world. That won’t happen overnight, and neither will the end of this particular conflict, but the conflict will NEVER go away if we don’t get to work. If it truly does come down to them or us, I’ll sleep as well as you do. But I won’t be driven by fear; we’re not there yet, we have many more options open to us, and I’m in no hurry to bring such a doomsday scenario to pass.

Take care,
Paul
Sense No Sen

Monday, August 28, 2006 11:30:00 AM  
Anonymous Charlie Stella said...

First off, RM, try and learn from Paul. He makes valid points without insulting people. Good for you, Paul. As I’ve stated before, Dave T and J.D. Rhodes taught me some of that (and Dave did it so well, I have a great line of his over my computer).

In response to Paul's very valid points.

or otherwise attempting to elevate ourselves above the people of other nations, as some sort of rationale for beating the crap out of them. Carry a big stick, yes, but admit one’s own shortcomings and think long-term as well.

I think the administration’s rhetoric has been as faulty as some of its policies and I don’t agree with much of it. My only rationale for beating up on my enemy would always be self-preservation. I understand the argument that goes: “Once I do that, I become what my enemy is” but … from a self preservation perspective that may have to be the case. If you’re going to war (and that should be a well and long thought out process), go Roman.

Where I have a problem is when we continue to make the same mistakes over and over again. Islamic fundamentalism has indeed pushed us in ways we’re not used to being pushed, but it was the administration’s decision to invade Iran - leaving us precious little in either physical resources or the international goodwill that would actually help us catch Islamist terrorists – that has done the damage.

I just don’t see it this way, Paul. I think we’ve made mistakes but from doing nothing or too little. Bin Laden is on record believing we weren’t willing to fight a war (his pre 9-11 bravado) and he may well be right (as the drawn out situation in Iraq continues). We’ve been doing little since Khomeni. We ignored Islamic Fundamentalism attacks (in and out of the Middle-East) except to support Israel until 9-11.

For the record, I wasn’t in favor of boots on the ground in Iraq, but my alternative was much harsher (not nuclear but pretty damn tough). Since we are there, I do support at least one unstated purpose and little of the rhetoric.

With regard to potential or coming Iranian nuclear capability, I don’t believe Iran will nuke Israel if and when it gets the bomb … but make no mistake, the men who actually make the decisions in Iran are very serious and very rational.

Harry Truman was a very rational man and he made the decision to drop two. I’m sorry here, but I don’t buy it. I think the day Iran thinks it can take Israel out, it will.

With regard to Dresden however, the view of history has largely been that it was one of the worst things we – and our allies – have ever done, and should not be repeated. There is also more than a little debate about whether or not the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki actually ended the war, and more than a few respected historians believe Japan was on its last legs anyway.

Dresden was horrific, as were the two bombs dropped on Japan. And Japan was in fact very much on her last legs … but the fanaticism of the Japanese military (something I admire to no end) wasn’t going to surrender without a U.S. invasion of their homeland … the American lives saved were estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands. Here’s where I differ dramatically from the humanitarian view. It was a no-brainer decision; us or them.

The new wave fanaticism of fundamentalism is just too scary (since they have no regard for innocents at all and require killing them to stay in the headlines ... for recruiting purposes or whatever).

but I’m not sure we’re anywhere close to that level of threat from the Islamists.

I agree that we don’t know if we’re close to the same level of threat … except they attacked us here before Iraq … more than once … and several times in other areas of the world … why give them more opportunities? We may have more time to flirt with negotiations, but If I’m Israel, there’s no way they get the chance.

People say things and declare intentions all the time, but in the case of al-Qaeda, the “great uprising of the Muslim peoples” and the “unstoppable restoration of the Caliphate” simply haven’t materialized yet

Bin Laden said he would attack the U.S. He did. I’m not willing to see what else he (or his minions—however small they may be in proportion to the Muslim population) has/have in store (dirty bombs, etc.). I’d much rather see the Muslim world take charge of the situation and expel the fundamentalists but that doesn’t seem to be happening. I can’t fault Israel for what happened in Lebanon because of it. They can’t let rockets fall willy-nilly on their people so the Lebanese people can maybe stop Hezbollah some day. In my opinion Israel blew it two weeks ago.

And I’m talking about the administration's ideleology there, Charlie, not your's!)

Thanks, brother. I do side with much of the actions taken, but I’m not much on ideology of any sort. I say do what you have to do to survive, but not for some God (Allah, Christ, Yahweh or for any political ideology). As you might guess, I'm not all that big on democracies either. It may be the best alternative out there, but I'm not 100% sold on it.

Monday, August 28, 2006 12:19:00 PM  
Anonymous Charlie Stella said...

On the other, you seem to be advocating a pre-emptive strike by either Israel or the U.S. on Iran/Syria/whoever. This seems to be somewhat of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

My fault, Paul, I wasn’t clear. I’d prefer air strikes (i.e., say the ones Israel used again Iraq’s nuclear reactors in 1988), but I’m not so sure that would do it anymore. Iran has had nearly 20 years to improve on an 18 year old solution (look at what Hezbollah did with just 6 years in Lebanon).

We already know what Hussein would’ve done if he had nuclear capabilities. Hussein bombed Israel with scuds trying to lure them into the first Gulf War (when the world demanded Israel stay out of the war). It was also a great bit of world cooperation (something to side with your argument) because it worked—Hussein was pushed out of Kuwait and his military machine suffered a crushing defeat.

Iran, I don’t believe, will hurl scuds directly (without a proxy) at Israel until they have nuclear capabilities. A preemptive strike against Iran’s nuclear reactors (if it is even possible, which I tend to doubt now), “might” stave off a nuclear war in the middle east. I don’t believe Israel will have a choice when the time comes. Whether we’re pulling their strings to do so or not, I’m sure we’ll be blamed for it either way (no matter which party is in office).

For the record: I, too, am an independent … which makes us two of the guys the two big parties will be vying for in 2008. I was a bleeding heart liberal for most of my years (around 42, I suppose) and never would’ve dreamed of voting Republican back in the day. Now I can’t imagine voting Democrat. I’d love to see a genuine third, forth and fifth party, but it won’t happen in my lifetime. Truth be told, if George Bush was running again in 2008, it would be very hard for me not to vote for him for the simple fact that I know where I stand and happen to agree with the war effort (albeit for different reasons). I’d rather see Rudy or McCain (both hawks), but I doubt the more conservative base will support either when push comes to shove because of their more liberal social policies. I’d love to see Barrack Obama sift through the Democratic party machine, but I doubt the party will let him as a front runner. By the time they deem him ready, I suspect he’ll be just another robot taking popularity polls before making a decision.

Monday, August 28, 2006 2:05:00 PM  
Blogger PBI said...

Charlie,

One last quick thought on nukes and Iran: I think one of the drivers for that country - other than the regional hegemony I described earlier - is fear of the United States. Bush's "Axis of Evil" hackery played great on Fox News, but it clearly set the stage for North Korea and Iran to take steps to protect themselved from the regime change they were witnessing in Iraq. If I’m the supreme leader of Iran and I hear that I’m on the short list of identified enemies of the world’s only super power, and then my neighbor and fellow list-member, is invaded… well, damn straight I want a nuke. But I’ll use it to keep myself in power rather than try to pursue some sort of ideological agenda – like obliterating Israel - that would get my country destroyed.

Just another example of the quick fix of violence - or the credibile threat thereof - taking options off the table for us.

Anyway, gotta run. Apologies to all for (once again) running long on my posts.

Paul
Sensen No Sen

Monday, August 28, 2006 3:02:00 PM  
Anonymous Richard Morgan said...

Sorry, would have posted this yesterday but I ran into a net glitch. We've moved on now, but I would just like to clear my name:

Charlie, you said: "First off, RM, try and learn from Paul. He makes valid points without insulting people"

You really need to read what's written more carefully, Charlie, because I don't believe I've insulted anyone on this site. I didn't call you an ape or a chimpanzee, I said you were advocating policy appropriate to those primates (something you appeared to agree with, when you stated that "ape hormonal" responses were the right thing in the current circumstance). And my reaction to My2sense - the words "you're kidding" etc - was not an insult either as far as I'm aware, at least not in British English. I don't know if expressing stunned disbelief of someone's viewpoint is considered an insult in US cultural terms, but that's not been my sense of it with the Americans I know. I reacted the way I did because I cannot seriously believe that educated members of a western nation still believe that "only the bad guys" commit atrocities and war crimes (Then again, maybe I shouldn't be surprised - Bush did after all get his war in Iraq). And my reaction to My2sense's comments on Palestinian uh, cultural mendacity shall we say? were equally stunned, and not a little outraged. As I made clear, I'd react the same way if someone on this blog started trying to deny the Holocaust by appealing to some assumed cultural failing in the way Jews behave (eg: "Yeah, with all that gesturing and haggling and Oi ve, who can trust what those guys say"). More to the point, I think YOU would react with similar outrage, if My2sense's commentary had been on Jews. And this is the problem - we've reached a point in which Arabs (in this case Palestinian Arabs) can be culturally stereotyped to such a degree that any human grievances they may have are sidelined, called into automatic question or simply ignored, and no-one sees anything wrong with it. That can't be good.

As to my desire to "blame the US for everything" - like Paul, I am not interested in blame (though justice would be nice - eg Reagan and Haig were never called to account for the atrocities they engineered in central America and the lies they told the American public about it) I am interested in solving problems through workable solutions, and what is absolutely certain is that there will be no lasting peace in the Middle East as long as the injustice done to the Palestinians is not addressed and over a billion Muslims worldwide go on taking said injustice personally. And I do think America needs to take a long hard (and public) look at its dirty laundry, but only because on-going US messianic political delusion is another substantial chunk of the problem we face. (Paul has given efficient chapter and verse on this above, so I'm not going to)

Finally - I've confused you with my two contrasting comments about Saudi Arabia? Hey, I'm really sorry about that Charlie, but the world is a confusing place. That's why comments from you like "I prefer winning" are so scary. Yeah, we ALL prefer winning, but this is complex geopolitics, not a WWF smackdown. I'm merely suggesting that you enhance your apparent smackdown view of middle eastern politics with these two rather sobering considerations: 1) that a major Arab power is showing interest in a lasting settlement (quite possibly because they too are afraid of possible nuclear fallout in what is a VERY small theatre of operations) and 2) that current US government rhetoric and sabre rattling in the so-called War on Terror is in fact a cynical exercise in oil-based realpolitik which ignores the real roots and causes of the problem. The fact that these two points require you to see a Middle Eastern nation in rather more three dimensional detail than some good guys/bad guys cartoon may be galling, but it's exactly this depth of sophistication that international politics requires.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006 5:04:00 AM  
Anonymous My2sense said...

Richard,

I have asked for reputable source to factually support the claim of Palestinian eviction in 1948, and instead received your personal recollection of Rabin’s interview. I don’t think you are qualified as a “reputable source” on this matter, and thanks for the lesson in demagogy.

The history I have learned spoke of Palestinians, tragically displaced in 1948 by intense fighting that started by invasion of Syria, Egypt, and other Arab powers of the day. By the way they wanted to obliterate Israel then too.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006 5:56:00 AM  
Blogger Barry said...

Thanks everyone for all the great comments. There's a ton of good stuff in here, and I wish I could engage more, but this is a crazy week for me. The one substantive point I want to mention is for Paul -- thanks for the Daily Show clip, which had me laughing and almost crying at the same time. I've forwarded it to a bunch of people; it's priceless (BTW, how do you embed a URL in one of these comments?). That and Cwellins, thanks for the information about some of the roots of the "martyr" cult.

And now, for tone, which frequent visitors to HOTM know I feel is terribly important...

Richard, I understand that you didn't intend for your posts to come off as insulting. And certainly you were provoked a bit early on (Brooklynsax, I don't think that after making a contrary point, saying "It's really that simple" is a great way to persuade someone. To the person who disagrees, it's not that simple at all, and telling him or her otherwise is apt to feel like a put-down). But responding to a provocation with provocations of your own (and if you look at your response to Brooklynsax, I think you'll find the sarcasm undeniable) only fuels the fire.

I have to confess that I was disappointed in your response to Charlie's admonition about insults. Not the substance, which, even when I've disagreed with you, I've found first-rate and thought-provoking; rather, again, the gratuitous parts, the tone. Examples: "You really need to read what's written more carefully" (subtext: you're slow, stupid, careless, or some combination, and I'm superior to you because I'm teaching you this lesson by necessity and of right); "I don't know if expressing stunned disbelief of someone's viewpoint is considered an insult in US cultural terms" (it most certainly is, and not only in the US, because the subtext is, "You must be slow, stupid, deluded, or some combination to hold such views"); "I've confused you with my two contrasting comments about Saudi Arabia? Hey, I'm really sorry about that Charlie, but the world is a confusing place" (sarcastic and supercilious).

Surely if we can understand the minds of our enemies abroad and engage them with means other than violence, we can understand the minds of our fellow bloggers here and engage them with respect? And if violence begets violence, what begets disrespect?

Everyone here is of good will and serious-minded. The opinions expressed here are heartfelt. So a couple of rules of thumb for everyone to consider:

First, let's try to avoid all caps. To me, all caps always feels like SHOUTING. It also has connotations of, "You might be stupid or careless, and I WANT TO MAKE SURE you don't miss my point."

Second, instead of responding to someone on the assumption that he or she is stupid, deluded, etc., let's pretend that in fact the person is someone we know and enormously respect -- a learned professor, a beloved family member, someone important in our lives, something like that. Use the tone you would use with that person, not the one you reserve for the feeble-minded.

And if anyone feels in need of a reminder, definitely do reread the "Welcome" comments on the HOTM homepage, where I include a few thoughts on the connection between tone and substance.

Thanks as always for your comments, everybody, and for once again indulging your occasionally pedantic moderator.

-- Barry

Tuesday, August 29, 2006 9:03:00 AM  
Anonymous Richard Morgan said...

My apologies, Barry, for breach of your etiquette here - sarcasm is a favourite dispute weapon of mine, but of course I'll mothball it as requested.

But my suggestion that Charlie read my posts more carefully, however it came off, was not intended to have an ad hominem subtext. I simply haven't insulted him in the way he feels I have. And I don't assume from this that he's stupid - merely that he skim-reads and takes offence rapidly and without cause.

The incredulity with My2sense is harder. There are a subset of commentaries that I really didn't expect to see here, and broad-sweep cultural accusations of mendacity or assumptions of moral superiority are among them. For me, this stalks a little too close to racism. You can of course argue gently and reasonably with a racist too, but I'm not accustomed to it.

My apologies again.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006 9:33:00 AM  
Blogger Barry said...

No worries, Richard; we've all become victim to that intemperate urge from time to time, and in bringing it up, I'm certainly not throwing stones.

I think you hit the nail on the head in characterizing sarcasm as a weapon to be used in a dispute. That's exactly right, and exactly why I don't like to see it here on HOTM. I'm keenly interested in trying to figure out what's really going on in the topics discussed here, in getting to, well, to the heart of the matter, and that substantive effort will always rapidly be eclipsed when egos engage, as they inevitably will when someone feels he's been insulted...

Again, I understand that you didn't intend any ad hominem subtext in your remarks to Charlie. But while intent is important, I think it's also worth considering the other person's reaction. I know Charlie and he's both thick-skinned and big-hearted, so if he thinks he's been dissed, there's probably some justification for it, whether the dis was intended or not (and here, I think there was justification, although I understand it wasn't intended). So when you say, "I simply haven't insulted him in the way he feels I have," I think the focus is slightly misplaced. It's true that you didn't intend insult, but equally true that Charlie, a reasonable guy, felt insulted. Best in these circumstances, I find, to reassure about the intent, apologize for the effect, and try another route to making whatever point was eclipsed by the confusion.

Okay, maybe I'm now beating a dead horse... a habit of mine...

You say, "broad-sweep cultural accusations of mendacity or assumptions of moral superiority... stalks a little too close to racism." That is an excellent point and well worth pondering. And this time, if I may so, very well put. I wonder, therefore, why not point it out just that way to My2sense to start with? Absent the incredulity, My2sense might have paused and thought, "Damn, that's a good point..." and then reconsidered his views.

I'm beating another dead horse, aren't I? And you are too polite to say so... :-)

I have to tell you again how delighted I am to have you here, my friend. Your thoughts are learned, well-considered, and, best of all, at variance with my own. So please keep 'em coming (can't wait for your thoughts on my next post, on Palestine); you, Charlie, Paul and many others here are helping me to reconsider and hone my own positions and to understand the foundations of other points of view, a process I find difficult but deeply satisfying.

Cheers,
Barry

Tuesday, August 29, 2006 10:13:00 AM  
Anonymous brooklynsax said...

Barry-

I'll throw in an apology all around for my "simple as that" comment.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006 10:33:00 AM  
Blogger PBI said...

Richard,

If it's any consolation, I think all of us, at one time or another, have had to re-read the rules of Barry's "online salon." I for one, also look forward to future posts from you. You obviously have a wealth of knowledge and a great command of the language; I hope you'll hang around and add to the conversation!

Best,
Paul
Sensen No Sen

Tuesday, August 29, 2006 11:09:00 AM  
Blogger PBI said...

Barry,

I'm glad you liked the Daily Show clip - it's definitely a stand-out!

With regard to adding links to comments, you need to know a little HTML, but Blogger comment boards will accept a limited vocabulary of tags. (As noted above the "Leave your comment" input box.)

To create a link, use text in this format: <.a href="URL of link">Name of link<./a>, but remove the periods that follow the < marks. (I inserted the periods so the tags would render as text rather than HTML.)

Best,
Paul
Sensen No Sen

Tuesday, August 29, 2006 11:16:00 AM  
Blogger Barry said...

Paul, thanks for the HTML info. This is just a test...

Tuesday, August 29, 2006 11:32:00 AM  
Anonymous Richard Morgan said...

You know, I should probably fill in some background on all this primate stuff, just to underline the lack of offense intended. I tend to assume that everyone has my reading list, which obviously they don't.

There's been a lot of talk in the last few years, both in evolutionary biology and, oddly enough, in corporate training, about what's sometimes loosely referred to as chimpanzee behaviour - by which is meant any way of behaving that, rather than serving any useful purpose, simply satisfies deeply felt pre-human (or at least pre-modern human) genetic tendency,. The tendency includes sexual drives and possessiveness, hierarchical power and dominance, grudge bearing and vengeance, kin and tribal ties, and so on. The corollary is that in modern, co-operative settings, much of this stuff is superfluous to requirements, and can often be dangerously counterproductive. The problem is that it feels too good to want to give up.

Two opposed examples of handling this tendency stand out for me in recent US politics. One was Bill Clinton weeping in Vietnam to atone for what his country had done there. The other was George W Bush stating "this administration will never apologise for America". The first indicates a willingness to acknowledge error and apologise, to take a rational stance. The other is unashamed milking of chimpanzee tendency.

Chimpanzee tendency goes into overdrive when facing acts of terror (and indeed acts of mandated war, because if you're on the receiving end, the two are usually indistinguishable), and this is perfectly understandable. Here are a bunch of innocent people, women and children among them, murdered for what looks like no good reason. It's automatic to assume the people who did it must be monsters. And to some extent yes, they are monsters. But what they are is monsters just like us. We recoil against this idea (Our soldiers would never do anything like that, Our civilisation is more advanced than theirs, ultimately - We Aren't Like Them) but the truth is most human beings are quite capable of the atrocities we see on our TV screens, given the right circumstantial push. American GIs did commit atrocities in Vietnam, British forces were responsible for torture in Northern Ireland and Arab terrorists do blow up civilians on planes, trains and buses. Prior to the D Day landings in Europe, one allied commander (Patton, I believe) stated that there was bound to be a good deal of rape commited by his troops during the invasion - all they could do was try to minimise it. In violent and - this is key - in inequitable settings, the ape will out.

We stack against this the weight of law and civilised behaviour, whether it be rules of engagement or international human rights - but it's an uneven struggle because recourse to law is deeply unsatisfactory at a gut level. That doesn't mean we have a right to the chimpanzee response.

Writing off a whole culture as untruthful or dishonourable is the chimpanzee response. Celebrating our own righteousness and writing off any injustice that doesn't chime with that view is the chimpanzee response. Storming into someone else's country just because you've suffered losses and someone's damn well going to pay for them is the chimpanzee response. Shrugging and settling for a war of mutually stoked hate and attrition is the chimpanzee response.

Me, I'm trying (not always successfully, agreed :-) ) to beat my inner chimp.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006 12:21:00 PM  
Anonymous Charlie Stella said...

Peace, brothers.

Now I gotta go see that Daily Show clip.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006 12:29:00 PM  
Anonymous Richard Morgan said...

Thanks Paul - appreciate it.

Cheers

Richard

Tuesday, August 29, 2006 1:37:00 PM  
Anonymous brooklynsax said...

I think the best way to solve the problem in the middle east is to assault our enemies with an endless barrage of Kenny G's most boring elevator music over and over.

Believe me, they'll surrender pretty quickly.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006 3:53:00 PM  
Anonymous Charlie Stella said...

One was Bill Clinton weeping in Vietnam to atone for what his country had done there. The other was George W Bush stating "this administration will never apologise for America". The first indicates a willingness to acknowledge error and apologise, to take a rational stance. The other is unashamed milking of chimpanzee tendency.

The first indicates a polished politician and someone at least equally dishonest as the second. Bill Clinton would weep and/or do or say anything to play to a crowd. Poor example, unless you’re suggesting we should aim to appease with no intention of doing so (Clinton’s nuclear treaty with North Korea worked that way – they signed it and then ignored it).

Writing off a whole culture as untruthful or dishonourable is the chimpanzee response. Celebrating our own righteousness and writing off any injustice that doesn't chime with that view is the chimpanzee response. Storming into someone else's country just because you've suffered losses and someone's damn well going to pay for them is the chimpanzee response. Shrugging and settling for a war of mutually stoked hate and attrition is the chimpanzee response.

I was a bleeding heart liberal … never this much so. It’s honorable, RM, and I applaud you for it … but I’m afraid (and wish you were right) it just doesn’t fly in this world.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006 4:09:00 PM  
Blogger John D. said...

Barry,
Great post. You've started a good discussion here. There are a whole buncha things I feel like I should respond to, but life is short, and I'm a hunt-and-peck typist, so I'll keep it brief.

Richard,
Your theory (which was very well-presented, by the way) appears to me to be based on the premise that those of us who favor taking the war to the terrorists are motivated purely by revenge. I can't speak for the rest of the "warmongers," but my position is based on my own analysis. After studying Islam and terrorism for a few years (and prior to 9/11, btw), I've concluded that failure to take the fight to them will result in more attacks. The Clinton administration tried the less-military approach, and it failed. Don't get me wrong, I find the thought of a little payback as appealing as the next thug, but I wouldn't advocate a war that's sure to cost a ton of blood and treasure (on both sides) for the sole purpose of satisfying the visceral need to kick ass. I advocate taking the fight to them because I believe we have no choice.

As for Bush apologizing, an apology sounds like a good idea. But how does it translate to Arabic culture? To quote Egyptian-born writer Nonie Darwish:

"Bush apologized for the humiliation and abuse of Iraqi prisoners. His apology was taken by the Arab media and the ‘Arab Street’ as an admission of guilt and a sign of weakness. It was not appreciated as taking responsibility to find out the truth behind the events that happened due to the actions of a few Americans."

What looks like a gesture of sincere contrition to us, is interpreted as a sign of weakness in the Arab world.

By the way, check out Nonie Darwish's column Arab Means Not Having to Say You're Sorry. It's a good insight into the Arab-Muslim mindset from a woman who grew up in Egypt.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006 6:22:00 PM  
Anonymous Richard Morgan said...

Charlie, you're mistaken about me. I'm not and never was a bleeding heart liberal. (For example, personally, I have always thought the US should have demanded the return of the Iranian embassy hostages under threat of a declaration of war). I have no problem with the threat or use of military force as such, provided it is to protect the lives of the nation’s citizens from a directly apparent threat, provided it is informed by intelligent strategic planning and clearly defined objectives, provided it is carried out within a legal framework (formal declaration, rules of engagement etc) and provided it is used as an option of last resort.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of US military operations since 1945 have not conformed to any of these provisos – which leaves us with a large moral backlog to resolve, and may also go some way to explaining why so much of the developing world is so hostile to America. This is not being a bleeding heart, it’s simply acknowledging the human and geo-political truth.

Thus, John D, I have no problem with taking the fight to the terrorists – I just take issue with the manner in which it is being done. As Norman Mailer put it, you do not hunt hornets with a Sherman tank. You don’t defeat terrorists by murdering large numbers of civilians – in fact that’s the shortest route to creating more terrorists that I can think of. You don’t do it by ignoring the advice of your military and intelligence advisors, flouting international law and human rights, rupturing good diplomatic relations, and tying up your military capacity in a pointless invasion. Had even a fraction of the money and effort expended in Iraq been devoted instead to internationally co-ordinated police action and intelligence gathering, there is a good chance that the influence of Al Qaeda could have been nipped in the bud. The bomb attacks in Madrid and London would probably not have happened at all, and other atrocities such as those in Bali might well have been prevented too.

Of course, such quiet and painstaking efforts would not have delivered the chimpanzee gratification that resulted from bombs raining down on Baghdad, tanks rolling across the desert and asine Presidents touching down on aircraft carriers in flying jackets to proclaim illusory victory.

As for gestures of apology, it’s not so much that I think they are a useful technique (I’m quite prepared to accept your point about the Arab response to the Abu Gharaib apology), it’s that I think such gestures are indicative of a mindset (or lack of it). Clinton was something of a sleazebag, right enough, but I saw the Vietnam footage and I think the tears were genuine. After all, this wasn’t something he stood to make a great deal of political capital from – it was far from well received back in the US. I think the man had finer feelings, and no problem with accepting that My Country Right Or Wrong is bullshit. With Bush - well, to be completely honest and all partisanship aside, I have serious doubts whether the man has feelings at all. But what is quite clear is that he has no interest in doing anything which might undermine the concept of American Exceptionalism, and in this he is playing to the chimpanzee gallery

Wednesday, August 30, 2006 5:09:00 PM  
Anonymous Richard Morgan said...

John - ps:

Darwish is quite interesting, and a lot of what she says I'd agree with, but the column is still guilty of the same old cardinal sin - the demonising of an entire region and its many millions of inhabitants as if they were some kind of hydra-like, multi-headed but single-minded beast. This is dangerous, and simply not true. There are intellectuals and writers all over the Arab world who cannot be lumped in with Darwish's critique. There are intelligent ordinary people who succeed in escaping indoctination (which she's right about - I've seen it in action), and maintain an open mind. And let's not forget that the infamous Al-Jazeera first made its name by being openly critical of Arab regimes - it was, until 9/11, praised by both Washington and Jerusalem for exactly this. The thing is, secular Arab thought is something that was alive and well a mere generation ago, and these people haven't all died or gone away since. But they are very scared. And here, I think, Darwish commits an unforgivable slander:

"There are many reasons for Arab and Moslem silence. However, fear of speaking out is no longer a credible excuse."

That's easy to say living in the US as Darwish does. It's a little harder for those on the ground in the Arab world, where dissent is a very dangerous practice indeed.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006 5:37:00 PM  
Anonymous Patrick Pricken said...

I'm mostly writing this since I know Barry will read it before putting it up. It's an old discussion, I know, and I admit I have not read every comment on this dicussion. I merely didn't want to clutter a different post with this.

The arab countries have a long history of progress and inventions. The fact that nothing really "new" is coming out of these countries needn't be solely their own fault. Israel has gotten, and still gets, a lot of international money, especially in the period after its foundation the west made sure it would be able to sustain itself. No other country in the Middle East has gotten nearly as much money for technological advancement (other than perhaps better oil pumps). We've demonstrated the only value these countries can give us is their oil, and granted, they haven't put oil money to extensively fund new technologies.

But to simply say muslim countries have somehow dumber people because Israel has managed to be more economically succesful ignores part of what made Israel succesful (aside from grants, overseas money by Jews, where Palestenians are/were mostly concentrated in their home lands).

Thursday, September 28, 2006 4:32:00 PM  

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