In the Quagmire With Jeff and Mike

Today I’m linking to Michael Totten’s interview with Jeffrey Goldberg called The Real Quagmire In the Middle East. Not only is this a conversation between two intelligent, well-informed journalists about the problems that obsess some of us, it is also remarkably free of hate-speech, proving once and for all that it is still possible to have a reasonable discussion about Israel and its enemies without falling headfirst down the rabbit-hole of loshn hora.

Here’s a choice excerpt to whet your whistle with:

Goldberg: I imagine that if this situation gets more dire, America will say to the Iranians, secretly, in no uncertain terms, that “if you do anything to Israel, we will destroy you.” That just seems prudent to do. “Go ahead and have your dreams and desires, but don’t even think about transferring your nuclear technology to attack Israel in some way, because we will wipe you out.”

Bring the Iranian ambassador to the Strategic Air Command and show him all the missiles that are pointing at Iran. “This one is going to go here, and this one is going to go there. You’re wiped out. You’re finished. You’re done. You are exterminated.”

It wouldn’t really matter, though, because the Israelis would already be dead.

Totten: They can retaliate themselves anyway. They have nuclear weapons in submarines out in the Mediterranean.

Goldberg: Jews are floating around in the Persian Gulf with nuclear weapons in German subs that are aimed at the new Hitler. If you step away from your personal feelings about it, it’s just fascinating.

Most fascinating indeed.

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A Punk, a Saint and a Jew Walk into a Bar

The jihad cult is expanding. This is a particularly weird item.

Father Hugo Valdemar, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Mexico City, has issued a warning about the “terrorist” nature of the call for a “holy war” against the Catholic Church by the leader of followers of Santa Muerte — “St. Death.”

I admit I only recently found out about this cult. I’m hardly surprised though. One might argue that the entire cult of saints is a death cult.

But jihad? It’s the new punk.

Seven Pakistani Children

Reading Corriere della Sera yesterday, I came across an article about the Pakistani army and its attempts to root out the Taliban from the Swat valley. The details are, so far, not promising from the perspective of “human rights.” You might find similar stories in your local paper.

The point is that there are many civilians involved in the bombing operations. The Corriere notes that the “harsh conflict” on the perifery of Mingora (with over 200,000 inhabitants) “shows little respect for the Geneva Convention.” In the village of Puchar, captured Talebanis are hanged from trees. Elsewhere cadavers wrapped in plastic are dropped from helicopters on Taleban-controlled zones. Artillery and aviation shoot the moment they discover an enemy hideout. Often, the price is civilian casualties, and damage to public buildings and farmland. (I loosely translated this, but you get the picture).

“This time it’s serious. It’s a fight to the last man. The amount of collateral damage is unknown, but there was probably no alternative.”

These are the words of Syed Talat Hussein, a reporter for Hajj TV in Islamabad.

I’m just pointing out the asymmetry whenever the media report a conflict between Israel and it’s neighbors. You would never read an article like this one about Israel. There is no worry over the refugees, no tear shed for the “collateral damage.” It’s just good guys chasing bad guys.

Most people, of course, would agree that it is a shame to have to bomb civilians in order to root out terrorists. But most people will not speak out against the Pakistani army, or the Pakistani government, or “reconsider” Pakistan’s right to national existence. They will not call for boycotts of Pakistani goods and universities. That Pakistan is increasingly considered the most dangerous country on earth at the moment is of no issue. Stop the Taleban! is the only cry that matters.

Where are all the humanitarian voices of concern when Pakistani civilians are being mowed down in the midst of brutal conflict? Where are the condemnations? Will Caryl Churchill write a play next month, Seven Pakistani Children?

This is inconceivable. We only hear these concerned citizens’ voices when there are victims of Israeli aggression. The rule is that when civilians die in war the world is silent. Israel, as usual, is the exception (as long as the dead are not themselves Israeli).

Their silence now is loud and clear.

The New Bronx Bombers

Ok, so you’re a loser. The world has been a tough place and your life didn’t turn out quite as you had planned. You’ve done jail time and maybe you’ve got drug problems. Welcome to the desert of the real, as my man Zizek would say.

So what do you do with yourself? How do you pick yourself back up and put the fragmented pieces of your failed life back together again? Well, people used to go in for all sorts of stuff like 12-step programs (“give me the power to accept the things I cannot change,” etc…), new age pseudopsychology, or good old hard work.

Now there’s a new alternative: jihad.

The four men who attempted to blow up a synagogue in the Bronx the other day seem to fit the loser model. One had a crack addiction. One read the Koran between shifts as a waiter. All are petty criminals looking to make it big in the world.

The answer: murder some Jews.

Then, the logic would have it, they will begin to pay attention to your “cause.” They will begin to listen. They will probably even–if you become a jihadi superstar–interview you in the New York Times. That’s Warholian fame for a small-time crook.

Would the world listen if you attempted to kill, say, a group of Southern Baptists or Mormons? How about Amish? They would label you a sociopath and throw away the key. But if you kill Jews, or get caught trying, you must inevitably have a grievance. Newspapers and bloggers will spend precious words looking for your “motivation.” Perhaps you are an Arab or a convert to Islam, and came under the sway of a radical mosque where they preach “Death to the Jews!” You will have learned that you can commit an act of homicide in this world and people will actually respect you more. You might, if you’re lucky, get invited to Iran or Lebanon for a hero’s welcome.

From the NYT:

“It’s hard to envision a more chilling plot,” Eric Snyder, an assistant United States attorney, said on Thursday in federal court in Manhattan. “These are extremely violent men. These are men who eagerly embraced an opportunity” to “bring deaths to Jews.”

Don’t call it anti-Semitism, though. Show some respect for Islam and its grievances against the West.

ps…I realize that neither waiters nor those who read the Koran (or Qur’an) are necessarily losers. Lighten up.

Hamasburg and Fatahville

Here is a clever test to see if you can tell the difference between Fatah (the good guys) and Hamas (the bad guys) by their respective charters.

The PLO-Fatah charter can be read in full here.

The Hamas charter can be read here.

Now you can’t pretend you don’t know what they have to say.

I’m reading an engaging book by Michael Burleigh called Blood & Rage: A Cultural History of Terrorism. The book got mediocre reviews, but it’s not as bad as its critics want you think. Above all, it’s a decent one-volume introduction to its subject, not the final word.

In one chapter, Burleigh narrates the assassination of Jordanian prime minister Wasfi Tal in 1971 by a Palestinian “Black September” terrorist. The prime minister was gunned down in front of his hotel in Cairo. In Burleigh’s account one of the murderers, Manzur Khalifa,

“knelt down to lap up blood from the pool spreading beneath Tal’s [the prime minister’s] body. His lower face smeared red, Khalifa shouted: ‘I am proud! Finally I have done it! We have taken our revenge in a traitor.”

This is, of course, a particularly gruesome episode, if only for the blood-drunkenness. Murder in cold blood no longer even has the power to shock us.

I leave you to sort out the difference between Fatah and Hamas for yourself.

Recognizing Israel

I’m already tired of quoting Ahmadinejad. He always says the same things. Ynet has two articles worthy of more attention than anything I could post. The first, by Sever Plocker, concerns lawfare and caused me to lose a bit of sleep last night:

The peace-seeking Iran pledges to accept the majority decision in the above-mentioned referendum. Therefore, this is not about nuclear sabre-rattling or a declaration of war on the Zionists, but rather, a just and democratic solution that will be achieved peacefully and with international consensus.

If, as result of the referendum, the Jewish state will be abolished, the Jews would not be threatened with extermination or a second “Holocaust.” They will be allowed to integrate into the great Palestinian state as a religious element with recognized civil rights, even beyond the rights given to Iranian Jews. The Muslims, as opposed to the Nazis, will do everything to protect the Jewish minority to be left in Palestine in the wake of the referendum results’ implementation.

All that is left is to change the UN’s voting procedures: The four billion people residing in the Middle East, Asia, Africa, and Latin America are the majority, and they deserve to be recognized as such. Iran will serve as their mouthpiece; that is, Ahmadinejad’s mouth.

Well, my allergies caused me to lose sleep. Still, this is a disturbing hypothesis.

The second article is by Yoel Meltzer, and is a wake-up call telling us that the Two State Solution is, by now, a mere relic of wishful thinking:

Please explain to them that it is nearly 100% certain that a Palestinian state in Judea and Samaria will eventually bring missiles to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Equally important, make it clear to them that this is a prediction based upon Middle Eastern reality and not some sort of “scare tactic” or “right-wing analysis.”

In addition, please remind them that suicide, in any shape or size, is forbidden in Judaism and therefore national suicide, which will be the result of a two-state solution, is clearly forbidden.

The only answer, as far as I can see, is widespread Arab-Muslim recognition of Israel. This childish,counterproductive intransigence, above and beyond all other “obstacles to peace”, is the true root of the conflict. I wish I had a t-shirt that read:

IF YOU CARE ABOUT PALESTINE

RECOGNIZE ISRAEL!

 

 

Why is Caryl Churchill Having All the Fun?

David Hare must’ve been asking himself this very question lately. Churchill’s play Seven Jewish Children has garnered all the attention recently among British Israel-bashers and their intellectual followers. Her play has been performed all over the place, it has been the object of harsh criticism for its simplistic view of Israeli history and utter veneration for “speaking truth to power” (what truth? what power?). Caryl Churchill has left her colleagues far behind. She’s been hogging the spotlight.

So David Hare, another of Britain’s illustrious intellectual playwrights, got the chance in this week’s NYRB to vent his own frustration at the Israeli “apartheid-wall”. He calls it a monologue, lending a theatrical veneer to his rant, which others might simply call an op-ed piece.

I won’t pick through its every sentence. I’m not an authority on the subject, though I have seen it, and what I saw at the time (2004) was mostly a security fence. There was a section of high concrete wall, and it was explained to us that this was a built in a place where Palestinian snipers used to shoot Israeli motorists from their rooftops. Those Israelis are always exaggerating–eh, Mr. Hare?

To his credit, Mr. Hare admits that the fence has done its job by curbing Palestinian suicide bombers. He quotes his Israeli friends’ dismay:

“I regret it.” “I’m ashamed of the wall.” “I drive for miles so that I don’t have to see it. But it works. 80 percent of terrorist attacks against Israel have stopped. Have been stopped. Am I not meant to be pleased about that?”

Indeed, are we all not meant to be pleased about that? In Mr. Hare’s Israel, there are good Israelis–who are ashamed at having to protect themselves against genocidal fanatics–and bad Israelis–who do the protecting. Hare enjoys the company of Israeli intellectuals like himself, who discuss over tea and cakes how many meters of Palestinian farmland were confiscated in order to protect Israeli civilians from an endless terror campaign against them for the crime of being Jewish. He loves Israeli self-doubt, the mark of a true Jew. He, like his colleague Mrs. Churchill, despises Jewish self-defense. This is a crime worse than the sixty-year Arab-Muslim war against Israel’s existence.

Here is Hare on Hamas, in a perfectly polished gem of willful ignorance:

Hamas isn’t very nice. You wouldn’t be nice if you lived under permanent siege.

To be fair, Hare was speaking about Hamas torture of Fatah members in Gaza. So he knows they’re not nice guys. One assumes he’s done his homework, too, and knows about the way Hamas operates: booby-trapping homes, schools, zoos, using children as human shields, etc…the usual. But he’s not put off by any of that, he’s too much of an intellectual to be shocked by Hamas. He’s positively floored, however, that Israel would take security measures against such barbaric murderers–measures that–holilah!–inconvenience the murderers themselves and the society which supports them unconditionally. Hare makes no mention that the Palestinians of Gaza have been taken hostage by their own elected leaders, and that the failure of Palestinian society is far more the result of their unwillingness to relinquish their fanatical, monomaniacal and self-destructive war against the very idea of a Jewish state in “their part of the world” than it is the result of any Israeli intractability.

But wait, it gets better:

Even Professor Neill Lochery of London University, a friend of Israel, the author, for goodness’ sake, of Why Blame Israel?, has described the security fence as a white elephant. “Already,” he says, “the wall belongs to a bygone era.” Because before it was even finished, before the $2 billion had even been spent, Israeli’s enemies had switched tactics. They had moved on from suicide bombing to missiles, to firing Qassam rockets, which could, if deployed in the West Bank as they have been in Gaza, sail oblivious way up high above the wall, fueled by nothing but sugar and potassium nitrate.

Get it? Before the wall had even been finished, Israel’s enemies had “switched tactics!” Doh!! This is Israel-as-Homer Simpson, a blundering doofus always one step behind the wily Palestinians. Why bother trying to curb mass murder when your murderers will only switch tactics? How stupid of them! What could they be thinking? Of course, the Palestinians only abandoned suicide bombing because it was no longer feasible, because Israel had defeated it as a tactic. This is proof of the determined ingenuity of the murderers, not of the incompetence of the Israelis to forsee every possible attempt to murder and terrorize its citizens. David Hare has it backwards.

There is nothing especially new in Mr. Hare’s monologue. He chills with the intellectual elite on both sides, content to take their observations as hard-won truths. This gives his own insights more clout, being on familiar (and non-hostile) ground. And, as we all know, it’s no great feat of courage to criticize the Israelis. They will not come after you, kidnap you, graffiti your walls or threaten you. They will not wage war against you in any way, except perhaps intellectually. Some of them will even agree with you, whether you are full of shit or not.

Surely this is the mark of a sick society, one which has lost its moral compass in the muck of war. Eh, Mr. Hare?

Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Ayaan Hirsi Ali
Ayaan Hirsi Ali

 

On the eve of Durban 2, it might be worth recalling the story of Ayaan Hirsi Ali. I just rushed through the last hundred or so pages of her autobiography, Infidel. It was a much different book than I had imagined, having approached it expecting a sort of female Christopher Hitchens–a snide wit ridiculing Islam, getting in a few punches below the belt for good measure. Of course, Hitchens is better than that much of the time, but Hirsi Ali is different altogether. She has a patient style, judicious even, and tells her tale bluntly. She is not angry with God (she is an atheist, so that would be contradictory), nor is she burning with rage against the Muslim world into which she was born. Her story is probably typical of many Somali women, except that her father was a high-profile revolutionary while she was growing up. Her genitals were excised at the age of six, as is the tradition of her clan. She was educated as a traditional Muslim, and even sympathised with the Muslim Brotherhood for a period while she lived in Kenya. She believed Islam was perfect and held the answers to all of life’s questions. Then something snapped, and she grew up.

She was betrothed to a man she had never met, and pretty much forced into marriage. The facade of tradition was already cracked, and while on a stopover in Germany (on her way to Canada to become her new husband’s property) she snuck into Holland, applied for refugee status, and was eventually accepted. She learned Dutch (which, from what I can gather, is her sixth language–after Somali, Swahili, Amharic, Arabic and English), studied political science, obtained a degree, and then began to wonder what to do with so much freedom.

Fast forward to Sept. 11, 2001. Hirsi Ali began to speak out about Islam, about how suicide terrorism is not the result of ignorance and poverty. She said the attackers were acting in perfect harmony with their faith. The more she spoke, the more people began to listen. She began to receive death threats, which she didn’t take seriously at first. Then, once a member of the Dutch Parliament, Hirsi Ali dedicated herself politically to the betterment of Muslim women’s lives. That was her bone to pick. She said the Prophet Muhammad would be considered a pedophile and tyrant in modern-day Holland, which some people didn’t like. The death threats began to get serious.

Then she made this film with Theo van Gogh:

 

 

Van Gogh was murdered in broad daylight in Amsterdam not long thereafter. He didn’t take the death threats seriously. Hirsi Ali was immediately whisked into hiding, shuttled from apartment to apartment, finally ending up in a motel in smalltown Massachusetts. At times even she couldn’t know where she was being hidden. She could not use a telephone or go online for any reason. She could not risk being traced. Her potential killers could be anywhere, ready at a moment’s notice to make good on their promise to cut her throat.

Even Hirsi Ali admits in her book that all this top-security mishaguss was a bit much. But she was a member of the Dutch government, so she got the star treatment. When she was finally allowed back in Holland, she was made to resign and had her citizenship revoked on a technicality. Her neighbors even complained that her presence made them feel unsafe. They rallied to kick her out of her home. So she became a refugee, again.

Long story short, she was offered a job in the United States, where she now lives and works. Her Dutch citizenship has been reinstated.

So why all the fuss? Ask the guys in Geneva.

Before You Blame Israel

An ax-weilding Palestinian terrorist murdered a thirteen year old Israeli boy and fractured the skull of a seven year old yesterday in the West Bank. What’s more, he escaped the clutches of those all-powerful Israelis and hightailed it back to his village. At least two known terrorist groups jumped up to claim responsibility for this Samir Kuntar-like atrocity, and there can be little doubt that the assassin is being celebrated across a wide swath of the Arab world. The Western media will be close behind, trying in every conceivable way to make it look like the two boys had it coming. They will say they were living on stolen land. Or, at least, that the new Israeli government “provoked” the violence with its rampant xenophobia and polarizing stance on peace. And this in less than two days. As always, those Israelis had it coming.

Driven to the brink of insanity, there is often little choice but murder in order to make one’s voice heard above the din of Israeli drones. Logical, no?

But before you blame Israel for the violence of others against it, consider:

“To hold the Jews responsible for the aggression against them…is to disfigure political reality beyond recognition. Even if the Jews were the most rotten and misguided people on earth, they do not number 280 million in nationality (let alone one billion in religious affinity); they have not organized their politics around the destruction of twenty-one Arab countries, or trained a generation of suicide bombers to achieve that goal; they have not used the United Nations as a medium for spreading a genocidal ideology around the globe, or their synagogues to preach “death to the Arabs!” Jews did not bomb America in the name of the Torah, or foment anti-Muslim sentiment throughout Europe.”

This paragraph is from an essay entitled “On Ignoring Anti-Semitism” by Ruth Wisse. It was published in Commentary in 2002, the year of the so-called “Jenin massacre,” for which the world media outdid each other trying to prove that the Jews were as bad–no, worse–than the Nazis. Well, there never had been a massacre at Jenin, just around twenty Palestinian civilians killed in door-to-door combat–not counting an equal number of IDF soldiers and, of course, the terrorists themselves–but the defamation stuck like honey, and to slip “Nazi” into any throwaway criticism of Israeli self-defense has become a detestable fashion in recent years.

We might do well to remember the lesson of Jeningrad.

Moral Blindness and the Perfect Weapon

A quote from Paul Berman:

“The anti-war Socialists wanted to understand their enemies and not just dismiss them–wanted to seek out whatever was comprehensible, the points on which everyone could agree. And so, listening to the Nazis make their wildest speeches, the anti-war Socialists, in a thoughtful mood, asked themselves: what is anti-Semitism, anyway? Does every single criticism of the Jews reflect the superstition of the Middle Ages? Surely it ought to be possible to criticize the Jews without being vilified as anti-Semites.” (Terror and Liberalism)

Of course, this meant underestimating Hitler and Nazism by assuming they clung to the same bedrock faith in human reason as the French Socialists. They wanted to give the Nazis a chance to be evaluated on equal footing, but the Nazis didn’t much care for an enlightened forum in which to test the strength of their ideas. They rest is history.

Not long after Berman published his book, which attempted to explain the roots of the Sept. 11, 2001 terroist attacks (and our general inability to comprehend their meaning), Sam Harris published a book called The End of Faith. In many ways, Harris built upon Berman’s thesis–and added a by-now-famous critique of religious faith that has made him as lionized by some as he is despised by others. Nestled in the pages of Harris’s book is a chapter called “Perfect Weapons and the Ethics of ‘Collateral Damage'”, which hasn’t received as much attention as it perhaps deserves. The crux of the argument is as follows:

“We need only imagine how any of our recent conflicts would have looked if we had possessed perfect weapons–weapons that allowed us to either temporarily impair or kill a particular person, or group, at any distance, without harming others or their property. What would we do with such technology?”

Of course, the temptation is to map out a mental chalkboard of conflicts, applying Harris’s perfect weapon hypothesis: how would the current war in Iraq look? The Iraq-Iran conflict? The recent IDF incursion in Gaza? The Second Intifada? Iran’s overtures to genocide and overarching support for suicide terrorism?

It’s a fun mental exercise. As Harris puts it, “A moment’s thought reveals that a person’s use of such a weapon would offer a perfect window onto the soul of his ethics.”

This could go on for a long while, so I’ll get to the point. Operation Cast Lead is long over. Recontruction in Gaza, including smuggling of weapons and construction of tunnels to Egypt, goes on unabated, except when Israel sends a few missiles in retaliation for the continuing rocket attacks. Caryl Churchill has written her Sophoclean dirge for the (Palestinian) victims that some have accused of the worst anti-Jewish stereotyping. Others call it a masterpiece. The victims are being counted, most of which (surprise, surprise) are Hamas men. But the world can’t wait to blame Israel for every single death in the recent conflict. After all, it was Israel that chose to retaliate with such force, unleashing the umpteenth episode of brutality against a starved, helpless population reduced to launching inexact, homemade rockets as their only recourse to dignity (now that suicide bombing has been more or less stalled, at least temporarily).

So, in this moment of relative calm and reflection, maybe we should be asking ourselves just what the IDF would have done in Gaza had it had perfect weapons. And Hamas? We should hold them both up to the same moral standard, or none at all.