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Koan 1 — Bibi, Walt, and the concept of buffer zones

Sunday, July 27th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- with sympathy for the real, while holding compassion as the ideal ]
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First, I want to requote two parts of the Times of Israel report titled Netanyahu finally speaks his mind that I quoted a short while ago in my post Israel / Palestine: some delicate balancing acts:

Because, given the march of Islamic extremism across the Middle East, he [Netanyahu] said, Israel simply cannot afford to give up control over the territory immediately to its east, including the eastern border — that is, the border between Israel and Jordan, and the West Bank and Jordan.

and in more detail:

Netanyahu didn’t say he was ruling out all territorial compromise, but he did go to some lengths to highlight the danger of relinquishing what he called “adjacent territory.” He scoffed at those many experts who have argued that holding onto territory for security purposes is less critical in the modern technological era, and argued by contrast that the closer your enemies are, physically, to your borders, the more they’ll try to tunnel under those borders and fire rockets over them. It had been a mistake for Israel to withdraw from Gaza, he added — reminding us that he’d opposed the 2005 disengagement — because Hamas had since established a terrorist bunker in the Strip. And what Hamas had been doing in Gaza — tunneling into and rocketing at the enemy — would be replicated in the West Bank were Israel so foolish as to give the Islamists the opportunity.

I am not blind to the force of that proposition.

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Indeed, what PM Netanyahu is calling “adjacent territory” in the case of Israel and the West Bank is, in my limited understanding of geopolitics, no different from what generally goes under the name of “buffer states” — and what Stephen Walt, not a great Netanyahu admirer to say the least, describes as the “immediate neighborhood” in the case of Ukraine and Russia in his FP piece The Perils of an Itchy Twitter Finger:

No great power is indifferent to potential threats in its immediate neighborhood, and all the more so when it has valid historical reasons to be concerned about particular areas. Furthermore, great powers are usually willing to do pretty nasty things when vital interests are at stake.

Walt approves the existence of the State of Israel, but not Netanyahu’s formulation of the exigencies of that State’s continued existence as a home for the Jewish people — yet in the paragraph I just quoted, he appears supportive of the concept of a buffer zone in the case of a “great power”.

Should “little or no powers” get a say too, Walt? Or are they not major enough to count?

And while we’re about it: Is Israel best seen as a Goliath towering over the Palestinians, or as a David caught between a swathe of Islamic states and the deep blue Mediterranean sea?

What if it’s seen as both?

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Okay, let’s take a step back — reculer pour mieux sauter. Here’s the koan as I see it.

On the one hand, there’s a certain grim reality to the idea that your own people won’t want mortal enemies sitting right on your doorstep — think of those Russian missiles in Cuba, for instance — while on the other, the people whose middle ground would provide a buffer zone between two more powerful powers wind up getting little say in their own affairs if the notion of a buffer zone is accepted and implemented.

Well, about this buffer business — do you don’t you, will you won’t you, Walt?

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I have called this wrangle of rival thoughts and emotions — of ideals and realities, pragmatics and morals — a koan: one of those unanswerable riddles that the zen tradition uses to break the lock of binary logic in favor of holistic insight.

If one starts with a premise that falls on one side or the other of the Israeli-Palestinian koan, there will be plenty of supporting evidence for that side of the matter, and precious little coming from the other side that can’t be argued away or dismissed… as spin, as hasbara, as duplicity, taqiyya even.

The koan itself has numerous variants, grand-parents and cousins:

  • is peace inherently and only peaceful?
  • is peace human nature? really? by no means?
  • must peace be warlike to be achieved?
  • are morals best taken as certitudes, or better understood as ad hoc guidelines?
  • and which came first in any case, the Philistines or the Israelites?
  • I have been smashing my head against these questions for quite some while now. I set out to explore them via the Said Symphony game, but seem to have dropped that particular attempt — and now realize I have been continuing the same exploration in the more informal form of a great many blog posts here on Zenpundit — particularly those in which I use my DoubleQuotes format.

    So this post too, along with a passel of recent posts on Gaza, continues that search — not the search for which side to support, but for enough altitude to see clearly across both sides of the Wall.

    **

    So: is the Wall enough of a buffer zone?

    Is it an affront that should be torn down, like the Berlin wall — or should its remit be expanded, perphaps, to encompass the whole of “Greater Israel”?

    Geopolitics seems to be pretty firmly rooted in the idea of the “outside world” — the world around us. And yet each person in that “world around us” has an “inside world” of their own, and in that “inner world” may find themselves “conlicted” or “at peace”. So that’s another dividing line, another border, another wall.

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    When I limit myself to the world around me and consider peace, it seems to me that the peace doesn’t arise in the absence of a sense of justice, at the very least a sense of justice agreeable for the sake of peace to those on both or all sides.

    But “inner peace”? — where does that fit into the “war and peace” picture? That seems to be a question that geopolitics by definition sets aside, ignores, and effectively denies: geopolitics is by definition inter-human, not intra-human.

    When I open myself to the possibility that “inner peace” and “peace-making” — in the sense of conflict-resolution — are somehow inextricably interwoven, I see the koan, the dilemma with fresh eyes.

  • Which comes first: the compassion, or the negotiated concession?
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    And her maid

    Sunday, July 27th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- the comparative values of single individuals captured by Boko Haram in Cameroon, as illustrated by a report from the BBC ]
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    The point was very nicely observed by Elizabeth Pearson, who tweeted:

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    Paragraphs 1 and 2 of the Beeb’s report mention “the wife of the country’s deputy prime minister” and “A local religious leader and mayor” — but you have to wait for paragraph 6 to read “and her maid”.

    What can I say? I both understand and regret the way this works..

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    Gaza: A Tale in Two Tweets

    Thursday, July 24th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- this is far from the whole story, just a mild irony really, an echo, and IMO more descriptive of our common humanity than anytning else ]
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    Here’s another of those “compare and contrast” things I do. Tweet the first:

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    And tweet the second:

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    I take these two tweets, juxtaposed, as indicative of something in human nature.

    I don’t much like it, that something – but I’ve never been put in a position where I regarded myself as invaded and occupied, nor one in which I was fighting people who use what I only call “humanitarian shields” such as schools and hospitals in which to hide themselves or their arms and munitions. I can’t say how I’d behave in either circumstance, and until I can, I’ll refrain from judgment and simply express my sorrow at the suffering shared by those on both sides in recent days — and tomorrow…

    Your take may be very different, of course. I’ll hear yours if you’ll hear mine, okay?

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    Rape as Strategy: Gaza and London

    Thursday, July 24th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- at least three ways of looking at a pair of tweets ]
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    If there can be Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird, there are at least three or four ways of looking at these two tweets:

    The similarities are eerie, the differences are enormous.

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    You could, I suppose, look at it as an Israel to London comparison, although I don’t think that approach would be particularly insightful. Or gang-members vs academics, which might be a little more interesting. I’d suggest, however, that the first way many people will read the comparison above will be as a statement about the Israeli-Palestinian situation: London fades into the background, a professor’s (from my POV intermerate) statement of a seemingly intractable problem gets equated with an actual gangland threat and praxis:

    On that reading, the juxtaposition is an indictment of the Israeli side in the current Gaza conflict. And that’s a huge pity, because the professor’s words were specifically not about “what should be done” but about “what it would take” to do the job — in this case, of getting suicide bombers to refrain from killing themselves and others.

    So from my POV the second reading, which critiques the first (IMO appropriately) is of a comparison between what in my diagram I’ll call “thought experiment” and “threat, tactic” — the latter word indicating that the threat is one that is carried out in practice, ie in the form of selective, vengeful, punitive rape of the daughters and sisters of enemies:

    Here is a little more of the context — note the professor’s disclaimer, “I’m not talking about what we should or shouldn’t do. I’m talking about the facts”:

    “The only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped.” This assertion was made by Middle East scholar Dr. Mordechai Kedar of Bar-Ilan University about three weeks ago on an Israel Radio program. “It sounds very bad, but that’s the Middle East,” added Kedar, of Bar-Ilan’s Department of Arabic. [ .. ]

    “You have to understand the culture in which we live,” said Kedar. “The only thing that deters [Hamas leaders] is a threat to the connection between their heads and their shoulders.” When presenter Yossi Hadar asked if that “could filter down” the organization’s ranks, Kedar replied: “No, because lower down the considerations are entirely different.

    Terrorists like those who kidnapped the children and killed them — the only thing that deters them is if they know that their sister or their mother will be raped in the event that they are caught. What can you do, that’s the culture in which we live.”

    When Hadar said, “We can’t take such steps, of course,” Kedar continued: “I’m not talking about what we should or shouldn’t do. I’m talking about the facts. The only thing that deters a suicide bomber is the knowledge that if he pulls the trigger or blows himself up, his sister will be raped. That’s all. That’s the only thing that will bring him back home, in order to preserve his sister’s honor.”

    Now, is that a valid disclaimer — or a slippery slope?

    Mileages, I fear, will differ greatly on the answers to that question.

    **

    But wait.

    What if you’re not a partisan of the Palestinian or Israeli side, but of a humanity long weary of wars but seemingly woven into them by nature and nurture — warp and woof on the loom of history?

    What if you’re a woman?

    I’m not a woman, and it is only through the promptings of friends like Elizabeth Pearson and Cheryl Rofer that I eventually get around to looking at this particular juxtaposition — and other analytic complexities as appropriate — with an eye to gender differences.

    Here the picture may overlay one or both of the previous ones — or obliterate their carefully-drawn distinctions completely. The picture is this:

    Wives, of course, too, aunts, nieces — wherever it hurts, whoever the adversary is honor-bound to protect.

    And some will say, that’s the nature of war! — and not be entirely wrong.

    What a world. And in it, across time, the minds and hearts that gave us the books of Isaiah and Job, the masses of Bach and Beethoven, the Mezquita of Cordoba and the Taj Mahal, Abhinavagupta and Chuang Tzu, Gell-Mann and Francis Crick

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    Sources:

  • Guardian: Gangs draw up lists of girls to rape as proxy attacks on rivals
  • Haaretz: Israeli professor’s ‘rape as terror deterrent’ statement draws ire
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    Sibling pea rivalry? So same, so very different

    Thursday, July 24th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- a battle of the hashtags re the Chibok schoolgirls, with some background first, and an aside re Carl Jung afterwards ]
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    I have talked about what I like to call “sibling pea rivalry” here before:

    we’re up against the phenomenon I call “sibling pea rivalry” — where two things, places, institutions, whatever, that are about as similar as two peas in a pod, have intense antagonism between them, real or playful — Oxford and Cambridge, say, and I’m thinking here of the Boat Race, or West Point and Annapolis in the US, and the Army-Navy game.

    Oxford is far more “like” Cambridge than it is “like” a mechanic’s wrench, more like Cambridge than it is a Volkswagen or even a high school, more like it even than Harvard, Yale, Princeton or Stanford — more like it than any of the so-called “redbrick universities” in the UK — so like it, in fact, that the term “Oxbridge” has been coined to refer to the two of them together, in contrast to any other schools or colleges.

    And yet on the day of the Boat Race, feelings run high — and the two places couldn’t seem more different. Or let me put that another way — an individual might be ill-advised to walk into a pub overflowing with partisans of the “dark blue” of Oxford wearing the “light blue” of Cambridge, or vice versa. Not quite at the level of the Zetas and the Gulf Cartel, perhaps, but getting there…

    **

    Under the header Missing Nigerian girls: whatever happened to #Bringbackourgirls? the Telegraph noted ten days or so ago:

    Meanwhile, with the world’s attention once again turning to fresh crises in Iraq and Israel, #bringbackourgirls is no longer the hashtag it once was. The regular downtown demonstrations in Nigerian capital, Abuja, have dwindled, with the crowds of redteeshirted campaigners accusing the government of trying to undermine them. There have even been fisticuffs with a rival group, which wears white tee-shirts and campaigns under the name of #ReleaseOurGirls.

    “As of about three weeks ago, they began turning up at the same location where we hold a vigil every day, and have been outright aggressive with us,” said Lawan Abana, one of the demonstrators. “Recently they smashed up a whole load of our plastic chairs and fractured one of my colleague’s arms. We think they are being paid by the government, as their message is ‘release our girls’. That puts the responsibility for solving this case on Boko Haram, rather than the government.”

    On the face of it, both hashtags and both groups want the girls returned to their homes — yet the difference between them is enough for one group to smash the chairs and break the arms of the other…

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    As an aside:

    Sibling pea rivalry is an intriguing business, an easily missed part of the human puzzle — and relates interestingly to the idea that we’re closer to our own shadow than we are to the sun –

    As a metaphor for our own psychology, that’s something we may not want to admit, though Jung would argue it’s the first step towards individution, towards nuance, towards multi-dimensionality. As Jung says in Psychology and Religion: West and East, pp. 131 and 140:

    Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. If an inferiority is conscious, one always has a chance to correct it. Furthermore, it is constantly in contact with other interests, so that it is continually subjected to modifications. But if it is repressed and isolated from consciousness, it never gets corrected.

    and:

    Such a man knows that whatever is wrong in the world is in himself, and if he only learns to deal with his own shadow he has done something real for the world. He has succeeded in shouldering at least an infinitesimal part of the gigantic, unsolved social problems of our day.

    **

    Always working to understand complementaries, oppositions, paradoxes, and how the human mind identifies, or perhaps forms, and reacts to them.

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