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We’re a legacy industry in a world of start-up competitors

Wednesday, August 26th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — Ambassador Husain Haqqani and Daveed Gartenstein-Ross at Chautauqua ]
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chautauqua haqqani daveed

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From the outset, when cheers went up for Daveed’s birthplace, Ashland, Oregon, and Ambassador Haqqani’s, Karachi — and for the brilliant meeting of the minds that is Chautauqua — it was clear that we were in the presence of two gracious, witty and informed intelligences, and the seriousness of the conversation between them that followed did nothing to reduce our pleasure in the event. Daveed called it “easily the best experience I have ever had as a speaker.”

I’ll highlight some quotes from each speaker, with the occasional comment:
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Amb. Haqqani:

None of the countries except Egypt, Turkey and Iran, none of the countries of the Middle East are in borders that are historic, or that have evolved through a historic process. And that’s why you see the borders a straight lines. Straight lines are always drawn by cartographers or politicians, the real maps in history are always convoluted because of some historic factor or the other, or some river or some mountains.

You’ll see how neatly this fits with my recent post on borders, No man’s land, one man’s real estate, everyone’s dream?

And now that whole structure, the contrived structure, is coming apart.

Then most important part of it is, that this crisis of identity – who are we? are we Muslims trying to recreate the past under the principles of the caliphate .. or are we Arabs, trying to unify everybody based on one language, or are we these states that are contrived, or are we our ethnic group, or are we our tribe, or are we our sect? And this is not only in the region, it’s also overlapping into the Muslim communities in the diaspora..

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If Amb. Haqqani emphasized the multiple identities in play in the Arabic, Islamic, Sunni, Shia, Sufi, and tribal worlds in his opening, Daveed’s emphasis was on the failure of the post-Westphalian concept of the nation state.

Daveed G-R:

In the economic sphere there’s this thing that is often called “legacy industries” – industries that fit for another time, but are kind of out of place today. Think of Blockbuster Video, once a massive, massive corporation.. that’s a legacy industry. So when Ambassador Haqqani talks about how it’s not just in the Middle East that we have this crisis of identity, I think the broader trend is that the Westphalian state that he spoke about, the kind of state that was encoded after the Peace of Westphalia, looks to a lot of people who are in this generation of the internet where ideas flow freely, it looks like a legacy industry.

Why do you need this as a form of political organizing? And what ISIS has shown is that a violent non-state actor, even a jihadist group that is genocidal and implements as brutal a form of Islamic law as you could possibly see, it can hold territory the size of Great Britain, and it can withstand the advance of a coalition that includes the world’s most powerful countries including the United States. And what that suggests is that alternative forms of political organization can now compete with the nation state.

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The Ambassador then turned to the lessons we should take from 1919’s US King–Crane Commission, reporting on the break-up of the Ottoman Empire — they concluded that it gave us

a great opportunity — not likely to return — to build .. a Near East State on the modern basis of full religious liberty, deliberately including various religious faiths, and especially guarding the rights of minorities

— down to our own times.

Amb. Haqqani:

What we can be sure of is that the current situation is something that will not be dealt with without understanding the texture of these societies. So for example, when the United States went into Iraq without full understanding of its sectarian and tribal composition, and assumed that, all we are doing is deposing a dictator, Saddam Hussein, and then we will hold elections and now a nice new guy will get elected, and things will be all right -– that that is certainly not the recipe. So what we can say with certainty in 2015 is .. over the last century what we have learnt is: outsiders, based on their interests, determining borders is not a good idea, and should certainly not be repeated. Assuming that others are anxious to embrace your culture in totality is also an unrealistic idea.

The sentence that follows was a stunner from the Ambassador, gently delivered — a single sentence that could just as easily have been the title for this post as the remark by Daveed with which I have in fact titled it:

Let me just say that, look, he ideological battle, in the Muslim world, will have to be fought by the likes of me.

Spot on — and we are fortunate the Ambassador and his like are among us.

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Daveed then turned to another topic I have freqently emphasized myself.

Daveed G-R:

The power of ideas – we as Americans tend not to recognize this when it falls outside of ideas that are familiar to us. So one thing that the US has been slow to acknowledge is the role of the ideology that our friend and ally Saudi Arabia has been promulgating globally, in fomenting jihadist organizations.

And one of the reasons we have been slow to recognize that. I mean one reason is obvious, which is oil. .. But another reason has been – we tend to think of ideas that are rooted in religion – as a very post-Christian country – we tend to think of them as not being rea – as ideas which express an ideology which is alien to us –as basically being a pretext, with some underlying motivation which is more familiar to us. That it must be economics, or it must be political anger. I’m not saying those are irrelevant, they’re not – but when Al-Qaida or ISIS explains themselves, taking their explanation seriously and understanding where they’re coming from – not as representatives of Islam as a whole, but as representatives of the particular ideology that they claim to stand for – we need to take that seriously. Because they certainly do.

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Amb. Haqqani:

The world is not a problem for Americans to solve, it’s a situation for them to understand.

This makes a nice DoubleQuote with Gabriel Marcel‘s more general aphorism:

Life is not a problem to be solved but a mystery to be lived.

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Toward the end of the discussion, Daveed touched on some ideas of recurrent interest to Zenpundit readers..

Daveed G-R:

Looking at the US Government, questions that I ask a lot are: Why are we so bad at strategy? Why are we so bad at analysis? Why do we take such a short term view and negate the long term?

He then freturned to the issue of legacy industries and nation-states:

Blockbuster is a legacy industry. And the reason why legacy industries have so much trouble competing against start-up firms, is because start-ups are smaller, it’s more easy for them to change course, to implement innovative policies, to make resolute decisions – they can out-manoeuver larger companies. And so larger companies that do well adapt themselves to this new environment where they have start-up competitors. Nation-state governments are legacy industries. Violent non-state actors are start-up compoetitors.

— and had the final, pointed word:

We’re a legacy industry ina world of start-up competitors.

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Having offered you these tastes, at this point I can only encourage you to watch the whole hour and a quarter, filled to the brim with incisive and articulately-stated insights:

Seen through the fog of war..

Thursday, August 20th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — truth is always the first causality casualty ]
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SPEC dolphin robot

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The big question these days is no longer Nature or Nurture, it’s Nature and Nurture — or Tech?

Jottings 9: Boko / Beaucoup Haram

Monday, May 20th, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron — who just can’t resist a skilled bilingual pun, and is also curious these days about terrorist logos & branding ]
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Hamas logo, left, and putative Boko Haram logo, right, compared


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I found my delicious multilingual pun in a comment from April 2012 on an RFI post titled Boko Haram en renfort des islamistes armés dans le nord du Mali:

Ces voyous la je les appèlerai plutôt bokou haram! Lisez ça beaucoup haram. … Ce qu’ils font peut juste être qualifié de beaucoup haram.

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BTW, does Boko Haram really use a Hamas logo with its own name clumsily cut’n’pasted across the top, as illustrated above and suggested here?

Gaza negotiations: sincerity and symmetry

Thursday, November 22nd, 2012

[ by Charles Cameron — sincerity and symmetry as the basis for dialog and negotiation ]
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If you read me regularly, you know I’m passionate about form as well as content.

Here’s the New York Times report on the interactions between Presidents Obama and Morsi in the runup to the Gaza ceasefire negotiations:

Mr. Obama told aides he was impressed with the Egyptian leader’s pragmatic confidence. He sensed an engineer’s precision with surprisingly little ideology. Most important, Mr. Obama told aides that he considered Mr. Morsi a straight shooter who delivered on what he promised and did not promise what he could not deliver.

“The thing that appealed to the president was how practical the conversations were — here’s the state of play, here are the issues we’re concerned about,” said a senior administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations. “This was somebody focused on solving problems.”

The Egyptian side was also positive about the collaboration. Essam el-Haddad, the foreign policy adviser to the Egyptian president, described a singular partnership developing between Mr. Morsi, who is the most important international ally for Hamas, and Mr. Obama, who plays essentially the same role for Israel.

“Yes, they were carrying the point of view of the Israeli side but they were understanding also the other side, the Palestinian side,” Mr. Haddad said in Cairo as the cease-fire was being finalized on Wednesday. “We felt there was a high level of sincerity in trying to find a solution. The sincerity and understanding was very helpful.”

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And here, by way of context, is David Bohm on dialogue:

One way of helping to free these serious blocks in communication would be to carry out discussions in a spirit of free dialogue. Key features of such a dialogue is for each person to be able to hold several points of view, in a sort of active suspension, while treating the ideas of others with something of the care and attention that are given to his or her own. Each participant is not called on to accept or reject particular points of view; rather he or she should attempt to come to understanding of what they mean.

Bohm, Science, Order and Creativity, p 86

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What interests me here in the Obama-Morsi interaction as described is the dual emphasis on sincerity and symmetry. Sincerity is needed so that each of the two sides — Israel’s POV, as presented by Obama, and that of Hamas, as presented by Morsi — is in fact presented, and not hinted at, watered down or reneged on. And when both sides are in fact sincerely represented, they are mutually present — heard — and there is symmetry.

That symmetry, it seems to me — symmetry of form in the presentations of contents — is the facilitator of successful negotiations.

Applied Pontecorvo: Gaza

Thursday, November 22nd, 2012

[ by Charles Cameron — lessons from Pontecorvo’s Battle of Algiers for the medium-term Israeli-Palestinian conflict — and other instances of asymmetry ]
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Pontecorvo‘s film, The Battle for Algiers, really seared itself into me when I watched it again recently — and so it has been a bit of a template for other thoughts, and notably influenced some of my thinking as I was watching events unfolding in Gaza, now thankfully in cease-fire mode.

Pontecorvo, as I noted in my previous post, takes the side of the Algerians in their conflict with the French, and I suppose it’s only natural that a “reading” of the Gaza situation in light of Pontecorvo’s masterpiece will tend to support the Palestinian “cause” against the Israelis.

After all, Yitzhak Epstein, addressing the Seventh Zionist Congress in Basel in 1905, had a point when he said:

We devote attention to everything related to our homeland, we discuss and debate everything, we praise and criticise in every way, but one trivial thing we have overlooked so long in our lovely country: there exists an entire people who have held it for centuries and to whom it would never occur to leave.

On Thanksgiving Day I am reminded that my Lakota friends also have a point — but there’s what’s memorable, which can remain in very long-term memory indeed, and there’s what’s practicable, which may in practical terms be changing by the day or decade…

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Let me put that another way.

I don’t need the words of a Zionist Jew from a century ago to give me that insight into the Palestinian side of things, but Epstein’s words remind me that there are facts in the heart on the Palestinian side, just as the Israelis are building facts on the ground in the occupied territories. What of the Israeli side, are there not facts in the heart there too? And on the Palestinian side, what of the ghastly hadith of the Gharqad tree? Must apocalyptic hate last till the end of time?

Of all the reporting I have read, this, from Dahlia Litwick in Jerusalem, struck the deepest chord:

I don’t know how to talk about what is happening here but it’s probably less about writers’ block than readers’ block. It says so much about the state of our discourse that the surest way to enrage everyone is to tweet about peace in the Middle East. We should be doing better because, much as I hate to say it, the harrowing accounts of burnt-out basements and baby shoes on each side of this conflict don’t constitute a conversation. Counting and photographing and tweeting injured children on each side isn’t dialogue. Scoring your own side’s suffering is a powerful way to avoid fixing the real problems, and trust me when I tell you that everyone — absolutely everyone — is suffering and sad and yet being sad is not fixing the problems either.

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Here, then, are the parallelisms and oppositions that struck me, as I was reading about the Gaza conflict — may today’s cease-fire endure and a peaceful resolution emerge — in light of Pontecorvo’s film:

Gilad Sharon‘s words echo those of Col. Mathieu in the film: they think alike, and indeed their perspective is a not-uncommon one. But while I might otherwise have overlooked Sharon’s voice as but one among many in Israel, having just seen Pontecorvo’s film I take more note of it, and my mind seeks its rebuttal.

I find that rebuttal in the words of Thomas More, in a speech from Robert Bolt’s play that has stuck with me since I first saw Paul Scofield in the role in London at the age of sixteen:

I am, I suppose something of a Taoist by inclination. I think, with Lao Tse, that the way that can be phrased in words isn’t the authentic way — or as Count Alfred Korzybsky might put it, the map does not adequately describe the terrain — and so my feeling is that the letter of the law should be tempered by its spirit, and that justice should be tempered with mercy — a point I hope to return to.

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There is one other moment in Pontecorvo’s film that struck me as prescient — the one when Larbi Ben M’hidi comments on asymmetry:

I’ve heard remarks of that kind (upper panel) repeated many times in the context of the Palestinian-Israeli situation, but the graphic impact of the image (lower panel) outweighs a thousand explanations.

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Perhaps we can leave Pontecorvo for a moment, and consider the asymmetry further, and the symmetry:

The lower panel, by a Swiss cartoonist of Lebanese extraction, is titled An Eye for an Eye (Oeil pour Oeil) — a symmetry that is taken to its logical conclusion in a quote often attributed to Gandhi:

An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.

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My apologia:

I am distant, and I am a writer: distant enough to take all humanity for my own side, and writer enough to wish to contribute what I can of concern and insight.


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