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Atran and Husain on Gaza

Wednesday, August 6th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- two voices of moderation with a glimmer of hope -- plus a recap of some recent posts of mine ]
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Scott Atran, Ed Husain

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Scott Atran, an anthropologist at France’s National Center for Scientific Research, John Jay College and the University of Michigan, is co-founder of ARTIS Research and author of Talking to the Enemy. Ed Husain is a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, and the author of The Islamist. Each has recently expressed an opinion about the grievous situation in Gaza, Atran in a NYT op-ed, and Husain in a CNN interview.

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In U.S. Must Help Deal Directly With Hamas, Scott Atran points up the significance of sacred (not necessarily religious) values on both sides of the conflict in Gaza — and many others:

A chief problem in negotiations in seemingly intractable conflicts is each side’s deep commitment to sacred values that define “who I am, and who we are” as a people, and constitute the foundation of political legitimacy. In studies in world hot spots supported by the U.S. Department of Defense, my research team finds that material incentives or disincentives to force devoted actors to give up cherished values are considered vile insults, as would offers to sell one’s children or sell out one’s country, and only backfire, increasing support for violence and unwillingness to compromise.

But sacred values, especially those grounded in religious beliefs that are by nature unverifiable and unfalsifiable, can be reframed and reprioritized according to circumstances (think of myriad interpretations of biblical commandments). Even “rights” to return or settle can be reinterpreted in different ways with time, as long as people believe that the principle has been maintained.

Ed Husain, in his CNN interview, Bring Hamas to the table, also picks up on the importance of religious figures and of the need for recognition of Israel by Muslim leaders, telling us:

Arab political and religious leaders, despite historic grievances, have a duty to recognize that Israel is their neighbor. Israel is part of the mosaic of the modern Middle East. A change in tone and tenor and a public embrace of Israel by religious leaders will calm the nerves of an anxious Israeli population.

Husain also emphasizes that Hamas is both a terrorist organization and something more:

Hamas had a wide network of schools, financiers, mosques, makeshift hospitals, readily available doctors, banking services, and support for orphans and widows. We in the West deem Hamas a terrorist organization. Yes, one part of it is committed to terrorism, killing innocent civilians in the pursuit of political aims, but we are mistaken if we continue to limit our definition by one aspect of Hamas.

Unless we better understand Hamas, we cannot help halt the killings of Israelis and Arabs in the Middle East. Hamas is not a monolith, nor is it only a terrorist group: It is a social movement, with a mass membership, a popular message of resistance that resonates across the Muslim world, and a political party with which we must negotiate. [ .. ]

In the end, Israel has limited options. Peace is not possible without Hamas, and Hamas is not a simple terrorist outfit. Its political arm, its leadership inside and outside Gaza, despite their tensions, are open to indirect talks with Israel.

Atran, too, sees the possibility of a path to peace, albeit a slow and troubled one:

After pain and spleen are vented over years, grudging accommodation can emerge to stop the killing even if dreams of triumph endure.

Further, both men invoke the example of reconciliation in Northern Ireland, Atran writing:

Still, wars truly end when one side is obliterated or when enemies become nonenemies. For the latter, enemies first must talk. After spleens are vented, over years if necessary, as happened in Northern Ireland, enough grudging accommodation can emerge to stop the killing even if dreams of triumph endure. To succeed, such a process requires persistence, with strong international backing and policing.

and Husain:

Just as the British and American governments negotiated peace in Northern Ireland by reaching out to IRA terrorists through their political wing of Sinn Fein, we must tame Hamas through politics, not the failed strategy of war. [ .. ]

Hamas must be brought in. Almost 2 million people in Gaza need our support. If we fail to bring in Hamas and create a sustained peace that leads to prosperity for Palestinians and Israelis, then we must prepare for an enemy who is worse: Salafi Jihadis. And with Gaza, the popularity of the Salafi Jihadi message will spread far and wide.

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Extreme voices on both sides offer up their grim projects. Hamas in its not-yet-withdrawn Charter quotes the Gharqad Tree hadith, promising an end times war between Muslims and Jews:

The Last Hour would not come until the Muslims fight against the Jews and the Muslims would kill them, and until the Jews would hide themselves behind a stone or a tree and a stone or a tree would say. Muslim or Servant of Allah there is a Jew behind me; come and kill him; but the tree of Gharqad would not say it, for it is the tree of the Jews

— while Knesset member Ayelet Shaked reposts an opinion piece from 12 years ago by Uri Elitzur, PM Netanyahu‘s chief of staff during his first term as prime minister, on her Facebook page, with the comment “as relevant today as it was at the time”:

What’s so horrifying about understanding that the entire Palestinian people is the enemy? Every war is between two peoples, and in every war the people who started the war, that whole people, is the enemy. A declaration of war is not a war crime. Responding with war certainly is not. Nor is the use of the word “war”, nor a clear definition who the enemy is. Au contraire: the morality of war (yes, there is such a thing) is founded on the assumption that there are wars in this world, and that war is not the normal state of things, and that in wars the enemy is usually an entire people, including its elderly and its women, its cities and its villages, its property and its infrastructure.

Against such a background, I believe both Atran’s and Husain’s voices deserve serious consideration.

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Catchup: listing some of my recent posts relating to Gaza:

  • Gaza now stretches all the way to Disneyland
  • Gaza now stretches all the way to God
  • The Daily Illustrated Dante, or is that Milton?
  • Balancing acts & mirror images: 1
  • Balancing acts & mirror images: 2
  • Balancing acts & mirror images: 3
  • Tisha b’Av and Gaza
  • Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones 1: differing perspectives
  • Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones 2: a Christian perspective
  • Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones 3: a Judaic perspective
  • In my view, the two series are each worth reading as series.

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    Balancing acts & mirror images: 2

    Friday, August 1st, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- second of (at least) three posts, mostly about Gaza -- high wire stuff ]
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    Here are two young women poets, the hope of the world, mirroring one another in a rare balancing act that leaves neither political / military side of the Israeli-Arab conflict uncritiqued, while the humanity of both sides is respected ansd loved:

    It may be that the balance here is still too young and perfect…

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    Here, then, are two tweets from Gershom Gorenberg, Israeli journalist and my admired Center for Millennial Studies colleague, attempting the delicate balancing act of loving his country with intelligence and nuance:

    Gershom is quoting Joshua Gutoff, who describes himself thus:

    Having finally completed a dissertation on Talmud and the development of the moral imagination, Joshua (a Conservative rabbi by training), is now a professor of Jewish education. An erstwhile contributing editor at the Jerusalem Report, he is available for speaking, teaching, writing, editing…

    Gutoff’s longer piece, can we talk?, is worth your consideration.

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    Here’s Maajid Nawaz of Quilliam, writing under the title Palestine must be free… from Hamas at Jewish News Online:

    In such a poisoned climate, we should strive to maintain a certain moral courage and razor-sharp distinctions for our own sanity, if not for others. Terrorism aims to deliberately target civilians, and benefits specifically from their death or injury as a matter of policy. Hamas has this policy.

    On the other hand, recklessly killing civilians in breach of the international laws of proportionality, while issuing warnings and apologies -– and while trying to target rocket launch sites that Hamas has based in mosques and hospitals –- results in a terrible and disproportionate number of deaths. It is deeply troubling, it must stop. But it is not terrorism.

    No civilian death is justified. However, laws rightly differentiate types of killing, from accidental death, manslaughter, murder, to war crimes and terrorism. We must maintain level heads and some nuance if we are to approach this poisonous debate at all.

    Nawaz, too, is seeking the right balance, the mot juste to explain what is indeed a subtle question.

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    Henry Siegman, an Orthodox rabbi — one time head of the Synagogue Council of America, executive director of the American Jewish Congress and senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations — now serves as president of the U.S./Middle East Project. Interviewed on Democracy Now, under the header, Leading Voice of U.S. Jewry, on Gaza: “A Slaughter of Innocents”, had this to say:

    It [Israel] has what seems on the surface a justifiable objective of ending these attacks, the rockets that come from Gaza and are aimed — it’s hard to say they’re aimed at civilians, because they never seem to land anywhere that causes serious damage, but they could and would have, if not for luck. So, on the face of it, Israel has a right to do what it’s doing now, and, of course, it’s been affirmed by even president of the United States, repeatedly, that no country would agree to live with that kind of a threat repeatedly hanging over it.

    But what he doesn’t add, and what perverts this principle, undermines the principle, is that no country and no people would live the way Gazans have been made to live.

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    Again, the delicate balance is sought — and it interesting to see these two comments together, Nawaz the ex-Muslim terrorist sympathetic to the Israelis vs Hamas, Siegman the rabbi sympathizing with the inhabitants of Gaza…

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    Satire! Fake! Hoax! Internet! [correction on p.16 below the fold]

    Thursday, July 31st, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- and yes, "p.16 below the fold" is pretty much the news equivalent of "at the back of the bus" ]
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    A prime-time Dutch TV news show, De Wereld Draait Door, regularly includes a satirical segment, and the other day the segment editors spliced together a number of snippets of Netanyahu speeches to produce this clip, which they may feel represents Netanyahu’s true feelings, but which clearly isn’t what he actually said.

    As the Jewish news agency JTA noted:

    The video, made to appear genuine through seamless splicing of sound bites from previous speeches by Netanyahu, was spread by thousands of Twitter and Facebook users who advertised it under the headline “Netanyahu finally tells the truth.”

    “We are conducting these surgical operations against schools, mosques, hospitals, children,” Netanyahu is heard saying, adding, “This is something I don’t have to explain to Americans.”

    That video is satire. You may like it, you may not like it, but it is satire.

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    Here for comparison is the genuine news video on which it was partly based:

    Two friends of mine, from different areas of my social life, reposted the faked video on Facebook, one of them with the comment:

    fourth reich innit

    No it isn’t. It’s a satirical mashup of Netenyahu speeches, spliced together to make him appear to say the exact opposite of what he actually says.

    And the lady who posted the satirical video got 26,422 (and counting) people to “share” it.

    Look, anyone who can post or share that satirical video piece without noting up front that it is satire is either

  • believing Netanyahu would say such a thing as “We don’t not share your concern about civilian casualties at all .. one of the things we are doing is trying to maximize the number of civilian casualties, we prefer that” to Hilary Clinton, with world news sources watching, without a ripple of suprise or condemnation — or

  • knows it to be a smear, and is using it to stir up hatred in an already hypertense situation
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    In this case, the hatred stirred is against the Israelis. Earlier this week, two other Facebook posts by friends of mine passed along equally misleading memes whose purpose was to stir up hated for Muslims.

    There are important things that need to be said about both Israelis and Muslims in these volatile times — but stirring up hatred is hardly a route that’s likely to lead to peace.

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    War on the Rocks: A New Nixon Doctrine – Strategy for a Polycentric World

    Tuesday, July 8th, 2014

    [by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. "zen"]

    I have a new piece up at the excellent War on the Rocks site that is oriented towards both history and contemporary policy Some Excerpts:

    A New Nixon Doctrine: Strategy for a Polycentric World

    ….Asia was only the starting point; the Nixon doctrine continued to evolve in subsequent years into a paradigm for the administration to globally leverage American power, one that, as Chad Pillai explained in his recent War on the Rocks article, still remains very relevant today. Avoiding future Vietnams remained the first priority when President Nixon elaborated on the Nixon Doctrine to the American public in a televised address about the war the following October, but the Nixon Doctrine was rooted in Nixon’s assumptions about larger, fundamental, geopolitical shifts underway that he had begun to explore in print and private talks before running for president. In a secret speech at Bohemian Grove in 1967 that greatly bolstered his presidential prospects, Nixon warned America’s political and business elite that the postwar world as they knew it was irrevocably coming to an end [....]

    ….China was a strategic lodestone for Richard Nixon’s vision of a reordered world under American leadership, which culminated in Nixon’s historic visit to Peking and toasts with Mao ZeDong and Zhou En-lai. In the aftermath of this diplomatic triumph, a town hall meeting on national security policy was sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute that featured the Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird squaring off with future Nobel-laureate, strategist and administration critic Thomas Schelling over the Nixon Doctrine and the meaning of “polycentrism” in American foreign policy. Laird was concerned with enunciating the implications of the Nixon doctrine as an operative principle for American foreign policy, taking advantage of the glow of a major success for the administration. Schelling, by contrast, was eager to turn the discussion away from China to the unresolved problem of the Vietnam war, even when he elucidated on the Nixon doctrine’s strategic importance. [....]

    ….What lessons can we draw from the rise of the Nixon Doctrine?

    First, as in Nixon’s time, America is again painfully extricating itself from badly managed wars that neither the public nor the leaders in two administrations who are responsible for our defeat are keen to admit were lost. Nixon accepted defeat strategically, but continued to try to conceal it politically (“Vietnamization,” “Peace with Honor,” etc). What happened in Indochina in 1975 with the fall of Saigon is being repeated in Iraq right now, after a fashion. It will also be repeated in Afghanistan, and there it might be worse than present-day Iraq. [....]

    Read the article in its entirety here.

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    Michael Yon discussing “possibly one of the largest peaceful uprisings in history”

    Wednesday, April 30th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- catching up on Thailand ]
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    Michael Yon calls it “possibly the largest or one of the largest peaceful uprisings in history”. As Zenpundit readers know, it’s the religious side of things I am most interested in, but “peaceful uprisings” also catches my attention.

    The peaceful uprising in question is that of the Whistleblowers in Thailand — a loose assortment of groups protesting government corruption, whose November 2013 protests derailed an amnesty bill that would have allowed former premier Thaksin Shinawatra to return from exile with immunity from prosecution.

    According to Yon’s text, and as partially illustrated in the above DoubleQuote built from two of his own images, Whistleblowers and their supporters include “Buddhists, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs”.

    And given that Thailand is officially a Buddhist country and the CIA World Factbook gives its population as 93.6% Buddhist, Buddhists can no doubt be found in many groups — but Yon specifically cites two Buddhist groups among the six or seven he lists as associated with the larger Whistleblower movement:

  • Buddha Issara group: non-violent (guards repel attacks in self-defense)
  • Dhamma Army (Santi Asoke): non-violent.
  • The monk in the upper panel is Dhamma Army leader Pra Phothi Rak.

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    Let me return to that opening quote of Yon’s. Here it is in context:

    One of the great untold stories of this uprising is that it must be one of the largest peaceful uprisings that the world has ever seen, yet it has been poorly covered by mainstream media. The lack of violence from millions of Whistleblowers is one probable explanation.

    Michael Yon has done his share of war reporting, as evidenced for instance in his book, Moment of Truth in Iraq, so it’s a pleasure to see him reminding us of those working for change by peaceful means. What’s not so great is the general media concept that if it bleeds, it leads. The result, in Michael’s words?

    Practically no conventional media corporation would afford to dedicate high-end journalists full-time to a subject that garners little readership. We saw the same in Afghanistan. Quality costs money. The money is not there. So we get garbage in and garbage out.

    Hence Michael’s mission — to bring us the under-reported news.

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    Recommended reading:

  • Are Thai Protestors Violent?
  • Whistleblowers: a Meta-Organization
  • Anatomy of Current Thai Protests
  • Michael is a former Green Beret reporting in depth from conflict zones around the world. You can follow his work by signing up for his mailing list. It is funded by donation.

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