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Gaza symmetries and asymmetries

Sunday, July 20th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- "hatred of the other" viewed as a cognitive matter, and Richard Landes on the capacity for self-criticism ]
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Credit: Amir Schiby

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Nicholas Kristof has a post today for the NYT Sunday Review, Who’s Right and Wrong in the Middle East? — in which he explores the symmetries and asymmetries playing out in Gaza. He concludes with the following paragraph:

Here we have a conflict between right and right that has been hijacked by hard-liners on each side who feed each other. It’s not that they are the same, and what I see isn’t equivalence. Yet there is, in some ways, a painful symmetry — and one element is that each side vigorously denies that there is any symmetry at all.

Let that stand as the epigraph of this post, while we turn to EO Wilson for a theoretical basis:

Reification is the quick and easy mental algorithm that creates order in a world otherwise overwhelming in flux and detail. One of its manifestations is the dyadic instinct, the proneness to set up two part classifications in treating socially important arrays. Societies everywhere break people into in-group versus out-group, child versus adult, kin versus non kin, married versus single, and activities into sacred and profane, good and evil. They fortify the boundaries of each division with taboo and ritual. To change from one division to the other requires initiation ceremonies, weddings, blessings, ordinations and other rites of passage that mark every culture.

Rush Dozier in Why We Hate picks up the thread:

Us-them stereotyping emerges directly from the primitive neural system’s basic survival response. It is a form of categorical thinking in which the categories are mutually exclusive. To the primitive areas of the brain, one is either “us” or “them.One cannot be both.

Jesus is reported as saying both “he that is not against us is for us” [Mark 9.40] and “He that is not with me is against me” [Luke 11.23], whereas GW Bush offers less ambiguity: “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.”

Dozier again:

It appears that this kind of either-or analysis results from the pre-conscious alerting system’s need for extremely rapid processing, which requires that phenomena be simplified as much as possible and placed in unambiguous categories.

The alert with its binaries, and the analytic, with (hopefully) its nuance — which would we be better advised to entrust with such major matters as war and peace?

Jesus again, overriding the binary opposition [Luke 6.27-28]:

I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you.

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Let’s move to one specific distinction — one that provide us with a binary, while arguably transcending binary thinking.

Richard Landes makes a strong point in his post titled Self-criticism and cultural development, when he asserts:

Self-criticism stands at the heart of any experiment in civil society.

He continues:

Only when we can acknowledge errors and commit to avoiding making them again, can we have a learning curve. Only when scholars can express their criticism of academic colleagues, and those criticized are able to acknowledge error, can scientific and social thinking develop. Only when religious believers can entertain the possibility that they may not have a monopoly on truth (no matter how convinced they might be of their “Truth”), can various religions live in peace and express their beliefs without fear of violence. Only when political elites are willing to accept negative feedback from people who do not have their power, only when the press can oppose those who control public decision-making, can a government reasonably claim to be “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

The distinction, the asymmetry I’m interested in exploring today is that between those who self-criticize and can accept criticism, and those who neither self-criticize nor accept criticism.

In my reading of the two quotes from Netanyahu and Diskin that I paired at the tail end of my post Israel / Palestine: some delicate balancing acts, Netanyahu seems to me averse to Israeli self-criticism, while Diskin clearly welcomes and practices it.

Here’s an individual, unofficial example. In an “eyewitness account of how the synagogue of Rue de la Roquette [in Paris] was attacked by a mob, and fought back” titled ‘Yesterday, a Part of My Love for France Left Me’, Aurélie A. wrote:

I can already see myself jumping at the throat of one of the keffiyeh wearers shouting “Death to the Yids!” He wants to kill Jews???!!! I want to leave him for dead! I do not recognize my own hatred!

There’s the binary at work, generating hatred to meet hatred — and the reflective mind that sees the binary as simplistic, and moves self-critically beyond it.

Landes again:

Nothing contrasts more with Israel’s culture of self-criticism than its belligerent neighbors, especially the Palestinians. Here we find one of the most aggressive zero-sum political cultures on record. They accept no responsibility for the war they wage, and justify all their behavior — including how they treat their own people — as a response to the Zionists. They demonize the Zionists with conspiracy theories and blood libels drawn from the most delirious of European anti-Semitic fears to inspire their victimized people to take arms against this malevolent enemy. Who could self-criticize when being assaulted by such merciless and powerful forces? Self-criticism under such conditions is unthinkable, and dissent is treachery. The exceptional number of Palestinians killed by Palestinians suggests a culture in which intimidating dissenters and eliminating traitors is the norm.

Those who say all who criticize Israeli actions are “Anti-Semitic” are overreaching: there is certainly a strong current of anti-Semitism alive and at large in the world, but the capacities to self-criticize and to accept criticism imply that one may critique what one loves as an expression of that love.

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The image of the four Bakr boys no longer playing soccer on the beach which heads this post is the work of the Israeli artist Amir Schiby. You can read it as a pro-Palestinian work of propaganda — or as an artistic criticism by an Israeli of the current Israeli operation in Gaza. You can also read it as a simple, beautiful expression of grief.

Its beauty argues for one of the latter two interpretations, and Schiby’s own statement on his FaceBook page that he intended it “as a tribute to all children living in war zones” clearly suggests the third.

Not a binary, partisan statement, then, and not even the raising of a “provocative question” — but an arrow to the heart, a wordless pang of grief.

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Israel / Palestine: some delicate balancing acts

Saturday, July 12th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- what does it mean to give a balanced view of an asymmetric conflict -- when the asymmetry may be as much moral as material, pragmatic as idealistic, as viewed from either side of the fray? ]
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The phrase “a fair and balanced view” rolls off the tongue easily enough, but what if truth and balance are, shall we say, asymmetric?

Is that balanced?

How about this one?

I can’t speak for Wajahat Ali. I’d prefer 0 : 0 myself, but do those two tweets balance — or cancel — each other out?

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There are arguably other asymmetries that balance the hugely asymmetric ratio of Palestinian and Israeli death tolls, whether or not you think Zach Novetsky‘s comment is a valid one — how about this one (with a hat tip to Lex)?

Is that a rebuttal of Wajahat Ali’s asymmetry, essentially erasing it — or a voice in counterpoint to it, providing balance?

What about John Robb‘s assessment this morning?

Isreal just shot down a drone using a Patriot missile. ROI on that “attack” was ~100 to one. At $100 a drone, a solid strategy would be to launch them 24×7 to grief the air defense system.

Here’s a Washington Post blogger’s attempt to preface what the headline terms “The lopsided death tolls in Israel-Palestinian conflicts” with a balanced and balancing first paragraph:

In the current conflict between Israel and militants in the Gaza Strip, both sides have attempted to harm the other. Hundreds of rockets have been fired from Palestinian territory with the aim of harming Israeli civilians, while Israeli military strikes have hit hundreds of targets in the Gaza Strip.

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It’s pretty clear by now that I consider juxtaposition a singularly powerful device for raising questions — but part of the purpose of such questioning is to discover the ever deeper nuances of a situation. Consider, for example, this somewhat more nuanced analysis of the same events:

Israel’s astonishingly effective Iron Dome air defense has prevented Hamas from killing Israeli Jews and spreading terror in the civilian population. Ironically, though, the better Iron Dome works, the less sympathy the rest of the world has for a nation that remains under rocket attack.

There’s something close to the “simple twist of fate” Jung called enantiodromia going on there — although the reversal of polarities involves a switch from the “hard power” to the “soft power” realm in this case, there’s still a blowback effect.

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Far preferable from my own point of view to the various asymmetries and imbalances we see in the real-time playing out of hostilities is this example of a symmetry of grief, recognized in a symmetry of compassion:

That’s a different — though related — conflict, of course.

Here’s a similar one, which I like because it ends “I defend ppl” — and one hopes in a 160 character parallel universe, Taslima would ineed have added “And vice versa” before that final remark, as her tweet surely implies:

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And I’m always happy to see Christians and Muslims united in search of peace, but when two parties in a three-way tug-o-war make common cause — as in the case of Palestinian Christians and Muslims making common cause against Israel —

— should that be celebrated as a gesture of unity in the face of “crusade vs jihad” rhetoric across a wide swathe of the world, or viewed as an example of polarization, “Palestinians vs Israelis” — or both?

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Those are some of the symmetries and asymmteries I have run across in commentaries on the situation — but how do participants view the situation? To anchor us in some of the political realities and ambiguities, here are some comments posted this week by two Israelis with close experience of the situation.

Yuval Diskin, Shin Beth chief 2005-2011, offered considerable nuance on his FB page:

I see the severe and rapid deterioration of the security situation in the territories, Jerusalem and the Triangle and I’m not surprised. Don’t be confused for a moment. This is the result of the policy conducted by the current government, whose essence is: Let’s frighten the public over everything that’s happening around us in the Middle East, let’s prove that there’s no Palestinian partner, let’s build more and more settlements and create a reality that can’t be changed, let’s continue not dealing with the severe problems of the Arab sector in Israel, let’s continue not solving the severe social gaps in Israeli society. This illusion worked wonderfully as long as the security establishment was able to provide impressive calm on the security front over the last few years as a result of the high-quality, dedicated work of the people of the Shin Bet, the IDF and the Israel Police as well as the Palestinians whose significant contribution to the relative calm in the West Bank should not be taken lightly.

PM Netanyahu speaking two days ago offered this blunt assessment, as reported in The Times of Israel under the header, Netanyahu finally speaks his mind:

He made explicitly clear that he could never, ever, countenance a fully sovereign Palestinian state in the West Bank. He indicated that he sees Israel standing almost alone on the frontlines against vicious Islamic radicalism, while the rest of the as-yet free world does its best not to notice the march of extremism. [ .. ]

Netanyahu has stressed often in the past that he doesn’t want Israel to become a binational state — implying that he favors some kind of accommodation with and separation from the Palestinians. But on Friday he made explicit that this could not extend to full Palestinian sovereignty. Why? Because, given the march of Islamic extremism across the Middle East, he 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.

More explicitly:

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.

“If we were to pull out of Judea and Samaria, like they tell us to,” he said bitterly — leaving it to us to fill in who the many and various foolish “theys” are — “there’d be a possibility of thousands of tunnels” being dug by terrorists to attack Israel, he said. There were 1,200 tunnels dug in the 14- kilometer border strip between Egypt and Gaza alone, he almost wailed, which Egypt had sealed. “At present we have a problem with the territory called Gaza,” the prime minister said. But the West Bank is 20 times the size of Gaza. Israel, he said flatly, was not prepared “to create another 20 Gazas” in the West Bank.

And finally:

Beyond Israel’s direct current confrontation with Hamas, and the eternal Palestinian conflict, Netanyahu also addressed the rise of Islamic extremism across the Middle East — covering the incapacity of affected states to resist it, and Israel’s unique determination and capacity to stand firm. He said Israel finds itself in a region “that is being seized by Islamic extremism. It is bringing down countries, many countries. It is knocking on our door, in the north and south.”

But while other states were collapsing, said Netanyahu, Israel was not — because of the strength of its leadership, its army and its people. “We will defend ourselves on every front, defensively and offensively,” he vowed.

And in a passage that was primarily directed at Israel’s Islamist enemies, but might equally be internalized by those he plainly regards as Israel’s muddle-headed self-styled friends, he added: “Nobody should mess with us

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Toto, I’ve got a feeling we’re not on a level playing field anymore

Wednesday, July 9th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- sporting goodies ]
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The upper image illustrates what Brazil might have needed to beat Germany in the World Cup — you’ll note the slope is considerably steeper than 7 to 1, the final score. The lower image is art, okay?

Asymmetric whatnot.

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Sources:

  • Chef Lloyd, Brazils plan B for the 2nd half
  • Laurent Perbos, Aire
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    A Low Visibility Force Multiplier – a recommendation

    Thursday, June 5th, 2014

    [by J. Scott Shipman]

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    A Low Visibility Force Multiplier, Assessing China’s Cruise Missile Ambitions, Dennis M. Gormley, Andrew S. Erickson, Jingdong Yuan

    Through an interesting turn of events I was able to attend an event at the Center for a New American Security today where Dennis Gormley and Andrew Erickson discussed their new book, A Low Visibility Force Multiplier. A colleague with CIMSEC posted a link to a Wendell Minnick story in Defense News which led to the National Defense University pdf. I managed to read a large chunk last night/this morning—for a document that was written using open sources, the authors make a pretty compelling case that China’s Anti-ship Ballistic Missile (ASBM), the so-called “carrier killer” isn’t the only missile in the PLAN arsenal U.S. Navy planners need to factor in.

    From the Executive Summary:

    Assessment

    China has invested considerable resources both in acquiring foreign cruise missiles and technology and in developing its own indigenous cruise missile capabilities. These efforts are bearing fruit in the form of relatively advanced ASCMs and LACMs deployed on a wide range of older and modern air, ground, surface-ship, and sub-surface platforms.(9) To realize the full benefits, China will need additional investments in all the relevant enabling technologies and systems required to optimize cruise missile performance.(10) Shortcomings remain in intelligence support, command and control, platform stealth and survivability, and postattack damage assessment, all of which are critical to mission effectiveness.

    ASCMs and LACMs have significantly improved PLA combat capabilities and are key components in Chinese efforts to develop A2/AD capabilities that increase the costs and risks for U.S. forces operating near China, including in a Taiwan contingency. China plans to employ cruise missiles in ways that exploit synergies with other strike systems, including using cruise missiles to degrade air defenses and command and control facilities to enable follow-on air strikes. Defenses and other responses to PRC cruise missile capabilities exist, but will require greater attention and a focused effort to develop technical countermeasures and effective operational responses.

    The authors speculate that China has done the calculus and determined they can’t match us (or perhaps have no desire) in platforms, but rather are choosing a lower cost alternative: omassive missile barrages—so massive ship defense systems are overwhelmed. Numbers matter; as the great WayneP. Hughes, Jr. (CAPT, USN, Ret) points out in his seminal Fleet Tactics and Coastal Combat, naval warfare is attrition warfare. With that in mind, this paragraph illustrates the gravity (emphasis added):

    Cruise Missile Ratios

    DOD transformation assumes that by shaping the nature of military competition in U.S. favor, or “overmatch,” rivals will continually lag in a demanding security environment. What if this is a false assumption? In other words, China may be choosing to com- pete in a traditional or conventional maritime environment in which transformed U.S. forces are structured and equipped in a significantly different way. As analyst Mark Stokes has reported, some Chinese believe that, due to the low cost of developing, deploying, and maintaining LACMs, cruise missiles possess a 9:1 cost advantage over the expense of defending against them. (103) The far more important—and difficult to estimate—ratio is that of PLA ASCMs to U.S. Navy defense systems. Numbers alone will not determine effectiveness; concept of operations and ability to employ cruise missiles effectively in actual operational conditions will be the true determinants of capability. Even without precise calculations, however, it appears that China’s increasing ASCM inventory has in- creasing potential to saturate U.S. Navy defenses. This is clearly the goal of China’s much heavier emphasis on cruise missiles, and it appears to be informed by an assumption that quantity can defeat quality. Saturation is an obvious tactic for China to use based on its capabilities and emphasis on defensive systems. PLAN ASCM weapon training, production, and delivery platform modernization continues to progress rapidly. Scenarios involving hostile engagement between PLAN and U.S. CSG forces could be quite costly to the latter due to the sheer volume of potential ASCM saturation attacks.

    Dr. Erickson pointed out in today’s meeting that the Mark Stokes estimate may be an overstatement, but certainly illustrative of economics involved.

    This is an important contribution and the challenges facing our Navy and Allies in the South China Sea/East China Sea lead me to conclude with hope that policy makers read and heed.

    Strongest recommendation.

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    Lizz Pearson on Boko Haram & gender, BBC4

    Saturday, April 19th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- burn the boys & let the girls get married? -- ]
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    Federal Government College, Buni Yadi, Nigeria, torched by Boko Haram Feb 2014. Photocredit: AP

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    Lizz Pearson pulls all the right details together to paint a vivid and nuanced picture of Boko Haram and their actions and attitudes with regard to gender differences in an interview with Woman’s Hour on BBC4. It’s a stunning story:

    This is something that has developed really in the last year, and it’s an explicit evolution, really, in the tactics of Boko Haram. The abductions earlier this week in Chibok have made the headlines because of the scale which is particularly audacious, but they have been kidnapping and abducting schoolgirls and other women really since 2013. [ … ]

    The Nigerian government began at the end of 2011 to arrest and detail women and children related to senior leading members of Boko Haram. This is perceived by Boko Haram as a very provocative act. Women are not regarded as combatants by Boko Haram, but they are a way of getting at an enemy, of humiliating an enemy, and they have become pawns, really, in this conflict, in a way that they have been used, both by the Nigerian government security forces in terms of the arrests of women related to Boko Haram — there’s no reason to arrest them for anything they’ve done themselves — and in Boko Haram’s response.

    For Shekau, the leader of Boko Haram, this has been a real grievance, and has motivated him in making many statements in video messages of his intention to, in retaliation, kidnap and abduct Christian women and women related to government officials.

    So far the strategy is different. It’s right that the Taliban has been explicitly targeting girls and with execution. With Boko Haram it’s a bit different. They have in fact been sparing women from execution in contrast with the Taliban policy. There was an attack, for example, on a school in Yobe state in February in which they similarly drove into the school in a convoy of jeeps, very heavily armed, everyone was asleep, they were very vulnerable. They locked the dormitories of male students, set fire to those dormitories, and then slit the throats of many men that they found escaping through the windows — but in this instance they spared the women, they said explicitly, Go home, get married, don’t come back here. In that sense they’re not executing them, but they do have this policy now that Shekau has explicitly ordered, of abducting women instead.

    That’s some excellent background — and surprising nuance — to bring to our understanding of the 107 young women recently abducted from their school in Borno State by Boko Haram.

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    Ms. Pearson doesn’t mention it, but I suspect there’s a Qur’anic verse somewhere in back of Boko Haram’s notion of retaliation — the same verse which I noted provided the framework for a major bin Laden speech, Qur’an 2.194:

    For the prohibited month, and so for all things prohibited, there is the law of equality. If then any one transgresses the prohibition against you, transgress ye likewise against him. But fear Allah, and know that Allah is with those who restrain themselves.

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    The “western” mindset sees certain actions as acceptable and others as unacceptable, and international law and various treaties set forth the accompamnying ruleset. Much of Islamic law sets similar limits, eg concerning the treatemnt of prisoners of war, but this verse — like Torah verses about “an eye for an eye” — specifies a diferent method of assessing what is and is not permitted — one which permits the otherwise impermissible on those occasions on which it has been visited upon one.

    In essence, the rule becomes mirroring — with moderation.

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    That a particular class of actions taken by one party in a conflict may in this way serve as a grant of permission for the same treatment to be returned is a feature of human psychology as well — and may be something worth bearing in mind in considering the introduction of any new class of methodologies or targets in warfare or politics. Do as you would be done by…

    What I do may appear to me to be an action: what I may miss is that it is also a potential invitation.

    I’m not sure whether that’s so obvious as to be a tautology, or so obscure as to bear frequent repetition. It’s certainly an aspect of human nature, variously formalized as tit for tat or proportionality — and in Islam, it is embedded both in scripture and in cultural understanding, in Qur’an 2.194.

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