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DoubleQuoting hashtags on Gaza

Friday, August 15th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- don't be fooled by the pretty colors, what you see is just a mass of data points artfully displayed ]
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Here’s a fascinating graphic from the quantitative mode of analysis:

I really don’t have much to say about this, except that if a prayer is fired off each time the hashtags #prayforgaza and #prayforisrael are posted, the divine listening apparatus must be a stereo system.

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Source:

  • Gilad Lotan, Israel, Gaza, War & Data: Social Networks and the Art of Personalizing Propaganda
  • Lotan’s article is worth reading. Here’s the point that interested me most:

    Haaretz accommodates the most connections on both the pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli sides of the graph, having the highest betweenness centrality. Compared to all other nodes in the graph, Haaretz is most likely to spread throughout the wider network. It has the most potential for bridging across biases and political barriers.

    Lotan closes with a plea for us all to “be more thoughtful about adding and maintaining bridges across information silos online”. May it be so.

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    Gaza: the video, Lex’s comment, my response

    Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- a powerful video with strong implications for Israel and keen insight into Gaza -- thus far the best I've seen ]
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    The video:

    I found this video extremely powerful. Lexington Green pointed us to it via a link in a comment on a recent post of mine, and I responded to Lex’s comment — but links, comments and counter-comments easily escape notice, and I wanted to bring the video itself — and our conversation thus far — into a post of its own, in the hope that it will receive closer attention, and that the discussion will progress from here…

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    Lex’s comment, which he posted with a link to the video:

    This video shows what Israel is up against, and why images of grief are not an argument for letting Hamas survive to continue to attack Israel.

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    My response:

    Thanks for your comment — I found the video remarkable indeed.

    I see very easily how it can be read as proof that this particular woman and Hamas more generally are dedicated to the destruction of Israel. .. That’s there, in her words — and in the Hamas charter, which I’ve written about many times — but it’s far from all that I see there.

    Perhaps the most interesting part of the video for me is the part where, speaking of her two daughters who died, she says “Allah gave them to me, and Allah took them away from me.” That’s of a piece with what she means when she says that life (according to her worldview) is not precious — and it’s also an exact counterpart to a central Jewish tenet: 

    Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord

    As I read such sayings, that’s a lofty teaching — and she reaches for it as she thinks of her two daughters, telling us that her grief was difficult for her, but that she found comfort in this perspective — which is also Job’s perspective: Baruch haShem.

    The second point of interest to me was that the conversation turned to Tisha b’Av, and thus to the Temple, the Temple Mount and Jerusalem as a whole — which is claimed in toto by both parties, even though the physician floats the suggestion of a 50/50 split. She’s unwilling to become “a heretic” — even if it costs her the life of her son.

    Martin Luther King is alleged to have said, “If a man has not found something worth dying for, he is not fit to live.” I don’t know if he actually said that, and I’m not sure that I’d agree with him even if he did, but I do believe there may be things worth dying for — and as I understand her, she’s claiming that life is not precious when weighed in the balance against such things.

    The problem, for me, is that she thinks the physical space of Temple Mount / the Noble Sanctuary is worth dying for. Her claim that Jerusalem is sacred to her and her companions because the Mount / al-Aqsa is where the Prophet ascended to heaven from on the night of the Miraj is as sacred in the Muslim calendar as the destruction of the two Temples is in the Jewish calendar on Tisha b’Av. The claim on Netanyahu’s side, “Jerusalem is the heart of the nation. It will never be divided,” is no less inflexible, and likewise driven by scripture, tradition and faith.

    That’s the level on which the battle of scriptures, traditions and faiths is fought..

    Gershom Gorenberg has called the Temple Mount / Noble Sanctuary “the most contested piece of real-estate on earth” — and Naomi Wolf just the other day ended her “open letter to Rabbi Boteach” with the suggestion:

    What if “the holy land” is not a place on the globe but a way of behaving to one’s fellow man and woman? I choose that place.

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    And now…

    What say you all?

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    One grief, all worlds

    Sunday, August 10th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- from Gaza to Mt Sinjar and beyond, the universality and singularity of grief ]
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    One grief at a time is enough. It is “unbearable”, meaning that it arrives at the limit of what we single humans can possibly endure.

    How can one match this father’s face at the funeral of his son — one of the four boys killed while playing on a Gaza beach — caught here (above) by photographer Hosam Salem?

    How can one match these words of Yassin Suliman, speaking of his cousin, also killed in Gaza?

    We buried his legs this morning and we will bury his body this afternoon.

    Do the fathers and mothers of the Israeli dead feel any the less grief?

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    The Talmud, at Sanhedrin 37a, tells us:

    For this reason was man created alone, to teach thee that whosoever destroys a single soul of Israel, scripture imputes [guilt] to him as though he had destroyed a complete world; and whosoever preserves a single soul of Israel, scripture ascribes [merit] to him as though he had preserved a complete world.

    The mention here is of a single soul “of Israel”, a phrase that many contemporary Jewish sources omit — perhaps because the immediate context indicates a that it should be taken in a universal sense, since those particular words are immediately followed by the observation that the very diversity of HaShem’s creation of humanity is evidence of his greatness:

    Furthermore, [he was created alone] for the sake of peace among men, that one might not say to his fellow, ‘my father was greater than thine, and that the minim might not say, there are many ruling powers in heaven; again, to proclaim the greatness of the holy one, blessed be he: for if a man strikes many coins from one mould, they all resemble one another, but the supreme king of kings, the holy one, blessed be he, fashioned every man in the stamp of the first man, and yet not one of them resembles his fellow. Therefore every single person is obliged to say: the world was created for my sake.

    Qur’an 5.32 picks up the idea and continues it:

    On that account: We ordained for the Children of Israel that if any one slew a person – unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land – it would be as if he slew the whole people: and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people.

    Likewise, Qur’an 49.13 celebrates human diversity as evidence of the merciful intentions of the Merciful at ):

    O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise (each other). Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things).

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    Somewhere in my recent readings — on Gaza, Hamas, Iraq, Syria, the caliphate, the Yezidis — I found a sentence to the effect that one person’s grief is about as much as we can savor. It was a casual observation, but the same idea has been stated as a philosophical and theological proposition by Wittgenstein, CS Lewis and others: I catalogued those I knew in Of Quantity and Quality II: Holocaust, torture and sacrament.

    Matthew Barber, blogging about Sinjar and the Yezidi at Joshua Landis‘ Syria Comment in a post titled Sinjar Was Only the Beginning, tells us:

    In my conversation with Osman, it struck me that I was encountering the pain of just one man among several hundred thousand new refugees in the Dohuk governorate, each with a unique story.

    I ask again, how can one fully and richly feel the utmost grief of a single person, and multiply it? And in circumstances where so many are bereaved at once, how can one not attempt to multiply their individual griefs?

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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.

    **

    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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    Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones 1: differing perspectives

    Wednesday, August 6th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- on the godliness of collateral child slaughter -- intro -- from an anthropological / comparativist perspective ]
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    Today was Tisha b’Av, as mentioned in my previous post — the day on which the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem took place in 587 BCE and 70 CR respectively — observed with mourning in the Jewish calendar. Psalm 137, from which the title of this post is taken, is found in both Jewish and Christian scriptures and liturgies, and specifically recited in Jewish ritual on Tisha b’Av.

    In a series of three follow-up posts of which this is the first, I shall suggest that this psalm can serve as a useful starting point for understanding some of the different cultural attitudes that Jewish and Christian sensibilities in particular may bring to our understanding of the evensts in Gaza, however they may unfold, and from whatever point of view we may regard them.

    **

    In this introductory post, however, I want to step back a little, and begin by returning to the “three-step” I noted in an earlier post, Dialectic, or a waltz within revelation, quoting sheikhs Nuh Ha Mim Keller and Faraz Rabbani:

    A familiar example cited by ulama is the law of talion, “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”, which was obligatory in the religious law of Moses (upon whom be peace), subsequently forbidden by the religious law of Jesus (upon whom be peace) in which “turning the other cheek” was obligatory; and finally both were superseded by the law of Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace), which permits victims to take retaliation (qisas) for purely intentional physical injuries, but in which it is religiously superior not to retaliate but forgive.

    Between the three faiths and three of their respective teachers Moses, Jesus and Muhammad, then, we can perceive three cultural influences, three points of view regarding the appropriate use of force, which may or may not inform current religious sensibilities within the three religions, while also extending in some cases to the wider world around them. Again, my point is not to prefer one perspective to another, but to be aware of some of the possible variations between them.

    Here, then, is my theme in this series of posts: not everyone fights, shows restraint or abstains under the same cultural presumptions.

    **

    The widespread contemporary notion, birthed (it seems to me) in a still-evolving Christian doctrine of just war and enshrined in International humanitarian law and the Geneva Conventions, is that wars should be fought only for defensive and never aggressive purposes, and with proportional means: certain acts are ruled to be war crimes, beyond the pale of civilized warfare.

    It is not so with the Qur’an, which indeed ordains moderation in warfare and cessation of hostilities as soon as the enemy ceases aggression, but permits otherwise-forbidden actions which respond to an enemy’s actions in kind:

    There is the law of equality of for the prohibited months, and so for all things prohibited. If any one transgresses the prohibition against you, transgress likewise against him. But be conscious of Allah and know that He is with those who restrain themselves.

    Jewish tradition, too, has its own differences with the contemporary zeitgeist — thus the Talmud, backed by Torah, permits preventative killing. Tractate Berakoth 58a of the Babylonian Talmud teaches:

    If a man comes to kill you, rise and kill him first — Haba lehorgekha hashkem lehorgo.

    — and this in turn is not far from the notion of pre-emptive killing presumed to justify the death-by-droning of Anwar al-Awlaki — an argument that is harder to make in the case of his sixteen-year-old son Abdulrahman, killed in the same manner two weeks later.

    **

    In my next post I shall turn directly to our psalm, and specifically to its use and interpretation in my own tradition, that of Anglican Christianity.

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