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Gaza: A Tale in Two Tweets

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

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.

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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

    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…

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    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.

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

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    Humanitarian intervention in the Mesozoic: lukewarm

    July 21st, 2014

    [by Lynn C. Rees]

    Article II, Section 3 of our Constitution opens with this strongly worded suggestion:

    He shall from time to time give to Congress information of the State of the Union and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.

    As a people, we underutilize the President’s Annual Messages to Congress from 1789-1913: here is a compact, blow by blow, year by year glimpse into how we saw ourselves through what the president wanted us and our representatives to hear about the state of our Union. What is reported is, inescapably, political. Yet, before Thomas Woodrow Wilson (may his bones be crushed) and cousin Franklin turned the president’s annual message into the State of the Union Spectacular, its submission to Congress was low key. Real history could seep through without being pooped on by monarchial excesses that turned its submission to Congress into a spot-the-living-applause-line-sitting-near-to-the-First-Lady-snore.

    The instinct of His Excellency Thomas Jefferson, that old serpent of creative hypocrisy, was right: a clerk reading the annual message into the Congressional Record is less monarchial, more modest, and more republican than what we do now. Over time, Americans have acquired the usual growing taste for what the Nazis sold as Führerprinzip“leadership principle”. If your answer to every question is, from most complex to least complex, “These problems will be fixed when we elect __________” or “We need presidential leadership” or just “We need leadership”, you’ve already broken Godwin’s Law. Hero worship is a crutch for the weak-minded and beneath the dignity of a free people.

    Few Americans worship at the altar of Grover Cleveland. Understandable: he was a walrus-like fat dude from Buffalo, New York. Yet his administration’s reporting on its evolving response to the Cuban War for Independence is a model of how sovereignty clearly communicates its responsibilities under the law of nations before that law was corrupted by international law.

    The response began lukewarm:

    Whatever may be the traditional sympathy of our countrymen as individuals with a people who seem to be struggling for larger autonomy and greater freedom, deepened, as such sympathy naturally must be, in behalf of our neighbors, yet the plain duty of their Government is to observe in good faith the recognized obligations of international relationship. The performance of this duty should not be made more difficult by a disregard on the part of our citizens of the obligations growing out of their allegiance to their country, which should restrain them from violating as individuals the neutrality which the nation of which they are members is bound to observe in its relations to friendly sovereign states. Though neither the warmth of our people’s sympathy with the Cuban insurgents, nor our loss and material damage consequent upon the futile endeavors thus far made to restore peace and order, nor any shock our humane sensibilities may have received from the cruelties which appear to especially characterize this sanguinary and fiercely conducted war, have in the least shaken the determination of the Government to honestly fulfill every international obligation, yet it is to be earnestly hoped on every ground that the devastation of armed conflict may speedily be stayed and order and quiet restored to the distracted island, bringing in their train the activity and thrift of peaceful pursuits.

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    Gaza symmetries and asymmetries

    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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