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Romance of the gun

July 20th, 2006

The various disasters in the Middle East keep on getting worse. About the best analysis of the whole situation that I’ve seen in some time was by Rami Khouri in Salon. The write-off sums up the case

Hamas and Hezbollah, Lebanon and Palestine, Syria and Iran, the U.S. and Israel: Unless these four pairs of actors turn away from their failed policies, the Middle East will sink further into violence and despair.

What is striking about the Middle East is that, more than anywhere else in the world, it is the place where belief in the effectiveness of violence to achieve political goals has reigned supreme, and the place where nothing of substance has changed, except for the worse, in generations. Whether it’s the gunman firing an AK-47 into the air, the suicide bomber’s macabre video clip, the Revolutionary Guard armed with Islamic fervour or the official military parading its power to deliver terror by air and armoured brigade, the romance of the gun seems to obscure the reality of murdered children and the dismal failure of all concerned to move even an inch towards any sort of solution.

The only new thing about the current crisis is that lots of Australians are directly in the line of fire. This raises the stakes dramatically for anyone who wants to endorse the actions of one side or another.

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  1. rog
    July 22nd, 2006 at 22:55 | #1

    Whilst all this speculation about “superpowers’, “geopolitics” and “neocons’ continues Israel is still fighting for its survival, without any real guarantee of success.

    If it is just about dysfunctional Islam then what pigeonhole does the holocaust slotted into?

    Israel is the target of annihalation, again.

  2. July 23rd, 2006 at 10:38 | #2

    The Israelis are not fighting for their survival just yet. Israel is overwhelmingly the military super power of the region. It also has the unconditional backing of the global super power.

    The feeble attacks on its forces (kidnapping) and peoples (katyushas) issuing from S Lebanon are a sign of its enemies weakness, not strength. THis is certainly a less malign threat than suicide bombers, although more of a nuisance.

    Israel is taking the occasion of these attacks to finish some unfinished political business. But they are only going to make it worse.

    Israel’s Judaic Zionist political system contains within it elements of the same dysfunctionality that deform Mesopotamia’s Islamic Arabic authorities. The zealotry that informs Kahanist occupants of the West Bank is an analog of the jihadism that informs Hezbollah ocupants of Southern Lebanon.

    Over most of the nineties and naughties, Israel has been the good guy, withdrawing forces, trading land for peace, promoting democracy etc. So they were heading in the right direction before they got dragged back into the general madness of the area.

    But earlier on Israel made some very bad political decisions, part Machiavellian, part Millenian in its efforts to reclaim Holy Lands for the Jewish people. The settlements in the Occupied Territories are only the most obvious example of this kind of mad thinking and bad acting. They ended up empowering Hamas. The invasion and occupation of Lebanon only served to create Hezbollah.

    The Jews are a naturally brilliant people. But the political decisions made on their behalf have often been bad, which has often brought on a “war situation that has developed not necessarily to [Israel's] advantage” (apologies to Hirohito).

  3. gordon
    July 23rd, 2006 at 11:16 | #3

    Jack Strocchi, if you are advocating an immediate cessation of US assistance to Israel, I support you. Is that the thrust of your comments?

    And a clarification: I gave a single link to two sources in my Mearsheimer and Walt link above – the first linked page contains a link to another. To avoid confusion, the link to the Israel/Kuomintang analogy is here and the link to Mearsheimer and Walt (a .pdf) is here.

    The point of these references is that it is quite possible for a small country like Israel (or in former days the Kuomintang) to exert disproportionate influence over a much bigger country like the USA. Mearsheimer and Walt is particularly revealing. Tony Blair should stay up all night reading them, to find out what he is doing wrong.

  4. July 23rd, 2006 at 13:46 | #4

    gordon Says: July 23rd, 2006 at 11:16 am

    Jack Strocchi, if you are advocating an immediate cessation of US assistance to Israel, I support you. Is that the thrust of your comments?

    Not exactly. The US should stop assisting ISR’s incursions and occupations into contested ME territory. But it should commit itself to defending ISR’s minimal state.

    Israel’s establishment was imprudent. But we have to put the Jews somewhere. So it may as well be in their Biblical Home, Sweet Home. [Sound of bitter laughter trailing off...]

    Islamic Arab militants cannot be taught by either financial carrot or martial stick. The only thing to do is to develop impermeable hi-tech border protection to prevent bilateral traffic.

    All non-Arabic powers, incl. ISR, should disengage from contested Arabic lands, in Gaza/West Bank, S Lebanon, Iraq etc. Plus no more attempts at regime change or “surgical strikes”.

    Any foreign interventions into the region must be under the UN flag, with full consent of the Arab League. This is unlikely to occur given present makeup of UNSC. So it looks like NGOs will have to pick up the pieces.

    ISR is the military superpower of the region. But owing to the nature of Islamic Arabs it cannot convert martial power into political influence. So it will have to learn how to make itself a small target.

    If guerilla attacks on ISR still continue from either Lebanon, Palestine then these attacks are presumably aimed at destroying minimal Israel. The IDF should be given the green light for whatever retaliation is necessary to neutralise the threat. Hopefully this will be proportionate to threat (not so in the present case).

    Armageddon, if it is going to happen, may as well occur in its traditional address. It is likely that terrorists will get WMDs in the next generation. We have to make a concerted effort to get our of their sights/sites.

    If Isamic Arabic parties/militias in failed or rogue states develop WMDs for use by transnational terrorists against ISR then those parties/militas should be targetted and destroyed. By commando raids if possible, by WMD attack if necessary. Presumably the IDF have a well worked out Samson option.

    Serious multiculturalism is an idiotic impossibility, as recent history proves. The Islamic Arabs can then celebrate their confessional diversity to their hearts content with a good old fashioned ethnic bloodbath or they sould learn by History by forgetting it. The former is pretty clearly the peoples will, going by the voters preferences.

    I hate ME political culture. So the less we have to do with them the better. And vice-versa. A policy of political quarantine is therefore indicated.

  5. brian
    July 23rd, 2006 at 16:58 | #5

    Only two things are required for the attainment of peace in what might laughingly call “The Holy Land”
    The Jews must cease their agressive and arrogant attitude to the neighbouring Arabs people whom they seem to hold in contempt and loathing.
    The Arabs must cease to complain and must accept
    Israeli dominance, and adopt a servile and respectful attitude to their masters .
    Once both sides accept these propositions ,then we will have peace..!!.but I wouldn’t hold your breath waiting.!
    Israeli after all is the last of the “settlerist” states established by European colonialists,and western ideologies.Zionist is afterall, a European notion,linked at the time, the late i9th century ,to the tide of nationalist politics in such places as Italy,Hungary ,Ireland and Catalonia
    The list of “settlerist states”includes the “Protestant plantation”of Ulster in the 17th century and the European sttlements in Algeria,/South Africa and Rhodesia ,in more recent times .These societies differed from the usual colonial situation…
    These societies were places where a “white ruling” class ruled a “a native” under-class. Israel is much the same sort of society,
    Like French Algeria,it lies in the centre of a region which rejects its presence.
    Israel was established at the last possible moment in history…by the 1950′s the tides of anti-colonialism had turned,and western defeats in Algerian,Vietnam,and the Suez Crisis would have made such a move as the establishment of the jewish state ,an impossibility.
    Of course if Britain and French hadn’t welshed on their promises to the Arabs in the First World War,Palestine .would. have been a free Arab state,with a small Jewish minority , this would have been like many other Arab states.
    During the time of the Crusades,the western invaders established a state called “The Latin Kingdon of Jerusalem”,which survived for several generations,but was eventually swepty away by the better leadership of the Arabs under the rule of Saladin, whose tomb in Damascus has become once again a place of pilgrimage for young Arabs,some of whom undoubtedly see Hezbollah in this long tradition.!
    One mans terrorist is another mans national here…see also Nelson Mandela,Michael Comllins,Markarios in Cyprus,and Ho Chi Minh !

  6. July 23rd, 2006 at 19:18 | #6

    To that abbreviated list of settlerist states you must add Ireland (the eastern two-thirds) England, non-breton France, South Tyrol, Malaysia, non-Javanese Indonesia, Brazil, Argentina, Peru, Bolivia, Paraguay, Ecuador, Venezuela, Uruguay, Chile, Panama, Costa Rica, Mexico, Jamaica, Dominican Republic, Bahamas, Eastern Ukraine, Siberia, Western China, Vietnam, Okinawa, northern Poland, etc etc etc etc…

  7. July 23rd, 2006 at 20:05 | #7

    Steve at the pub, Eh? Where does that “obvious” moral superiority of Israel come from? In my book, there are only bad guys active in those parts. You don’t get a lesser evil for Israel either, since it is so fused with so much misbehaviour going back to before its formal foundation. What Israel is objecting to now is pretty much what the Stern Gang did to the British Sergeants, with much less provocation.

    As for “annihilation of Israel” – well, that would actually be at least as good a thing as the collapse of the USSR. I wouldn’t want that to involve the annihilation of Israelis, of course, but that muddying is par for the course and I am sure my statement will be misrepresented that way.

  8. Simonjm
    July 23rd, 2006 at 22:59 | #8

    PT 1
    Steve neither, get a cease fire and acknowledge and work at the root causes.

    First as a basic condition of any short to long term solution start applying the same moral standard to both sides not setting the bar higher for one and lower for the other; and pivotal the unconditional support Israel gets from the US must end as, as it is one of the main reasons there can be no peace in the ME.

    Next the root causes: jumping up and down over 2 Israeli soldiers captured-not kidnapped- while thousands Arab prisoners are in Israeli gaols is just a joke.

    Basically we have Israeli Guantanmo Bays; we don’t know exactly how many Lebanese are in there but as this points out Nasrallah -

    “If we have in our hands prisoners and can win the release of Lebanese, Palestinian, Syrian, Jordanian and Arab prisoners … but we say ‘No, we just want Lebanese,’ then this is inhumane,” Nasrallah.

    -you don’t expect to have peace when you deny justice.

    So instead at looking at just a prisoner exchange and an avoidance of all this carnage we have Israel going after Hezbollah and by collective punishment of the whole country.

    As I see it by allowing to get away with the war crime of targeting civilian infrastructure and civilians- they’re not yeah right, warn to get out, but bomb the roads and fleeing cars and that’s not targeting civilians, give me a break- the international community let alone UK and US are validating the attacks on their own civilians. If Israel can do it, it is hardly a crime for Hezbollah to do the same.

    Oh but even if they exchanged prisoners Hezbollah will still attack wanting the destruction of Israel!

    We then seriously look at the Israeli/Palestinian question; even Jack at the very least acknowledges the imprudent nature of the establishment of the Jewish state. If you take the stance well its there the Arabs will never like it so use force to keep the peace, you might as well go to war with Syria and Iran and wait for eventuality of a ‘terrorist’ gaining nuclear weapons.

    Just dandy.

  9. Simonjm
    July 23rd, 2006 at 23:03 | #9

    Pt2
    There are many scenarios -many pretty dire- but if I were to look for a solution granting this bad decision of keeping a Jewish state in the region; then instead of allowing the Israelis to treat the Palestinians as dogs

    -hoping that conditions are so bad that they will immigrate or die while continuing to take more West bank land and thumbing their nose at the world while relying on US media spin & gove backing-

    you bloody well bend over backwards to give the moderate Palestinians the best deal that you can give acknowledging the raw deal they have got.

    You give ALL the West Bank back, with real control of borders travel infrastructure etc –to give a viable state, you give them a huge financial package not only for infrastructure but also for compensation for loss of right of return. You seek a truth a reconciliation tribunal to acknowledge the criminal acts of both sides and the release of all prisoners-both sides have committed atrocities.

    You grant the Palestinians their stake of Jerusalem, and get the UN to police security with a real mandate and power not relying on the Israeli warmed forces as the sole enforcer of security.

    If Israel wants its state and peace it must make sacrifices -it has it’s state after all- give a deal the moderate Palestinians cannot refuse, not because its the best of a bad situation but because it offers real advantages, something that will undermine the militants and Syria and Iran.

    If the majority of Palestinians can be happy with a viable and concrete two state solution with jobs, health care and a future the militants, Syria, Iran and OBL will lose the fuel for their fires.

    You think not well at the very least it would give the honey a chance as the vinegar sure the hell ain’t working.

    You want peace you have to give justice, not the end of a gun.
    & btw you no longer have that corrupt git Arafat f*cking things up.

  10. July 24th, 2006 at 03:11 | #10

    Simonjm: Sidestepping the question rather effectively answers it. You know you are wrong. Hehe….

  11. July 24th, 2006 at 07:58 | #11

    =The only new thing about the current crisis is that lots of Australians are directly in the line of fire. This raises the stakes dramatically for anyone who wants to endorse the actions of one side or another=

    It raises the stakes dramatically for anyone who wants to endorse the unilateral slaughter. It makes it tempting, with respect Mr Quiggin, for far too many even on the left to put the clear mass reprisals being carried out by a state with overwhelming military superiority into the two hard basket.

    ‘Them violent people fighting again’ was the basis for the west ignoring Rwanda for so long. In fact, while the lead up may have contained fault on both sides, the main event in Rwanda was one sided slaughter.

  12. July 24th, 2006 at 08:44 | #12

    “‘Them violent people fighting again’ was the basis for the west ignoring Rwanda for so long.”

    The West did not ignore Rwanda in the slightest – it was deep in the mud from the start – what you mean is that the media didn’t report what the West was doing in Rwanda. The French, for example, provided direct material support to the increasingly genocidal government in the early 1990s, and consciously assisted it to triple the size of the military (along with supplying the Presidential guard) by 1994, and thereby to underwrite the costs of their future aggression. This was done on the pretext of “countering British influence” (as the Tutsis were alleged to be) in a Francophone country. The genocidaires would probably have had to settle with Paul Kagame much sooner (and avoid the outright slaughter), were they not given cover by the French government.

    In the case of Israel, the pattern is being repeated – Israeli aggression is being underwritten into the billions by the US taxpayer. Once again, if this funding was withdrawn, it is likely that Israel would have to settle on more balanced terms than is being proposed now. I think the real lesson we should learn is – stop escalating crises by bankrolling the aggressor.

  13. MichaelH
    July 24th, 2006 at 08:47 | #13

    Krouri’s article points to the obvious solution – a final diplomatic settlment of the Israel-Palestine conflict, bu this appers to be as distant a hope as ever.

  14. rog
    July 24th, 2006 at 09:09 | #14

    When various muslim elements accept that others also have the right to exist then peace will follow. Israelis will always defend their right to exist and the high value that they place on human life makes that defence proportionate.

  15. MichaelH
    July 24th, 2006 at 09:46 | #15

    Rog, it seems that the primary opponents to a final diplomatic settlement are the US and Israel, as has been the case for quite some time.

    I’m not sure what can be done to move them in that direction when there appears to be nothing propelling them in that direction.

    The nearest recent thing was the Quartets ill-fated “Road Map”. THe PA accepted it completely and immediately, while Israel came up with it’s infamous 14 ‘reservations’. That I think was a measure of the relative power of the 2 sides. Israel doesn’t need to submit to external processes to achieve its’ goals.

  16. gordon
    July 24th, 2006 at 10:53 | #16

    Jack Strocchi, I think you are suggesting an impossibility when you propose: “The US should stop assisting ISR’s incursions and occupations into contested ME territory. But it should commit itself to defending ISR’s minimal state� and at the same time say: “Any foreign interventions into the region must be under the UN flag …� Neither the US nor Israel have any history of support for UN forces in Palestine. And history shows that it is impossible to limit military aid to Israel to what would ordinarily be described as defensive purposes. This is underlined by your support for pre-emptive “defensive� action by Israel, extending even to nuclear attacks. This brings us back to the status quo, where Israel justifies aggression by the limitlessly elastic idea of preventing aggression by others.

    Israel’s recent behaviour in Lebanon, the West Bank and Gaza shows that, as remarked by a Lebanese refugee: “Emile Maroud believes there is an Israeli agenda aimed at stopping Lebanon making progress. He said: “I had no time for the PLO and I have no time for Hizbollah. But this is about more than that. Israel does not want to see another modern, progressive state in the region.”

    I think that is right. the Israeli agenda is a wrecking agenda. The US agenda in Iraq, largely undertaken at the demand of Israel, is also a wrecking agenda. Both are trying to “bomb them back into the stone age�, as a previous wrecking agenda in another part of the world was described.

    And hooray for P.M.Lawrence’s sense of history!

  17. July 24th, 2006 at 13:03 | #17

    Steve Edwards:

    Can’t disagree with your nuancing of my comment there. The ignored it in a sense of taking an eon to call it what it was.

  18. Simonjm
    July 24th, 2006 at 13:19 | #18

    Steve at the Pub I’ve more moral reasoning in my little finger than you could ever hope to get in a life time by what you have showed in the simplistic shallow rationalizations your posts have indicated.

    This exactly the reason why there will be no peace in the ME, ethical bias by those who don’t have the ability to see past their bias.

    I no longer think people as a whole are rational when it comes to ethics; ever wondered why sincere intelligent moral people in the present and the past have advocated slavery, genocide etc etc when we think it so obvious?

    Ever had a look at the number of cognitives biases out there an no one has thought that people wouldn’t have similar confirmation and disconfirmation biases when it comes to ethics?

    I’d don’t know if I’ll ever get around to doing a paper on it but I’m coming to the conclusion that bounded rationality better fits the bill to what we think as rationality and that biases are the norm not the exception.

    The thing is with an extreme cognitive bias it seems to be almost impossible for the individual with it to actually know they are under it.

    Some people have a natural ability to see things from more than one side and question their own view points that helps but most of the time this is furtherest from most peoples minds.

    We have come little further than that ancient greek who said might makes right all we have done is give it a better spin.

  19. July 24th, 2006 at 22:57 | #19

    It would seem that someone nicked Simonjm’s rattle when he was 2yo.

    About time you got over it. It’s not all about you.

    It was a simple question with a choice of two answers. It cannot be answered any other way.

    Perhaps you should look up “cognitive” in the dictionary, hehe…

  20. July 25th, 2006 at 23:54 | #20

    Simonjm, I’ve thought about that slavery one. It seems to come down to two things:-

    - it’s not actually that simple, so that it actually was a lesser evil in certain times and places (not that rare ones either, historically); and

    - people who had a moral sense went into denial and persuaded themselves it was right, so that even after circumstances had changed they remained convinced of its soundness and even desirability (unlike the casually indifferent people, who simply stopped).

    Thus, ironically, it is the people with the most highly developed moral senses who are capable of the greatest descents into wickedness (as just here exemplified by slavery, and hereabouts by the continuing Jewish dehumanisation of those Israel feels obliged to attack for reasons that no longer really apply).

  21. Simonjm
    July 26th, 2006 at 13:24 | #21

    P.M.Lawrence
    A lesser evil- you then have to wonder how something that some of us consider of fundamental importance becomes a lesser evil- in some, a validated and justifiable norm for others where any questioning of this leads at best to being ostracized at worst death.

    BTW your lesser evil argument doesn’t in anyway excuse the use of slavery in those times, and in fact while not well know totally undermines Christianities morally perfect God. If it is objectively wrong time and circumstance are irrelevant then the OT God could not condone or practice it which it does. Account for that gigantic cultural blind-spot.

    Aristotle arguably one of the greatest minds of human history couldn’t see through his own cultural bias would you think Joe Blogs would have any better luck?

    Most people historically and in the present don’t reason morally they rationalize based on the norms of their time, there is no active denial, that is how they construct & use their moral norms.

    Who has the time in any life to reason through to the foundations of their own moral norms, the rationalizations make sense in the light of what is accepted at that time and who wants to be ostracized? If you use the Boundedrationality
    concept this is exactly what one would expect, throw in all the cognitive short cuts and biases we know we have do you think it reasonable that ethics would be immune to this?

    Therefore things like slavery, genocide, cannibalism, human sacrifice, non-sexual females homosexuality as wrong/perverted, masturbation as a sign of mental disease are perfectly sensible even if most individuals who accept these norms give them more than a cursory moment of refection. This is even harder as the establishment of the day intelligent and educated many of them pillars of their time act them as true.

    Counter cultures do emerge and may indeed be more logically/factually consistent but that does not mean that everything else they believe is also morally consistent.( I belive this also creates a bias)

    There are good grounds that the current pro-choice stance is fundamentally inconsistent –this is coming from a strong atheist- but because it has become socialized being heavily connected but not based on female rights any questioning of it is blown off as religious bias.

    But that is a whole different argument.

    Basically what I’m saying is I believe historically most people are under some sort of ethical bias & that it is the norm not the exception.

    Why should it be any different now?

    Very few are trained in critical thinking and there is no systematic training either from a anthropological or anti-cognitive bias foundation. (maybe throw in some game and drama theory)

    Bounded rationality is still on the fridges and while these fundamental cognitive biases are ignored humanity will continued labour under the delusion of rationality for some time yet.

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