- (YellowTimes.org) - War between Islam and the nations
of the West? There have been a good many careless words printed and broadcast
in America touching on this simplistic idea. And an American president
who lacks the most superficial knowledge of the world or its history offers
no reassurance, as he lurches from one misstatement to another, that this
idea is not being incorporated into national policy.
- The concept of Islam as an intrinsically violent, anti-progressive
opponent in the modern world is both ignorant and dangerous. The new prominence
of this idea in America provides a good measure of the distorted information
that exists in our political environment. It's almost as though the bloody,
parochial views of Ariel Sharon on the nature of Palestinians had been
exalted to a world view, worthy of every statesman's consideration.
How easily we forget that the history of organized Christianity provides
almost certainly the bloodiest tale in all of human history.
The Crusades, that dark saga of Christianity written in blood and terror,
continued sporadically over hundreds of years. They served little other
purpose than gathering wealth through spoils and sacking cities and easing
the periodic domestic political difficulties of the papacy and major princes
We hear of the treatment of women under Islam in certain places, not remembering
that Christian women were left locked in iron chastity belts for years
while their husbands raped their way across the Near East. And the character
of Saladin, hard warrior that he was, shines nobly in history compared
to the moral shabbiness of Richard Lionheart.
Europe wove a remarkable tapestry of horrors in the name of Christianity
from the beginning of the modern era. There was the Holy Inquisition, the
Expulsion of the Jews from Spain, the Reformation, the Counter-Reformation,
the Thirty Years' War, the English Civil War, the St Bartholomew Massacre,
Cromwell's slaughter in Ireland, the enslavement and widespread extermination
of native peoples in the Americas, the Eighty Years' War in Holland, the
expulsion of the Huguenots from France, the pogroms, the burning of witches,
and numberless other horrific events right down to The Holocaust itself,
which was largely the work of people who considered themselves, as did
the slave drivers of America's South, to be Christians.
Over and above the conflicts motivated by religion, European and American
history, a history dominated by people calling themselves Christian, runs
with rivers, lakes, and whole seas of blood. Just a sampling includes the
Hundred Years' War, the War of the Spanish Succession, the Seven Years'
War, the slave trade, the French Revolution, the Vendée, the Napoleonic
Wars, the Trail of Tears, the Opium War, African slavery in the American
South, the American Civil War, the Franco-Prussian War, the massacre in
the Belgium Congo, the Crimean War, lynchings, the Mexican War, the Spanish-American
War, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, World War I, the Spanish Civil War,
and World War II.
How anyone with this heritage can describe Islam as notably bloodthirsty
plainly tells us that immense ignorance is at work here.
What limited knowledge I have of Islam is enough to know that there is
no history, despite bloody characters like Tamerlane, to overtop Europe's
excesses, and, in some cases, there has been generosity of spirit exceeding
that shown by Christians.
The Moorish kings of Spain tended to follow the same tolerant attitude
towards religion that the classical Romans had done. The Romans allowed
any religion to flourish, often officially adopting the gods of a conquered
people, so long as the religion represented no political threat to Rome's
People today point to a well-publicized excess like the Taliban's destruction
of ancient statues, apparently completely oblivious to the fact that the
religiously-insane Puritans, direct ancestors of America's Christian fundamentalists,
ran through the beautiful, ancient cathedrals of England after the Reformation,
smashing stained glass, desecrating ancient tombs, destroying priceless
manuscripts, and smashing sculptures.
- A remarkably tolerant society flourished under the Moors
in Spain for hundreds of years. Jews, Christians, and Muslims were tolerated,
and the talented served the state in many high capacities regardless of
religion. Learning advanced, trade flourished.
During the centuries of the Jewish Diaspora, the Arab people of the Holy
Land looked after the holy places and largely treated Jewish visitors with
hospitality and respect. There was none of the bitter hatred we see today.
All this changed at the birth of modern Israel and the expulsion of Palestinians
from places they had inhabited for centuries.
No reasonable, decent-minded person can deny that the manner of Israel's
rebirth did a great injustice to the Palestinians. And the great powers,
first Britain and then the United States, had entirely selfish motives
in seeing this done.
Under the original UN proposal for Israel, there were to be two roughly-equal
states carved out of Palestine, and the city of Jerusalem was to have an
international status. More than half a century later, what we have is an
Israel that covers three-quarters of Palestine and militarily occupies
Yet somehow, the burden of appropriate behavior, in a fuzzily-defined "peace
process" leading to some fuzzily-defined Palestinian state at some
undefined date, is always placed upon the Palestinians. They are supposed
to live patiently, exhibiting the peacefulness of model citizens in Dorothy's
Kansas, while under a humiliating occupation in order just to earn the
privilege of talking to Israel about the situation.
I often wonder how Americans, with their Second-Amendment rights and hundreds
of millions of guns, would behave under such circumstances. Would they
patiently wait decade after decade, watching "settlers" fresh
from other places build on what was their land? Watching bulldozers flatten
their orchards? Watching their people harassed and often demeaned at checkpoints
as they simply travel from one point to another near their homes? Not being
able to so much as build a road or a sewer without the almost impossible-to-get
permission of the occupying authorities? Being told that only their patient
behavior can earn them the right to talk with those who control their lives?
Looking at the situation in that hypothetical light may offer a better
appreciation for what the Palestinians have endured with considerable patience.
The simple fact is that it has been the clear policy of Israeli governments
over the last half century to avoid, at all costs, the creation of a Palestinian
state. Every effort at delay, every quibble over definitions, every tactical
shift that could possibly be made has been made, many times over, in an
effort to buy time, hoping that time alone will somehow make the problem
of the Palestinians go away.
This policy may have changed, ever-so-slightly, under Mr. Barak from one
of preventing the creation of a Palestinian state to one of preventing
the creation of a viable Palestinian state, but that is not the same thing
as "the great opportunity missed" that has been dramatized, over
and over again, in America's press. And even this slight change in policy
remains unacceptable to many conservatives in Israel.
And when the Palestinians, morally exhausted by endless waiting that yields
no change, resist the occupation they are under with the limited, desperate
means they possess, they are regarded as unstable lunatics who don't love
their children. A number of apologists for Israel's worst excesses have
repeated this theme, an extension of a remark attributed to the late Golda
Meir about peace coming "when the Palestinians learn to love their
children more than they hate us." The actual quote from Ms. Meir that
is most applicable here is one she made to the Sunday Times of June 15,
1969, "They [the Palestinians] did not exist."
We are repeatedly told that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle
East and it is defending itself against malevolent forces. This vaguely-defined
image of enlightenment versus darkness appeals to Americans. But democracy
has never been a guarantee of fairness or decency. It is only a means of
selecting a government.
Under any democracy, a bare majority of people with an ugly prejudice can
tyrannize over others almost in perpetuity. Indeed, this very experience
is a large part of the history of the United States, even with its much-vaunted
Bill of Rights. But Israel has no Bill of Rights, and what's more important
for actual day-to-day fairness and decency, the very will to act in a fair
manner appears to be absent. What else can one say where assassination,
torture, and improper arrest have been management tools of government for
Israel's politics are highly polarized, undoubtedly far worse than those
of the United States, and the balance of power needed to form any parliamentary
coalition is always in the hands of far-out religious parties. The interests
of these people are anything but informed by enlightenment values and democracy,
holding to views and ideas, as they do, that predate the existence of democracy
or human rights.
It is not an exaggeration to say that killing the Philistines or tearing
down the walls of Jericho are regarded as current events by a good many
of these fundamentalist party members. A number of their leaders have,
time and again, described Palestinians as "vermin."
The extreme conservatives receive many special privileges in Israel that
distort the entire political mechanism. For example, their rabbis decide
the rules governing who is accepted as a Jew or what are acceptable religious,
and religiously-approved social, practices. The students in the fundamentalist
religious schools traditionally have been exempt from the army. In effect,
they are exempt from the violent results of the very policies they advocate.
These parties generally believe in a greater Israel, that is, an Israel
that includes what little is left of Palestine, the West Bank and Gaza,
minus its current undesirable inhabitants. It has been the view of Israeli
government after Israeli government over the last half century to consider
Jordan as the Palestinian's proper home. Thus, when Israeli governments
talked of peace, it meant something entirely different than what Palestinians
And when, finally, an offer for a Palestinian state was made by Mr. Barak
at Camp David - an offer that, by all reports, was made quite angrily and
contemptuously to Mr. Arafat - under any honest, rational analysis, it
reduced to one for a giant holding facility for people not wanted in Israel.
How surprising that Mr. Arafat left in anger when after days of being subjected
to good-cop/bad-cop treatment by Mr. Clinton and Mr. Barak, this was the
end result. Surely, this was an immensely-frustrating disappointment to
the Palestinians after years of effort and compromise to achieve and implement
the Oslo Accords.
Mr. Bush's War on Terror, a mindless crusade against disagreeable Islamic
governments, has had the terrible effect of casting the bloody-minded Mr.
Sharon in the role of partner against the forces of terror and darkness.
He has received a new mantle of legitimacy for continued destruction and
delay, for continued injustice against those too powerless to effectively
As Israel's leaders well know, the Palestinian population is growing rapidly.
Rapid population growth is the general case for poor people throughout
the world. Israel's highly organized and costly efforts to support Jewish
immigration reflect awareness of this fact. But a combination of large
birth rates on one side and heavy immigration on the other is a certain
formula for disaster in the long term. The region's basic resources, especially
water, will sustain only a limited population.
- A large population, outsizing its resources, almost certainly
is the major underlying reason for the immense slaughters and numberless
coups and civil wars of Western Africa in recent years, a region whose
population growth has been high but whose usable resources are limited.
And the history of civilization tells us that vast changes and movements
of population have been far more decisive in human affairs than atomic
So it appears that not only in the short term, but over some much longer
time horizon, Israel and the Palestinians are on a deadly collision course.
There is hope. Modern societies have all experienced a phenomenon called
demographic transition. This term simply means that, faced with a reduced
death rate, people's normal response is a reduced birth rate, yielding
a net result of slow, or even negative, population growth. Couples prefer
to have only two or three children who are almost certain to survive instead
of six or more, at least half of whom die before growing up. This is the
reason why modern countries depend entirely on migration for growth, or
to avoid actual decline, in population.
Israel, populated largely by people from Europe and North America and being
a fairly prosperous society, follows the pattern of advanced nations. The
West Bank and Gaza, with some of the world's highest birth rates, do not.
Now, the only way to trigger demographic transition is through healthful
measures like adequate diet, good public sanitation, and basic health care,
especially measures for infant care. These things done, nature takes a
predictable path and people stop having large families.
But these are not measures that can be accomplished quickly, and the need
to get on with them should add some sense of urgency to ending the occupation
and helping the Palestinians achieve a state with some degree of prosperity.
By now, it should be clear that life in Israel for the foreseeable future
cannot be quite the same as life in Dorothy's Kansas no matter who leads
the government. No one has been more ruthless or bloody-minded than Mr.
Sharon, and he has only succeeded in making every problem worse.
Yet life in Israel similar to Dorothy's Kansas - that is, a life as though
you were not surrounded by people seething over injustice and occupation
and steeped in poverty - is a condition that Mr. Sharon insists on as a
precondition even for talking about peace. Somehow, Mr. Arafat, with a
wave of his hand, is to make all the violence disappear. This is not only
unrealistic, it is almost certainly dishonest.
Israel herself, in any of the places she has occupied, and despite having
one of the best equipped armies in the world, has never been able to do
that very thing. All those years in Lebanon, and the violence continued
at some level for the entire time. Indeed, a new enemy, Hizballah, rose
in response to Israel's activities. It is simply a fact that there has
always been some level of violence in any place occupied by Israel. How
is Mr. Arafat, with his limited resources and in the face of many desperate
factions, supposed to be able to accomplish what the Israeli army and secret
And were he to try running the kind of quasi-police state one assumes Israel
favors, with regular mass arrests of suspects, how long would he remain
Moreover, Mr. Sharon treats Mr. Arafat with utter contempt, dismissing
him as insignificant, and has destroyed many of the means and symbols of
his authority. How can a leader, treated as contemptible, exercise authority?
For all his faults, and he has a number of them, Mr. Arafat has demonstrated
through many compromises related to the Oslo Accords that he is a man who
sincerely desires peace and a constructive relationship with Israel.
Mr. Sharon's entire adult life has been dedicated to killing. I do believe
there is more blood on his hands than any terrorist you care to name. Mr.
Sharon first made a name for himself with the Qibya massacre in 1953, when
a force under his command blew up forty-five houses and killed sixty-nine
people, most of them women and children.
Nearly thirty years later, in 1982, he was still at it when Lebanese militia
forces under his control murdered and dumped into mass graves, using Israeli-supplied
bulldozers, between two and three-thousand civilians in the refugee camps
called Sabra and Shatila.
Mr. Sharon was responsible for the disastrous invasion of Lebanon which
saw hundreds of civilians killed by Israel's shelling of Beirut and precipitated
a bloody civil war in which thousands more died.
Mr. Sharon's policies of assassination and bombing have succeeded only
in multiplying the suicide bombings beyond anything in recent memory. It
is almost impossible to imagine this man as capable of making a meaningful
gesture towards peace. Yes, of course he wants peace, peace on his terms,
a cheap peace without giving anything, but by definition that is not peace
for the Palestinians.
We always hear about what is required of the Palestinians for peace, but
a genuine peace requires some extraordinary things on Israel's part.
- First, she must at some point accept a Palestinian state.
This condition is a necessary one, but it is far from sufficient, for she
must be prepared to generously assist this state towards achieving some
prosperity, reducing the causes of both run-away population growth and
the dreary hopelessness that causes people to strap bombs to their bodies.
Most difficult of all, it is hard to see how Israel can avoid some level
of violence during a period of Palestinian nation-building. This is something
no ordinary state would consciously embrace, but then Israel is no ordinary
state. The norms of Dorothy's Kansas simply do not apply. The hatreds generated
by a half century of aggressive policies are not going to just melt away,
but if there is enough genuine, demonstrated goodwill, it does seem likely
that such violence would be minimal. It is an unappetizing risk that almost
certainly needs to be taken, for no one is going to run a police state
on Israel's behalf in the West Bank.
Considering the immense difficulty of these things and political barriers
that exist against them in Israel, it does not seem likely that peace is
coming any time soon. The prospect seems rather for low-grade, perpetual
war, paralleling that Mr. Bush so relishes speaking of. For someone of
Mr. Sharon's turn of mind, this may be a wholly acceptable alternative.
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