News+and+politics religion philosophy the cynic librarian: July 2006

Monday, July 31, 2006

Neocon White House Rhetoric and Action Plan

There does indeed some backing up of rhetoric with action between the neocons and the White House. RawStory recently ran an article that said the Israeli invasion of Lebanon was okayed by Rumsfeld. Al-Jazeera also just ran a story saying that Cheney okayed an invasion several days before the invasion occurred. ...

First, for me at least, these stories, if proved, raise some disturbing questions. That is, the idea that the US is coordinating with another country to implement US foreign policy interests seems illegal. Are there any precedents for this?

Second, there's indisputable evidence in Neocon writings that they wish to invade Iran. James Risen's article in Rolling Stone reports that a plan with these same objectives was discussed and outlined in the Pentagon.

Third, Steve Clemons--a reporter with high-up contacts inside Israeli and US government--has speculated that the Israeli invasion was ana attempt to force the hand of the US to invade Iran.

Given these rather disparate facts, I think we begin to see that there's a coordinated action afoot by the Neocons/Bush admin. to carry out the long-term goal of invading Iran and perhaps Syria.

I'm open to corrections here. Perhaps this seems obvious--yet, if so, it needs to get out into the press. I believe that what we are seeing--as some pundits have noted--is a slow-motion repetition of the Iraq invasion.

All the groundwork is there: the religious right is primed with news stories about the Rapture. This has now become a common-place theme on CNN. Paula Zahn is pushing it nightly and Anderson Cooper is set to do a spot tonight.

With the religious right lined up behind "final war" scenarios, the Neocons have at least one part of their media strategy in place.

The stories about Iran and Syria backing Hisbullah is another part of this strategy. As numerous reports show, there is little hard evidence to these stories, beyond the fact that Iran provides financial and military assistance--but at levels far below those that would lead you to think that Iran wants war with Israel/US. Syria's backing for any such strategy is even less certain.

One point to note about the supposed Iranian support is that Iran's own propaganda machine carries very little on the Israeli invasion, as reported in several western news sources. There's little Iranian media support for Hisbullah's actions at the least and use of the invasion for generating some form of public support for action against Israel is non-existent.

Yet, the reigning media talk--its assumed background premises--is that Iran and Syria are indeed backing Hisbullah in nefariously clandestine ways.

One more theme that forms part of the Neocon media strategy is the attempt to paint everyone--family members, Arabs/Moslem--as Hisbullah supporters. This tactic goes so far as to make killing unarmed civilians in the vicinity of Hisbullah fair game. They have, after all, been exposed to the jihadist disease haven't they?

It's been former AF Colonel and Pentagon inhabitant Karen Kwiatkowski's contention all along that "the" US plan in Iraq all along has been to create chaos in the ME.

Let the wogs kill each other, I guess, and then the US can move in when they're all either dead or dying. William S. Burroughs had some choice takes on how the intelligence services promote anarchy and chaos to attain political objectives.

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Saturday, July 29, 2006

Al-Jazeera: Cheney Okayed Israeli Invasion

From what I understand, coordinating anything with any other nation by an American is treason. Or did I miss something in Civics class? But consider the source. How would al-Jazaeera know?

Still, the perception created by such stories has disastrous ramifications. ...

Via Siege of Lebanon

Al-Jazeera released a story entitled, "Israeli invasion of Lebanon planned by neocons in June (2006)."

The story reads: "It was done at a June 17 and 18 meeting at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) conference in Beaver Creek, Colorado at which former Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Likud Knesset member Natan Sharansky met with US Vice President Dick Cheney [the true president of this "administration".] The purpose was to discuss the planned and impending Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) invasions of Gaza, the West Bank and Lebanon. Cheney was thoroughly briefed and approved the coming assaults - before Hamas' capture of an IDF soldier on June 25 or Hezbollah's capturing of two others in an exchange first reported as occurring in Israel and now believed to have happened inside Lebanon after IDF forces illegally entered the country."
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Iranian Govt. Executes 16-Year-Old Girl for "Crimes Against Chastity"

Iranian Atefah Sahleeah was hanged for "crimes against chastity." A new documentary pieces together her story. ...

According to a report on the documentary:

Being stopped or arrested by the moral police is a fact of life for many Iranian teenagers.

Previously arrested for attending a party and being alone in a car with a boy, Atefah received her first sentence for "crimes against chastity" when she was just 13.

Although the exact nature of the crime is unknown, she spent a short time in prison and received 100 lashes.

When she returned to her home town, she told those close to her that lashes were not the only things she had to endure in prison. She described abuse by the moral police guards.

Soon after her release, Atefah became involved in an abusive relationship with a man three times her age.

Former revolutionary guard, 51-year-old Ali Darabi - a married man with children - raped her several times.

She kept the relationship a secret from both her family and the authorities.

Atefah was soon caught in a downward spiral of arrest and abuse.
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Friday, July 28, 2006

Blogging the Secular Revolution in Islam

One of my main theses concerning Islam and what will happen to it in the modern world is that secularization will level the more violent strains of Islam. This process will resemble what has occurred to Xtianity in the west.

While the leveling process leads to a form of nihilism, this nihilism might be the crucible through which the world must pass to gain a properly remade sense of self and its relationship to the world. ...

The sociological evidence for my thesis in regard to Islam has been based on idenitfying parallels between Xtianity and Islam and an assumption that the secularizing processes that have demythologized Xtianity will do the same to Islam.

Part of this leveling process is the creation of a Public. Following Kierkegaard's work on the Public--in combination with Habermas--I have vaguely perceived that Islam, in encountering the political and spiritual crises promulgated by western rationalization and consumerizing will eventually face the same types of social and cultural pheneomena as western societies.

Marc Lynch's blog, based on his new book about Aran media, presents data and conclusions that bear on some of my own conclusions--as hazy and ill-defined as they are.

Lynch focuses on the social and political dimensions of this new Islamic public. Contrary to western perception, he shows how politically diverse and critical many Arab media outlets are.

Perhaps more importantly--at least in a socio-cultural and ethical context--the effects of secularization can be seen in the following description. Describing popular culture and western-style consumerism, a reviewer quotes Lynch as saying:

"What really seems to be driving social change is reality TV and music videos," Lynch says..... "If Americans saw how sexy these music video clips by singers like Haifa Wehbi or Elissa get, they'd be shocked. These music videos and reality TV shows can be really sexually bold and show women in all kinds of strong roles.... They've become incredibly popular in the last few years. Those shows and videos offer all kinds of alternatives to the Islamist project and let young Arabs really engage with a more open pop culture."
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Pre-Armageddon High

While many are buzzing and tripping on the possibility of Armageddon and being raptured, it's perhaps for those of us about to be left behind to consider some realistic repercussions of the coming "war of all against all." ...

Pat Lang provides some historical persepctive on the those hell-bent on forcing Armageddon onto the rest of us:

Bush/Blair made it clear at their newsie today that we are engaged in a global struggle not to restore the "old-think" of the post Westphalia search for stability in the world, but rather to conquer the world for "good," for better and more worthy ideas. The acknowledgment was made that the enemy is also motivated by ideas but their ideas are "bad." At the end of the 30 Years War, a war fought largely over religious belief and allegiance, the treaty system that merged created the modern state system, and established the principle that stability in the principle of state sovereignty was needed to limit the scope and extent of future wars. ... Now we are committed to a new war of ideology which may soon become a war of all against all. Will it last more than 30 years this time?
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Know Thy Enemy=Love Thy Enemy or, Now They Tell Us

Phillip Carter is a practicing attorney who specializes in international law. He spent time as a soldier in Iraq until 2006. The ramifications of the following statement from Carter blow me away.

Carter tells us that the US military hasn't really known who or what they're fighting. That fact is stunning in its implications.

You mean young men and women have died on foreign sands in a so-called war that the military leaders don't even understand who or what they're fighting? As Carter shows, Sun Tzu said that one of the first laws of war is to know your enemy. ...

Carter writes:

Sun Tzu said many years ago that knowing your enemy was crucial for victory. Rosen's book tells more about the insurgency than nearly any intel dump I've gotten over here, and it should be required reading for all U.S. personnel in Iraq. Although it's true that some fighters (particularly those from outside Iraq) wage war out of pure nihilism, many inside Iraq fight us for clear, articulable, understandable reasons. We must develop an understanding of these men which goes beyond the depth offered by PowerPoint briefings in order to develop strategies and tactics for fighting them — or better yet, for disarming and enfranchising them.
Tell that to the denizens of the modern Hell that once used to be called Baghdad.

This passage should be branded on Cheney/Rumsfeld's asses and whatever other parts of their bodies it does not cover.

Who will pay for the sins of this ignorance? For, as most people know, ignorance is no excuse when it comes to the law, and dare one say when it comes to morality?

We are all guilty.

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Bush Cabal Running Scared from War Crimes Charges

One of the legal consequences for the Bush administration in the wake of the recent Supreme Court decision on Hamdan is that the decision posed the possibility that the Bush cabal could face charges of war crimes.

At the time, I raised this possibility. But the legal community was divided on the issue. Now we know that the Bush White House thinks that it might face war crimes charges for its treatment of detainees ....

The Washington Post reports:

An obscure law approved by a Republican-controlled Congress a decade ago has made the Bush administration nervous that officials and troops involved in handling detainee matters might be accused of committing war crimes, and prosecuted at some point in U.S. courts.

Senior officials have responded by drafting legislation that would grant U.S. personnel involved in the terrorism fight new protections against prosecution for past violations of the War Crimes Act of 1996. That law criminalizes violations of the Geneva Conventions governing conduct in war and threatens the death penalty if U.S.-held detainees die in custody from abusive treatment.

In light of a recent Supreme Court ruling that the international Conventions apply to the treatment of detainees in the terrorism fight, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales has spoken privately with Republican lawmakers about the need for such "protections," according to someone who heard his remarks last week.
On this issue JB at the Balkinization blog has some keen insights. S/he remarks:
Thus, the Administration is now moving in two related directions. On the one hand, it wants a "clarified" standard for what constitutes war crimes, which really means that it wants a standard far weaker than Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions. After all, it's hard to argue that "shocks the conscience" is a particularly bright-line test. At the same time, the Administration has made noises that it still regards the War Crimes Act as potentially unconstitutional when applied to persons acting under orders from the Commander-in-Chief. And all the while, the Administration has continued to insist that the most egregious forms of prisoner mistreatment or abuse were not authorized or ordered by anyone higher up in the Administration, but rather was solely the result of a few bad apples or rogue elements acting completely without authorization-- that the Administration has always treated detainees humanely, and therefore has always acted within the boundaries of Common Article 3.

So the Administration position, post-Hamdan, is that Congress should excuse Americans (and Administration officials) from liability for possible war crimes, either because the act is unnecessary-- since we have always acted humanely except for a few bad apples who didn't take orders from the Administration-- or because it is necessary-- since the Administration has in fact ordered people to violate Common Article 3. Finally, if Congress does nothing, the President will continue to take the position that the War Crimes Act may be unconstitutional as applied to him and to persons acting on his orders. (That unitary executive stuff comes in real handy!)

And what about those bad apples who were acting completely on their own? Well, there's the rub, you see. If any of them is ever prosecuted under the War Crimes Act, their most likely defense will be that they weren't really bad apples after all, but were actually following orders of the Administration-- the same Administration that insists that it has always treated its detainees humanely. And if a jury were to find that they believed this defense, it would be a bit-- shall we say-- embarrassing for the Administration. So to minimize the risk of any such embarrassments, the Administration would prefer that even the bad apples don't get prosecuted under the War Crimes statute.

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Blogs Amid the Fog of War

Just a few blogs you may not have yet heard of ...

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Thursday, July 27, 2006

Prisons of Our Making

Every time I read or hear about the large bases the US has built in Iraq and Afghanistan, I think of the Crusaders' castles (and here) in the Middle East. The crusaders spent a hundred years or so there, daring only to go out in force. ...

They were ostensibly prisoners inside these castles. ...

And they will call this victory. If you hear me laughing, it's only because the irony is so painful.
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The Apocalypse WILL Be Televised

I got my semi-monthly visit from the Jehovah's Witnesses yesterday. Traveling in twos, the women walked up the driveway smelling the rosemary growing by the back-door porch while I put a T-shirt on. It's been so hot and humid here that I sit out the bare-chested famine.

We stood in the hot sun partly through my design, partly through my embarrassment at the house's disarray. The design part reflects my desire--after I learn that they're here to proselytize--that they not stay too long. The embarrassment reflects many things, perhaps foremost my disregard for keeping a clean house.

I've always tried to welcome these messengers of the Apocalypse. I imagine that they receive enough incivility and brusqueness as it is int heir peregrinations around the county. Besides, I imagine that if they want to convince me that the world is ending, I might as well make them comfortable so that they can hear my skepticism out without thinking I do so from fear of their message or dislike for them as people. ...

As you'd expect at this time in the world’s upheaval, they were more focused than usual on the coming end-time. The Israeli invasion of Lebanon has stoked their fears and anxieties and fortified their belief that biblical prophecies are playing out in their own day and age. For those who believe and expect to be going to heaven soon, the Israeli invasion and the so-called "war on terror" in general is tacit proof that the final battles described in Holy Writ are about to come true.

The end-time has achieved mainstream status in the MSM. Numerous TV news media outlets run everything from "panels of experts" to hour-long segments on the subject. In many cases, these news shows focus on the religious Right's interpretation of the events. In much coverage, the iconography of the Apocalypse is combined with assertions by politicians like Newt Gingrich and John McCain that the fight against Islamic exremism is WWWIII.

I've discussed in several postings on this blog about American Dispensationalism and its connection to conservative evangelicals. I've also noted that there are apocalypticists (those who believe in a coming apocalypse) now governing the major state powers who glare each other down with a finger itching for the nuclear button. Iran's president, the US president, and the Israeli prime minister appear to subscribe to various versions of the end of the world. Bush believes in the Second Coming of Christ, Ahmedinajad believes in the coming of the Mahdi, and Ehud Olmert believes in the coming of the Messiah.

What has become known as the postmodern world should probably be now known as the pre-Millennial world. After the specters of communism and fascism fade into the maelstrom of history, the threat of world nuclear annihilation seemingly is jammed back like jack in the box, peoples and nations of the world seem strangely mesmerized by this looming world battle that will bring final peace and lasting justice.

On CNN, last day authors Jerry Jenkins, co-author of the gargantuan best seller Left Behind series (along with its multi-million dollar line of Left Behind accesssories) and less well-known auhtor Joel C. Rosenberg, wove their apocalyptic rohrshach, while CNN host Kyra Phillips seemed to smile in blissful accord.

From the CNN transcript, Jenkins and Rosenberg said:

ROSENBERG: Well, this is -- this is about -- this is the prophecy that says that God is going to cause the nations of the world -- the leaders of the nation almost get drunk with the dream of recapturing Jerusalem. Now, the Bible says that Jerusalem will come back under Jewish control in the last days. That'll be one of the indicators. Well, that's where we are today. But, what are we watching? Saddam Hussein or Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Hezbollah leader [Hassan] Nasrallah, they're all drunk with the dream of capturing Jerusalem. That's what [Rosenberg's] The Copper Scroll novel is about, which is this battle, this intense battle to liquidate the Jewish people and liberate Jerusalem. I mean, are we seeing that happen? It's hard not to say that we are. I mean, that's why I've gotten invited over to the CIA and the White House and Capitol Hill, because people -- it's not that they necessarily believe the prophecies, but they want to understand the prophecies in the Bible in light of what's going on right now.

PHILLIPS: Do you think they're taking what you're saying and incorporating it into foreign policy?

ROSENBERG: I wouldn't go that far. But I would say -- I would say that Bible prophecy is an intercept from the mind of God. It's actually fairly remarkable intelligence, and that's why my novels keep coming true, because mine are on this side of the Rapture, leading up to Jerry and Tim's books, but they suggest events that the Bible does lay out that will get us closer to those events. And, in fact, one by one in The Last Jihad, my book The Last Days, The Ezekiel Option, and now The Copper Scroll, have this feeling of coming true. I think that's why a million copies have sold. They're New York Times best-sellers, because they're based on Bible prophecy, and they are coming true bit by bit, day by day.
There are so many nuggets in this comment for snarky comments and snide asides in that I find I have to restrain myself from voicing them. But such sarcasm is misplaced and beside the point. Taking such an attitude--which I am not above exhibiting--misses the very serious implications of what's happening here.

I could quote ad nauseam the learned, sociologically based, studies of the apocalyptic genre and its origins in historical and social realities related to persecution of believers. From the biblical books of Daniel, the great eschatological prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel to apocalyptic works in what are called the Pseudepigripha (religious writings from Jews living from the end of accepted Jewish prophetic activity and the Gospels) to the canonical book called Revelation–all these works emanate from momentously catastrophic times when religious Jews and Christians faced personal and group extinction.

In some ways, resorting to scholarship trivializes these writings. I don’t disparage the great work–often done from a sincere desire to get closer to a more authentic faith experience–done by scholars. Yet, I have my suspicions that what gets looked at through the lens of the historical microscope often ends up pinned and mounted in a catalog of natural history’s oddities.

Having said this, my own interpretation of an apocalyptic text like Revelation would take a liberation theology interpretation, which is indeed informed by many of these historical critical studies. Yet, what I find uniquely authentic and important about the liberation theology understanding of a apocalyptic texts is that it helps to place the words and images into the present-day faith struggles with forces and powers that transcend any one human’s power of comprehension.

Revelation itself is a wonderfully rich symbolic representation of the faithful’s interpretation of historical events from the perspective of those trying to understand God’s will in the world of social, cultural, and historical facts. Using the symbols and themes of apocalyptic, early Christian believers who were not historians or anthropologists or sociologists attempted to make sense of the impending disasters that threatened them and their small communities.

Consider the following statement from Revelation:
Standing afar off for the fear of her torment, saying, Alas, alas, that great city Babylon, that mighty city! for in one hour is thy judgment come. And the merchants of the earth shall weep and mourn over her; for no man buyeth their merchandise any more: The merchandise of gold, and silver, and precious stones, and of pearls, and fine linen, and purple, and silk, and scarlet, and all thyine wood, and all manner vessels of ivory, and all manner vessels of most precious wood, and of brass, and iron, and marble, And cinnamon, and odours, and ointments, and frankincense, and wine, and oil, and fine flour, and wheat, and beasts, and sheep, and horses, and chariots, and slaves, and souls of men. And the fruits that thy soul lusted after are departed from thee, and all things which were dainty and goodly are departed from thee, and thou shalt find them no more at all. The merchants of these things, which were made rich by her, shall stand afar off for the fear of her torment, weeping and wailing, And saying, Alas, alas, that great city, that was clothed in fine linen, and purple, and scarlet, and decked with gold, and precious stones, and pearls! For in one hour so great riches is come to nought. And every shipmaster, and all the company in ships, and sailors, and as many as trade by sea, stood afar off, And cried when they saw the smoke of her burning, saying, What [city is] like unto this great city! And they cast dust on their heads, and cried, weeping and wailing, saying, Alas, alas, that great city, wherein were made rich all that had ships in the sea by reason of her costliness! for in one hour is she made desolate.
It does not seem to stretch the bounds of reason to say that this passage refers to a great trading capital. Symbolizing this great economic power as a whore–a licentious and wanton power that will do anything for money and financial gain–the early Christians documented their awareness that power and economic interests go hand in hand. Not only that, but this power- and money-hungry entity brings terrible suffering and desolation to the powerless and poor.

I am not conversant enough with Hal Lindsay or the Left behind authors to know how they interpret these verses in their mythology. From my own perspective, I think that the image of the Whore of Babylon could be applied to the United States as easily as it can ancient Rome or any other current politico-economic powerhouse.

Recent polls show that many Americans buy into this end-time scenario. The idea that the world is headed for flame and damnation fits into an ever-growing, deepening despair on the part of Americans. Unfulfilled with their consumer life-styles, a workplace unusually precarious for its insecurity, shadowy threats of terrorism by peoples half-way across the world... all these shades and mysterious movements bewilder a person who has no time to eviscerate the lies and deception perpetrated by their own government nor the equally fatuous and empty criticisms put up by the "loyal opposition."

As the media blitz continues, and Armageddon and its iconography begins to form an accepted backdrop for our lives--as we search the trees and rocks for tell-tale signs of the end-times--what will be lost in our understanding of world events as they apply to our lives is something more precious than innocence. This innocence that Americans pride themselves on, but which is an innocence that the writer Kierkegaard called demonic. For it is an innocence that denies the true nature of our ability to perpetrate and rationalize evil through violence and political intrigue.

It is this demonic innocence that gives birth to the pride that we Americans have in washing themselves clean of the past and making a fresh start. But no one can be born fresh from nothing–either through becoming a citizen of a nation or through the sacrifice of innocent lives. As Americans, we believe that we have shielded ourselves from the evils that beset the old world. By uprooting ourselves from that world, we think can now bring the experience born of the democratic experiment to cure those old ills and maladies.

We cannot uproot ourselves in the way many Americans believe you can. The past comes back to haunt us, whether we will or no. And this past goes back to the Eden now known as Iran and Iraq, that paradise left behind when I or you or any other decides to perpetrate the worst crime of all--making ourselves gods who believe that they can bring about their own beginning and end in wishful and demonically innocent daydreams.

When the ladies who witness to Jehovah walked away under the sun that omens a new kingdom to come, I think of the biblical passage that I could not find during our discussion about what it means to witness for Christ. Later, I find the passage, Matthew 25:31-46:
When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth [his] sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed [thee]? or thirsty, and gave [thee] drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took [thee] in? or naked, and clothed [thee]? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done [it] unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done [it] unto me. Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did [it] not to one of the least of these, ye did [it] not to me. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.
The world may indeed be in its last moments. Or not.

If so, I imagine that what judgements might take place will be measured by this criterion: what were you doing when the angels came?

Right now, at least, many of the religious in America are selling books wishing death and destruction on their enemies.

They fantasize about getting on the news so they can see themselves–as though that will legitimate their cause; as though their faith requires everyone to think, feel, and believe as they do. It is as though they think that having this message and these beliefs plastered on the TV screens somehow makes what they believe real.

That belief either says a lot about how much people reared on television and the news media believe that if it appears on TV then it must be real and true, or it is a pitiful commentary on how much despair lies at the heart of many of the religious right.

That is, if you require legitimacy from the multitude or demand that your beliefs become the status quo, then there’s more to you wishing your faith to be so than that it is so.

Update 1 The Rt. Rev. Riah H. Abu El-Assal, Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem, writes:
In her recent article, “The Insane Brutality of the State of Israel,” American, Kathleen Christison, a former CIA analyst says, “The state lashes out in a crazed effort, lacking any sense of proportion, to reassure itself of its strength.” She continues, “A society that can brush off as unimportant an army officer’s brutal murder of a thirteen year old girl on the claim that she threatened soldiers at a military post (one of nearly seven hundred Palestinian children murdered by Israelis since the Intifada began) is not a society with a conscience.” The “situation” as it has come to be called, has deteriorated into a war without boundaries or limitations. It is a war with deadly potential beyond the imaginations of most civilized people.
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The Islamophobic Myth?

Much is written in the neocon and religious Right blogosphere about a supposed threat from a monolithic Islamism. These statements by the neoconservatives and religious right sometimes differentiate between the extremists and more moderate Moslems. But more often than not they lump all Moslems into the extremist camp.

These statements usually take the form of saying that Islam itself is a religion of war and violent conversion. Numerous western scholars from Karen Armstrong to Houston Smith, as well as Islamic scholars like Fazlur Rahman and Tariq Ramadan, dispute this view. On the blogosphere, Juan Cole has conveniently posted several entries at his blog on statements in the Quran that belie the religion of war image of Islam portrayed by Islamophobes. ...

Most Islamophobic statements gloss over the major doctrinal differences between the main Islamic denominations, Shiite and Sunni. Without going into the extensive scholarship on this subject at this time, I would assert that the Islamophobes are either displaying their ignorance of Islam or intentionally prevaricating on these differences in order to promote their antipathy to Islam and its followers.

No doubt, many of these Islamophobes will point to recent statements in support of Shiite Hizbullah by the Sunni zealot al-Zawahiri. This is indeed an interesting statement, since it was only several weeks ago that bin-Laden called on Iraqi Sunnis to fight heretical Iraqi Shiites.

Early in July, bin-Laden issued an internet broadcast, which ABC News interpreted in the following way:

In the message, bin Laden warned Iraq's Shiite majority of retaliation over attacks on Sunni Arabs and that his group would fight the United States anywhere in the world.

It was his second Internet broadcast in two days and one of his strongest comments on sectarian divisions in Iraq.

"Unarmed people among Mesopotamia's Islam folk are being subjected to an annihilation campaign at the hands of the gangs of hatred and treason ... in the government of (Nuri) al-Maliki," he said.

Bin Laden, a Sunni Muslim from a school that sees Shiite Muslims as heretics, said the Sunni Arab minority in Iraq was being annihilated. [my emphasis]
On Zawahiri's statement Juan Cole, as usual, has some illuminating remarks:
Ayman al Zawahiri today made a change in both policies. He wants al Qaeda to pile on in Gaza and to defend Hizbullah in Lebanon.

The Sunni Arab regimes have been reluctant to press too hard for cease-fire because they see Hizbullah as an agent of Iran. This foot dragging has been unpopular among the public. Al Qaeda is now playing to that gallery.

As usual, Israel is radicalizing the Muslim world. The US, too, will suffer.
For his part, Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr wants to join in common cause with the Sunnis to fight the US and Israel.
Juan Cole reports, however, that Iraqi Shiite cleric al-Sadr:
In Iraq, young Shiite clerical nationalist Muqtada al-Sadr in an incendiary sermon in which he
' predicted Israel would collapse like New York's twin towers on Sept 11, 2001, if Sunnis and Shiites join in their fight. "I will continue defending my Shiite and Sunni brothers, and I tell them that if we unite, we will defeat Israel without the use of weapons," Sadr said during a speech in the southern city Iraqi city of Kufa.'
Statements like these will add grist to the Islamophobes's mill.

Yet, all Islamic extremist organizations are not even alike. As numerous note, Hizbullah and al-Qaeda have different objectives and tactics. Several days ago, I worte at Glenn Greenwald's blog, "As anyone who watched Anderson Cooper's piece on Hezbollah last night knows, Hezbollah--a Shiite Moslem faction--does not agree with al-Qaeda--a Sunni Moslem faction. Indeed, Hezbollah condemned the 911 attacks. In numerous public statements, its leader, Nasrallah, says that the US is not Hezbollah's enemy, Israel is."

Of course, the fact that these two traditional enemies appear to be rushing into each other's arms would have nothing to do with US aggression in Iraq or Israel's invasion of Lebanon, would it? But perhaps this only proves the Islamophobe's point; push Islam hard enough and it will show its true core, the core of a religion that is bent on world domination and conversion by the sword.

Cole notes that, "As usual, Israel is radicalizing the Muslim world." It's certainly true that there's much resentment and envy in the way that many Middle East Moslems see the western powers and Israel. Born from a century of colonialism and heavy-handed real politik by western nations in the region, the Muslim sensibilities are not hard to rub the wrong way.

My question is why, when the colonialist sore is still fresh in many Moslems' souls, does the US and Israel wish to rub it open over and over again? What good can come as the wound drains its venom over and over again into the hearts of young Moslems?

To change the metaphor, what end game is Israel and the US playing? While it's easy to smirk away recent statements by John McCain and Newt Gingrich--a statement that is being picked up and promoted in the MSM as something approaching a reality--that the US is now engaged in WWIII, the wound serves many purposes; not the least of which, for neoconservatives and their politician lackeys, is getting elected and holding on to the reins of power.

PS An interesting article on a group of scholars who studied bin-Laden's writings to understand his ideology produces the following tentative conclusions:
The rhetoric is reasoned and well informed, not irrational. In addition to Scripture, he draws from current events and even respected scholars and war theory to justify his belligerence. But the rhetoric is weak theologically, McGregor said.

“It does not have deep roots in the Quran or deep roots in Islamic law,” he said. “Yes, he quotes the Quran once in a while. But within the Islamic religion itself, this is very extreme. This is really on the edge.”
The part I have emphasized is indeed important. It shows that bin-Laden is not representative of traditional Islamic beliefs and doctrines. On the other hand, it does show that bin-Laden's message is unique and perhaps represents an evolution of Islamic thought that would make bin-Laden a kind of Martin Luther of Islam (as I argue elsewhere).

A more likely understanding of bin-Laden's significance, though, is that he's more likely an opportunist who has seen a way to exploit anti-colonialist animosities and resentments in order to promote his warped and Manichean vision of the world.

Update 1 Anderson Cooper's 360 was very good tonight in analyzing the differences between al-Qaeda and Hizbullah. As noted here, Zawahiri's statement might be one more example of al-Qaeda either trying to chisel in on Hizbullah's action or sending out feelers to see whether they'll team up with al-Qaeda. Depending on how desperate Hisbullah gets, I imagine, in its fight with Israel, the probability fo such a merger will rise or fall as its fortunes fall out from that fight. The solution here seems obvious: garner a cease fire and rein Hizbullah in by getting Israel to come to peace with its neighbors.

Update 2 Jim Lobe at quotes Marc Lynch on the Shiite-Sunni split and the attempts to mend the rift by extremists:
"The Sunni-Shi'ite divide is real, and it's not just being invented by the neo-cons, but if you look at mainstream public opinion, a lot of the Sunni-Shi'ite stuff that the neo-cons and the press are picking up on is the invention of the [Sunni-led] regimes, especially in the Gulf, where Sunni leaders really are afraid of Iran and their Shi'ite populations inconveniently happen to live on the oilfields," Lynch told Inter Press Service.

"For the Arab regimes, playing on Sunni-Shi'ite differences is really a divide-and-conquer [strategy] to prevent the rise of a unified movement against them. But the fact is you're now seeing even very Sunni movements like the Muslim Brotherhood rallying to Hezbollah as the fighter against Israel, while these corrupt, impotent, pro-American governments aren't doing a thing."

Update 3 In an important lecture on the differences between Shia and Sunni Islam, Islamic scholar Vali Nasr, author of The Shia Revival: How Conflicts Within Islam Will Shape The Future, says:
that this situation is also likely to fuel for a number of years the Salafi Jihadi problem. It was very, very interesting that bin Laden, whom everybody kept saying was not sectarian – his mother is supposedly Alawite from Syria, to whom he is very close – and has always shunned sectarianism and tried to focus on the U.S. as the main enemy, after Zarqawi's passing away, decided to pick up where Zarqawi left off by giving that statement that the Shiites are at fault in Iraq, and they are the collaborators and therefore ought to be resisted. It suggests that the militant Salafis see anti-Shiism as the other face of anti-Americanism and as a way to continue to recruit and radicalize the Islamic political discourse in the region.
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Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Humiliation, Eye Splinters, Disproportion and Death

One of the more embarrassing moments of my childhood was the time I was at YMCA camp. In a conversation with a black cabin mate I mentioned something about welfare. I do not remember my exact words, but I do remember how angry he got and that his anger was directed at the notion that he or his family had received some type of free ride to the camp, some hand out that his family had not earned. As we discussed this, I became aware of what pride means and how others can be shamed by pity.

I think about that today as I see the images of Israel destroying Lebanon's roads, airport, business district, villages and villagers. ...

In a report on Canadian radio last night, a Lebanese relief worker described how he and his fellow workers are coping with the destruction raining down on his countrymen. Within his report, he stated that supplies were being apportioned by local leaders on a type of patronage system. That is, he said that depending on the type of influence that the leader wished to maintain and deal out, the leader gave aid to those in need.

I was certainly struck by the disparity and injustice in this story. As I am sure that it would strike many Americans, the use of relief supplies to enhance one's power and prestige is blatantly wrong; in some circumstances, I'd even consider it evil, especially those situations where life and death were at issue.

Of course, Americans--myself included--are often quick to judge others about their practices, easily forgetting similar circumstances and situations that take place on US soil. I think of the way that much funding and repair money was spent and is being doled out in New Orleans in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina. Yes, it is easy to see the splinter in another's eye...

These things circle around a central impression I've been thinking about for a few days. Since my thoughts are filled with images of Lebanon Apocalypse, much that I imagine and feel relates to that event. What strikes me as pertinent to what has been termed Israel's disproportionate response to the capture of two of its soldiers by Hezbollah is this very idea of patronage.

Let me clarify. Many statements coming out of Israel and in the press reflect thinking that there is some form of communal punishment going on in the Israeli invasion. That is, Israel is hoping to spur Lebanese citizens to rise up against Hezbollah and kill or expel them because the Lebanese want the pain from Israeli bombs to stop.

I happen to agree with this interpretation of Israel's behavior. The aspect that I think needs to be added is that the punishment is meant not only to behaviorally elicit a response but also a plan to humiliate the Lebanese population. This humiliation comes in the form of destroying and laying waste all that the Lebanese have built and achieved since the Israelis left southern Lebanon.

This humiliation also involves patronage. That is, Israelis are driving home to the Lebanese where the true source of economic well-being and resources come from. If you take from Iran or Syria, the message goes, you will die. remember that much of the economic prosperity comes by way of the west, especially America. Destroying your country is our way of showing you that what we (and our friends) give we also can take away.

Take away unto death.

Update 1 Juan Cole quotes news reports:

' According to retired Israeli army Col. Gal Luft, the goal of the campaign is to "create a rift between the Lebanese population and Hezbollah supporters." The message to Lebanon's elite, he said, is this: "If you want your air conditioning to work and if you want to be able to fly to Paris for shopping, you must pull your head out of the sand and take action toward shutting down Hezbollah-land." ' [my emphasis]
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Willy Pete Up to Old Mischief

In the siege of Falluja in Iraq by US Marines, numerous accounts suggested that US forces used weapons containing phosphorous. Phosphorous against enemy troops and civilains is outlawed by international conventions. Although at first disputed by the Pentagon, the US finally admitted that it used weapons with these components but maintained that the way the weapons were constructed did not violate the international conventions.

The US soldiers called the weapon "Willy Pete." It was used in a tactic that these forces called "shake and bake." This tactic included first bombing deeply embedded enemy positions until they left their bunkers--the shake--and then lobbing the phosphorous weapons onto the bewildered enemy--the bake. ...

I have documnetd this use of these weapons elsewhere in this blog. The issue gained enough mainstream coverage that the Pope condmened their use. The Pope's concerns were no doubt in response to the fact that not only were enemy combatants targeted with these weapons but civilians too were afflicted exposed to and killed by these weapons.

Recent reports from Lebanon indicate that Israel may also be using these weapons. A video (via RawStory) depicts patients being treated by Lebanese doctors for what appear to be severe burns that resemble phosphorus bomb wounds. According to one report from Exapatica:

The Israeli military is using chemical weapons during its bombing of Lebanon, a Belgian-Lebanese professor claimed during a press conference in Brussels on Thursday.

The press conference was organised by the secretary of the Tripoli archbishop, Monsignor Jean Abboud. The Belgian professor of Lebanese origin, Bachir Cham, is the head of a hospital in Lebanon.

"The bodies don't look like they normally do. After an explosion there were no traces of blood loss or subcutaneous haemorrhages [bruises]," Cham said via mobile phone direct from Beirut.

"The hair and sometimes the beard and the moustache remained intact. I found no traces of the pressure wave by the explosion. The colour of the skin was black like a shoe, but the skin was not carbonised or burnt."

Eight mummy-like bodies were taken to the hospital on Monday and photos taken of the corpses. Two children's bodies showed no indication of wounds resulting from an explosion.

"I have the impression that a poisonous product penetrated the body via the skin. Death follows with almost 100 percent certainty," the professor said.

Update 1 Lebanon's President, Emile Lahoud, is now saying that Israel used phosphorous weapons (via Mojo Blog):
Lebanon's president accused Israel on Monday of using phosphorous bombs in its 13-day offensive and urged the United Nations to demand an immediate ceasefire.

"According to the Geneva Convention, when they use phosphorous bombs and laser bombs, is that allowed against civilians and children?" President Emile Lahoud asked on France's RFI radio.
Update 2 Defense Tech provides links and quotes on why these weapons are not phosphorus based.
Only one newspaper I found - South Africa's Star - correctly identified the one potential violation of the international law banning the use of incendiaries against noncombatants, rather than the more popular accusation that Israel was using "chemical weapons" in violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention (to which Israel isn't a party, anyway). Comment from the Israeli army? "We use only weapons and ammunition which will best hit our targets and cause least collateral damage," said army spokesman Captain Jacob Dallal. Yep. FAEs are very powerful conventional weapons, but they aren't toxic chemical weapons.
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Authoritarianism and Despair

John Dean's recent book, Conservatives Without Conscience, has evoked much debate among conservatives, as well as political commentators on both sides of the political spectrum. Although it has not yet gained wide discussion in the MSM, it has made the rounds of the blogosphere.

I have not yet read Dean's book so the following will not be a book review as much as it is the investigation of certain themes that I have addressed before in this blog, themes which seem associated with Dean's main thesis. This thesis, according to many discussions, is that those who call themselves neoconservatives and their Bushite followers are uniquely prone to authoritarian models--either as leaders or as followers. ...

Authoritarian is another one of those terms like fascism that is used in so many ways by so many different political interests that it's almost useless without giving it some more profile. I tried to do this in my tract on fascism, seeing it from my own personal experience with my father, a self-avowed Nazi.

In a similar way, the term authoritarian, as either a noun or an adjective, needs further context to provide it some pith and meat. Context does not only give emotional and intellectual depth to the term. Context also helps to see a way to counter the authoritarian personality and its associated evils.

A potential problem with writer's like Dean's work is that it might lead us to look at the authoritarian from the outside. While this is important because it helps to identify and perhaps locate what authoritarianism is and where it occurs--much as a scientist pinpoints a subatomic particle so that they can further analyze it--this is just a first step in a process that must work in a direction not known by scientists. This direction is from the outside in--in to one's personal life and motivations, not from the outside out--out to the world before some form of inner analysis and reflection.

That such a direction is required is apparent from the criteria identified by studies used in assessing authoritarian personalities themselves. That is, as Dean's own title indicates, it is conservatives without conscience that one must focus on. The context for the question of authoritarian personality involves a distinctly subjective state: conscience.

This is not as obvious as it seems. One tendency by those who interpret these scientific studies on authoritarianism is to forget the subjective factor and to ascribe to human beings an innate, "hard-wired" tendency to authoritarian expression. But if the focus is conscience, then that would seem to rule out any hard-wired, biologically determinative cause. That is, if we understand conscience as a subjective state that is not purely caused by environment or genetics or anything else. Further, it means that we are talking about something that humans respond to the commands of--if they are listening.

A concise formulation of the view that authoritarianism might be biologically determinative comes in the following commenter from an anonymous poster at Glenn Greenwald's review of Dean's book [misspellings have been corrected]:

But you know, this has got me to wondering if politics is at a very deep level determined by DNA.

We are hierarchal animals just like our chimp cousins. Across any given population maybe the genetic urge toward hierarchy is a continuum. Maybe democracy came about in part because the human population in those areas were less inclined to strict hierarchies and could live as loose clans.

Maybe in some ways the New World self selected for humans with less strong hierarchy genes as many came here to avoid the rigid class systems in Europe. The gene pool was being stacked with those who could deal with the free flow of democracy and its birth in the New World with the Revolution.

To me, republicans act like male chimps living under the thumb of a very dominate alpha male. It may not even bee a matter of having a super male, but their DNA pushing them toward absolute obedience to the hierarchy.
This means the following: What the studies on authoritarian personalities show is that people give up their moral decision-making to authority figures. That is what makes them dangerous. They would rather listen to someone with a white coat on and electrocute someone to death than make the decision to follow their own conscience.

One of the findings of the authoritarian studies is that those prone to exhibit this personality dysfunction express a desire for certainty and a reality beyond question. These factors create a certain anxiety, it's inferred, and the authoritarian alleviates that anxiety by putting their trust--and thereby their conscience--into the hands of a figure who asserts a world-view that radiates absolute truth and veracity.

Many have taken these inferences as indicating a lack of reason or rationality on the part of the authoritarian-prone personality. These conclusions are drawn from the supposed fact that authoritarians will not listen to/accept examples or facts that apparently contradict the views espoused by their leader or their own absolute understanding of the world.

Philosophically at least, these conclusions seem unwarranted, if only because they miss a very basic point about all world-views. That is, all world-views are provisional and open to debate--even the ones asserted as fact by scientists. Depending on tools and conceptual paradigms, the absoluteness of all assertions is simply untenable. Every assertion has its counter-assertion, every fact a counter-factual. Except perhaps at the level of natural phenomena which follow rigid laws of necessity, little in the world of human action could not be "otherwise than it it was or is," to paraphrase Aristotle's Rhetoric.

Be these comments as they may--and as controversial and open to discussion and perhaps discounting--the point about authoritarianism is that people who give up their moral decision-making to authoritarian thinking or leaders do so out of an immense sense of anxiety. I would go further and call it a deep sense of despair. They despair not only over their own material welfare but even more importantly over themselves. In a very real sense they despair over who and what they are.

In this despair over themselves, they therefore turn over their conscience to others and their messages who seem most like them and who set their minds at rest. Those who can alleviate the despair by various means--whether appealing to material comforts, patriotic sloganeering, scapegoating, warring against others who are different--it is these that those in despair follow and give up their consciences to.

As human animals we are all formed and shaped by our environments and genetics. There is no way around that. Yet, it also seems true of the human animal that it has capabilities other animals do not. These capabilities include language and thought. Along with these go reason and reflection, as well something that some call conscience.

Conscience itself seems to be an ability–rational, yet somehow above reason because its source appears above and beyond human rational–to discern when we are acting in a way that is wrong. It is wrong not because it goes against our material interests but because it betrays something more essential to who or what we acknowledge as being more ourselves than what our material affairs and interests add up to.

Having given up their moral decision-making powers, they are open to manipulation by authoritarian leaders who are eager to play into their fears and anxieties about who and what they are. Fear that group, destroy that nation, hate the world–all these endanger who and what I am. What the authoritarian personalities do, of course, is to give up their freedom to easy answers and deceptive certainties. They are unwilling to live with a despair so great and act in despite of it, that the allegiances they make and the prescriptions they write often result in not only self-deception but a greater deception perpetrated towards and against others.

Having said this much, it is important to recognize that few of the those who echo Dean’s observations on authoritarianism identify the true causes of the despair and its associated anxiety. These writers seem content on identifying the symptom, ascribing it to a psychologico-biological cause and then note its various political ramifications and exploitations. This is almost as bad saying it spontaneously generates itself.

You do not have to look too far to find a reasonable answer to one of the sources of authoritarian anxieties as described above. In his work on the modern workplace, Richard Sennett documents the precarious insecurities many people face in their jobs. Sennett shows that the precarious work conditions promote insecurities in situations where character-building frameworks are required. Character here refers to the emotional and intellectual make-up that is required for ethical decision-making.

By promoting a workplace that allows no true basis for character-building, the modern business also promotes a state of despair within its workforce. People working under these conditions are not only unsure of themselves, they are also uncertain about their families and their welfare. These conditions promote despair and uncertainty to such an extent that those who experience it search out any type of certainty that will allay their fears and suspicions.

Anything that fills the vacuum of their lives and defines the world for them in a rigidly concrete way. And the more rigid and circumscribed that world is in opposition to others only makes it easier to emotionally attach oneself to that vision of the world. Indeed, this comparing ourselves with others and defining ourselves against or with them is perhaps a constituent part of how we become selves in the first place.

Yet, there are some things to bear in mind with regard to those who despair in these ways, as opposed to those who would set themselves up as judges. I mean those who seem to think that they themselves are immune to despair. In a minimal sense, I would say, the authoritarian types are at least–however minimally--aware that there is something to despair over. Those who would set themselves up as judges, however, perhaps do not even reach this level of self-consciousness. Self-assured in their reverence of reason or science’s certainties, they refuse to acknowledge that even these cannot provide the type of conscience that is required for attaining a true self-awareness.

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Monday, July 24, 2006

Israel's Matrix Moment?

There's a scene in the movie The Matrix where the hero Neo notices a black cat walk across his path twice--same black cat, same gestures. Neo mentions this to his compatriots who immediately recognize it as an indication that the Agents sent to kill them have found their position.

I've noted in a previous posting my memory of former Israeli prime minister Menahem Begin appearing on television and reassuring the world that his country's invasion of Lebanon in the 1980s would only last a few weeks. 10 years later, Israel finally did pull out of Lebanon. ...

In the recent Israeli invasion of Lebanon, we have heard similar assertions that Israel only plans to "defang" Hezbollah and then retreat behind its borders once again.

The Jerusalem Post, however, is reporting that this might not be the full story. Quoting the northern commander of Israeli operations in Lebanon, the Post reports:

OC Northern Command Maj. Gen. Udi Adam acknowledged in a briefing at Northern Command headquarters in Safed on Sunday afternoon that the commander of the IDF's civil administration unit had already begun preparations toward the possibility of instituting a military administration in areas captured by the IDF over the last week.

According to Adam, "Certain units who will give us breathing space have been called up, including the commander of that unit." The unit's activation, however, would only take place following comprehensive consultations, he said.

Adam denied reports that there were plans to set up a large prison camp for captured Hizbullah fighters, saying the measure would not be needed.
That last part is significant because there have been reports to the effect that Israel is setting up massive internment camps for captured Hezbollah fighters and its sympathizers.

The Matrix moment here, of course, is a bit of wordplay. We are dealing with real-time, real events here. In this context, I might not have to resort to irony to interpret and understand Israel's actions. According to numerous historical documents, some Israeli leaders have often asserted the desire to expand the state of Israel to include much of what is now known as Lebanon.

For example, Israeli founding father, Benjamin Disraeli, is quoted as saying:
"[T]o the north, the Litani river, to the northeast, the Wadi 'Owja, twenty miles south of Damascus; the southern border will be mobile and pushed into Sinai at least up to Wadi al 'Arish; and to the east, the Syrian Desert, including the furthest edge of Transjordan." (Quoted, Nur Masalha, Expulsion of the Palestinians: The Concept of "Transfer" in Zionist Political Thought, 1882-1948, 1992, p 87).
Update 1 After expanding its invasion deeper into Lebanon and carrying out a daring black ops attack in the heart of Hisbullah's stronghold, there's little reason to think that Israel is in this for the short haul. The Guardian reports:
An international drive for a ceasefire in Lebanon halted yesterday amid sharp differences at the UN security council, Israel's rejection of any truce in the near future and a Hizbullah warning that it would oppose the deployment of a multinational security force.

Amid undiminished outrage after the Qana tragedy and complaints that the UN was doing nothing, Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, said she was convinced a sustainable ceasefire could be achieved at the security council this week.

But Israel signalled dissent hours after she left Jerusalem for Washington. Ehud Olmert, its prime minister, shrugged off international pressure: "The fighting continues. There is no ceasefire and there will not be any ceasefire in the coming days.

"We are not fighting against the Lebanese people. We are not fighting against its government. We are fighting terrorism and we will not stop the fight against them until we push them away from our borders."
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Saturday, July 22, 2006

I Will Die More Tragically Than You

The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them. ~ George Orwell

Noting that Israel had a right to defend itself, Bush said, "Sometimes it requires tragic situations to help bring clarity in the international community... And it is now clear for all to see that there are terrorist elements who want to destroy our democratic friends and allies, and the world must work to prevent them from doing so." --President Bush to reporters at the White House, July 18, 2006.
Others' deaths affect us in many ways. The death of a loved one is naturally more painful than the death of a stranger down the road, on the other side of town, in other countries. You might even use that old cliché of rings created by a rock thrown into a pool to envision this. The rings near where the rock hits the water are the ones we love most and affect us emotionally more than those farther away from the center. ...

There's something true in the idea that we love ourselves more than anything else in the world. I could be unconcerned and indifferent to the death of the world, but it seems absurd to think that I would not care about my own death. The same thoughts and feelings associate themselves with the deaths of those that are of my flesh and bone of my bone.

Yet, there are cases where even the bonds of family and affection break down. Some of the more harrowing stories from history describe circumstances in which famine, plague, war, and so on eat at these bonds like a dissolving acid. Growing up, I read about the Ik, an African tribe whose social and cultural framework had been decimated by colonialism and natural disasters. The Ik were committing social suicide, part of which included starving parents stealing the food from their own children.

The notion of how much an individual loves themselves is immortalized in those terrifying words spoken by the Accuser to God concerning Job:
And the Accuser [Hebrew shatan, which means accuser] answered the LORD, and said, Skin for skin, yea, all that a man hath will he give for his life. But put forth thine hand now, and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse thee to thy face.
Strike down a person's children, destroy their property and leave them destitute. But touch a person's very skin and they will turn and repudiate all they love and even the sacred itself.

The Accuser's bitter truth that all humans love themselves and their lives more than anything is played out over and over in numerous action movies and cop shows. Many of the plots of these stories involve the threat of violence to get at the guilt of a perpetrator. What does it say about our society that artists play out in innumerable permutations this very sad fact about human life?

The love of self seems inborn to human beings. If there's one thing you can say, it is that humans will always gauge their actions in accord with how others and the world fit into an individual's needs and goals. The Accuser's words are terrible because they show how deeply this self-love goes, even to the destruction of those closest to us as long as we ourselves escape whole and alive.

No doubt, it is something like this understanding of human self-love that informs the various reasonings for torture that the current war on terror has brought to light. Perhaps a more egregious form of rationalizing how much a human will give up facing death comes to light in comments made by Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz in reference to defining who or what a civilian is in war and how to determine whether some civilians' death are more tragic than others.

Dershowitz writes:
There is a vast difference — both moral and legal — between a 2-year-old who is killed by an enemy rocket and a 30-year-old civilian who has allowed his house to be used to store Katyusha rockets. Both are technically civilians, but the former is far more innocent than the latter. There is also a difference between a civilian who merely favors or even votes for a terrorist group and one who provides financial or other material support for terrorism.

Finally, there is a difference between civilians who are held hostage against their will by terrorists who use them as involuntary human shields, and civilians who voluntarily place themselves in harm's way in order to protect terrorists from enemy fire.

These differences and others are conflated within the increasingly meaningless word "civilian" — a word that carried great significance when uniformed armies fought other uniformed armies on battlefields far from civilian population centers. Today this same word equates the truly innocent with guilty accessories to terrorism.
Dershowitz places his comments in the context of recent accusations against Israel about a supposed disproportionate response to the extremist Islamic Hezbollah's capture of Israeli soldiers at the Lebanon-Israel border.

These accusations have come from many sectors--media, government, politics. For example, breaking with what is perceived as the US refusal to engage with Israel in cutting back its invasion's ferocity, British Foreign Office minister Kim Howells said:
"I very much hope that the Americans understand what's happening to Lebanon. The destruction of the infrastructure, the death of so many children and so many people. These have not been surgical strikes.

"And it's very, very difficult I think to understand the kind of military tactics that have been used.

"You know, if they're chasing Hezbollah, then go for Hezbollah. You don't go for the entire Lebanese nation."
Dershowitz's point, of course, makes much legal sense. In terms of legal analysis, his argument may in fact be the answer. As a matter of law it might even hold sway at one time or another in either domestic or international legal decisions.

One could note, however, that just because it is a matter of law does not make it moral or just. Laws have often made such distinctions as Dershowitz makes--laws that eventually were found immoral. South Africa, for example, passed laws that discriminated between different categories of humans and, depending on whether they were black, white, or colored, had distinctly different penalties applied for the same crime.

My counter-example is not analogous to Dershowtiz's but more analogous examples could be found. But these examples will not be found unless there is something more important discovered. The important factor that is missing from Dershowitz's ruminations brings me back to suffering Job.

What many tend to forget when they read or re-read Job is that it is not a book trying to "justify the ways of God to man." It is, rather, more about Job and how he reacts to his suffering. As I have noted, the assumption among many is essentially in agreement with the Accuser; that is, if you attack a person so it hurts and threatens their very existence they will give up everything and everyone, even to the extinction of their own humanity.

But Job does not do this. Instead, Job's suffering brings out in him a growing awareness not only of his suffering but the suffering of those others who are invisibly persecuted among us. Job, the rich, religiously righteous man, comes to see and identify with those whom he used to believe were suffering because they had somehow sinned against God. Yet Job--sinless Job--himself suffers. Seeing that it is not because the poor and dispossessed sinned but because of the injustice of others, Job realizes that he and they are indeed one.
Men move boundary stones;
they pasture flocks they have stolen.
They drive away the orphan's donkey
and take the widow's ox in pledge.
They thrust the needy from the path
and force all the poor of the land into hiding.
Like wild donkeys in the desert,
the poor go about their labor of foraging food;
the wasteland provides food for their children.
They gather fodder in the fields
and glean in the vineyards of the wicked.
Lacking clothes, they spend the night naked;
they have nothing to cover themselves in the cold.
They are drenched by mountain rains
and hug the rocks for lack of shelter.
The fatherless child is snatched from the breast;
the infant of the poor is seized for a debt.
Lacking clothes, they go about naked;
they carry the sheaves, but still go hungry.
They crush olives among the terraces*;
they tread the winepresses, yet suffer thirst.
The groans of the dying rise from the city,
and the souls of the wounded cry out for help.
But God charges no one with wrongdoing. {Job 2-12)
This change of consciousness, the realization that in his power he had blinded himself to the suffering of others is brought about in Job through his suffering. In realizing that suffering levels one to equality with all others--that in suffering we are one, Job can begin to understand a justice that transcends self-interest and self-love. He begins to see that only through maintaining an existence that does not separate from suffering but maintains the link to suffering can he begin to act justly.

Dershowitz's argument--though set in terms of legalistic spectacle--ultimately fails to appreciate the depth of suffering of others. In trying to characterize the sufferings of others, he attempts to carve out categories of suffering that will eventually denude people of their pain. Ultimately, these distinctions would begin to benefit those in power to justify the indiscriminate killings of innocents simply because they fall into categories that Dershowitz hopes to brand as less tragic than others.

The vision of Job, however, refuses to level suffering to categories. For Job, all sufferers suffer equally, no matter their circumstances. Whether they learn from that suffering is no matter for others to determine. Less so is it any person's part to pass judgment on the ultimate justice of their individual projects and enterprises. Acting in full justification for what we feel and believe is just, the final judgment on that is reserved for a much larger vision and horizon than a mere human or even collection of humans can ever hope to attain.

In The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, the author James Joyce's alter ego has a discussion about the use of the word tragedy used by newspapers to describe the deaths of people. Joyce makes the rather pedantic argument that though someone's being run over by a horse and carriage is regrettable, it is not tragic. That concept is related to specifically aesthetic categories used in drama and theater. The death of Oedipus is in no one comparable to the death of someone in everyday life.

Without subscribing to Joyce's pedantic brilliance, I think his comments apply to times when lawyers like Dershowitz rhetorically use the term to describe the deaths of civilians killed in war. The category of tragedy is not the right one to use n this context; the categories are justice and injustice. And to conflate the two categories merely shows the confusion that Mr. Dershowitz has in determining an appropriate way to think and act in the present world of "asymmetric warfare."

Update 1 According to Nicholas Blanford ( via War & Piece):
A UNIFIL officer said that the Israelis had told them they would not hinder cars travelling north on main roads. But the overwhelming evidence Sunday suggested that cars were being attacked regardless of their occupants and direction of travel.

"They have been hitting civilian cars all over the place," said Peter Bouckart of Human Rights Watch, who had just returned to Beirut from Tyre. "I have been in many war zones, but this is one of the most dangerous places I have seen.

Update 2 Lenin's Tomb writes:
But this is the lingua franca of the 'war on terror'. One is used to such guardhouse lawyering over the use of torture, over the destruction of marketplaces in Baghdad, over the use of death squads and so on and on. This is the cheap alchemy of capital, whose norms are ductile, glittering generalities, frequently to be melted down and refashioned. Capitalist morality valorises the ruling class's interests while endlessly condescending to, ridiculing, demonising and anathematising opposing interests - and capital pays a class of entertainers and scribes and polemicists and, yes, lawyers to obscure this, to persuade you that you have something to gain in this, that you have a vital stake in the arms industry, in keeping the fuel-deathlock economy running exactly as it is, in abandoning your right to a decent pension and paying instead for renewed nuclear weapons while working yourself to an early grave. Your are to be persuaded that British ruling class interests in the Middle East are 'our' interests. This class has a keen sense of audience: radio shock-jocks raise hysterical alarums about "the Muslim threat" (which is to do with im'grants n stuff), while liberal columnists expatiate about womens' rights, free speech (and "the Muslim threat" thereto).

In the war on terror, capital takes the leap of openly trying to redefine what is human and what is not, openly trying to resuscitate racist discourse. It resolves its crisis of profitability by slashing the wage bill and plundering resources, and binds you libidinally to this process by reminding you that your family will never be safe until we tame the Middle East with its cartoon collection of mad religious fanatics, Oriental dictators and rising brown tides. In this, Israel plays its part as it always has: from Iran to Nicaragua, from Afghanistan to the Maghreb, Israel is richly rewarded for being the global adjuvant to imperialist power, a role its founders sought for it since day one. By pounding Lebanon, it does what the US is temporarily restrained from doing, fighting a proxy war against Iran and Syria, two states in the Middle East not amenable to US bribery or sanctions. And the moral code for this rampage is: Never Makes Excuses for Terrorism; Israel Has a Right to Defend Itself; White Kids are More Human Than Brown Kids.
Update 3In Haaretz, Ze'ev Maoz writes:
There's practically a holy consensus right now that the war in the North is a just war and that morality is on our side. The bitter truth must be said: this holy consensus is based on short-range selective memory, an introverted worldview, and double standards.

This war is not a just war. Israel is using excessive force without distinguishing between civilian population and enemy, whose sole purpose is extortion. That is not to say that morality and justice are on Hezbollah?s side. Most certainly not. But the fact that Hezbollah ?started it? when it kidnapped soldiers from across an international border does not even begin to tilt the scales of justice toward our side.
It is now for someone on the Moslem side to admit something like this. Until all sides recognize their guilt, all the diplomacy in the world will not work.

Update 4 Via Mojo Blog, Prime Minister Fuad Siniora’s questions about the justice of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon:
"what future other than one of fear, frustration, financial ruin and fanaticism can stem from the rubble? ... Is the value of human life less in Lebanon than that of citizens elsewhere? Are we children of a lesser God? Is an Israeli teardrop worth more than a drop of Lebanese blood? ... Can the international community continue to stand by while such callous retribution by the state of Israel is inflicted upon us? ... Is this what is called legitimate self-defence?"
Update 5 (via Juan Cole) Mitch Prothero Wties at Salon:
Throughout this now 16-day-old war, Israeli planes high above civilian areas make decisions on what to bomb. They send huge bombs capable of killing things for hundreds of meters around those targets to destroy them, and then blame the inevitable civilian deaths -- the Lebanese government says 600 civilians have been killed so far -- on "terrorists" who callously use the civilian infrastructure for protection.

But this claim is almost always false. My own reporting and that of other journalists reveals that in fact Hezbollah fighters -- as opposed to the much more numerous Hezbollah political members, and the vastly more numerous Hezbollah sympathizers -- avoid civilians like the plague. Much smarter and better trained than the PLO and Hamas fighters, they know that if they mingle with civilians, they will sooner or later be betrayed by collaborators -- as so many Palestinian militants have been.

Update 5 Jerusalem Post reports:
The man who wrote the IDF code of ethics, Professor Asa Kasher, has indicated that in the current circumstances in southern Lebanon, provided the appropriate precautions are taken, it may be "morally justified" to obliterate areas with high concentrations of terrorists, even if civilian casualties result.

"I don't know what the truth is about the circumstances," Kasher stressed. "But assuming that we warned the civilians and gave them enough time to leave, and that the civilians who remained chose, themselves, not to leave, then there is no reason to jeopardize the lives of the troops," he told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.

Update 6 According to Mojo today:
See also the New York Times yesterday, in which Israel's Justice Minister, Haim Ramon, announced that "all those now in south Lebanon are terrorists who are in some way related to Hezbollah." "In some way related"? Hezbollah, of course, is more than a militia, and employs some 250,000 Lebanese in various capacities, including schools, grocery stores, and orphanages.
Update 7 CounterPunch reports:
A booklet published in 1973 by the Central Region Command of the Israeli army subscribes to this same doctrine. In it, the Command's Chief Chaplain writes:

"When our forces come across civilians during a war or in hot pursuit or in a raid, so long as there is no certainty that those civilians are incapable of harming our forces, then according to the Halakhah they may and even should be killed Under no circumstances should an Arab be trusted, even if he makes an impression of being civilized In war, when our forces storm the enemy, they are allowed and even enjoined by the Halakhah to kill even good civilians, that is, civilians who are ostensibly good. [7]
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