Thursday, August 10, 2006

The Middle East

The Israel-Hezbollah war is raging in Lebanon, and the Middle East once again dominates our news. Here are some thoughts on this subject.

Displacement of Arabs and Formation Israel in 1948

Arabs simply call it the Nakba – the disaster or the cataclysm. In fact it is often made out – sometimes even by non-Arab non-Muslims – that the displacement of the Palestinians in 1948 and their continuing suffering is one of the world’s worst cases of human-inflicted suffering in modern history, the Arabs were/are innocent victims, the blame falls entirely on the Jews and on Western powers, and that it is reasonable for Arabs to seek some sort of revenge/redressal. But this is simply not justified. It is generally not known (or at least not well publicized) that while some 800,000 Arabs were driven out of the new State of Israel in 1948, there was a similar-sized exodus of of Jews from Arab lands (link). So it was truly an exchange of population – not just a one way forced migration of Arabs. Though Jewish refugees had something to look forward to – new opportunities and freedom from persecution in the new state of Israel, and many emigrated by choice, they suffered immensely in the early years (link), just as the Palestinian refugees did. The fact that Israel succeeded through ingenuity and hard work in creating a prosperous society that absorbed all Jewish refugees, while the Arabs failed to do so, surely cannot be held against Israel. Today the Jewish population in Arab lands has been reduced by more than 99% since 1948, while the Arab population of Israel has grown larger than its 1948 base, and currently makes up approximately 15% of Israel's population.

Any large scale exchange of population is a horrific event, and does involve much suffering, but the Arab-Jewish population exchange was not a unique event in history. A number of such population exchanges have happened in the last hundred years, such as the Turkish-Greek population exchange when the Ottoman Empire collapsed, the expulsion of Germans from Central and Eastern Europe at the end of World War II, etc. The largest population exchange in recent history occurred when, as demanded by the majority of its Muslim inhabitants, India was partitioned in 1947 to create Pakistan. More than 5 million people moved in either direction (link), and more than a million died in the accompanying violence – a much greater humanitarian catastrophe than the Arab-Jewish population exchange. My own family is from an area that became (East) Pakistan and Partition forced many of my relatives to abandon their ancestral homes and possessions and seek refuge in India. Much like the Arabs who were forced to leave their ancestral lands to make way for the Jewish State of Israel, Hindus and Sikhs were forced at the time of Partition to leave their ancestral lands to make way for the Islamic State of Pakistan. However, unlike Arabs in the Middle East, Hindus and Sikhs in India have, on the whole, reconciled themselves to Partition. They have moved on beyond 1947, and have been able to get on with their lives, without the history of Partition continually intruding into the present. While a certain amount of nostalgia still remains, Hindus and Sikhs do not harbor any hatred for Muslims even remotely resembling the visceral hatred that Arabs have for Jews. There are no calls among Hindus and Sikhs for suicide bombings, nor any for “wiping out Pakistan” – very different indeed from the Arab/Islamic reaction to Israel.

Continuing Israeli Human Rights Violations

It cannot be denied that Israel often deals harshly with Arab civilians. But this harshness is often in response to acts of terrorism. Had there not been the threat of terrorism, Israel would likely have treated the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip much better. In fact, it seems to me that Arab citizens of Israel – though unfortunately not treated on par with Jewish citizens – actually enjoy more individual rights and liberties than citizens of most Arab countries. It should also be noted that while Israel is heavily criticized for what it is doing in Lebanon, in Gaza, and in the West Bank, much more serious human rights violations by others are often completely neglected. While the suffering of Palestinians certainly deserves attention, other more serious human rights violations – such as the ongoing genocide in Darfur in which marauding Arab militias have already killed hundreds of thousands of black Africans – deserve more – or at least equal – attention at the United Nations, in the world’s media, etc. As New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof says, “I sympathize with their [Muslims’] horror at what is happening in Lebanon, but I wish they were just as outraged when Muslims slaughter Muslims in Darfur”.

Hatred for Israel among Muslims Worldwide

One aspect of the Middle East conflict that has always puzzled me somewhat is the widespread hatred towards Israel, and sometimes even non-Israeli Jews, that is demonstrated by Muslims throughout the world. Not only in the immediate neighborhood of the conflict, but a significant number of Muslims (though by no means all, or even a majority) in far-away India, Europe, U.S., Indonesia, etc. seem to harbor a visceral hatred for Israel. After all, Indian/Indonesian/Malaysian Muslims have no direct links to the Middle East. Why should an Indian or Malaysian Muslim, whose great great grandfather converted to Islam, and who is unlikely to ever encounter a Jew in his entire lifetime, passionately hate Jews and Israel? Is it simply a general concern for Muslim victims? Partially, perhaps. But that does not explain the widespread indifference towards other, much worse, atrocities involving Muslim victims, for example the current Darfur genocide where the victims are black African Muslims, or the Hama massacre where upto 25,000 Muslim Syrians were killed by their own govt. in Feb 1982, or the East Pakistan (Bangladesh) genocide in 1971 in which the Pakistan army slaughtered well over a million mostly Muslim (but also many Hindu) civilians in a period of 8 - 9 months. Even conflicts between Muslims and non-Muslims outside the Middle East, such as say the one in the Philippines, do not appear to generate any intense passion among fundamentalist Muslims. The extreme hatred towards Israel must have some other explanation. I suspect it has got something to do with a core belief of modern Islamic fundamentalism, the belief in Arabism – the glorification of everything Arabic – Arabic culture, Arabic dress, Arabic Architecture, Arab conquests, etc. As Nobel Prize winning author V.S. Naipaul says, the Islamic fundamentalism of today is the cruelest and “most uncompromising kind of imperialism,” because it strips converted peoples of their past, their sacred places, and their attachments to their native land. In the minds of fundamentalist Muslims – even those who are not Arab by ethnicity or nationality – Arabia is at the center of the universe, far more important than their own native lands. This kind of thinking is so widespread that Arabs and non-Arabs alike, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, often implicitly equate “Islamic” with “Arabic” even though something like two-thirds (or maybe even more) of the world’s Muslims are non-Arabic. Fundamentalist Muslims are unable to accept that a tiny Jewish state in the middle of the Arab world can easily defeat the combined might of its much larger neighbors with their supposedly superior Arab Islamic martial qualities. There is a widespread feeling of shame/impotence and consequent rage at the fact that Israel is far ahead of its Arab neighbors in almost all fields of modern human endeavor such as science and technology, agriculture, economic development, and most importanty, in the military arena. To a certain extent such feelings in Arab society may be explainable (by those who understand Arabs) in terms of ethnic/tribal pride and/or honor. But why should non-Arab Muslims – the vast majority – feel the same way? No similar sentiment was ever expressed by Buddhists in Thailand or Sri Lanka when Japan was defeated in WWII. After all, had religious affinity been the only criterion, then instead of dwelling on Arab failure in the modern world, non-Arab Muslims could just have easily have identified with – and tried to emulate – the economic success of Muslim-majority Malaysia, or the personal success of individual Muslims in India such as Dr. Abdul Kalam or Azim Premji, emphasizing modernity, education and rational thinking. But no, hatred for Israel seems take up a disproportionately large portion of the Muslim mindshare. Why? it seems to me that this is not because of any genuine concern over human rights violations, but because of the fact that the ascendancy of Israel smack in the middle of the Arab world against the wishes of its much larger Arab Islamic neighbors challenges a core belief of modern Muslim fundamentalism, a belief held not only by Arabs but many non-Arab Muslims as well – the belief in the superiority of Arabism.

The Current Israel-Lebanon Conflict

I couldn’t agree more with Tom Friedman’s latest column in the New York Times, so here’s a long quote. “Nobody [in Israel] wanted this war, and nobody was prepared for it. Look closely at pictures of Israeli soldiers from Lebanon. There is no enthusiasm in their faces, and certainly no triumphalism. Their expressions tell the whole story: I just don’t want to be doing this – another war with the Arabs. …They have so much more to do with their lives, and they live in a society that empowers and enables them to do it. Young Israelis dream of being inventors, and their role models are the Israeli innovators who made it to the Nasdaq. Hezbollah youth dream of being martyrs, and their role models are Islamic militants who made it to the Next World.”

13 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

the reason why most non arab muslims feel that way has to be attributed to the greater success of Isamo-fascism in selling the message of hatred across the muslim world. Indeed Islam has never really evolved an identity beyond what has come out of the Arabian desert..it has never developed 'strains/versions' of Islam beyond the shia/sunni split and whatever little did develop such as sufiism in Kashmir has been eaten away by the ogres preaching islamic hatred.
btw just to let you know since I have lived for years in Africa..christianity too has wiped out africanness and awareness of their culture from the people's collective imagination...it is only now that a local flavor of christianity is evolving in africa..that too after the wonderful culture of africa has been mainly wiped out by christies and islamic converters.

August 12, 2006 2:51 PM  
Blogger Siddhartha Shome said...

Hi Anonymous, thanks for your comment. As you point out, in the past Islam did develop strains/version with some consideration for local history/culture. Shiism has some connection to Persian culture - importance of Mashhad, Qom, etc. Various Sufi groups in India did take some local traditions into account, such as encouraging pilgrimage to Ajmer Sharif. Unfortunately and very worryingly, in modern times there is a strong tendency in Islam to completely reject local traditions and culture in favor of medieval Arabic culture. In the Indian Subcontinent this can be easily seen in reduced importance of Dargahs, Berelvis losing out to Deobandis/Wahabis in Pakistan, etc. Modern communication/transportation technology and Arab oil money seems to have played a part. We have the sad situation of Indian Muslims worrying more about "poor" Palestinian Arabs than about spreading desperately needed modern education and modern thinking in their own communities.

You are also right that some versions of Christianity has also sometimes trampled over local culture, for example Portuguese Catholics in Goa. However there have been other version of Christianity that have a strong local component, such as the various offshoots of the Orthodox Church in Kerala. Interestingly, the Portuguese persecuted the Kerala Christians as heretics, along with Hindus. Kerala churches conduct services in Malayalam, wear Indian dress such as saris at weddings, have their own local "Pope", and of course don't have to pray in the direction of any "Mecca". There have also been disputes where Kerala Christians have broken away from "higher" religious authority, and have taken pride in their Indian-ness and their autonomy. For example, this website has this quote "Being the spirited sons of a great country which fought against colonialism for years, the members of Indian Orthodox Church is also committed to fight against any attempt on its autonomy". Moreover as you point out, Christianity overall is generally moving in the direction of increased respect for local culture. Also see the interesting case of Catholic priest Tissa Balasuriya of Sri Lanka who claimed certain things that went against Christian doctrine (such as, Jesus is not the only way to salvation). He was initially excommunicated by the Pope, but the excommunication was lifted soon after, under public pressure. I think that in the current situation, Christian sects dominated by foreign missionaries trying to convert people do not respect local culture, but generations old well established Churches do respect local culture to a large extent.

August 13, 2006 3:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Siddhartha

You are right on most points about Muslims worldwide expending their energies on Zionist hatred rather than other things.

That said, your bias towards the Israelis' achievements seems far too stretched. Israel has been the biggest recipient of US aid since decades, and the sheer magnitude of this aid is enough to make any statement implying "Israel has progressed so much, while its neighbors havent" incorrect. It is like comparing the efficiency of a Special Economic Zone with a regular industrial area.

With reference to your last point, I find Thomas Friedman's worldview ludicrous. All through his writings, he has been single-mindedly pushing the Israeli cause. He whole-heartedly supported the Iraq war (for Israel's security) but complains bitterly when he sees the Bush administration botching it.

His description of the Israeli soldiers makes me laugh.Israel had much to gain from the war.

So that you dont misunderstand, let me reemphasize that I fully agree with you that the Arabs need to get out of their refugee mentality and move ahead like your and my ancestors did.

-Anonymous2

August 18, 2006 1:07 PM  
Blogger Siddhartha Shome said...

Hi Anonymous2, thanks for your comment. I’m glad that you agree on most of my points about Muslims worldwide expending their energies on Zionist hatred rather than other things. This was the main point I was trying to make in my post.

Regarding the other points you raised, here are some responses.
(1) It is true that Israel has received huge quantities of US aid (Egypt is not far behind). However it must be kept in mind that almost all of this has come AFTER the 1967 Six-Day War, especially after the Camp David Accord in 1978 (link). Even if we assume for arguments sake (though I don’t agree with it) that Israel’s success post 1967 has been solely due to US aid, Israel’s prior successes, right up to the spectacular victory in the Six Day War of 1967 cannot be attributed to US aid.
(2) At the time of the 1948 war Israel did not receive aid from any country whatsoever, and the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) were initially vastly outnumbered by opposing Arab forces. See Dominique Lapierre’s moving account in “A Thousand Suns” of how Golda Meir toured the US in 1948 going from city to city trying to convince American Jews to make personal donations to Israel, and Ehud Avriel’s efforts, primarily in Czechoslovakia, to procure weapons with that money.
(3) It is true that US Jews have contributed to Israel’s success, both individually and (after 1967) by influencing govt policy. But Israel must be credited with convincing its supporters that their money would be well spent. This is like convincing rich investors to invest in your venture. Arabs too have rich potential investors (from oil money), but this money has been frittered away in building jihadist madrassas worldwide, or bribing off discontented citizens, or just on Rolls Royces and French Riviera mansions. Lack of US aid just cannot be the entire explanation for Arab failure to build a successful society.
(4) Regarding Thomas Friedman, I do think that he is sometimes guilty of oversimplifying things and trying to explain the world in catchy phrases “the World is Flat”, “Was Iraq the way it was because Saddam was the way he was, or was Saddam the way he was because Iraq was the way it was”, etc. But isn’t that what a good columnist is supposed to be – someone who simplifies and conveys the essence complex issues in easy to understand observations in a few sentences meant for mass audiences? As a journalist/observer/columnist I think he is excellent. But you cannot expect the depth of understanding and detail that you would in an academic work (though “Beirut to Jerusalem” is pretty close). Regarding Iraq, I feel Friedman truly wanted democracy in Iraq, which he considered good for Iraqis. Long before the war he dismissed Bush’s WMD argument and called on the Bush Administration to work towards an international consensus. True he supported the war, but with the sole stated aim of democratizing Iraq. I have also found him to be justifiably sympathetic towards the Arabs on many occasions, such as his writing on the Sabra & Shatila Massacre (link).

August 19, 2006 12:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Siddhartha,

Its quite a coincidence that you should mention Dominique Lapierre and Friedman in the same breath.

When I want to illustrate to someone the power that emotional but not necessarily fair pensmanship carries, these are two of the authors on top of my list.

O'Jerusalem is a shining example of a biased worldview. Not once in the book has Lapierre expressed a shred of sympathy for the Palestinian position and instead reserves the choiciest derogatory terms to describe them. As a matter of fact, his book Freedom of Midnight is also slave to a bias - being heavily biased to the dominant (i.e., British-backed) idea of statehood. He nonchalantly dismisses the Hindu rashtra ideology and debunks Hindu ideologues as terrorists. Whatever your personal beliefs, you need to carry SOME amount of academic neutrality when you sit down to write down a non-fiction, dont you? Lapierre didnt write books, he published propoganda.

Friedman wanted war in Iraq because he wanted democracy there? Are you kidding me? If you really believe that, I guess I will step back at this point and throw in the towel as far as argument about that guy goes.

When I said US support, I didnt consider the hazy lines between Jewish American support and American government support. But yes, you are saying the Israelis are better advocates of their own cause and consequently better fund-raisers than the Arabs, and I agree.

-Anon2

August 19, 2006 5:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think there is a difference in how Pakistan was created and how Isrile was. There was a sort of agreement between the Hindus and the Muslims of India after much deliberation that Pakistan was inevitable. On the other hand Isrile was kind of forced upon the Arabs. Did that conplicate matters?

September 05, 2006 10:50 AM  
Blogger Siddhartha Shome said...

If you think that millions of hindus and sikhs happily “agreed” to forsake their ancestral villages and family properties and almost all their worldly possessions so that an Islamic State could be established in the subcontinent, you are sadly mistaken. And do you think that the hundreds of thousands who were killed during Partition cheerfully “agreed” to give up their lives for the sake of establishing Pakistan? Most of these people had lived in their villages and towns for countless generations and these were the only homes they knew. They were truly “sons and daughters of the soil”. The only reason they left was that they were forced to do so. This is not like expatriate workers agreeing to leave Dubai at the end of their employment contract. It is true that Nehru, Gandhi, Patel, Azad, etc. did agree to Partition, but that was because they were forced to do so. The Muslim population in India (especially those living in what is today U.P, M.P., Bihar) made it amply clear that Jinnah and the Muslim League enjoyed their overwhelming support, and it was clear that the cost of reaching an accommodation with the Muslim League was unacceptable (the Muslim League’s 2 core demands were (i) exclusive representation of Muslims by the League, and (ii) parity in power at the center between 2 groups, a Muslim group chosen by the League and a non-Muslim group). With the military and the police still controlled by the British, Congress leaders had little choice but to agree to Partition. Their agreement to Partition was largely forced upon them by the demands made by the Muslim community and its representatives.

September 05, 2006 10:49 PM  
Anonymous Dana said...

Peace be upon you all..

I wish to start by saying that I am young. I am only 20 but I hope you don't mind me expressing my opinion.
I do not blame people like yourself for seeing Islam as evil. Unfortunately I am not ashamed to admit that the Muslims nowadays have made that impression. Unfortunately many Muslims have not been heard. I live in Kuwait and looking around me I always hear how people are complaining about how today's Muslims are keeping quiet and not correcting false assumptions like what I have just read. So many Muslims have lost their way. Although committed to our beautiful Islam, they have been misguided by those who have failed to see Islam for what it truly is. Our source is the Quran. If you read it and understand it you will see that originally (and how it's supposed to be) there is no hate, and nowhere will you find a verse that encourages one to HATE. Islam is based on the Quran (god's words) and they are what we should be following. So when the Quran CLEARLY states: 109:6 "To you is your system, and to me is mine", and "To you is your religion, and to me is my religion", also it says "“There is no compulsion in religion.”", you know that people who are evil and commit evil doings clearly aren't following Islam the way we are supposed to. This is what it says. Clear as day.
Muslims all believe that due to time and as the days go by, people will be mislead and although they don't think it, they will get lost and problems, misunderstandings and conflicts will appear among Muslims themselves .One thing is definite and one thing is literally impossible to change. That is the Quran. Many people discussing Islam have chosen sources. Unfortunately they haven't reffered to the Quran its self. The answers will be there.

So, all I ask and all I sujest is that when people would like to discuss such a serious case like this they should turn to the main sorce, and possibly the only sorce that is 100% guaranteed to be correct. (According to the person you are arguing). I challenge anyone, that after reading the Quran, studying the Quran and understanding it, from the beginning to the end, that you will see how beautiful, loving, warm and perfect the Quran, Allah and Islam truly is. Yes I am 20 and you may feel that I have little knowledge and experience. However I have been lucky enough to be born into the world of Islam. This is also a reason why I do not hate non Muslims (like all Muslims should feel). As a matter of fact I ENVY you. God has given you all the chance to see for yourself. Find it in your own time. The best of Muslims are those who have converted, later on in their life. They have seen both sides. They have been given the chance to compare and find out for them selves which gives them a great feeling of contentment. Therefore, their feeling toward Islam is possibly much stronger. You all are very lucky.

People who read this, god has given you eyes to look and a brain to find and discover the answers you have always been looking for.

One question I have for Muslim haters. How can you hate something that you don’t truly understand? Can you honestly say that you understand Islam and all what it is about? Try to, the right way. Then discuss.
The first word that came down on the Prophet Mohammed was "read".
Read the Quran. Satisfaction is guaranteed.

I would like to apologize for any mistakes I have made in grammar etc.. I am merely a student with a Kuwaiti nationality. Thank you and I appreciate the respect you have given me for simply having too much passion to remain silent.

I love and pray for us all.

Dana Alfaraj

January 03, 2008 4:38 PM  
Blogger Siddhartha Shome said...

Hi Dana,

Thank you very much for leaving a comment on my blog. You have enriched my blog by leaving a comment here. I very much welcome your views and I'm glad that you have expressed your opinion here.

I am not questioning your opinion that the Quran advocates peace and tolerance. I am glad that this is your opinion.

To tell the truth, it is really not important to me what the Quran says or does not say. What matters to me is what Muslims think the Quran says. From what I can see, not all Muslims think, like you do, that the Quran advocates peace and tolerance towards people of all religions. Some Muslims claim that the Quran says exactly the opposite, and, like you, they also quote certain lines from the Quran to back up their claims. For example, some Muslims say that according to the Quran, idol-worshiping is bad, and idol-worshipers (i.e., Hindus, Buddhists, etc.) are evil. Some of the people who make such statements even claim to have studied the Quran for many years, and claim to be experts on the Quran. Unfortunately, these Muslims, who believe that the Quran directs them to be intolerant towards non_muslims are not just a negligible fringe minority. Substantial numbers of Muslims do share this intolerant interpretation of the Quran. For example, even the government of Saudi Arabia, which claims to be rigorously following the Quran, practices savage intolerance towards non-Muslims (see, for example this).

Again, it really does not matter to me what is actually written in the Quran. What matters to me is what those who believe that the Quran is the word of God (i.e., Muslims) think is written in the Quran. For me, it is Muslim's interpretation of the Quran than is important, not its actual contents. I am very glad that you believe that Quran preaches peace and tolerance towards all religions. I am sure that many, many Muslims agree with you. However, it is unfortunately also true that there is a large and influential number of Muslims do not.

I certainly do not see Islam as evil. To me, no religion can be either good or evil. Only people can be good or evil. So a Muslim can be good or a Muslim can be evil, but Islam itself can be neither good nor evil. I do think that those Muslims who preach hatred towards non-Muslims are evil (as are non-Muslims who preach hatred).

I am a secular person by nature. I believe that all human beings should be treated equally, with honor and respect, simply because it is the logical and civilized thing to do. It really doesn't really matter what the Quran, or the Bible, or the Gita, or any other holy book has to say in this regard. I base my ethics and morality on the secular values of the Enlightenment, rather than on any religious text. As the American Declaration of Independence puts it, it is a "self-evident truth" that all men (and women) are "created equal". This truth, being "self-evident", does not require validation by any religious text.

With warm regards,

Sid

January 05, 2008 12:37 PM  
Blogger Whossane? said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

February 17, 2008 9:12 PM  
Blogger Whossane? said...

It is almost eerie how you speak MY mind Sid. More power to you!

February 17, 2008 9:13 PM  
Anonymous Danny said...

Hi Sid,



Excellent analysis!



Few comments:

1. Muslims have a rich history as great warriors. They invented many military tactics and strategies. They conquered significant parts of Africa and spread throughout Asia. Today they cleverly and efficiently take advantage of the European immigration laws and spread there too, while not integrating into the local society. 10% of Paris' population and 15% of Oslo's is Muslim. On the other hand Jews were the philosophers, the scientists, the poets, the merchants, and the bankers in history. Compare the number of Nobel prizes given to Muslims vs. the number given to Jews (http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1456395/posts). The problem here is that Israel has taken away the only advantage Muslims had over Jews - military power. This is an insult to Muslim pride.

2. Conflict of values. Jews highest value is life. Muslim's highest values are honor and land. You will find frequent cases where family members (the father or the brothers) kill a daughter that had sexual relationship before marriage and brought disgrace on the family honor. If Israel was hit by an Iranian nuclear weapon and the land would be covered by toxic nuclear fallout, you would not find many Jews after few days there. The Israeli Muslims on the other hand would stick to their land and suffer few generations of disease and deformed babies. Most of the Israeli Jewish society is secular while most Muslims are religious and the percentage is growing with the recent fundamentalism trend. Muslims are patient and long range planners. They will plant an orchard that their kids are going to pick up the fruits. They build their houses with optional extensions for the next generation. Jews want quick results (probably inherited from the western civilization). They look for relatively short time investments. The want to see results in their own lifetime. The main investment in the next generation is education. One comment - Muslims like to point out that their law of stoning adulterers is taken from an ancient Jewish law (2000 years ago). This is true, however they neglect to mention that actual executions were extremely seldom (less than one in a decade). The courts were afraid to make a mistake, so the slightest uncertainty would lead to acquittal.

3. The western world, including many Jews, have higher expectations from the Israelis than from the Arabs. Therefore they are more critical of the Israeli government behavior and policy (or lack of it) than of its Arab counterpart. They believe that any atrocities committed by Muslims are not a basis for comparison to Israeli wrong doing. The world, including many Jews tend to forget that self-preservation should come before humanitarian behavior. Most criticizing nations would react much more harshly to put their own citizens out of harm's way.



Regards,

Danny

June 17, 2009 8:19 AM  
Blogger Siddhartha Shome said...

Thanks Danny. Very interesting comments.

Your comments about the importance of honor in Muslim Arab society is very true. Do you think there is any possibility that somehow Arabs can satisfy their honor in some way (short of dumping the Jews into the sea)? Then maybe they will be ready for peace with Israel. Consider what happened with Egypt. After the 1967 war Egypt could not sign a peace treaty because it was seen as dishonorable. However in the Yom Kippur War Egypt could claim some honor because of their initial victories over Israel in the first couple of days when the Egyptian army crossed the Suez Canal. Even though in they end they suffered defeat, their initial victories were enough to claim some kind of honor. So they were able to sign a peace treaty after that. Without the initial Egyptian victories in the Yom Kippur War, the Camp David Accord would not have been possibe.

I wonder if Arab honor can somehow be satisfied in some peaceful way. Suppose a Palestinian soccer team were to defeat Israel in an important international match, that could satisfy their honor, and maybe help in reaching a peace deal. Of course something like this is not possible now because Palestinian society is so completely dysfunctional.

But there is another major problem in Arabs reaching a peace deal with Israel. Even though Arabs claim that Israel is their main enemy, in their minds they actually think of some other Arab entities (maybe individual, maybe state) as their real competitors. Their real aim is to succeed in competition with their real Arab competitors, not Israel. They criticize Israel and are unwilling to compromise because they want to appear more macho in the eyes of their Arab enemies. They are afraid that if they appear less macho then their Arab competitors will take advantage of them and defeat them. See for example Benny Morris' account of the 1948 war. He says that while all the Arabs claimed that Israel was the enemy, they were actually more wary about other Arabs, e.g., Egypt wanted to make sure that Jordan does not capture too much land and become too powerful in the Arab world.

Anyway the bottom line is that Israel is in a very bad situation. Unfortunately it looks like there is no possibility of any solution in the foreseeable future.

June 17, 2009 3:40 PM  

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