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Thursday, October 30, 2014

Arab Violence and Palestinian Identity

On the 22nd of October 2014 an East Jerusalem Arab drove his car into a group of people waiting for the Jerusalem light rail service. Two people, a baby and a new immigrant subsequently died as a result of this act of terror. It happened as violence has all but prevented the service from connecting the two halves of the city, effectively re-dividing Jerusalem for the first time since 1967.  At the same time, riots on the Temple Mount put a stop to visits by Jews or anyone else interested in visiting Judaism’s holiest site.

One of Judaism’s greatest innovations was for worship to become an intellectual exercise and not an act that was dependent on geography, physical artifact or structure.  Nevertheless, power has always demanded of its rulers an imposing physical space as demonstration of their commanding presence.  It is as if we are unable to emotionally detach ourselves completely from the Golden Calf.  And this applies to most of the world’s faiths today and all of them, at some time in their history. If we recognize this condition as a statement of a human need for physical reassurance then we can also understand both the war waged against us and part of the response that is required from us.

Throughout Israel a conflict over identity is being fought. As distance between Israel’s founding fathers (and mothers) widens, Arabs born in Israel are becoming more Israeli and less Arab. This is a good thing because successful integration in any society is based on a shared identity which may take a single generation to achieve or even two or three generations if there is opposition to this integration.  

An ethnic identity is the only thing that keeps Israel’s Arab citizens ‘Palestinian,’ and even that is a lie because Arab identity is postulated on a trans-national ‘universalist’ ethnic indivisibility.

A national identity is tribal and to the fundamentalist Muslim, un-Islamic. In the mythology of the Arab founding narrative Muhammad chose the Arabs for his religious revelation and not the ethnic inhabitants of one geographically limited area.  It may be resented by non-Arab Muslims but it is impossible to deny the influence it has had over Near-Eastern politics and ethnic insecurity.

It explains the ethnic bigotry of some of Israel’s Arab members of parliament. It explains the reason why Arabs who renounce this racist faux-legal construct of third generation Israeli-Palestinian identity are violently opposed by professional Palestinian agitators and anti-Zionists. The recent case of a teenager forced to flee for his life from his kith and kin occurred solely because of his public announcement that he was an Israeli Muslim.  The viciousness of the Arab reaction is indicative of the threat felt by racists who fear for the fight over what constitutes a legitimate identity. They fear that this fight may be taken into their home territory.

That ‘brave’ 17 year-old teenage boy (as referred to immediately above) is a relative of the anti-Zionist MK (Member of Knesset) Hanin Zoabi. What is remarkable is that she appears to have committed an act of criminal incitement when she justified the kidnapping of three Israeli seminarians who were almost immediately thereafter murdered.   Her public denunciation of her young relative was on first reflection mild compared to her public justification for kidnapping. She derided him as “from a divorced family. His mother now lives in Nazareth Illit, where he studies at a Jewish school. He's sleazy. He's distorted his identity."

That Hanin Zoabi MK does not now languish in prison is a display of monumental cowardice by Israel’s parliamentary and judicial leadership.  This case clearly demonstrates the fascism that is intrinsic to the Palestinian cause. So the question is - how do we fight this war?

If according to the current narrative a Jew cannot be a Palestinian, then conversely, a Palestinian identity is invalidated by adoption of a Jewish or Israeli identity.

Many years ago Yasser Arafat famously dismissed the suggestion that a Jewish missionary effort might help to resolve the conflict between the two sides by threatening to flood Israel with millions of Palestinians who would ‘convert’ to Judaism in order to take advantage of Israel’s Law of Return.  He was bluffing of course. Proselytes away from Islam are tortured and then murdered in the Arab world. Again it is viewed as an act of ethnic betrayal.   Identity politics is the Arab way to bully the rest of us into adopting a defensive position. In our post-modern Western world we reject specific national identities as countering a harmonious inter-ethnic existence.  But we permit it to our minorities if they are vocal enough and violent enough in their opposition to us.

The issue of resolving Palestine – Israel is therefore also hampered by ultra-orthodox control over religious identity.   Mass conversion would be impossible to contemplate and would take centuries to actuate.

Just as Christians, Muslims and Druze are able to settle almost anywhere in Israel, the reverse must similarly apply.  It is mainly Arab apartheid that actively prevents Jews settling amongst Arabs.   Jewish missionary activity would break down this brick wall of opposition to Arab integration in Israel and it would help to marginalize Israel’s racist opponents both in Israel and in the West by exposing the real nature of their opposition to Jewish self-determination.   The media must be encouraged to openly debate this Arab particularistic opposition and yes, it would expose Jewish insecurities about their own religious identity as well as the issues that ultra-orthodox authority have created within Israeli society (as well as internationally).  Removing religious coercion would focus religious competition – identity has always been a competition for “souls.”

How to respond to the inevitable riots against integration? Counter them by building thousands of housing units for demobilized soldiers in every town that threatens violence.

Within Israel, the twin actions of encouraging an Israeli identity amongst Arabs and prosecuting those people who threaten this freedom to choose their identity would force everyone to consider their racist positions and to reconcile those positions within a democratic and Western orientated Jewish State.  It would lower the heat in Israel’s parliament because passionate positions on intra-Israeli identity are not based on inclusion and as such discourage equality and kinship within society.

And last, it would go some way towards resolving the Palestine-Israel conflict because without a Palestinian base “in-country” there would be no support in Israel, by Arabs, for a Palestinian “Return.”  Supporters of the Palestinian Right of Return in Europe and the Americas could only then reconcile their support through antisemitic argument that would be obvious to everyone.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

ISIL. Conquest and Root Causes

This is the Final part of a 3 part series.

ISIL or IS (the Islamic State as they prefer to be known) are no more than or less than another, in a long line of Islamist revolutionary movements. Their theatrical acts of torture and their public murders have solid roots in ‘revolutionary’ warfare. Extremists will willingly point to the Prophets own actions to justify their behavior. Muhammad publicly beheaded between 300 and 900 male opponents from the Jewish tribe of Qurayza and then gave his victims wives and children to his loyal followers, (in payment for services rendered).

Terror always works to intimidate weaker tribes but if ISIL are bombed out of Syria they will melt away into Iraq and Lebanon, and if permitted, into Turkey.

As a nation, Turkey has thus far successfully integrated a fundamentalist ideology into its main political infrastructure in direct contradiction to the secularist ‘Kemalism’ of the modern Turkish state.  So Turkey must be careful how it relates to the Islamic State (ISIL).  Turkey is a member state of NATO with a significant South Eastern border that it shares with both Syria and Iraq. It does not want to embroil NATO in what many people in the Muslim world view as an internal Muslim religious conflict nor does it want to be seen to be a participant in the killing of fellow Sunnis.

Kobani is much in the news at this time as it comes under attack by ISIL.

Kobani is the last Syrian town before the country’s northern border with Turkey. Geopolitical maps of what exiled Kurds in Europe call Western Kurdistan transect territory across the Syrian and Turkish borders.

Kurdish forces only wrestled control of Kobani (aka Ein al-Arab) from the Syrian military in 2012.  The attack by ISIL represents a dream assault for Neo-Ottoman (expansionist) Turkey.  If ISIL manage to capture and massacre the residents of the city then many Kurdish fighters will have been slaughtered without the military being blamed for the bloodshed. If Turkey is then encouraged to intervene elsewhere on behalf of any of its minorities, it will be on Neo-Ottoman terms.

Turkey was much angered by the overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood led government of Egypt and continues to voice open contempt for the government of General el-Sisi. This too is consistent with Turkish support for an ideologically sympathetic movement.

Appeasing Islamist extremism can only encourage the worse elements amongst Islamists to push the limits of tolerance of any society in which they take hold.  It was this logic that saw an Egyptian court place a ban on the Brotherhood on 23rd September 2013.

It is therefore puzzling that President Obama ceased military aid to Egypt after the July 2013 coup.  Being seen to support a regime that was both irrational and bigoted because it was initially freely elected is consistent behavior for President Obama but is neither strategically nor historically sound. For example, no US president could justify a similar stand on Communism.

In the early years after the Russian Revolution communism split between Stalinists who demanded the realization of the ideal of “Socialism in One Country” and Trotskyism which opposed “One Country Socialism.”  The USA and European nations were intolerant of both variants and remain so.  Except in Islamism's non-hierarchical nature it is difficult not to draw comparisons between Islamism and communism.

The ever bleeding wound of Sunni–Shia antipathy and mutual antagonism has boiled over into uncontrollable, murderous rage intermittently since the Iranian revolution of 1979. The schism between the two main sects of Islam has existed for nearly all of the fourteen centuries since Muhammad founded his faith.  Al Qaeda veterans poured into Syria from Iraq and were generously re-supplied by Turkey so that they soon became the main military faction to oppose the Alawite regime.

Thomas Paine, the political activist and philosopher said that “to argue with a person who has renounced the use of reason is like administering medicine to the dead.”  And so it seems we are desperate to refrain from making comparisons between Islamism and Communism.  Perhaps this is the reason that our leaders are incapable of applying a consistent standard when confronted with the Islamist threat to global peace and security.

Neo-Ottoman Turkey is a member of NATO and yet it has encouraged ISIL.   The civil war in Syria and before it, the Iraqi debacle helped to draw out the monumental hatred that exists between the two rival Sunni and Shia sects and not just in Syria where the dictatorship of the Assad family kept the conflict under control.

Turkey has been encouraged to flex its imperialistic muscles by Europe’s de facto acceptance of its conquest of Northern Cyprus 40 years ago. The UN has all but ignored this conflict. When Israel and Cyprus signed a maritime border treaty in late December 2010 Turkey all but asserted its colonial right of first refusal when it judged the accord on 21st December 2010 to be “null and void”. 

Conflict with its Christian, Kurdish, Shia and Israeli neighbors demonstrates Turkey's bona fide right to lead the regions Sunni Muslims.

At the start of the Arab Spring the Muslim Brotherhood took democratic control of Tunisia and Egypt. Syrian Shia minority rule appeared to be increasingly precarious.  If Turkey could control Sunni forces it could re-establish Turkish influence in Libya.  Iraq’s Shia majority could be destabilized and Sunni minority rule re-asserted.  All nations in the region would be subservient to Turkey as had been the situation during the period of the Ottoman Empire.

Analysts and arm chair pundits in the Western media publicly admit that the bombing campaign will do very little to solve the problem of IS.  The ideology they represent is one of limitless power for their faithful followers. Their consequent actions are justified through the bloodthirsty history of the first three generations of Muslim history.  Nations that supported ISIL now fear ISIL but only because they cannot control it.

The bombing of ISIL in Syria may have inadvertently recreated the conditions for another Lebanese civil war.  Shia Hezbollah’s inordinate political influence was based on the support they received from both Iran and Syria.  When the Syrian civil war broke out in March 2011, Hassan Nasrallah (Secretary General of Hezbollah) felt obligated to repay his Syrian protector by sending thousands of his soldiers to fight alongside of the Assad regime of President Bashar al-Assad. Withdrawing Hezbollah’s battle tested troops from Syria may undermine the Shia effort to contain ISIL. At the same time, as ISIL disperses it will enter Lebanon and hide amongst Sunni supporters.  The coalition will be unable to intervene in Lebanon and this may make inevitable a military flare-up in Lebanon.

The fifth member of the original anti-IS coalition is Qatar. Its role is admitted to be only “in support of” the coalition. It will not be bombing IS positions.  According to media reports Qatar continues to fund Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, Jabhat al Nusra (the al-Nusra front) and other Islamist terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda (of which IS was originally affiliated). It is through its funding of these terrorist organizations that it undermines its neighbors. Al Jazeera, the Qatari global news network ridiculed the beheading of the two American journalists and described the beheadings as no more than pretext for the US intervention in Syria (to which it is now nominally committed in its participation).

There are many people who try to blame regional and even global Muslim dissatisfaction on Israel because of Jewish Palestine's conflict with Sunni Palestinians.  Inter-Arab and inter-Muslim conflict is ignored or excused with reference to Israel and ‘the Jews’ or Zionists. The wars being waged in Iraq and in Syria are proxy wars between Shiite Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia with various other regional players such as Qatar and Turkey also vying for greater influence.

Historically, both Jordan and Egypt have similarly sought to manipulate events in the region to their advantage and control.

Those wars being waged between Shia and Sunni are sometimes expressed as tribal conflicts but irrespective of form they will only subside if the root cause is addressed. That root cause is a fundamentalist belief, a theocratic superstition that instead of a shared humanity, we are all of us nothing more than objects for conquest.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

ISIL, Western Aggression, and Muslim Extremism

This is part 2 of a 3 part series.

A recent newspaper headline declared that “Arabs and Muslims Do Not Trust America” but an explanation for that headline would also have explained that they do not trust that which they do not control.

The Iranian president Hassan Rouhani in his speech to the diplomats gathered for the opening of the 2014 UN General Assembly said:  Western 'aggression' in the Middle East helped foster extremism.  He was only partly correct.

The exercise of power is a unilateral decision whether or not it is legitimized in the eyes of some, by being part of a grand coalition. It is in the exercise of power that trust and respect are built. IS are not open to negotiation. Trust and respect are wholly irrelevant.  Fear is the only thing that counts.  IS is a brutal colonialist enterprise that enslaves, demands conversion from its captives, and kills to demonstrate its absolute power. Its purpose is power for its faithful followers and its line of attack is merciless. Opposition is met with annihilation. Containment is not an option, defeat is inconceivable.

Many people excuse Hamas crimes against humanity because for them, the ends will always justify the means, no matter how heinous those crimes may be.  Hezbollah’s Shiite chief Hassan Nasrallah said that there are no red lines. He was simply enunciating the unwritten, sixth pillar of Islamic faith. When we say that Hamas is not IS and that the Muslim Brotherhood is not monstrous we do this so that we may fear it less. We sanitize that which we fear because if it is not dangerous then we can accept it even when we should not.

So, Barack Obama, President of the most powerful nation on the earth and a graduate of Columbia University and Harvard Law School, said: "ISIS is not Islamic".  David Cameron, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, educated at Eton and Oxford University said "ISIS are not Muslims they are monsters."  Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Caliph of the Islamic State with a PhD from the Islamic University of Baghdad said "We are Muslims."

This is what others say:

In 2006, senior Wahhabi cleric Abdul Rahman al-Barrak released a fatwa which stated that the Shia are "infidels, apostates and hypocrites ... [and] they are more dangerous than Jews or Christians."

The al-Nusra Front declared in 2012: "The blessed operations will continue until the land of Syria is purified from the filth of the Nusayris (Alawite - Ed.) and the Sunnis are relieved from their oppression."

The Alawite minority (12% of the total Syrian population) have controlled most of the country since 1920. Nevertheless, that Sunni quote means almost 3 million people will be ‘cleansed’ (murdered) if this al Qaeda offshoot succeeds in capturing Syria for the Sunni mob.

Even so, a Sunni-Alawite alliance in Syria is still possible, if Assad is able to relinquish control over all of Syria.  His family has maintained its rule for 43 years, through the acquiescence and military strength of his Sunni partners until the civil war and infiltration by al Qaeda affiliated (Sunni) fighters.  To share power now Bashar al-Assad must be able to guarantee that his people are not butchered as they have butchered others. 

Perhaps we have a right to be a little bit confused. Our leaders say one thing – the Muslim world says something else.

If I may offer an explanation by illustration:
The Klu Klux Klan was representative of a significant proportion of American public opinion until they were marginalised.  This was only possible because the internal narrative of White America was altered to largely reject racism. When Lyndon Baines Johnson was elected President of the United States of America it was his opposition to the KKK contagion, coupled with the judicial activism of the US Supreme Court that ultimately defeated the movement.   Treatment of African Americans in the USA was, until that time, a crime against humanity.

Similarly, not all Europeans were Nazis but the Shoah could not have taken place without the passive complicity of Europe’s citizenry.

It is easy for me from the comfort of my 21st Century home, to cast judgement on the frailty and the fears of those populations that are permanently exposed to institutionalized and state supported systems of bigotry and terror. But to deny that bigotry is at the very least a contributory factor in the passive acceptance of such a framework.  Denial of those facts is part of the conspiracy that protects it.

ISIS is an abomination to many Muslims but it is supported by the selective use of Islamic texts and thus, by a large swathe of Muslims across the globe.  Islam is a religion of peace but it is also a religion of war; and war is a central plank of its expansion throughout history.  The ends do justify the means in Islam even when used against their own people but certainly when justified against non-Muslims.

In “Hamas and Political Legitimacy” (20/8/2014) I wrote that Hamas has a Hitler Complex.  It is so sure of its own theological infallibility it is willing to sacrifice its own population in a destructive war to first humiliate its enemy and then, to destroy it, utterly.  Hamas is no different to any other Muslim fundamentalist movement. 

The only mistake IS made was that it provoked the United States by publicly beheading two American journalists.  Before then it had killed thousands of Christians and in all probability many more thousands of Muslims. Its attempted genocide of the Yazidis has all but been forgotten though it occurred less than two months ago. The main difference between IS, its predecessors and contemporary rivals in the Muslim world is its success.  Violence will gain the Islamic State an audience and a minor horde of sociopathic followers, extreme violence however, earns a global audience and an army of sociopathic wannabes.

For the Western-Arab coalition, containment of the IS contagion means infiltration by the dispersed ‘warriors’ and therefore, destabilization spreading throughout the region. Appeasement represents the worst of options because it is a sign of weakness and will only encourage more acts of terror. The logic is that the faithful are tested by their resolve, not as measured by their success but more crucially, when they appear to be failing in their endeavour.  Appeasing IS will lead to more 911’s and far greater casualties in the long term.