Sunday, February 18, 2007

The core issue between Israel and the Palestinians

In my last post, I talked about delusion. I want to take that concept further by admitting that it's not all delusion. Most Muslims are living through a different reality to the rest of the world, not through any form of insanity, but because their worldview differs radically from that of the West or, for that matter, much of Africa or the Far East. This, I believe, is the core issue between Israel and the Palestinians (and, indeed, the Arabs, Iranians, and the Muslim world in general). Of course, it's obvious that we all have differing worldviews, views we take from our society or our religion or our political party or the zeitgeist. It's human and it's inevitable, and most of the time it does no harm. But when two worldviews clash, things can go badly wrong. I play fado music all the time while I work at my computer, but I don't imagine it would go down well at one of the nightspots just up the road from me. There would be arguments and, if some of the clubbers were very drunk (which most of them probably would be), there could well be violence. Fortunately, that sort of showdown doesn't happen often, because most of us learn to keep our worldviews separate. In a civilized society, worldview clashes don't often lead to violence: even if a Jehovah's Witness or a Mormon tries to push their (to me bizarre) view of the universe in my face, the most will they will suffer is yet another blow to their well-accustomed pride as I close the door. But when we move out onto the international scene, clashing worldviews often lead to wars. This is at the root of the Israel-Palestinian conflct, but because observers like to think its just a clash over territory, it is seldom seem for what it really is and what it has been from the start.

The best way to examine this—and the most relevant for our purpose here—is to talk about the Westphalian System. We're in disputed territory here (in more ways than one), and I'm not a political scientist or a political historian, so readers will have to go easy on me. But, for what it's worth, this is my understanding of the heritage of the Peace of Westphalia. Back in 1648, two treaties were signed, ending both the Thirty Years' War and the Eighty Years' War. The resulting peace came to be called the Peace of Westphalia, and until recently it was generally thought to be the case that it brought into existence the modern system of relations between sovereign states, the so-called Westphalian System, that has governed international relations down to the present day. Of course, it wasn't that simple: European states had to develop much further. Italy and Germany took much longer to coalesce into their present shape, the monarchical system had to bend to the emergence of democracy, and imperialism had to give way to independence for nations outside Europe. The two biggest advances, like the Peace of Westphalia itself, came after major wars: the creation of the League of Nations and then the United Nations.

It was the League of Nations that developed the mandate system as a sort of half-way house between colonialization and independence, turning the Ottoman Empire in a group of states or embryonic states throughout the Middle East. This was how several Arab provinces were transformed into autonomous states, such as Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria, and this was how a Jewish state was to be built on what had been southern Syria and was now the British mandate of Palestine. All the actors, Europeans and Arabs alike, had been brought into the Westphalian system, even if the Arabs found it impossible to accept democracy.

The rub lay, of course, in the Jewish state. Created by the mandate and in accordance with a majority vote at the United Nations, it was conceived and created as a child of the Westphalian system, and designed by its own makers to be a liberal democratic entity unlike any other state in the region. The Arab reaction, as we all know, was to attack it with the aim of destroying it utterly. The European nations had, in the main, taken lessons from the Second World War and the Holocaust, and had helped create Israel as a haven for Jews who wanted the right to defend themselves. The Arabs had, of course, taken advantage of the Westphalian mandates to create their own sovereign states; but it was impossible for them to extend this privilege to Israel, even to live side by side in harmony with the Jewish state. Arab nationalism became an important feature of Middle Eastern political life in the coming years, but Jewish nationalism was declared unacceptable from the start.

This intransigence is, in part, due to the existing Islamic theory of international law, predicated on two things: the notion of a supernational Islamic entity known as the umma, and existing Islamic law concerning jihad. Rudolph Peters puts this succinctly: '... modernist authors have argued that the doctrine of jihad offers a theory of bellum justum [just war]. Some of them have elaborated this point and have interpreted this doctrine as Islamic international law or as Islamic law of nations.... Christian as well as modern international law are (sic) founded on the fact that they are regarded as binding by all states concerned. On that basis, they give rpescriptions for international intercourse, which, in the case of Christian international law, is confined to the Christian nations. Islamic law, on the other hand, is not interested in the relations between the Islamic states as, ideally, there is but one [the umma]. Its object is to provide Moslems with a code of behaviour in their relations with non-Moslems. Thgus, its prescriptions are only binding for Moslems.... Because of the Islamic claim to universality, it does not recognize non-Moslems and non-Moslem states as legal subjects equal to Moslems and the Islamic state.... With the exception of treaty obligations, non-Moslems, in as far as they are not protected by aman [surety] or dhimmah [being a Jew or Christian subject to a Muslim state], cannot, in general, claim any right under Islamic international law.... An important characteristic of the writings on Islamic international law is that in nearly all of them the point is stressed that Islamic international law, at least in its principles, is superior to positive international law.' (Rudolph Peters, Islam and Colonialism: The Doctrine of Jihad in Modern History, pp. 135-39)

Where does this leave us? With the seemingly unstoppable rise in Ilamic radicalism, it means we face a greater struggle than ever to stabliize the situation in the Middle East and achieve recognition and toleration for Israel. Hamas and Hizbulah, unlike the PLO and Fatah, rest their case on a rigid adherence to Islamic law and principle. Until such time as this brand of Islam receives a serious check, and Islam itself undergoes a major reformation, we all have to live with the fact that many Muslims live in a different mental world in many matters. It's not delusional to hold to a particular religious belief or ideology; but when clinging to a belief that puts very large numbers at odds with the majority, it can be seen as disfunctional to persist. In most cases, of course, holding to one's belief despite external pressure to conform is a noble, even empowering thing: one just has to look at the history of Judaism to see that. But when the result leads, not to the shedding of one's own blood, but to the shedding of that of others, persistence grows dangerous. The Palestinians and their suppporters do harm to Israelis, but also to themselves. They, more than anyone, have suffered from their intransigence. No-one has tried to deny them a state. No-one wishes them harm. But if their new government cannot abandon their obsessive belief that God will grant them an Islamic state in a Palestine built on the ruins of Israel, who knows what hardships are in store for them?

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Sane delusions and the Temple Mount

Sometimes, when I look at the issues Israel's enemies bring up either to condemn the Jewish state, or to justify their own position, I think many of them are delusional. That's come up in this past week during the controversy (still simmering) about building work near the Temple Mount. Palestinians, Egyptians, and others have been taking to the streets, tearing their hair out in despair because the evil Jews are plotting to undermine the structure of al-Aqsa Mosque. On February 13, Khalid Mish'al, the leader of Hamas's political wing (their Gerry Adams, if you like) wrote in an overwrought piece in the Guardian: 'Meanwhile, excavation resumed last week in the compound of al-Aqsa mosque, and on Friday the mosque, to which access is denied to Palestinians below the age of 45, was invaded by Israeli troops who wounded scores of worshippers.' Speaking to al-Jazeera television, Taysir al-Tamimi, the Palestinian Authority's Chief of Judges and chairman of its Islamic law high council, said 'Israel is now carrying out wide excavations under the mosque and is building a synagogue in front of the Dome of the Rock'.

Come again? 'In the compound of al-Aqsa mosque'? Has Mish'al ever visited Jerusalem or the Temple Mount? Did he take the elementary trouble to look at a map. The essential building work is being carried out well beyond the Temple Mount, let alone al-Aqsa. '...wide excavations under the mosque'? What excavations? Where? The only people doing anything on the Temple Mount are workers from the Islamic Waqf organization, which controls everything up there (and underneath). '...building a synagogue in front of the Dome of the Rock.' What synagogue? There were implausible plans for one, but Israel preferred to let the Muslims build a minaret there instead, which they are doing.

In other words, everything these people are saying is a lie. And the people in various Muslim countries demonstrating and calling on God for vengeance are deluded. Not in the way a paranoid schizophrenic is deluded, which is mental illness, but because they have bought into a culture of shameless half-truths, brazen lies, and mind-boggling conspiracy theories. It is incredibly easy to look at a map and examine photographs in order to see how the land lies on and around the Temple Mount. All the Palestinian Arabs have to do is walk to the walkway and then stroll over to al-Aqsa, whereupon it will dawn on them that talk of excavations under the mosque is pure poppycock. But they know it's poppycock anyway, and prefer to go with that than to deal with the reality in front of their noses. That is to choose delusion, because it serves a greater political or religious interest. It's what Hitler and Stalin did when they told the Big Lie in its various forms. It's what the Palestinian Arabs do when they say there is no evidence for a Jewish presence in Jerusalem two thousand and more years ago. That there was never a Second Temple. Nor a First Temple.

The standard of education in the Middle East is poor. Even universities expect students to learn what they are told, and discourage questioning. This establishes a mindset that permits even the best educated to trot out balderdash as if it were Gospel truth. The Israeli security fence is a wall for mile after mile after mile. 9/11 was a US-Jewish plot that had nothing to do with al-Qaeda. The Zionists encouraged the Nazis to kill as many Jews as possible in order to force Jews to flee to Palestine. There was a massacre in Jenin. Hizbullah were innocent bystanders in a violent war started by the Jews with the aim of destroying Lebanon. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion is an authentic historical document. The Holocaust never happened. Or, if it did, the Jews started it. There was a state of Palestine on what is now Israel, and it was destroyed by the evil Jewish settlers.

It goes on and on. Read Daniel Pipes's book The Hidden Hand to get a broad picture of how far conspiracy theory eats into the soul of the Muslim world. It poisons both politics and religion. Statesmen in the Middle East believe in things no self-respecting seventh-year schoolboy or girl here would take on board for a moment. Making a walkway safe for visitors (including Muslims) is a diabolical plot to destroy the Islamic presence on the Temple Mount. Muhammad al-Durra was shot by Israeli troops whose bullets made 90-degree turns.

If the educated believe some of these things, there's no hope for the illierate and semi-literate who take their cues from their religious and political leaders. The waters are constantly muddied by this almost blanket refusal to come to terms with historical, geographical, or political reality.