December 22, 2005

Peace means something different from "not fighting". Those aren't peace advocates, they're "stop fighting" advocates. Peace is an active and complex thing and sometimes fighting is part of what it takes to get it.
- Jo Walton

Allowing people to choose for themselves is always a scary thing. That is why it is the essence of democracy to have faith in your fellow man, to make accessible relevant information and then take a deep breath and a long step back: maybe not even with fingers crossed or with prayer, for it should always be possible that the people may vote against you -- and again, it is the essence of democracy that the majority is always right.

(If you start questioning that truism: wherever you end up, it is no longer democracy.)

Rather irrelevant, at this point, that it was very probably the Iraq war itself which tilted the balance of power to bring Mahmoud Ahmadinejad into power. In the face of perceived threat, harder, more extremist, and more isolationist lines have always been drawn. There is no country -- or individual -- in the world who is exempt. Much has been made of Ahmadinejad's extremist views: the non-acceptance of Israel as an independent political entity in the Middle East, the firm belief in the Islamic (very approximate) equivalent of an imminent second coming. (Shi'ite readers, please forgive the gloss, I understand the distinction but space and time forbids my going into detail here, and the parallel serves well enough to bring at least part of the concept across to a non-familiar reader. If any reader feels strongly enough about it to leave a comment or to write me, I will devote a near-future blog entry to the occlusion.) Combined with the reality that Iran is entirely likely to become the second Islamic nuclear power within a few months (huh, I did manage to get that prediction into writing almost three years ago), many people have become convinced that this new president just might lend the coming of the end times a hand. Increasingly, I am hearing calls for pre-emptive bombing. It occurs to me that any such "defensive" pre-emptive attempt would itself do much to bring the end times of any religion quite a bit closer.

To put it mildly, we have a problem.

What has no possible common ground is if Ahmadinejad's remarks are actually intended as a call for genocide. For what it is worth, I hear the "wiping off the map" remark rather as call for removal of the political entity called Israel: a very gray difference but still a difference ... unless Zionism and Judaism are indeed to be taken (by the Israeli government, not some or even many individuals) as one and the same? which would be another thing that might possibly have no common ground. So let's assume, for the sake of assuming a solution is even possible, that Ahmadinejad did not call for genocide, and that Zionism can be kept to some extent distinct from Jewish identity. (Again the forgiveness asked for the gloss, this time of Jewish readers.)

The core of it really is that through no fault of anyone in power today, arbitrary borders were drawn upon the entire Middle East at the conclusion of the second World War: and a collective guilt carved a wholly new nation-state into the Biblical eastern coasts of the Mediterranean Sea without consideration to the tsunami its sudden eruption into 20th-C being of the ancient Kingdom of Israel could not but create. Ancestral lands -- on both sides, surely? Extreme actions taken for political eradication on the one side. Extreme actions taken for political survival on the other. And now: so ingrained the whole, that the actions of each part of the whole have become wholly and personally defensive. I acknowledge -- on all sides -- the desire, motivation, right to personal survival.

But -- by whatever means necessary? Do we place lives in a scale, measure relative value of life, relative value of well-being? Should my right to my life and well-being come at the price of another's? At this point, perhaps, the means -- on both sides -- should be re-evaluated: because once the equation has been drawn such that one's own well-being is worth the price of another's life, to continue as is is nothing less than genocide.

I don't deny the existence of the Holocaust. I can't: not and remain human. I mourn for every single life taken under that cold equation. I could wish that mourning could be left to remembrance and a vow: never again, never to ourselves become the doers of what was done to us. But what I see -- what I am far from alone in seeing -- is that the Holocaust has become something waved as a banner of ultimate justification in all things.

This, I think, is inappropriate.

Certainly such ultimate justification is resented by many: and here, perhaps, we find a part of the roots of a growing Holocaust denial -- I remind again, not by me -- for what other option is left to justifiably resist actions taken in the name of ultimate justification?

All of which possible understanding still leaves us with, in the very near future, nuclear weapons in the hands of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in a world that claims it truly seeks the spirit of democracy.

For a radical problem, a radical solution.

The United States places before Iraq and Iran and the Islamic world a petition: respect for boundaries, a sincere desire for peace -- and thus a desire not to create or appear as unnecessary threat to Iran. The occupation cannot but seen as such, true: and thus the United States proposes, to the people of Iraq and Iran and to the Islamic world as a whole, an immediate withdrawal from Iraq in good-will ... if the people of Iraq and Iran and the Islamic world will work with the United States to make this feasible, in peace. (It might even be that within this context, the Organisation of Islamic States might see continued medium-term occupation of Iraq by the United States as the most desirable route: which would significantly increase the bargaining position of the United States.)

It won't happen ... but it would have worked. In the absence of external threat, extremists simply cannot thrive ... and isn't that what we really seek? as a first approximation of true peace?

Is it just possible that i've confused my pronouns with my adverbs resulting in an upheaval in NW Idaho?
If I'm reading you correctly, you think a pre-emptive strike on Iranian missile defense would lead to greater conflict.
You suggest that a pre-emptive pullout of Iraq, whatever the internal consequences of that might be, would convince the Iranians that we mean to be peaceable.
You think that Zionism is wrong, and that "a removal of the political entity called Israel" is all that Ahmadinejad is calling for. From your other writings, I get a sense that you would not be sad to see that happen, either (this is not intended as an accusation, btw, merely a request for clarification. If I have read you right, it still won't be an accusation).
This brings rise to several questions:
1) How could such a "political removal" of Israel be accomplished?
1a)What state would replace it?
1b)On what would this state be based?
1c)What hope is there that this, once accomplished, will not be followed by violent complaints about the mere presence of Jews in Palestine?

2) Following the opposite assumption, that Ahmadinejad's remarks are directly intended as justification for nuclear genocide, what should be done with him?
2a) Say we were to follow your suggestion and depart Iraq. Say that Ahmadinejad sees this the way Hitler saw Munich, not as an expression of good faith, but of unwillingness to fight for that which they claim to value, and once he achieves his first Alamogordo, launches, and the Levant glows in the dark. Of what value is the "right to personal survival" of those Israelis (and Palestinians) then?

This last is of course, a worst-case scenario, but one which you tacitly admitted the possibility of.
Interesting, how you read what I wrote. I knew I was opening up a can of worms in writing it ... rather thought I might get some -- shall we say "stronger" -- comments. (Maybe not having deleted the link comment above caused people to give this one a miss?) But per the request for clarification, in the spirit in which it was requested:

you think a pre-emptive strike on Iranian missile defense would lead to greater conflict.

Yes. Among several other related factors which I didn't address in this post and which should actually demand entries of their own, new treaties between the United States and India are evolving a new arms race between the United States and China. We only just got out of the last such arms race by the skin of our teeth. All it takes, really, is human error: and we have proven time and time again that we have that in spades.

You suggest that a pre-emptive pullout of Iraq, whatever the internal consequences of that might be, would convince the Iranians that we mean to be peaceable.

I wrote that the United States propose a pullout to the Organisation of Islamic States, to be undertaken "if the people of Iraq and Iran and the Islamic world will work with the United States to make this feasible." In fact, in the very next sentence, I state directly that in this context, the OIS itself "might see continued medium-term occupation of Iraq by the United States as the most desirable route": in other words, a backdoor method of achieving actual Islamic support for the current path or some close cousin thereof.

I don't understand how you interpret these words to mean the equivalent of "whatever the price".

You think that Zionism is wrong,

I fail entirely to see where you derived this ... unless you are suggesting that an action on the order of dropping a new nation into the world shouldn't have any consequences whatsoever?

But to the specific: I say neither right nor wrong. Zionism is, end of story. After a good deal of working at this, I think Zionism to be inseparable from many interpretations of Judaism ... perhaps not all, but I lack the knowledge to guide me here. I welcome the feedback of any who do.

... and that "a removal of the political entity called Israel" is all that Ahmadinejad is calling for.

I don't know what he is calling for. Only he can know that for certain. Based on the transcripts I have read, I do know that this is a legitimate possible interpretation -- but a possible one, only. I had not yet seen this possibility raised elsewhere (which may be due to my not having read extensively enough); so I raise it here.

Since the date of this entry, I have also seen another statement by Ahmadinejad suggesting that it is the west which still seeks Judaic genocide, as cited here and quoted below:

"Don't you think that continuation of genocide by expelling Jews from Europe was one of their aims in creating a regime of occupiers of Al-Quds (Jerusalem)? Isn't that an important question?"

(Whatever else, I see no reason why the Islamic Republic News Agency would misquote him: and that quote is the only part of that article I choose to look at just now.)

You have to admit, looking at it from a completely callous point of view, IF the west had sought this (and I am in no way suggesting this), carving out the nation-state of Israel such that it would be subject to continual warfare-of-eradication from the moment of its independence would certainly seem to be an effective method to achieve such an end.

From your other writings, I get a sense that you would not be sad to see that happen, either

Hmm. Again you seem to be reading something into my writings that the strict words would not convey. I think the founding of Israel greatly contributed toward the current situation. I think, as a general case, no action taken out of guilt is likely to be long-term constructive (on the individual scale as on the national). I don't like what is currently happening, on either side. I hate such killing.

Yet magically removing the political entity of Israel from the current equation in the short- or medium-term would resolve none of this; and if we on a world scale don't manage to find some kind of resolution soon, we won't have a long-term. Oh, it might alleviate the local intifada and current Gaza riots; but the major other issue underlying the whole situation is that current Middle East borders are just as artificial as African ones, without even the skeletal equivalent of an Organisation for African Unity to decide to at least try to work with what exists.

Since my only interest has ever been toward alleviating man's inhumanity to man, and since I don't see the sudden or not-so-sudden disappearance of Israel qua political entity as accomplishing anything of substance toward that end (and in fact might bring about the opposite), you may safely assume that I see the continued existence of Israel very much as a given in any least-violent solution for long-term peace.

All this would seem to negate your first question? and part (a) of your second question?

2) Following the opposite assumption, that Ahmadinejad's remarks are directly intended as justification for nuclear genocide, what should be done with him?

But I cannot address in its original form even the first part of your second question. For one thing, I really don't think that assumption is at all accurate, on a scale asymptotically approaching zero probability. In this context -- can't speak for all possible situations -- nuclear genocide is inevitably nuclear self-annihilation. A nation-state's -- not person's -- ultimate purpose is self-preservation. Iran is no exception. Even in the most dictatorial of states (and Iran is not), no person acts in isolation and no single person holds sole internally-unchallenged power. Even were Ahmadinejad himself suicidal, his cabinet is not.

But, in the spirit of testing the question's limits, suppose -- and I say this hypothetically, against my own beliefs -- that the intent is nuclear genocide, and that it does not begin and end with intent but also includes the willingness and ability to act upon that intent. Could we know this with 100% certainty, then it would be incumbent upon the world body to act at once to remove the leadership in question -- only. Yes, I know your opinion of the United Nations ... and to perhaps a surprisingly large extent I share it (and again the details require not a comment but another full entry): but if one of the most influential nations in the world chooses not to be bound by the United Nations, why should any nation submit? As individuals we may not always like the limits society imposes upon us, but to break those limits by merit of our own force only undermines society as a whole -- and I will remind a teacher of history that empires founded by a single person have a habit of dying with that person. Thus, if the world body has been rendered somewhat impotent, the United States bears a rather greater share of responsibility for having rendered it so. If an effective world body is to come into being in the short-term future, leadership by example (rather than by force) suggests itself.

Should we choose to take matters into our own hands, to make of ourselves that single-conquerer empire: if we do not know intent, willingness, and ability to act with 100% confidence, how much confidence is necessary? Ninety-nine percent? Ninety? Fifty? Ten? How much risk are we willing to accept in the name of another's freedom to continue to exist? (I do not speak of Israel here, but of those perceived as potential threat.) How much of non-conformity are we willing to tolerate? before we start stamping each and every even potential risk to us -- which to say all freedom, entirely? For it is in the nature of freedom that some might choose a path which is not that of utter conformity: and therein instantly arises a non-zero possibility of risk.

Shall we agree instead, perhaps, to take Ahmadinejad's remarks with about the same degree of validity as George W. Bush's statement of "for or against" polarity? especially in light of the quiet tendrils of compromise being extended to "old Europe"?
Add briefly (hah!) that Sharon's sudden incapacitation has now completely thrown into doubt the likelihood of Kadima's continued viability, the possibility of United States support notwithstanding. Given the current degree of (non)control demonstrated by Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, Netanyahu rather than Peretz is likely to form the next government: further hardlining Israel's domestic and foreign policy. Nothing happens in a vacuum ... especially not in the Middle East.
Leaving this follow-up as a final note (pending other direct questions), from Kevin Sites' "We Are Citizens of This Country":

"As far as daily life goes here, there hasn't been an impact on us," [Dr. Unes Hammai-Lalehzar, of the Jewish Community Center in Tehran] says, "We don't see any difference in our lives. But maybe others feel differently."

He continues, saying the Iranian government has made a clear effort to distinguish between Zionism and Judaism.

"Zionism is a political party that enjoys Jewish symbols and ideals, but it's not the same thing," he says. "The law that is being enforced in Israel is not Jewish law, it's not religious, its anti-religious."

In the nearby synagogue, David Zakaria, who owns a rubber factory, agrees.

"His comments were directed more to Israel as a political entity," he says of President Ahmadinejad. "I'm connected to Israel religiously, it's the Holy Land, but not politically."

So those statements seem to reflect the feelings of at least two members of the Jewish community living in Iran. I don't make any claim whether it represents minority or majority or even just personal.
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