Archive for the ‘Mideast Conflict’ Category
Take a look at what else is going on. Religion is often used as a kind of tarpaulin: it covers a bunch of disparate things, presenting only itself to view. Best to look under the tarp. Sean McElwee writes in Salon:
Earlier this month, the perennial debate about religion and atheism was stirred up again by the combustible combination of Bill Maher, Ben Affleck and Sam Harris. And, while much ink has already been spilled dissecting the debate and its implications from nearly every conceivable angle, much of that coverage has been problematic, to say the least.
At the core of this debate is the extent to which the religion of Islam is responsible for the violence of ISIS, and other atrocities often committed in the name of god. But the problem with such debates, as I’ve argued previously, is that they mistake cause and effect. Religious belief is ultimately historically contingent: Religious beliefs, like cultural beliefs, are shaped by the material circumstances that give rise to them.
Those, such as Maher and Harris, who wish to defend “liberalism” against the tyranny of “religious fanaticism” are attempting to shift the blame from actual historical circumstances to ephemeral ideologies. Should we blame the rise of ISIS on “religious fanaticism,” or on the failed 2003 invasion of Iraq, the de-Baathification policy, the disbanding of the Iraqi army and the disastrous regime of Nouri al-Maliki? Furthermore, there is a long history of colonial oppression, military aggression and economic hegemony. These complaints, as well as historical grievances relating back to the Crusades, inform the views of radicals like Osama bin Laden.
Further, while the violence of ISIS is put in terms of a “caliphate” and religious symbols, such strategic violence has been deployed in war for centuries. The political scientist Stathis N. Kalyvas has written a rather comprehensive essay on the military tactics of ISIS and how they relate to other guerrilla fighters. He notes,
there is nothing particularly Islamic or jihadi about the organization’s violence. The practices described above have been used by a variety of insurgent (and also incumbent) actors in civil wars across time and space. Therefore, easy cultural interpretations should be challenged. Third, if the Islamic State ought to be characterized, it would be as a revolutionary (or radical) insurgent actor … Revolutionary groups can appropriate a variety of other causes (nationalism, ethnic or sectarian identities), but their revolutionary identity is central and helps make sense of much of their activity.
Similarly, the best way to understand Osama bin Laden is not as a religious radical yearning for virgins in the afterlife, but rather as a political actor repelling what he sees as a colonial incursion. This is the preferred interpretation of Michael Scheuer, a former CIA analyst who spent three years hunting Osama bin Laden. He writes in “Imperial Hubris,”
One of the greatest dangers for Americans in deciding how to confront the Islamist threat lies in continuing to believe — at the urging of senior U.S. leaders — that Muslims hate and attack us for what we are and think, rather than for what we do. The Islamic world is not so offended by our democratic system of politics…
He argues that, “What the United States does in formulating and implementing policies affecting the Muslim world, however, is infinitely more inflammatory.” So rather than seeing terrorism as the outgrowth of religion, it stems from, “the Muslim perception that the things they love are being intentionally destroyed by America that engenders Islamist hatred toward the United States …
This leads to the core delusion pushed by the Maher/Harris/Dawkins “New Atheist” team: that religion exists independently of social, political and economic systems, and that religion influences these structures. In fact, the opposite is true: Religion is largely the handmaiden of economic and political power. It is fluid, able to mold to whatever needs are suited to those wielding it.
As Karl Marx writes,
The mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political and intellectual life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness.
His colleague Friedrich Engels adds in a letter to Franz Mehring,
Ideology is a process accomplished by the so-called thinker consciously, indeed, but with a false consciousness. The real motives impelling him remain unknown to him, otherwise it would not be an ideological process at all. Hence he imagines false or apparent motives.
While these ideas seem radical, there are important real-life examples of the ways in which changes in material structures shift cultural norms (or ideology). Take, for instance, birth control. The advent of birth control (a material change) has dramatically changed our political, cultural and legal superstructure. Women rapidly joined the workforce and elite educational institutions were almost entirely reshaped. As contraception has improved, social norms against sexual promiscuity have declined. Regardless of what religious people believe, their opposition to birth control was rooted in a simple, but now outdated, calculation: Premarital sex used to bear very large costs in the form of children and disease and these costs have been minimized. Jeremy Greenwood has demonstrated persuasively that the sexual revolution has been rooted in profound material changes, which have altered cultural norms.
These days, religions are already shifting to accommodate this sexual change, just as the church has accommodated to largely accept divorce, will sooner than later accommodate to accept gays, and will eventually accept other norms now considered odd. As population growth presses on economic and environmental constraints, stigmas about contraception and abortion will inevitably erode. And yet the religious texts will remain the same; they will simply be interpreted differently. . .
Continue reading. One good point made later:
When Maher criticized all Muslims, he paints with a broad brush manifold people, interpretations, cultures and sects. But what he is crudely attempting to say is that some religious beliefs are responsible for violence in the area of the world he is discussing. Might there be some other source of violence in the region and anger at the United States? Might colonization, imperial interventionism, deprivation, war, murder and widespread theft explain the chaos in the region? Might Sykes-Picot be of some remaining relevance? (Ironically, the “New Atheists” share with Christian conservatives their desire to use history as nothing but an ideological bludgeon.) The militant Islamic ideology, as we have seen, is not unique to the region; such tactics are commonly used by guerrilla groups fighting against overwhelming power. It’s as if Sam Harris and his cohort believe that were we to ignore religion, the Palestinians would be content to live under an occupying force. History suggests otherwise.
Neil Thompson has an insightful essay at Informed Comment, worth thinking about:
When many Westerners think of the Middle East today they tend to see a region gripped by religious and sectarian violence. What all the many conflicts have in common is the participation of inflexible and fanatical groups of fighters dogmatically opposed to the further modernization and Westernization of their home countries. If they seize power, it is feared that they will impose a backwards-looking theocratic form of governance across the spaces that they dominate, and will trample on the human rights of vulnerable groups. The panacea for this in the eyes of many Western citizens is to temper religious fervour by separating it from politics and implementing a secular and liberal democratic system of government. However, no Middle Eastern state has yet to obtain such a system by its own efforts, while Western attempts to enact nation-building have so far ended in failure. Consequently, Western policymakers have tended to back authoritarian governments as a bulwark against fundamentalist rule.
The chronic weakness of state authority in the Middle East, coupled with the flourishing of extremist movements, once helped to maintain this ‘strongman’ model of governance. Yet, this strategy is now regarded at best as a stop-gap measure rather than a long-term solution to the region’s myriad problems. The default Western response to this double-sided problem has been to propose the transfer of functions performed by some religious organizations (for example healthcare) over to a stronger state. Under this scenario, religious groups would cease to perform political functions and the state would guarantee their freedom to practice their beliefs without interference.
Towards Religious Democracies
But what if the West’s secular state model is a merely a product of its own historically violent struggles with modernity in the 17th century? Up until this point in time, the very idea that religious authority should have no place in the political system of a European state would have been controversial to say the least – just as it is in parts of the modern day Middle East. But the creation of democratic systems in Indonesia and Turkey help to disprove the notion that Muslim or Middle Eastern cultures are incapable of living under democratic systems. But the ‘secularist’ price for Islamist participation in the political process was the promise not to pursue a theocratic or one-party model of government once in power.
While the Middle East’s secularists cannot keep the influence of Islamist organizations out of political life, Islamists are seemingly unable to monopolize power without resorting to the same type of oppression that discredited their republican or monarchical enemies. Democratic elections therefore offer a third path between two oppressive political systems. However, developing organic and sustainable democratic processes undoubtedly takes time; the collapse of Libya and Iraq as functioning states shows that removing a dictator does not immediately create the conditions for political transformation. If anything, the ongoing travails within these countries helps to reinforce that the Middle East has been through a whirlwind of political ferment since decolonization began a mere five or six decades ago.
Stop Taking Sides
The emergence of democratic states in other parts of the Islamic world suggests that they can also emerge in Arab and Middle Eastern states. It is also highly likely that any indigenous political group that attains significant popularity under these systems will be influenced by Islam. This is in much the same way as many Western political parties are influenced by Christian frameworks and assumptions, such as Germany’s Christian Democratic Union. Just as Western politicians have to be in favor of ideals such as “freedom” or “democracy“, leaders in Muslim-majority countries also have to appeal to the core values of their societies. Invoking Islam is both a legitimizing measure and a short-cut to the communication of ideas.
Most Islamist movements also offer programs of action that do not necessarily threaten the West. For example, the Muslim Brotherhood’s determination to secure power via democratic processes diverges with the aims of groups like IS or Al-Qaida’s Syrian franchise Jabhat al-Nusra. The West’s tolerance of the removal of elected Islamist political movements by force should be regarded as a strategic blunder that has helped to encourage jihadist narratives of victimization. The recent killing of al-Shabaab leader Ahmed Abdi Godane is a case in point. While this Somali militant group’s profile has undoubtedly increased over the past few years, its rise to prominence was facilitated by the overthrow of its more locally-focused predecessor in a US-backed Ethiopian invasion of Somalia. By being seen to take sides in inter-Muslim disputes and colluding against fundamentalists with their local enemies, the West has indirectly encouraged more extreme forms of Islamism. . .
Juan Cole reports the latest incident, and it is evident from the video clip below that Israel is losing support by its unceasing illegal hostile actions against Palestinians—all Palestinians, including children and women.
Armed Jewish settlers on Thursday attacked a Palestinian home in the al-Suwanna neighborhood on the Mount of Olives east of the Old City of Jerusalem, removing banners celebrating the return of a family member from the Hajj pilgrimage.
Witnesses said settlers from the nearby Beit Orot settlement carrying automatic weapons approached the house on Thursday and tore down Islamic banners that the members of the al-Qadamani family had previously hung up.
The witnesses added that the assailants gave the banners to a dog that accompanied them on the raid.
The family had decorated the exterior of their house with banners reading the traditional Islamic inscription “There is no God but God, and Mohammad is his prophet” in order to welcome home their son, who had returned from pilgrimage in Mecca.
Israel seems to have no interest in a peaceful resolution. Here’s an official US comment:
Not exactly a bastion of untrammeled inquiry. Princeton’s actions reveal what it truly values.
I wonder whether Israel ever considers that perhaps their treatment of the Palestinians in Gaza may be what’s motivating the attacks. From Informed Comment:
A large group of Israeli settlers on Saturday morning violently beat a young Palestinian woman while she was picking olives from trees in an orchard in the village of Yasuf in the Salfit district in the central West Bank, a Palestinian official said.
The assault is the third such attack on Palestinian olive pickers in three days, creating concern about unchecked settler violence as the olive harvest kicks off across the West Bank.
Ghassan Daghlas, a Palestinian Authority official who monitors settlement-related activities in the northern West Bank, told Ma’an that 25-year-old Alaa Fathi Atiyani and her children were picking olives in a field in the al-Masamic area outside of Yasuf village at the time of the alleged assault.
He said that ten settlers arrived from the nearby Kfar Tappuah settlement and assaulted Atiyani, beating her “brutally.”
Daghlas said Atiyani sustained serious bruises all over her body as a result of the attack.
Daghlas added that Israeli troops arrived later and claimed to have arrested the assailants.
An Israeli military spokeswoman said that “clashes” took place “between settlers and Palestinians” in the area and Israeli police arrested four people.
The assault is the third such attack on Palestinian olive pickers in three days, including the second on the village of Yasuf.
On Friday, settlers from Kfar Tappuah attacked the village and burned down several olive trees belonging to a villager. None of the assailants were reportedly detained by Israeli authorities after that assault. . .
The fact is that Israel doesn’t just attack terrorists from (and in) Gaza; rather, the entire civilian population is the target. Israel was no more Palestinians, and they are working to achieve that: slaughtering thousands when the opportunity presents, stealing Palestinian land as fast as they can, cutting down Palestinian orchards, and attacking Palestinian civilian infrastructure. Sam Bahour of the Ma’an News Agency reports:
When I asked my colleague in Gaza about her biggest dream, her answer made an impression on me: “I dream of what life would be like with 24-hour electricity.”
This was the answer of a single, mid-career, Western-educated, professional woman who lives in the more affluent part of Gaza City. Her response suggests the depth of despair among Palestinians throughout Gaza.
Day-to-day life in Gaza between Israeli attacks is unworthy news for Western mainstream media. As a result, few people are aware that electricity in Gaza is a luxury, with blackouts lasting 16-18 hours — every day.
This bitter reality has warped people’s lives for years now, as they must plan their daily activities around the 4-6 hours when they anticipate electricity, even if that means waking up to put laundry in the washing machine in the middle of the night.
Contrary to common belief, the severe under-supply of electricity in Gaza is not new, and not a result of the latest military aggression.
Gaza has not had uninterrupted electricity since the establishment of the Palestinian Authority in 1994. In an attempt to compensate for the Israeli disruption of Gaza’s power supply, the Palestinians established their first power generation plant in 2004.
Ever since, Israel has regularly limited the supply of electricity and industrial fuel needed to operate this only power plant in Gaza. Israel’s ability to deny families in Gaza the energy they need is nothing less than collective punishment of Palestinians — punishment whereby an entire community is made to pay for the acts of a few.
Separating Gaza’s electricity supply from the political conflict is a step long overdue. Access to electricity — a basic necessity that much of the world, including Israeli citizens can take for granted — should not be conditional upon outcomes of future negotiations.
Continued darkness in Gaza serves no one.
During Israel’s military aggression on Gaza this past summer, Israel again bombed the sole power plant in Gaza. (Israel bombed the same plant on June 28, 2006.)
In a July 29, 2014 article about the latest destruction, the Guardian quoted Amnesty International which stated, “the crippling of the power station amounted to collective punishment of Palestinians.”
Amnesty went on to note that, “the strike on the plant will worsen already severe problems with Gaza’s water supply, sewage treatment and power supplies to medical facilities.” . . .
Hamas is strengthened by this sort of thing. Even if you think the recent Gaza war was because “Israel has the right to defend itself,” Israel doesn’t seem to me to have the right to chop down its neighbor’s olive orchards. Such actions seem based on a notion that the law is meaningless and you can do what you. That’s not a good attitude to push.