We can learn from history if we are willing to. We remember the Holocaust because of the important lessons it provides. “Never again” is the mantra. Unfortunately, we keep making the same mistakes.
If any peoples should have learned the lessons of exclusion and hate it should have been the Jews. Of course, many Jews have. Unfortunately, the leaders of the Israeli state have learned nothing from the past. This period does provides amble evidence of the dangers of nationalism and racism, especially when they become the guiding principles of authoritarian regimes.
Yet they are making the same mistakes with similar (but not identical) consequences. This time they (the Israeli government and their right-wing supporters) are the victimizers. They may justify their behavior in the name of self-defense, but what they have actually done is locked themselves into a cycle of never-ending violence and revenge.
David Shulman explains the unfortunate situation in Israel today.
An excerpt: “But Israeli McCarthyism has an additional, distinctive element that deepens the madness. It is directly linked to Israel’s colonial project in the occupied Palestinian territories. Anyone who opposes the occupation in word or deed is now at risk. For the right, patriotism is synonymous with occupation and all that comes with it, above all the dispossession and expulsion of Palestinians and the theft of their lands. One can hear overtly racist rationalizations of this aim any day on the public radio talk shows. Put simply, the occupation system as a whole is ruled by the logic of stark division between the privileged Israeli occupiers and the Palestinian occupied, who are totally disenfranchised and stripped of all basic human rights.”
Source: Israel: The Broken Silence by David Shulman | The New York Review of Books
We all say we want peace, but at the same time we unwittingly engage in behaviors that perpetuate violence. As philosopher Simon Critchley notes, “we are all players on history’s bloody stage.” Human nature is in large part to blame. However, biology is not destiny. The purpose of civilization is to tame our wilder side. Yet, we still have not been able to end the violence.
Critchley offers an important insight into this intractable problem: “We live in a world framed by violence, where justice seems to be endlessly divided between claim and counterclaim, right and left, freedom fighter and terrorist, believer and nonbeliever, and so on. Each side appears to believe unswervingly in the rightness of its position and the wrongness, or indeed ‘evil,’ of the opposition. Such belief legitimates violence and unleashes counterviolence in return. We seem to be trapped in deep historical cycles of violence where justice is usually simply understood as vengeance or revenge.”
This is not a new insight, but it one that is difficult to sell. If we were reflective enough, we would see this trap we’ve set for ourselves. This insight also requires a broad and deep knowledge of history. It is much easier to offer simple solutions that satisfy our egos and our intuitions. The good vs. evil narrative is simple and it lets us off the hook for any wrongdoing. Savvy politicians know this and use it to their benefit.
Is there any hope then? Critchley offers art, and music in particular, as a solution. But I don’t think this is enough. It will take a much broader effort to convince enough people that we are in fact part of the problem. We also need leaders willing to take up the cause and inspire a new generation to see the world and our place in it differently.
Source: The Theater of Violence – The New York Times
“Following the Paris attacks, France, the United States, and our allies may opt for all-out war. But even if ISIS is destroyed, its message could still captivate many in coming generations.”
If we want to defeat ISIS we must understand them first. The desire for revenge in the aftermath of the attacks in Paris is understandable. However, this emotionally satisfying response will lead us right into the trap set by ISIS, and will most likely make things worse.
The article by Atran and Hamid go a long way in helping us understand ISIS and the motives to those who join the movement: Paris: The War ISIS Wants by Scott Atran and Nafees Hamid | NYR Daily | The New York Review of Books
David Shulman comments on a report released by Breaking the Silence, an organization of Israeli ex-soldiers. The report is the culmination of an investigation of the Israeli campaign in Gaza last summer. Shulman explains that “the findings of the report—including the results of the fighting and the orders that brought them about—are nothing very new. What is more striking is how they suggest the impressive persistence and, indeed, continual intensification of practices that have occurred over the last three or four decades. Significant change lies only in the fact that the acts in question now reflect deliberate and explicit policy of a systemic nature coming down from the top. The Israel army once claimed to hold, nominally at least, to moral considerations of an entirely different order than those officially adopted last summer. Now, even that pretense seems to be gone.” Read more on this report and Shulman’s insightful commentary:
Gaza: Killing Gets Easier by David Shulman | NYRblog | The New York Review of Books.
Today is the anniversary of the famous Doolittle raid on Japan. But before we celebrate we should remember the cost paid by innocent Chinese civilians for this act of revenge. James M. Scott explains that, “that success came at a horrible—and until now—largely unknown price paid by the Chinese, who were victims of a retaliatory campaign by the Japanese Army that claimed an estimated 250,000 lives and saw families drowned in wells, entire towns burned, and communities devastated by bacteriological warfare.” This story should remind us that revenge has caused more human suffering than any other human motivation and that it has done so with little or no benefit other than the joy some get from it.
Scott also raises the subject of Japanese attempts to deny their own history: “Unlike Germany, whose leaders have for decades attempted to atone for the Holocaust, the Japanese have increasingly tried to disavow their nation’s legacy of cruelty, from the use Korean comfort women to the Rape of Nanking.” So, in conclusion he implores us: “As we celebrate the rightful heroism of Jimmy Doolittle and the 79 volunteer airmen who flew with him on one of the most celebrated raids of the war, it is important that we take time to honor the sacrifice paid by a quarter million Chinese. It is equally imperative that we as a nation refuse to allow Japanese leaders to disown their nation’s role in this and other wartime horrors.” Read the entire article here:
History News Network | The Horrific Unintended Consequence of Doolittle’s Courageous Raid on Tokyo.
In today’s The New York Times, Tomis Kapitan very persuasively argues that:
“[b]y effectively placing designated individuals or groups outside the norms of acceptable social and political behavior, the rhetoric of “terror” has had these effects:
1) It erases any incentive the public might have to understand the nature and origins of their grievances so that the possible legitimacy of their demands will not be raised.
2) It deflects attention away from one’s own policies that might have contributed to their grievances.
3) It repudiates any calls for negotiation.
4) It obliterates the distinction between national liberation movements and fringe fanatics (for example, during the 1990s, the “terrorist” label was applied to Nelson Mandela and Timothy McVeigh alike);
5) It paves the way for the use of force by making it easier for a government to exploit the fears of its citizens and ignore objections to the manner in which it responds to terrorist violence.”
I hope that you will all read Kapitan’s article and consider his argument. For too long we have been captive to the rhetoric of terrorism. While it has been an incredibly effective tool for politicians and ideologues, it has hurt our ability to deal effectively with terrorism. Fear mongering dismantles our ability to think rationally. We too easily accept emotionally gratifying solutions that feel right but in reality may not be. Any real solution will not be easy, and it will require that we give up the quick-fix, emotionally gratifying responses that we keep turning to. It will also require humility and a willingness to confront our own role in creating and exacerbating the situation.
The Reign of ‘Terror’ – NYTimes.com.
Today in The New York Times Mustafa Akyol wrote a great piece of advice for Israel if the Israelis actually wanted to end the terrorism. It’s advice I would have given the Israelis if they had asked (ha ha!).