On the Middle East

1 Middle East Lamentation

Abbé Boulah, in the Fog Island Tavern, lifting His Hoarse Voice in Lamentation:

Ah, the barrenness of discourse in the so-called ‘social’ media, the discussion fora that have been degraded to mudslinging pits of nonsequitours de force and unspeakable epithets — did not the holy scriptures warn ‘whosoever calls his neighbor ‘thou fool’ is deserving of eternal damnation’?

What brought this on? A noble — or naive? call for articulation of visions for a region in constant turmoil and danger of erupting into worldwide conflagration immediately returned into a pit of placing blame and taunting insults — the original question ignored — or worse: answered by the repetition of the underlying assertion that peace for that region can only be maintained by application of ‘superior force‘ discouraging the other party form trying to assert its presumed rights by its own force? Confirmation of the notion that one must ‘fight’ (including kill) the opponents of one’s world view — if they cannot be cowed into submission and perversely seek to maintain their own dignity even in the face of superior force? Has no one heard the message, by all the gum in my favorite arguments?? Has no one received in their oh so rational minds, the insight that ‘victory’ by destruction of the opponent (the still ‘infidel’ or not yet ‘enlightened’ one) does not, emphatically not, demonstrate the superior truth, logic, nobility, appeal, or morality of the view of the victor?

Does it take AbbéBoulahean despairing pleas and wailing to remind the fervent and passionate (though apparently of limited one-sided compassion) advocates for their respective sides, of the possibility that we might all be on the wrong side? Of the very fact that engaging in a fight to destruction reveals the poverty of our faith in its truth and beauty: If I have to crush you to accept the beauty of my view, contorting my face in doing so, relying on the superior length of my sword or the greater destructiveness of my stupid smart bomb — what does that do to your insight about my faith? If the last thing I see on this earth is your contorted face, in your ‘victory’ of crushing infidel me: what does that tell me about the beauty and truth of your faith? You are betraying it, we have both betrayed the truth of our faiths, by choosing to fight. Woe be to us: Whose supreme deception could have lured us into such treason, such betrayal? Those of us who are believers: Are we not insulting the Almighty by our presumption that we, in our limited knowledge and wisdom and proneness to error, in our own sinful confusion, should fight and kill for His truth — as if we could ever gain full knowledge of it to justify the death of others who believe they’ve understood it, but it’s a different version? — As if He could not punish his enemies by Himself?

Yes, yes, I hear you, Bog-Hubert: What should we do instead? Let us sit down and share some time and a cup of calming beverage, break some bread together. Then: Tell me again, convince me again — I may not have paid enough attention –, show me again the beauty of your convictions and your vision. And let me try once more to tell you, argue with you, demonstrate to you the beauty of mine. Then let us dream a little: might we not endeavor to design a common vision, one more beautiful than either of us could achieve alone: let us together build a house, a garden, in which our children can play together and grow to become even better builders and gardeners?

You say: let me have the land upon which you stand, to grow the fruit so that I can show and share it with you, to let you taste its sweetness. Even if that will deprive me of my livelihood, and kill me just as surely as a sword? And deprive me of the possibility of showing you what beautiful fruits I can grow? But doing so, I would deprive you of the same possibility?

Truly, my friends, this is a dilemma and a challenge. One worthy of our full and dedicated ingenuity and efforts, our reasoning powers and creativity. Yet here we are continuing in our childish games of pointing fingers, placing blame for who did what first, and calling each other names. And (committing the sin of) invoking the Almighty One’s name to justify what essentially are our own base desires of greed, of acquisition, of power, and of revenge for defeats in past misguided fights. (Some Almighty One, if it really is Him — or Her — and that’s what He or She wishes us to do — and not some impostor…)

Surely, if we cannot find a way out of that dilemma, we are not worthy of the fruit we prevented each other from growing. What will be our just reward? So, fellow nonbelievers and believers, even in the same God with different names, why not together use the precious gifts given to us: our creativity, our imagination, our powers of reasoning and our delight in the good and just and beautiful? Let us together design and build a house and grow a garden. Let us fly different flags from its four or fourscore corners if we cannot agree on one, but let us together show what we humans can do other than killing each other in the name of God, with swords or rockets or blockades.

Yes, we will have to get to implementation. What will be the first steps? Finding different lands in which to build separate gardens? Making sure they have good soil and fresh water? Or getting into the same garden together? And start digging to lay some new foundations? Starting to discuss a plan, a vision for what the place might look like before we start digging?

How to apply such dream-like visions to the ugly reality of lands fought over by different tribes that each wish to realize their own dreams on the disputed territory, and have embarked on the path of relying on force for implementation? Will we not have to devote some more social media kilo-or-megabytes to exploring this question, than we have on insulting and denigrating each other? You are quite justified in berating me; I beat my breast in contrition: I have myself spent too much of my precious time with frivolous and trivial pursuits of truths that are meaningless to starving children. In my own wilderness, I am only beginning to think about applying my tools of Systematic Doubt and Argument Assessment to these issues. Help me continue on this path, on which I found one first meager result, for your contemplation and relentless discussion:

What about designating a piece of land on both sides of the border between the warring tribes, for cooperative projects? All those who wish to contribute to such projects — from both sides — would be given access, on the condition of leaving weapons out; the buffer zone both will prevent attacks from both sides (since members from both sides are there) and demonstrate the possibility and superiority of cooperation? The support by other well-meaning nations and parties will then be predominantly aimed at this zone. Projects such as power stations (preferably by renewable and non-polluting sources); desalinization plants to provide fresh water; research facilities, innovative gardening, hospitals, schools, kindergartens, sports facilities as well as mosques, synagogues, schools and churches. If successful, this zone can be expanded over time. Build the mosques, synagogues, kindergartens and schools — give the children the information and the choice for designing their own future! — in that zone.

‘Behind’ it, the current structures and policies relying on maintaining ‘defense’ and ‘deterrence’ force can continue — until shown to be obsolete.

What about sanctions for breaching the agreements needed to keep this zone going? Automatic shutoff of information channels, power, water, to the respective ‘main territory’? What about governance, peacekeeping, justice systems? I agree there’s work to do, my friends: But have we not developed intricate cooperative systems for international transactions, guidance systems for missiles and smart bombs and interplanetary exploration? Can we not design better governance systems that are not vulnerable to the temptations of power and corruption? Are we that blind and narrow-minded?

Are there no other visions here than all the talk about blame and justifying, even glorifying the atrocities of both sides with the tattered mantles of self-defense, self-determination, revolutionary spirit, ‘fighting for peace’ (think about it, all you logical minds: fighting for peace?) Are we all condemned of driving into the future with our views fixated on the rear-view mirror?

Is all our talk of freedom (which is empowerment) just idle talk hiding the sellout of our freedom to all the powers with the ‘superior force’ — military, economic, psychological… — in exchange for the choice between seventeen different brands of gene-manipulated breakfast cereal?

The current path of relying on ‘superior force’ — on both sides — can only result in incidents of application of such force. The hope and confidence in force is fed on one side by the sheer superiority and efficiency of the weaponry, on the other side the growing evidence that ‘partisan’ and guerrilla force can be as if not more effective in many cases. Not even mentioning the fact that the dignity of the ‘weaker’ (the one with the weaker force) must be maintained, the more so, the more ‘unequal’ (‘asymmetric’) the weaponry. Thus, the path of reliance on force must be abandoned to achieve peace.


2 Rear View Mirrors

Al-Bey Bullah the Stranger, wandering in the desert of stony fruitless arguments searching for the oasis of plausible double vision, stumbles upon a group of vehicles furiously racing around, kicking up clouds of dust while attempting to push the other vehicles out of their way. Having lost the view of the road out of the desert, and even of which vehicles hold their friends, and which their enemies, their drivers are endlessly struggling to put together the pieces of their broken rear-view mirrors — shattered from careening into too many other vehicles both right and left along their errant way — trying to derive, with their convoluted logic, the road forward. Hurling the shards of broken facts at each other, claiming each one to be a precious fragment of the Truth: do they not know that — even if they could put all the pieces back together, the picture shown in the rear view mirror of the road taken in the past, with its many wrong turns, does not, will never show the road forward? That the distorted mirror will not reveal if what lies ahead is a dead end? Do they not know, He cries in vain, that mirrors are tools of the Great Deceiver: when they look at themselves in the fractured mirror, they see right and left, right and wrong reversed? Do they not see the writing on the bottom: that the objects in the mirror — the horrors of the past, the demons of hubris and delusion, confusion and hate and death — are closer than they seem? They do not hear his wails to stop their furious race, to get out and start paving a new road ahead, together. With bloody fingers — their own, their children’s blood, and that of the children of their ‘enemies’, they keep rearranging the fact-fragments of their rear view mirrors, while racing towards disaster.


3 Bystanders Pondering Vicious Cycle Patterns

Trying to understand controversies in online discussions as parts of a larger struggle (not even discourse any more in most cases) that is noteworthy because its outcome is perceived to be one of life or death. In the case at hand, the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, that was recently once again exacerbated by the incident of the attempted breach of the Gaza blockade.

Both parties:

– perceive their position to be justified, morally and historically;

– perceive any ‘backing down from their resulting demands as the prelude to their inevitable annihilation;

– have chosen force (military and ‘guerilla’=‘terrorist’) strategies as the means to pursue their goals and /or prevent the other side to achieve theirs;

– but both depend on other parties for ‘moral’, financial, military support, which in turn depends on the maintenance of public opinion favorable to their cause in the countries providing that support.

The effort for the last item takes several different forms:

1) Providing information, evidence and arguments supporting the justification of their sides;

2) Providing countering information, counter-evidence and counterarguments to those efforts;

3) Persisting in ‘defensive’ military or violent actions — both to maintain their sense of dignity (not giving up) and to convey the seriousness of their struggle to their supporters (who wouldn’t provide support unless they were seen to be serious about their struggle);

4) Enticing the respective other side into actions that can be shown to be ‘illegal’, ‘evil’, ‘malicious’, ‘criminal’ to the world, so as to decrease the willingness of the other side’s supporters to continue support;

5) Depicting the other ‘side’ and its supporters — as misguided, ignorant, biased, hypocritical (hiding their own dishonest interests behind the pretense of the ‘just’ cause for the side they support); therefore as criminal, evil, murderous. The accusation of ‘racism’ of any participant in the discourse is a part of this tactic. It is interesting because on its face, though it may be seen as a tool to shame the opposition into silence, it cannot be expected to enlist support among those so accused. Thus the information effort can be seen to have two distinct forms: one aiming at gaining support — more support — among parties who were thus far not ‘taking sides’ or were even aligned with the opposing side; the other merely focused on strengthening support and morale among its own supporters. It is at least questionable whether the insinuation of racism (on one side) or ‘terrorism’ etc. on the other is effective in the pursuit of the former, or just a sign of having given up on that and just concentrating on the latter.

6) The insistence, on both sides, that following the logic of confrontation embarked upon, other parties must ‘take sides’; that refusal or disinterest in doing so ipso facto constitutes support for the other side. This is conveyed with common slogans such as ‘’if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem’ and the like.

The ‘pattern’ of actions and ‘communication’ in the Israel-Palestine conflict shows considerable symmetry in the use of all these tactics — except with respect to the superior threat of force available to one side — which is why the threat or suspicion of that advantage being challenged causes such anxiety and desperation to prevent the acquisition of means to do so, but also semblance of hope for eventually prevailing, on the other.

The symmetry of the situation must, in the (mostly unacknowledged) view of both parties, be maintained, but with care so as to prevent it from escalating into confrontations that would damage the success of the tactics — and thus ensure continued support. The danger of escalation to disturb the symmetry emanates from the party that at any given time sees itself as having ‘less to lose’ (and thus more to gain?); the balance is therefore very precarious and volatile.

It is a classic example of a ‘vicious cycle’ in which every action serves to increase the antagonism. The ‘solutions‘ that can be expected based on history of all such confrontations having chosen force as the deciding element — ‘victory’ of one side, and ‘defeat’ of the other, even the traditional strategy of inventing and battling a different ‘common’ enemy — should be seen as unacceptable not only to whatever ‘global’ community might be distinguished in the chaotic scene of the world today, but also to any of the supporting parties of either side, as well as any still ‘disinterested’ (innocent?) bystanders: since any such ‘solution’ will likely have disastrous consequences for all. So the effort on the part of everybody involved must focus on breaking this vicious cycle.

The plausible choice, it would seem to this befuddled bystander, would be to engage in cooperative projects of common vital interest — a common desirable vision. There is no shortage of potential projects to explore, of problems for which we need innovative solutions to try out as common experiments, arguably of sufficient interest not only to the two opposing parties but to the world at large to justify generous support from others: developing different models of urban development, of agriculture, of providing fresh water, of finding alternatives to the prevailing dysfunctional governance structures, to education, to the arts, science, so many challenges worthy of the best we can offer of creativity, ingenuity, imagination. This of course contradicts the logic and strategy of confrontation sketched out above — which is why all such suggestions of approaches (‘visions’) to break the vicious cycle mentioned so far in these threads have been met with stony silence, and continued efforts consistent with the adopted strategy: justification of claims to prevailing (with selective presentation of historical ‘facts’), denigration of the opposing side, as before.

The proposed approach of embarking on common cooperative projects may not be the only way out of this vicious confrontation cycle. But we don’t hear about any interesting alternatives; the ‘road-maps’ to ‘two-state’ or ‘one-state’ outcomes currently being bandied about, and the kind of ‘peace’ they promise, are just about as unexciting and un-motivating as Brussel bureaucracy: Can we blame some folks for at least wanting to go down fighting? But it is not at all clear why we should have to choose sides in what looks either like a clear win-lose game (where winning is not a result of moral superiority or justification but of application of greater force) or even, and more likely, a disastrous lose-lose situation.


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