Tuesday, 13 January 2009

A strip of despair

The continuing drama in Palestine concerns me greatly these days. The incompetence of international establishments to provide the grounds for a long-lasting resolution in the Middle East leaves me with a bitter reassurance that institutions such as the UN have become as much ineffective as the League of Nations they replaced. Meanwhile, more people get killed.

I know this is a complex problem and it is not my job, nor expertise, to provide views for simplistic, or otherwise, solutions for it. But I am also concerned about the aftermath of the disproportional use of force by the state of Israel, in theory against the forces of Hamas, but at large against Palestinian civilians.

The inappropriateness of the means that Israel uses to resolve a situation that is (obviously) irresolvable by raw military force is striking. My view is that serving a short-sighted political ambition, the Israeli administration is probably rushing to establish a new status quo before the new US president gets in power, whilst at the same time keeping domestic voters reassured of their adherence to the (vote-attracting) hard line. Indeed, the psychology of security (1) in this situation would assure this: Israeli civilians confronting a realistic threat manifested in the form of frequent rocket launching, blended with unfounded claims for the rise of a new antisemitism (2) are more likely to support 'decisive' action of their government, than to oppose a humanitarian disaster of an 'alien people.

And to me this issue is deeply political, it has nothing to do with antisemitism or Muslim fundamentalism - religions or races. Such overweight military action is in line with the ill conceived doctrine of confronting systematically, standardised if you like, global terrorism; the means matching the also inappropriate phraseology of 'war' against a new 'axis' (of evil). And indeed there is a huge problem arising from this approach. George Lakoff in his analysis of metaphors of terror (3) analysed, a lot better than I can do here, what this problem is.

It is my firm opinion that it was a gross mistake of the Bush administration to bag under the same blanket all sorts of existing groups branded under 'terrorist' or 'revolunionarist' identities. That 'classification' of the infamous 'with us, or against us'. Nonetheless, Hamas and Hezbollah in reality have nothing to do with the Tamil Tigers, the Kurdish Workers' Party, far-leftish urban guerrillas etc. Putting them altogether, blatantly ignoring most of the crucially differentiating socio-economical, cultural and political factors around them and grossly recognising only a few (e.g. their religious identity) reduces our analytical capability to understand them and to put their actions in context. Without this understanding there can be no solutions or effective strategies devised.

Furthermore, using the same raw military force to confront all of them on 'equal' terms, be they states (Iraq), elected governments (Hamas), loosely structured coalitions of crooks/bandits/religious fanatics/morons etc. it can only force them to get together, share and exchange for real. The increase of suicide attacks employed by traditional groups which, under conventional circumstances, did not consider historically such modus operandi is a telling sign. The changing profile of such attackers, now often being women, is another. Global terror as a concept, I think, is shaped not because of genuine intentions of those groups to collaborate (their own interests are far too diverse to allow for that and even competing), but in their unity against a response from the states in power that is indiscriminate and disproportionate ('my enemy's enemy is my friend').

Religious identities and fundamentalism in this case is not much more than an excuse that both sides buy in in need of a quick justification of the deeper, political causes of the conflict - competition for land in a crowded part of the world and the right to exercise autonomous political will. Just as the Northern Irish conflict had deeper roots than the Protestand/Catholic identities. The recycling of global terror and security justification by Israel, accompanied by an implied, underlying religious fundamentalism argument is a distorted view of the world in this context and the sooner we understand that, the sooner we will stop its later backfiring. There is a true need, more that ever before, for ceasefire and diplomacy. Meanwhile, more people get killed.

(1) http://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2007/02/the_psychology_2.html

(2) http://www.thenation.com/doc/20040202/klug

(3) http://www.press.uchicago.edu/News/911lakoff.html

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