Conclusion: Religion, Solidarity and Power

Conclusion: Religion, Solidarity and Power

by

Howard Adelman

I have tried to make the following points.

  1. There is no singular secular religion to which one can refer that can offer transcendent principles governing discourse in the public sphere; we are all fundamentally partialists.
  2. The secular religion of human rights and humanitarianism, even if now dominant, is only one among other competitors
  3. Current Western society may be dominated by the secular religion of human rights and humanitarianism, but its insistence that its secondary rules of discourse in the public sphere (civility, etc.) are universal, is also the source of its naïveté when combating the other major religious secular player.
  4. That other secular religious player in contemporary political culture, uncivil religious secularism, believes in a discourse of deceit and manipulation in the public sphere in contrast to the rules of civility, etc. proposed by the secular religion of human rights and humanitarianism.
  5. That competitor to the secular religion of human rights and humanitarianism, the anti-civility secular religion, is most wedded to the separation of religion and state, primarily so it can uphold high and lofty moral principles in the private sphere while demonstrating the most manipulative tools of discourse permissible and tolerated in its own society.
  6. The anti-civil secular religion evinces the greatest solidarity with the traditional religions with which it is allied and has a much stronger position on loyalty and solidarity.
  7. The secular religion of rights and humanitarianism engages in partnerships of convenience with its liberal traditional religious partners.
  8. The secular religion of rights and humanitarianism weakens itself most by insisting its norms are universal and transcendent, for it disguises the need to engage with and understand the rules of Machiavellian discourse required to beat its opponent in the public sphere.
  9. Another source of its weakness: it regards intellectual influence as the highest realm, rather than coercive power, and, hence, is often defeated because of its weak understanding of coercive power in both the domestic and international realms.
  10. Similarly, though I have not explored that dimension in this paper, the secular religion of human rights and humanitarianism also has the poorest understanding of the role of charisma substituting for authentic authority, and the role of formal authority given its significant reliance on the rule of law and the role of the courts that are founded on the primacy of influence.
  11. The secular religion of human rights and humanitarianism is often not generally as well attuned to the role of material influence given its almost singular emphasis on intellectual influence.
  12. Most fundamentally, secularism, in its various forms, is itself simply a religion with competing and warring sects, each governed by beliefs and practices, rituals and rites, which are themselves immune to falsification.

If it were not the fact that the secular religious principles of HRH were held so broadly and deeply by the majority of Western societies, it is a wonder that this secular religion achieves power and political authority at all. Yet, in most Western societies, the religious secularism of human rights and humanitarianism dominates, in both conservative and liberal guises.  It is the governing belief set of the polity.

Further, though both the majority (human rights and humanitarianism) and the minority (Machiavellian and manipulative politics) are the major secular religions in competition, both stress the sociology of groups, in spite of the emphasis of each on individualism, either the individualism of rights or of needs respectively as manifested in the free market. For, as Marx wrote, the free market delivers anarchy; religion is always about order. But each version of religious secularism, in stressing two different forms of individualism, undermines a system of fraternal ethics. But they do so in different spheres. The secular religion of rights undermines fraternity in what is called the private sphere and produces anomie.  The religious secularism that undercuts rights (MMP) reinforces fraternal ethics in the private sphere while denying ethical considerations as fundamentally appropriate to the public sphere.

Human rights religious secularism insists on positing internalized rules of the game that are made explicit in court rulings and, in terms of which, goals can be pursued and appropriate means chosen to chase those goals. In contrast to this emphasis on a normative structure for society, the competing alternative argues that its opponents, in the name of rights, undermine freedom and responsibility and, in the end, never really understand the need for order, an order which promotes sanctions and rewards, instils habits and celebrates preferences rather than rights. Thus, in the latter, instead of a theoretical egalitarian society, stratification is accepted as a dominant feature of the social order. In particular, even in our post-modern world, nationalism is celebrated in terms of a particular system of social stratification that allows each nation to be both unique while each, in its own way, offers political salience by connecting opportunities and contingency to measures of success. Some necessary conditions of success include the solidarity of the family and the community by means of which individual and group interests can be aligned.

So why does the religious secularism of rights and humanitarianism remain dominant even though it is weak in understanding the importance of coercive power, even though it is weak in terms of the value of solidarity? If it is so fundamentally weak in understanding the role of coercive power and the necessity and not just the reality of social stratification, why is it the dominant contemporary religious secularist belief system? Further, it remains dominant even though it is itself divided by sectarianism.

I do not have an answer.


BIBLIOGRAPHY

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The Niqab and the Canadian Election

The Niqab and the Canadian Election

by

Howard Adelman

Forgive me for jumping out of my series on the Iran nuclear issue. But the issue of the niqab on which the results of the Canadian election may turn, is too important, precisely because it is so unimportant. For non-Canadian readers let me provide the context.

The niqab is the veil worn by a very small minority of Muslim women in Canada. Zunera Ishaq became the unsought for central player when the Stephen Harper refused to admit her into Canadian citizenship unless she removed her veil or niqab in the public ceremonial swearing of allegiance. Zunera’s niqab has a very wide slit; the forehead and upper cheekbones can be seen. Many of us have seen Saudi women at airports where the slit is extremely narrow and some where even the eyes are covered by a netting as in wearing a burka.

The political issue arose over whether, when a person applies to become a Canadian citizen, they will be permitted to wear the veil in the public part of the ceremony. Of course, this is not how the issue was raised as part of electoral politics. The situation was made out as if it is about women being “forced” to hide their faces when they wish to become Canadian citizens and whether a person who hid her identity in public could swear an oath of allegiance. Or, at least, this is how our Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, and his partners in the Conservative Party in Canada framed the issue.

The following are the facts:

  1. Two women in Canada since 2011 have refused to take off their niqabs in the public ceremony, not in private, as a condition of becoming citizens.
  2. There is no law in Canada prohibiting the wearing of a niqab at the public ceremony where the citizenship oath is taken.
  3. The government of Canada issued regulations banning the wearing of face veils when taking the oath of citizenship in the public ceremony.
  4. Zunera Ishaq, clearly no wilting rose, took the Government of Canada to court over the issue.
  5. She won her court case and, just recently, in the Federal Court of Appeal, won again.
  6. The courts have ruled that the Canada Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects Zunera Ishaq from being forced to remove her veil during the public part of the ceremony and that she should be given the right to wear the veil in the public ceremony, become a citizen and be allowed to vote in the forthcoming election on 19 October.
  7. The latest ruling by the Federal Court of Appeal was on 18 September.
  8. The Government of Canada even lost the subsequent court case asking for a stay in allowing Zunera Ishaq her rights.
  9. Last Friday she exercised her rights, became a citizen and can vote in the elections on 19 October or in the advance poll.
  10. This is but one of a long series of cases where the current Government of Canada has sought through regulations to get around the Charter of Rights and Freedoms; the government has been thwarted at every turn by the Canadian courts.
  11. Note that, before participating in the public ceremony where the oath is taken, any applicant for citizenship must go through a number of steps to prove the applicant’s identity.
  12. Those steps include, in the name of the principle of political accommodation, that Zunera Ishaq remove her veil in private before a female official to establish her identity.
  13. The public ceremony is part of the ceremonial part of the occasion, one that if you ever attend is very moving for almost all participants.
  14.  The Conservatives, as part of the election campaign, promised to “rectify” the matter by introducing legislation within 100 days of taking office that will require those applying for citizenship to take off face coverings during the formal ceremony confirming citizenship.
  15. They promise to do this without first hearing from the Supreme Court of Canada whether such legislation would be legal under the Canadian Constitution and even though the party, if it wins the largest plurality of seats, will only be a minority government.
  16. The Conservative Party has also signalled that it even plans to introduce legislation banning any federal employee from wearing a niqab when serving the public.
  17. Further, Catherine Loubier, a spokeswoman for the Conservative Party, stated that the niqab issue was part of the Conservative “agenda” as a well-established principle of the party, and that the party has simply benefited from a “coincidence.”
  18. It appears that this may even be part of a future plan to allow a Conservative minority government to be defeated on such an issue and call an election to get a majority vote for the Conservative Party.
  19. The real issue is that Stephen Harper is the one really wearing a metaphorical niqab behind which he has been hiding to distract Canadians from really examining closely his mismanagement of the economy, his destruction of the “civil” dimension of the Canadian civil service and the myriad of other issues on which he has a deplorable record.
  20. In Canada, and in Quebec particularly the issue of wearing religiously identifying garments, particularly by civil servants serving the public, has become a contentious issue.
  21. In France, girls at school are banned from wearing a hijab, that is a headscarf, let alone a niqab. The Quebec Marois government which introduced the Charter on Quebec values and laws against the wearing of “ostentatious” religious symbols or garments introduced laws banning the wearing of any ostentatious religious symbols by Quebec officials and others in particular situations; this was in the French tradition of religious secularism, laicité.
  22. The opposition parties came out strongly against the Government position based, not on whether they liked or disliked women wearing the niqab, but on the basis of human rights and upholding Canadian law and the constitution.
  23. One possible result, as established by polls, is that support for the New Democratic Party in Quebec, where the party has most of their members of parliament and the vast majority of Quebec seats, has fallen precipitously; polls initially indicated that much of that shift favoured the Conservatives given the politics of fear and blanketing the airwaves with pictures of ominous happenings as a woman dawns a veil. More recent polls suggest a more significant shift to the Liberals. Since Justin Trudeau holds the same position on the niqab issue – namely that it is being used as a distraction and wearing it anywhere is a human right as interpreted by Canadian courts,
  24. The biggest irony of all is that a very feisty Zunera Ishaq donned the veil, not in the name of tradition, but in the name of her rights as a private person, in the name of the secular religion of Canada and against the advice and even pleas of family members.

One cannot but admire how Tom Mulcair as leader of the New Democratic Party has handled the issue as a matter of principle in spite of the political backlash against his and his party’s views. However, while praising his principles, one can also be disappointed in the way he handled the spin on the issue. He based his objections on two foundations – first on the rights of these Muslim women and the rule of law in Canada. Second, he attacked Harper for using such a politically miniscule issue to arouse ethnic and religious fears in Canada and a degree of hostility to Muslims that is beneath the surface. His principles may be admired, but his ability at political counter-attack, at counter-spin, may not be. In any case, he may have lost support in Quebec for a myriad of other reasons.

Naheed Nenshi, the Muslim mayor of Calgary and perhaps the most popular politician in Canada, offered a very spirited attack on the Conservative position. He did so, not because he is a member of any other political party to the best of my knowledge. He was just absolutely appalled by the position of Stephen Harper and Jason Kenney, Harper’s leading cabinet minister. Nenshi made the following points;

  1. He personally does not like the niqab and wishes people would not wear it.
  2. The wearing of the niqab may not be, for the women who wear it, a symbol of oppression and of masculine misogyny.
  3. The government’s position is contradictory for, in the name of supposedly protecting women against the oppression of their husbands, their families and their tradition, the government would adopt the position of oppression to tell women what they can wear in certain circumstances.
  4. The government has far more important issues to debate in an election than what two women in the last four years have chosen to wear at a public ceremony in which the oath of citizenship is sworn together with a larger group of applicants.
  5. Those issues include the disappearance of large numbers of aboriginal women, an issue on which the Government of Canada refuses to set up a Commission of Inquiry.

In spite of Nenshi’s intervention, and that of many others, including very articulate Muslim women who would never wear a niqab, polls initially indicated that a majority of Canadians, not just in Quebec, supported the Conservative Party position. Léger Marketing found 82 per cent were in support of the policy nationally, and 93 per cent in favour in Quebec.

I am not a political spin doctor. But I would have advised a slightly different approach than that of either Tom Mulcair or Naheed Neshi or Justin Trudeau for that matter. First, as Nenshi did, I would have indicated that I do not particularly like women wearing a niqab  – but because I enjoy seeing the beauty in a woman’s face. Secondly, even though tattooing has grown in popularity, I have a very much stronger distaste for people who adorn themselves with tattoos and have been an oppressive father who banned my children, while supported by me, from ever getting a tattoo. Nevertheless, I would never think of passing a law or regulation banning this form of ostentatious personal identification by a civil servant, a student or an individual seeking to become a citizen.

But a tattoo does not hide a person’s identity. In fact, it establishes it more clearly – ask the number of criminals who have been caught because they were identified by the specific tattoo they wore. True enough, but the criterion espoused by Harper was his personal distaste for the behaviour of women wearing a niqab, since objective evidence and fact establish unequivocally that it is not an identity issue. I once had a woman who wore a niqab to my class and never had any difficulty whatsoever in identifying her, in fact even less difficulty than identifying most of my students – I was very bad at that very important skill.

The basic point is that my personal distaste, whatever it is and however much anyone agrees or disagrees with it, should not be the basis for making Canadian law or regulations. Further, it is not only I who say so. The Courts of Canada have ruled on this issue over and over again. My position on tattoos may be very appealing, especially to a number of older people who are appalled at the increasing propensity of young people to wear tattoos. But when it comes to public space and civil discourse, it is none of my business.

Mulcair and Nenshi attacked Stephen Harper for introducing such a trivial issue in an election because it was being used as a wedge issue for those who feared the influx of Muslims into Canada. That may be the case, but a vast majority of Canadians support Harper’s position and I do not believe they are anti-Muslim. They are against the practice of women wearing niqabs. The political issue, as opposed to constitutional one, is to focus the debate, not on their personal taste, but on principles, the laws of Canada and the rights of women. But one can best, I believe, shift the focus of debate only once establishing an identity with those Canadians who are opposed to women wearing a niqab.

The courts can decide what is lawful and not lawful with respect to dictates of the government re requirements of dress or tattoos. My personal distaste is irrelevant. Rights are. Respect for differences is critical. What is most relevant is Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party’s effort on tramping on what I believe are prime Canadian values – tolerance, respect, not just acceptance, of others – and recognition that I should never make my personal tastes, whether for vanilla ice cream, diet colas or niqabs, a basis for making public policy.

Why did Harper adopt this position? He certainly used it to sew fear and division, but the incident really fell into his lap. It had long been Conservative public policy. Therefore, it is doubtful whether the debate over the wearing of niqabs at public rituals when swearing an Oath to the Queen was intended as a wedge issue, though it was certainly played up for that use.

The explanation however lies deeper. Stephen Harper is a classical small “l” liberal when it comes to the separation of religion from the public political sphere and from civil society. His prime enemy is not socialism or the nanny state, though these are lined up for extinction. His main enemy is the secular liberal religion of human rights. He is a traditional Conservative or classical liberal who believe that religious affiliation, beliefs and commitments belong to the private sphere. Harper is not a member of the secular religion of rights or humanitarianism. He deeply and sincerely believes in Machiavellianism as the guide to practice in the public sphere. Faith is a private matter. The public believes, especially Quebecers, that religion must be excluded from public life. Harper adds to that belief a conviction that the public realm is the sphere governed by power, not by faith, by manipulation rather than tolerance and inclusion. Harper practices the politics of exclusion and works hard to divide the public polity to gain enough support, even if it is minority support, to defeat those who have faith in the liberal secular religion of rights.

The public sphere and especially political elections offer the arena where these secular religious wars are fought. Hopefully, Harper will lose this battle.

A Performance Critique of BDS – Part II

A Performance Critique of BDS – Part II

by

Howard Adelman

                                                                                                           

 “More than any other tactic of the Palestinian liberation movement, the BDS campaign has succeeded in creating a global outpouring of support for Palestinian rights and placed Israel’s violations of them under international scrutiny like never before.” This is the boast that appears on the BDS website in an essay written by Sherry Wolf entitled, “What’s behind the rise of BDS?” The answer presumably is a record of success. How is success measured? By the following:

  • moving the issue of Palestinian rights from the margins into mainstream discourse
  • instead of a discussion of obscure territorial border issues and competing narratives, debate has now opened up in the media, in corporate board rooms and in academia

For the moment, let’s presume the truth of both claims. How then do such “successes” relate to the goal of ending the occupation and colonizing of all Arab lands? Wolf makes no effort to draw any connection. Like magic, a campaign for the rights of Palestinians will lead inevitably to the roll back of the armies of the colonizers and the surrender of all land seized back to the Palestinians. One need only utter the connection to recognize how absurd and preposterous any claim for such a connection using the means that BDS employs. Instead of an argument and evidence, we get repetition upon repetition of the three aims of the BDS movement as if they were a mantra rather than realizable political objectives.

The anti apartheid movement against South Africa is usually offered as the forerunner of the BDS campaign. But everyone knows the context, the histories and the global situation were radically different. The Boers, for example, had lived in South Africa for centuries unlike the Zionists who had really been in Palestine for less than half a century before they gained control initially of just over half the land and then in the 1948 war increased that to over 70%. The Zionists became, through the forced exodus of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, the majority in their own state. In contrast, the Boers never achieved majority status in their areas of occupation, even if the English white population was added to their own numbers. In ethnic, religious and racial conflicts, minorities have a choice – rule over the rest or be ruled, but do not pretend that, as a minority, you can rule as a minority for very long without external support and/or internal ruthlessness.

Further, the Jewish Zionists were much cleverer than the advocates of apartheid. Apartheid was not practiced in Israel primarily through the rule of law and the denial of the right to vote as it was in South Africa and in the Southern United States. The exclusively Jewish Israeli government let Palestinians in Israel become full citizens and cast ballots and practiced any apartheid through informal rather than legally coercive measures. The BDS charges the Zionists with racism and preaching racial superiority with no evidence to support such a claim. The Zionists are much cleverer than that. They practice the superiority of their power, not the superiority of their blood. The latter offends the world as it did for the advocates of apartheid in South Africa, Alabama and most of the Deep South in the USA. The superiority of power, in contrast, is often widely admired even when the group controlling and wielding the power is repulsive. More importantly, the only real way to challenge power is with countervailing forces that are stronger, more committed and have the vision of the long run rather than pandering to liberal doctrines of rights to get mushy liberals on one’s side.

In putting forth this liberal non-violent mode of fighting what is really a hundred years war, the BDS movement distorts and deforms Palestinian history. The militant Palestinian movement never envisioned winning its battle against the hostile forces arraigned against it “through the mobilization of Palestinians alone.” Quite the contrary. Initially, the Palestinian leadership placed too much reliance on the efforts of others. And then when it took its destiny into its own hands, instead of raising the morale of its partners so they could enter the fray with enthusiasm and an all-out effort, the PLO ended up getting into one conflict after another with them even as the PLO agreed to non-interference in those Arab states in return for financial support, something which BDS acknowledges. Instead of mobilizing other Arabs and Muslims to fight on their side, the Palestinian leadership counted on governments that were already insecure in their own power without taking on Israel and its Western backers. The Palestinian leadership, indeed, did not work alone, but got in bed like prostitutes with regimes without deep roots in the will of the people and without any stamina for a long and necessarily sacrificial struggle.

The problem was not that the militants went their own way, but that they went the wrong way, pussyfooting around the central issues rather than directly confronting them and rallying the resources and the will to accomplish the real goals. The BDS movement opts for non-violence in its actions, but violence in its goals and aspirations. The position is inherently contradictory and doomed to be an even greater failure than the weak militancy of the PLO leadership even as BDS celebrates its rare pyrrhic victories.

Look at the contrast between reality and the following BDS claims:

  1. Success as evidenced by the admission of Israeli and Zionist leaders that BDS is “delegitimizing” Israel and threatens Israel’s authority and prestige;
  2. The shift in American public opinion so that a majority now view Israel unfavourably;
  3. Success because of Israel’s own brutal actions in activities such as Operation Cast Lead (2008-2009) and in Operation Protective Edge (2014) in Gaza, activities which BDS puts on display and amplifies.

In other words, BDS admits that its successes have largely depended on Israel and Zionists shooting themselves in the foot rather than any role BDS plays except magnifying and publicizing Israel’s self-inflicted wounds.

But what is the reality? For purposes of space, I will concentrate only on the claimed successes with respect to U.S. attitudes and support and set aside both an examination of successes outside America and whether BDS has taken sufficient advantage of Israel shooting itself in the foot.

I begin with the first claim, that Israeli and Zionist leaders have recognized BDS as a central threat. Wolf wrote, “At the 2014 conference of the American Israel Political Action Committee (AIPAC), unquestionably the most influential pro-Israel group in the United States, speakers from Secretary of State John Kerry to Netanyahu felt the urgency to deride BDS. In his keynote address to AIPAC, Netanyahu mentioned BDS no fewer than eighteen times. To rousing cheers, Netanyahu called on Zionists to ‘fight back’ against boycott advocates, ‘to delegitimize the delegitimizers.’ [16] Many BDS activists rightly took this to be a form of distorted respect from an enemy that previously ignored the movement’s existence.”

How revealing! Success is marked by recognition of one’s existence, not by the degree to which specific goals have been achieved within an overall larger strategy. It is as if the black flies of northern Ontario announced that they were winning the war against human encroachment on nature in general and their habitat in particular because they are such an irritant to the increasing number of humans invading their territory. The BDS movement has shown it can be a bothersome irritant. The BDS has shown that it can become a focus of attention by the current Zionist leadership that continues to repeatedly shoot itself in the foot. Swatting the back of its neck may be perceived as a form of shooting oneself in the foot, but it can also be recognized as a minor distraction, not only for the Zionists but for the goals of those who really see Zionism as the imperialist colonizer. The real question is whether serving as a gnat will stop the continuing invasion. Claiming that Israel has become a global pariah does not make it so.

Let us look hard at claims of enhanced support for the Palestinians and the branding of Israel as a pariah. I neither have the space nor time to undertake a world survey, but an examination of shifting attitudes in the key battleground for the BDS movement, the United States, offers very little encouragement and belies the BDS claim that Israel has become a pariah. A swarm of mosquitoes or an attack of black flies are certainly bothersome, but they cause little change in the actual forward march of the colonizer and occupier.

Note the following:

  1. U.S. military aid to Israel has not decreased but has steadily increased beginning with the establishment of the PLO until it more or less flat-lined and achieved a plateau over the last thirty years:
  2. The U.S. Congress, including Democrats and Republicans, remain unwavering in support for Israel even when the Prime Minister of Israel challenges the President of the U.S. not simply on U.S. soil, but in the U.S. Congress.[1]
  3. There was absolutely NO significant media coverage that Congress continued to vote support for shipping sophisticated weaponry to Israel, even if some held their noses at the extent of the destruction in Gaza.
  4. In various surveys, although there is a vocal and significant minority opposed to such military aid, there is a clear majority in America who support supplying Israel with the same level of weaponry into the future; that support has not declined because of Israel’s actions in Gaza; further, in spite of the revelations of Edward Snowden, the Obama administration has supplied Israel with covert support by sharing intelligence, and there is little sign of any significant objection.
  5. Almost 40% of Americans continue to support a two state solution, a number unchanged in spite of the Gaza wars between 2008 and 2014.
  6. Also unchanged is the number – estimated at 18% – who support a one state solution with the Zionists in control.
  7. What has changed as the prospect of a two state solutions recedes is the number supporting Israel evolving into a bi-national state with Arabs having equal citizenship if, and for many who take this position, only if the two state solution really is dead.
  8. Since the PLO has shifted tactics and set aside the bilateral pursuit of peace with the U.S. as a mediator, at least while Netanyahu and his ilk hold power, and has shifted to the international diplomatic route more in line with the BDS approach, only 25% of Americans want the U.S. to support such an effort.
  9. On sanctions, in spite of a majority of Americans opposing expansion of Israeli settlements, most oppose imposing sanctions; BDS efforts have not seemed to have been proven effective in getting support for sanctions aligned with opposition to settlements.
  10. More telling than any of the above polls perhaps is the fact that only 14% of Americans want the U.S. to be more supportive of Palestine while 55%, in spite of opposition to settlements, want the U.S. to lean towards the Israeli side.

None of this data supports the self-advertisement that BDS has had a significant effect on American attitudes let alone policy with respect to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Quite the reverse. Given the ambiguous and equivocal position of BDS on whether BDS favours a one state or a two-state solution, and certainly around the issue of whether Palestinians should have the defining power in such a state, BDS can be accused of retarding rather than enhancing this development in consciousness.

However there is one cogent argument in support of BDS in spite of any significant lack of progress to date. 31% of Americans rank human rights concerns as their highest priority compared to real politic and the defence of American interests (24%) or 14% because of Israeli interests. However, of those 31%, a majority believe that Israel is a stronger defender of human rights than the Palestinians. This indicates that making an appeal on the basis of human rights might seem the most efficacious route to some success since rights are so central to many Americans’ concerns, but in doing so, perhaps the spotlight reveals more about the Palestinians than the Zionists. On the other hand, rallying around the theme of human rights does allow those most sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, and those most supportive of international action to recognize a Palestinian state, to coalesce. But is that success consequential, or does it merely make Palestinians feel good without any accomplishments on the ground?

This is the telling poll about attitudes. The most recent Pew poll continued to show that Americans, in spite of Israeli ruthless behaviour, continue to support Israel over Palestinians by a wide margin. BDS has not had any significant effect on this even when the poll was conducted immediately after the last cessation of fighting in Gaza in 2014. Even after the havoc Israel inflicted on Gaza, 34% of Americans strongly sympathize and 32% somewhat sympathize with Israel, while the equivalent figures for the Palestinian cause is 11% and 35%. More telling, the sympathy for the Palestinians is not with their cause but their condition as victims, while the sympathy for Israel is for their cause. Pursuing BDS goals is a self-defeating exercise because, in order to earn more sympathy for the Palestinians, they have to continue to be victims, not victors. Further, in spite of all their suffering, almost half of Americans still have little or no sympathy for the Palestinians, while those with little or no sympathy for the Israelis is half that figure.

This points to the real flaw in the BDS philosophical approach and efforts. They are totally marginal in effecting change. To the extent they do succeed, they may boomerang back against the Palestinians even more. Finally, and most importantly, such efforts undermine the real struggle, the struggle between two national groups for dominance. Once that is surrendered, the Zionists are bound to win because, disastrous as it is, they have a better track record in the human rights field than the Palestinians. Further, they are bound to win because they are stronger. The only way Palestinians will win is if they understand that they must be stronger, more dedicated and more committed to winning the struggle. BDS is really a route to surrender while engaging in a rhetorical superego trip. The reality is that wars – even the wars in South Africa and the American South – were won because of who had the power, and not because of an appeal to human rights, however important human rights were as a rallying cry for the majority to overthrow the power of a minority.

What has changed? Support for a two-state solution has declined as the vision of a two states living side by side in peace has receded as a possibility. BDS supporters who deep down do not believe in victory for the Palestinian cause, but espouse a week-kneed vision of a secular society of individuals with equal rights, whether they have Jewish or non-Jewish backgrounds, a utopian dream if there ever was one, would appear to have gained ground because of this shift. The problem, however, is that the support for a Palestine dominated by the Zionists has increased even more. As the two-state solution recedes, the issue is not whether a utopian paradise of individual rights will rise out of the ashes of a doomed pursuit, but which community will dominate in the resultant power struggle. Does the BDS movement offer any indication that the Palestinians will emerge on top as they pursue everyone ostensibly living at precisely the same level of rights and benefits? Quite the opposite. Both domestically and certainly in the U.S., understanding for a hegemonic Zionist enterprise has crept to the forefront both in Israel and the U.S.

Demonizing the Zionists is totally insufficient. In fact, the greater the demonization, the more the morale of the Palestinians will suffer as their dream of recovering their lands and their historic place in the world recedes. What is required is not demonization of the Zionists but their total defeat, and the BDS platform offers no route or prospect to achieving such a goal. As the prospect of a two-state solution recedes, the benefits will not go to the mushy liberals who build a program based on human rights. They did not emerge victorious in the recent Arab spring and have failed to learn or apply any lessons to their inconsequential efforts when fighting the Zionist colonizers and occupiers. The benefit will go to the hard Israeli right who change hirsute for sheep clothing at the bat of an eye and much faster and more successfully that Jacob did in robbing Esau of his birthright.

As long as the BDS movement propagates the illusion of a so-called just outcome in which everyone can live in a polity that guarantees everyone human rights, then the Zionists cannot and will not be defeated. They will be irritated. They will scratch away at the bites of no-see-ums at their hairline. But the Zionist entity will not surrender as the minority apartheid regime in Rhodesia and South Africa and the American South were forced to do. Standing up to Israel’s human rights violations and the collaborators with the Zionist enterprise of colonization and occupation is not and can never be just a human rights struggle. It has to be a struggle for the Palestinians as Palestinians, for the Arabs as Arabs, for Muslims as Muslims, against an enemy that has to be destroyed. Otherwise, BDS is just a proponent of a long series of illusions that have led to one setback after another for the Palestinians. If the Zionists are inherently colonizers, if they are inherently occupiers, then joining forces with bleeding heart liberal Jews on a human rights platform can only be self-defeating. Viewing themselves as the civil rights movement of the twenty-first century may appease sensitivities, but will not bring victory over the Zionists any closer. Cloaking oneself in the mantle of universal rights will no more disguise and hide the real battle ground than the Zionists wearing the magician’s cloak of a two-state solution.

But the supporters of the BDS movement know this. They are not total fools. They know they lack the domestic power to bring the Zionist entity to its knees. That is why they, like the PLO, have taken the international route. In their own words, “Though BDS is a magnificent tactic for winning sympathy and drawing activists into solidarity with Palestinians, even landing financial and ideological blows against Israel, it is ultimately a struggle for reforms within capitalism—an exploitative system that is part of an imperial order.” In other words, the real ultimate goal is the defeat of capitalism of which Zionist Israel is just an early and easier target. And all of this in the face of China as a rising communist-capitalist power and the virtual decimation of the communist utopian enterprise everywhere.

What about the claims for specific accomplishments? On the sanctions front, the score is zero. Does this suggest to the BDS proponents that their utopian vision in which they hypocritically espouse Palestinian self-determination while denouncing Jewish self-determination all in the guise of the universality of human rights has little in common with the civil rights struggle in the American south or the struggle within South Africa to overthrow apartheid? And when they shift gears and insist that they are true liberals opposed to prioritizing either form of national self-determination, it is clear that they cannot make up their minds whether they are the avant-garde of socialism, of universal liberalism or of support for the Palestinians as a movement for self-determination in the face of a powerful colonizing occupier. The confusions and contradictions only muddy the waters even as they use this creative ambiguity of traditional diplomacy to gain more support.

On the divestment front, BDS calls for withdrawal of investments in stocks and bonds in corporations deemed to be complicit in support of violations of Palestinian human rights. Again, even on this inconsequential front with an effect that is barely noticeable, the reality is that the BDSers are really not aiming at victory, but consciousness raising, about using the divestment campaign to help blacken the image of Israel. My argument is simple. To the extent the BDS campaign has succeeded, the success has been infinitely miniscule. Secondly, the backlash has been far more powerful than any small benefit. Third, part of that backlash entails revealing the hypocrisy of a movement that campaigns on human rights as a universal position but singularly focuses on Israel which even its most ardent enemies have to admit is far from the most heinous criminal on this front, quite aside from the fact that in a power struggle between one group and another for supremacy, human rights, however important, become relatively a side issue. Finally, BDSers have a record of flouting victories when the actions lauded have often had little if anything to do with supporting the aims of BDS.

Take the Hampshire College issue where BDS claimed its first victory in 2009 in the soft underbelly of its campaign for divestment. BDSers claimed that, as a direct consequence of their campaign, Hampshire College regents voted to terminate investments in companies associated with Israel and the exploitation of Palestinians.  What are the facts? Hampshire College is one of the myriad of small liberal colleges that populate the American landscape with a total enrolment of only 1,400 students boasting small classes, small faculty to student ratios, and an impressive record of graduates going on to complete graduate degrees. It is far from the most prestigious of such colleges, but it is no slouch either. Hampshire is among the better of the myriad of small liberal colleges in the United States.

The campaign for divestment on campus was begun by a group which, consistent with the BDS position, viewed all of Palestine as occupied and colonized. Though the Board denied it was responding to pressure, the Board voted to divest its $40 million endowment of any investments in 200 companies including six pushed by BDS on campus, e.g. General Electric, ITT and Motorola. The President of the college at the time, Ralph Hexter, admitted the college had initiated its actions in response to student pressure, but that the action taken had nothing to do with any opposition to Israel. This aroused the ire of Alan Dershowitz, whose son went to Hampshire College. Within two years, Ralph Hexter was no longer president; he was replaced in 2011 by Jonathan Lash, an environmental expert who for six years in the nineties chaired the President’s Council on Sustainable Development.

Hexter was forced to leave after only three years even though he was an Ivy-league educated classicist, an openly married gay scholar with an excellent record as a fund raiser. What he did not know how to do was manage a student body that was radically left, whether the issue was security cameras in parking lots, ostensibly to protect vulnerable students from sexual assault but interpreted as invasions of privacy, or the issue of his alleged support for institutional racism (Hampshire College in overwhelmingly white Amherst Massachusetts hosted a student body in which 25% were members of visible minorities.), and over the attempt to move administrative offices to a more central convenient location. The cause for “firing” was not just over the blow-up over the divestment issue. What the whole sorry episode indicated was a record of a significantly-sized but a minority of a supposedly radical group of students incapable of discriminating between issues of security cameras, world political crises or the location of administrative offices. All these issues demanded the same fiery inflammatory speeches and the belief that outrageous speech is equivalent to radical action.

The policy that the College Board approved on 7 February 2009 was a decision to divest investments in its small endowment from 200 companies perceived as in breach of the college’s standard of social responsibility. No reference at all was made to Israel. The list included Caterpillar, Terex, and United Technologies as well as the three companies previously mentioned on the list targeted by the Students for Justice in Palestine.

All the protests and press releases could not overcome the reality that the Board’s actions were perceived as bending before pressure to a radical group of students with an anti-Israel agenda. The reality was that these were ersatz radicals, satisfied with the most ephemeral of victories with trivial or no consequences except the backlash that made almost all other colleges fearful of following the Hampshire College precedent. Further, the college insisted that the divestment was based on the fact that these companies were ostensibly guilty of “unfair labor practices, environmental abuse, military weapons manufacturing, and unsafe workplace settings.” The press release was unequivocal: “Israel was not the cause for divestment from the State Street Fund.” Hampshire College insisted, in fact, that the college “had refused to divest from Israel.” Perception, however, won over substance. In the long run, both the College and the BDS movement suffered enormously from the negative fallout and the misrepresentation of what had taken place.

BDS had its fifteen seconds in the divestment limelight. Drugged with the illusion of success, by 2014 BDS claimed additional breakthroughs at Swarthmore and Vassar, two other even more esteemed liberal college campuses of privilege and detachment from the harsh realities of life. Those students, however, were not satisfied with a picayune pinprick; they went after the pension giant TIAA-CREF in spite of a past record where BDS claimed a victory over an action by the fund that had nothing to do with the BDS campaign. Victories in student votes of a small minority of students who pack a meeting proved inconsequential. This was true of even causes that have much broader and deeper support among the student body, the effort of Mountain Justice to get the Swarthmore College to divest in firms involved with fossil fuels. This was the response of Gil Kemp, Chair of the College Board of Management, in an open letter on divestment dated 13 September 2013 that is even more applicable to the Palestinian issue than the environmental one.

After firmly proclaiming support for the climate change doctrine and the fears of the negative consequences, and the support for alternative energy sources, after lauding its own action plans to deal with the issue by the college, in response to the effort of Mountain Justice to eliminate fossil fuel shares from their portfolios, the College Board rejected the request on consequentialist grounds that costs would far outweigh any benefits posing “an unacceptable risk to the College’s finances” and an estimated loss of $10-15 million in income annually for the fund. Nor would divestment have any significant impact on the “behavior of fossil fuel companies, or galvanize public officials to do something about climate change, or reduce America’s reliance on fossil fuels.” Even as a “a symbolic act designed to mobilize public opinion against fossil fuels,” the efficacy of such a move was denied. “Divestment’s potential success as a moral response is limited – if not completely negated – so long as its advocates continue to turn on the lights, drive cars, and purchase manufactured goods.” Is this not far truer of efforts to enter into the hazardous fray of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict where the support is far less and the complexities far greater?

The divestment strategy may have had a few minor and meaningless empty victories, but the negative repercussions have been far greater than any accomplishments. What about the sanctions campaign?

I will discuss that effort in my blog on Sunday morning when I focus more intently on the boycott efforts, the campus campaign and wrestle in greater detail with the ethical issues.

[1] For these and subsequent polling results, I have relied primarily on the surveys of the Brookings Institute in cooperation with the Sadat Chair for Peace and Development at the University of Maryland and its polls of American public attitudes to various aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (December 2014).

VII: Samantha Power: R2P Applied

VII: Samantha Power: R2P Applied

by

Howard Adelman

When Samantha was appointed to chair President Obama’s Atrocities Prevention Board set up to actually prevent mass atrocities and genocide as a core U.S. national security interest and foreign affairs responsibility, the cheerleaders for R2P jumped with joy, “At last,” they screamed, “Something will be done about preventing, or, at the very least, mitigating mass atrocities.” Indeed, Samantha Power credited the administration with “an unprecedented record of actions taken to protect civilians and hold perpetrators of atrocities accountable.” In reality, the false claim of credit and the inability to mitigate let alone prevent atrocities are two sides of the same coin.

What were these claimed unprecedented actions and accomplishments? And did they have anything to do with the doctrine of Responsibility to Protect (R2P)?

In the next series of blogs, I will take up a number of specific issues on which Samantha Power at one time or another claimed credit was due to the administration for “an unprecedented record of accomplishment”. I will see what if any connection there is to R2P and briefly deal with the claims made and whether any credit is warranted in a number of specific cases. Of necessity, I will have to be very brief and succinct on each crisis. Before undertaking the specific case study analysis, including Darfur, South Sudan, Côte d’Ivoire, Nigeria, Libya, Iraq, Iran, Syria and Myanmar, I want to raise a number of general faults with R2P and then offer two individual cases – of accountability rather than prevention or intervention as illustrations.

As I will try to show in the case studies, when R2P is actually applied to protect populations in peril, such as the Yazidis in Iraq, the motivation has little to do with protecting that very endangered population. And when protecting an actual population as the real aim, as in Libya, the course of events set in motion by the intervention seems to make the situation go awry leading seemingly to many more deaths and atrocities than might otherwise have been the case. When protection or mitigation actually seem possible and could be effective, as in repressing and even eliminating Boko Haram in Nigeria, the conditions for its application are undermined. All of this will emerge in the case study analysis. In this blog, I offer some theoretical reasons why R2P is inherently bankrupt and why this will always be the case. R2P was not only stillborn when the UN endorsed the doctrine universally by effectively gutting its core premise of making sovereignty conditional instead of absolute, but was sterile at its conceptual birth. The genetics of the doctrine doomed it to crashing.

If the dialectics of the analysis of the theory bothers or deters you, wait until you can read the case study analysis. Alternatively, you can skip this blog and go to a second I will write this morning, a brief review of the movie, The Foxcatcher, a movie that presents, but does not go into the mind of a sociopath who could commit mass atrocities.

Part of the problem with R2P is the difficulty of application – the greater the challenges in figuring how to apply the doctrine, the more worthless it appears to become. For its credit depends upon use, but without a proper line of credit, it turns out to be useless, hence contributing to its increasing loss of credibility. And the more it is not used, the more worthless it appears to be. However, these are but the manifestations of the root conceptual flaws in the doctrine. Let’s start with the central premise of the relationship between the sovereign state and its citizens.

In liberal democratic theory, the governors of a state are responsible for its citizenry and accountable to that citizenry for carrying out a state’s responsibilities. ‘Responsibility for’ and ‘accountability to’ are the two intertwined dialectical links between a population and its government. But in R2P, if a state fails in its prime responsibility of protecting its citizens, that responsibility function shifts to the international community which substitutes its own authority for that of the state. State authority is no longer absolute but conditional upon its exercise and removable with failure. The state is reduced to a trustee of the international community. And that international authority that takes over the responsibility for the citizenry is not responsible to that citizenry. So R2P only works if it undermines the principle of democracy. More importantly, when it does not work – which as I will show is the norm – then responsibility itself becomes emptied of any meaning, thereby even more fundamentally undermining the doctrine of responsibility for and to the people.

If we approach the conceptual issue, not from the nature of a democratic state, that is, the collectivity, but from the other pole of the equation in R2P, the rights of a citizen to protection, we get into another dilemma. Citizens not only have rights of free speech, rights of assembly and the other traditional rights necessary for the preservation and enhancement of a democratic polity, but they have a right not to be subject to mass atrocities. This is not just a right not to be tortured or a right to a fair trial or a right to legal representation. The latter are all rights that belong to the individual in a democratic polity. What we have in this case is a collective right, that is, a right of a community within a polity to continue its existence as a community; if the state denies that right by either trying to evict the community to which an individual belongs (ethnic cleansing) or goes even further and tries assiduously to exterminate that group in whole or in part (genocide), then the only way prevention or mitigation can be effected is by granting a group rights. Inherently, however, this puts limitations on individual rights rather than enhancing them.

If an individual has all of the liberal rights, why does he need to be recognized as a member of a group with collective rights? Where is the added value of the collective right to the individual qua individual? Further, one of the paradoxes at the root of the conception of the nation-state is that when a collection of individuals contract among themselves as individuals to transfer all coercive power to the state on condition that their rights are protected, those rights do not include group rights.

The compact between the individuals and the state goes further. The rights to determine who belongs to the state, that is, who can be its members, is transferred to the state. So if a state wants to abrogate the rights of a group, the only way to protect those rights is to insist they belong to every individual member of the state. But group rights only belong to a group and its members within the state, not to all members of the state itself. So if groups within a state are to have specific group rights – such as aboriginal peoples within Canada concerning the rights of a community to exclude non-aboriginal members or revoke the rights of individuals in that group when they marry non-aboriginals – then it is the group, not the state who defines who is a member of that group. If the state assumes responsibility for that decision – as was done in the Holocaust, in the Rwanda genocide and in some cases of aboriginal rights -, then the very idea of a self-perpetuating collectivity with rights within the state is undermined. The fact is, the issue of collective rights is the Achilles heel of a democratic liberal state. Insisting that a state cannot mistreat any of its minorities and, if it does, the collectivity of all states will take over the responsibility, means only that the irresponsibility only gets writ large and exposed for what it is.

So what has actually happened? The Obama regime has sincerely bought into the principle that the U.S. does have a responsibility when minorities are persecuted. And, unlike the United Nations, it is not just a rhetorical buy-in. As stated above, Obama issued a directive that “the prevention of mass atrocities and genocide is a core national security interest of the United States.” But then the most powerful state in the world showed that it could not possibly implement that responsibility – not only for all the minorities being afflicted with atrocities, but surprisingly, not one single one – except when the real and deep motivation is the old fashioned self-interest of the state.

So the issue is not even which group, among all those persecuted, a state should protect. Nor is the issue simply when to apply the doctrine of protection, let alone adopt the last resort of coercive intervention. The inherent incapacity of the most powerful state to protect any group outside its own jurisdiction based on R2P, which requires collective authorization via the United Nations before any action based on R2P is legitimized, undermines both the sovereignty of the state as well as the potency of that sovereignty. Does the endorsement by the UN authorizing military force help, as when the U.N. Security Council authorized military force to protect “civilians and civilian-populated areas” in Libya? R2P does offer permission to a state to act on behalf of the international community, which may provide temporary protection and which can prevent some murders from proceeding, but what happens next? Unless the intervening state or group of states is willing to assume full responsibility for those endangered citizens and not simply provide protection in an acute crisis, then the violence simply recurs in a different form.

Further, if a country decides to become involved, the intervener has to either take full control (unlikely) or to support one side in the struggle, presumably representing those persecuted. Then the persecuted are empowered to destroy their enemies – which inherently means the other side, the persecutors. They take control and sometimes even become the persecutors. Those states which have an interest against that group that have gained power become highly critical of the intervening state as behaving like an imperial power, not as a saviour of minorities. The intervener is no longer the representative of the world community, but only a section of it intent on victory. R2P just becomes a cover for an exercise in imperial power. At the same time, the intervener becomes a producer of victims as well as a protector of victims.

One result is that altruism is depreciated and devalued. Force in the service of altruism is an oxymoron. What is more, the altruism only seems to work when it is intermixed with the self-interest of the intervening state that drives the intervener to assume the full responsibility required to complete the task at hand. Of course, that only further undermines the moral status of R2P. Since the ostensible success, protecting civilians, is difficult to assess and measure, but the body counts, the civilians killed, those wounded as “collateral damage,” are quantifiable – the empirical evidence seems evident for all to see. The cure may be worse than the disease.

What is more, when a state assumes the responsibility for its members, for its citizens, this is an ongoing and continuing duty, not one that ever ends. But intervention inherently demands and requires an exit. Yet there never is an appropriate time to leave by the very nature of the problem. In reality, an intervener leaves when the government of the state within which the intervention takes place insists once again on assuming responsibility, thereby both undermining the R2P doctrine, which is based on the presumption that the will of an individual state is trumped by that of the international community.

Further, the resentment and internal discord within the intervening state are enhanced. A state assumes responsibility for its own citizens, not in gratitude for the “international” community acting as a temporary protector, but because the country has become tired and even resentful of the so-called protector. On the other side, the citizens of the intervener sooner rather than later grow tired of the burden and resentful in turn of the lack of appreciation of those who they sacrificed to protect. Alternatively, the situation gets worse, and the intervener is required to increase its commitment, the self-sacrifice of its citizens and the cost of its project, which in turn enhances the resentment of at least part of the citizenry of the intervening state and exacerbates the divisions and schisms within.

As we shall see, none of these paradoxes and dilemmas has even touched the problem that neither the strongest state in the world and certainly not the international community can possibly assume the responsibility for even a small portion of the atrocities taking place in various parts of the world. So the international community and the intervening state(s) come across as hypocrites incapable of living up to the promises they have ostensibly made.

One of the results of all these inherent failures is a propensity to boast about relatively tiny and insignificant accomplishments, even when one had hardly anything to do with responsibility for them. Before I begin the series of case study analyses, let me offer an example of one case that is neither about prevention nor intervention, but about accountability. The Obama administration supported the arrest of Ratko Mladić and Goran Hadžić and boasted about it. What did that support amount to?

Samantha claimed this credit among a long list justifying her successes as the chair of President Obama’s Atrocities Prevention Board set up in 2011. It is true that the R2P doctrine is not only about prevention, but also includes punishment of those guilty of crimes against humanity and genocide. But that is not what is novel about R2P. As President Obama said himself on 2 April 2013 upon learning of the arrest of the Butcher of Bosnia, Ratko Mladić: “Fifteen years ago, Ratko Mladić ordered the systematic execution of some 8,000 unarmed men and boys in Srebrenica. Today, he is behind bars. I applaud President Tadic and the Government of Serbia on their determined efforts to ensure that Mladić was found and that he faces justice. We look forward to his expeditious transfer to The Hague…From Nuremberg to the present, the United States has long viewed justice for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide as both a moral imperative and an essential element of stability and peace. In Bosnia, the United States – our troops and our diplomats – led the international effort to end ethnic cleansing and bring a lasting peace. On this important day, we recommit ourselves to supporting ongoing reconciliation efforts in the Balkans and to working to prevent future atrocities. Those who have committed crimes against humanity and genocide will not escape judgment.”

That is a fair and judicious statement. Obama gave credit where credit was due for the arrest – to President Tadic and the Government of Serbia that first gradually asserted control over the Serbian military. The effort was helped both by EU pressure requiring the arrest of the wanted war criminals as a condition for the entry of Serbia into the EU and the British military and British politicians, particularly Paddy Ashdown when United Nations High Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2004. Obama did not link the arrest with R2P, but with a long American bipartisan tradition going back to the Nuremberg trials after WWII. He also gave credit to the Clinton administration for its leading role in the intervention in the former Yugoslavia and for forging the peace agreement. The only credit he gave his own administration was for a recommitment to supporting ongoing reconciliation efforts in the Balkans and his government’s work to prevent future atrocities. None of this had anything to do with the arrest of Ratko Mladić and Goran Hadžić.

Even the rewards offered for information leading to his arrest, initially €1 million by the Serbian government, upped in 2010 to €10 million, and $5 million dollars offered by the American government, subsequently supplemented by an offer of €1 million by the U.S. embassy in Belgrade just for information on his location, had nothing to do with those arrests. Initially Mladić was protected by the governments of Serbia and Republika Srpska, then after 2002 by the Serbian army and the army of Republika Srpska, then by paramilitary extremist organizations similar to the ones that helped Nazi war criminals escape Germany after WWII, and finally only by members of his own family. Neither strenuous UN and NATO efforts nor offers of bounties led to his arrest – just good police work and serendipity.

Goran Hadžić was the last fugitive war criminal wanted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and he was arrested by Serbian police just over a month after Ratko Mladić near the village of Krušedol, where he had been hiding since his indictment by the ICTY. He had tried to sell a stolen Modigliani painting and police tracked him down. America had no more to do with this arrest than with the capture of Ratko Mladić. President Obama’s statement on Goran Hadžić’s arrest was in the same vein as the previous one, with one exception. “Over the course of its 18-year history, the United States has been and remains a steadfast supporter of the ICTY and its critically important work.” A smidgeon of credit was taken for supporting the ICTY. Was this what Samantha Power was declaring as an example of an “unprecedented action”?

My country may have been the sponsor and midwife of R2P. I continue to believe in military intervention – when possible and when needed. But the overarching doctrine supposedly providing a rationale for such actions is a far greater hindrance than help. It is much better to establish practices than to proceed from an abstract principle, especially one so terribly flawed.

Turkey – Domestic Changes

Turkey – Domestic Changes

by

Howard Adelman

I begin with domestic matters because they help understand the direction of the Turkish leadership. Tomorrow I will take up foreign policy.

Sixty-year old Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the founder of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) Turkey’s current president and former prime minister for the last eleven years, and mayor of Istanbul before that, has transformed Turkey domestically and certainly redirected Turkey’s foreign policy. Erdoğan is to Turkey what Putin is to Russia. After founding his new party in 2001, that party in the Turkish elections of 2002 took two-thirds of the seats in Parliament. A year later, after his banishment from politics was overturned and his then ally, Abdullah Gűl, served as interim Prime Minister for a year, Erdoğan became Prime Minster. Only this year did he assume the role of President after converting the Turkish political system from a parliamentary to a quasi-presidential democracy by shifting the largely ceremonial role of president to the most powerful figure in the country. However, in contrast to his earlier victories, he only won the presidency with less than 52% of the vote. However, he has set up a shadow government of directorates to monitor Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and his Cabinet who all come from his own party.

Control of the Media

Unlike Russia, where corruption and control of the media have allowed Putin to undermine the nascent democracy of Russia, Erdoğan has not achieved the position yet. Events, however, are changing the situation rapidly. Though Erdoğan seven years ago began arresting critics in the media whom he accused of being the propaganda arm of a coup effort, only in the last two years has he revealed himself to be determined to assert absolute control over the media. Yesterday afternoon I received news that Ekrem Dumanli, the editor-in-chief of Zaman, Turkey’s top-selling newspaper, and Hidayet Karaca, the director of STV, a news channel, had been rounded up two days previously by Turkish police. The mysterious twitter account, Fuat Avni, had three days before that predicted these arrests and that of 150 or so other journalists. Some of these have gone into hiding. The charges: affiliation with the Fethullah Gulen movement, Erdoğan’s once erstwhile ally in overcoming the stranglehold the military held over the state, and an alleged conspiracy to undermine and/or attack a small rival Islamist group, the “Tahsiyeciler”, a group whose leaders Erdoğan had arrested only four years earlier who follow the teachings of the Islamic scholar, Said Nursi. Is it a wonder that Turkey ranks 154th on the world press freedom index, according to Reporters Without Borders?

The attacks on the domestic press were matched by a vicious campaign castigating the foreign – particularly Western – press of distortions, disinformation, ignorance, lying and even spying. Ceylan Yeginsu, a journalist working for the New York Times, that in its editorials had once lauded Erdoğan for his leadership role in the emerging Turkish vibrant democracy, had to flee the country for his life after being attacked in the AKP-controlled press and receiving multiple death threats. When Erdoğan himself was not deriding the Western press for being propagandists and undermining the new Turkey, that role was taken up by Ibrahim Karagul, editor-in-chief of the pro-Erdoğan newspaper, Yeni Safak, and the new English newspaper in Turkey, Daily Sabah, initially owned by Erdoğan’s son-in-law. And this is just the surface in this information war that permeates the electronic media as well.

Turkey’s Deteriorating Democracy

So much for the hopes for democracy in Turkey once the military had been removed from power in the name of rule by and for the people. That populism has been enhanced by the distribution of free coal to the needy. However, the crushing of the Gezi Park protests in the summer of 2013 was just more public action in a coordinated effort to destroy any opposition in Turkey. The cronyism and corruption that is endemic and very widespread in Turkish society has permeated the AKP (one in five Turks and about 50% of businesses pay bribes to access public services). The effort to protect ill-gotten gains once that corruption had been revealed by the Fethullah Gulen movement have led the government to place a publication ban on the parliamentary committee looking into corruption. At the same time, Turkey has followed the lead of the Canadian parliament under Harper’s Conservatives of passing legislation through complex omnibus bills with relatively little time for debate. The bills in Ankara include provisions which infringe human rights protections.

The corruption scandal possibly accelerated the leadership’s plans to enhance its control of the media. Turkey has slipped from 53rd to 74th on Transparency International’s corruption index. Further, that corruption as well as increasing disparity between the rich and the poor are now being legalized as a new presidential provision permits young Turkish men to buy out their compulsory military service for $US8,700. Turkish writer and 2006 Nobel Prize winner for literature, Orhan Pamuk, has also denounced Turkey’s increasing climate of fear.

Educational Revisionism and Social Policy

In addition to its educational reforms that provided free textbooks for needy students, Erdoğan and his allies have pushed for making Ottoman Turkish compulsory in schools, introducing more and more elements of Ottoman culture into the curriculum, introducing segregation of schools by gender, and introducing Islamic religious instruction for students in fourth grade and higher, and planning to introduce such education at even lower grades in the face of EU demands that compulsory religious education requirements be scrapped. In the meanwhile, the educational authorities have eliminated human rights and democracy classes previously taken in fourth grade. These changes have taken place in parallel with the long term trend of religious cleansing of non-Muslims in Turkey as property disputes affecting the Armenians, Syriac church and the Yazidis drag out through the bureaucratic and legal process.

Unfortunately, at the same time, Erdoğan has pushed for technological modernization. Language, cultural and religious revisionism are difficult to blend with modernization that becomes self-propelling and innovative instead of simply copying from the West. Thus, Turkey ranks last among 44 countries on the English proficiency list, even though English is compulsory in Turkish schools. Raising a generation of devout Muslims may be at odds with encouraging technological innovation. Turkish pupils, along with other pupils from predominantly Muslim countries, are in a race for the bottom. Turkey now ranks 44 out of 65 countries in the measurement of 15-year-old educational achievements in mathematics, science, literacy and problem-solving.

The social indicators have been very bad. Child poverty has risen by 63.5%. With 301 minors killed in the disaster at Soma this year, Turkey had by far the worst record of workers’ deaths compared to any European state. On the gender front, the news is even worse. Although Erdoğan in 2004 passed a new penal code protecting women’s sexual and body rights, and although Erdoğan has promoted changes in the treatment of women in the army by increasing the number of female officers and NCOs to facilitate dealing with terrorism and to enhance the professionalism of the military, on 24 November he claimed that gender equality contradicted the laws of nature even though 22% of AKP seats were held by women.

Erdoğan, however, is a champion of motherhood rather than sisterhood. In spite of an enormous increase of almost 40% in GDP per capita under his rule, there was still only a 30% female participation rate in the workforce. His policies threatened to exacerbate the health, education and income disparities between men and women already deeply rooted in Turkish culture. Not to speak of honour killings! While not as bad as the situation in Pakistan, those murders still take the lives of 200 Turkish girls each year in spite of the 2004 law designed to combat such crimes. Between 2002 and 2009, the murder rate of women in Turkey went up 1400% and since Erdoğan came to power, 7,000 Turkish women have been murdered. On the UNDP’s Gender Equality Index, Turkey’s standing has slipped from 69th to 77th out of 187 countries.

When my brother, a renowned Canadian cardiologist, was invited to Turkey in 1996, and where they first diagnosed him with a blastoma after he had fainted on a golf course where he had gone to play with other Turkish doctors, Al had been very impressed with the advanced state of medicine in Turkey in the hospital he had visited. Now Turkey seems to be moving backwards in time to revive traditional medical practices including:
• acupuncture (the stimulation of specific points along the skin with thin needles)
• apitherapy (the use of honeybee products for treatment)
• phytotherapy (treatments based on traditional herbalism)
• hypnosis
• the use of leeches
• homeopathy
• chiropractic treatments
• wet cupping
• larval therapy (the introduction of live, disinfected maggots into the skin)
• mesotherapy (the injection of special medications into the skin)
• prolotherapy (the injection of irritating solutions into an injured spot to provoke regenerative tissue response)
• osteopathy (nonsurgical treatments of the muscle and skeleton system)
• ozone therapy (the introduction of ozone and oxygen gas mixtures into the body)
• reflexology (massage-like treatment of pressure on reflex areas).

The issue is not the legalization of these treatments, but making them part of the education in medical schools. Some, like the use of leeches, are already part of modern medical practice. Others, however, have not been validated by science. So in addition to taking time away from enhancing modern medical practice, practices which have not yet been validated by science will be introduced into the medical curriculum. Further, the system of independence in educational decisions by qualified professionals is being undermined by state dictates in favour of validating traditional culture.

There are those who posit that this is merely a method of bringing traditional medical practices under state supervision. Then why are the costs of those treatments not covered by public health insurance? Some argue the expansion has been introduced to enhance medical tourism. Further, Turkey is far from unique in allowing and regulating such practices.

Standing in opposition to these rationales, one of the indicators to the undermining of scientific medicine has been the lethargic response to a rise in measles which has been blamed on the large number of Syrian refugees who have found a haven in Turkey, rising from very low numbers – 7 cases in 2010 – to over 7,000 cases last year. No provision in the Turkish 2015 budget targets contagious diseases like measles. Further, excluding Syrian refugee births, infant mortality and maternal deaths increased in 2013 for the first time since 1945.

Crime has also increased, much as a by-product of the Syrian civil war. Almost 500 high quality 4x4s have been stolen from Turkish car rental companies for transfer to Syria.

Kurdish Separatism

Erdoğan has to be praised for beginning the process of recognizing the Armenian genocide, enhanced by Pope Francis’ recent visit to Turkey, but with little sign of real progress. Erdoğan is perhaps best known for pushing reconciliation with Kurds who had been forcefully resettled in the thirties and banned from using their language. He has even entered into discussions with the PKK (the Kurdistan Workers Party) itself. However, while now allowing school children to be taught in Kurdish, would Kurds also have to learn classical Ottoman Turkish? Further, was Erdoğan strongly motivated to make peace with the PKK early in his national political career because he respected the group rights of the Kurds or because he wanted to undermine the rationale of the military for maintaining a relatively large army while, at the same time, solidifying his support with the Turkish public?

One very much suspects the latter given his subsequent career in national politics in Turkey and seemingly confirmed by the recent decision on December 10th in the face of the adjacent threat of Islamic State to enable middle and upper class military recruits to buy their way out of national service, a decision made without any consultation with the military general staff as required by the Turkish constitution. However, Erdoğan has never seemed to care about the constitution when it is to his populist advantage (currently an average Turkish citizen contributes about US$200 for each member of the family for defence) and when it undermines support for his critics on the left who were bound to vigorously oppose the move’s inegalitarian character. Further, if, as projected, 700,000 young men pay the state $8,700 each (men older than 30 pay US$13,300), US$5.7 billion will be added to state coffers from the men under 30 years of age alone, especially since parliamentary elections are to be held in June 2015. This is in addition to the monies saved on defence. The loans men are taking out to pay for the exemption in response to a spate of bank ads and the sales of unproductive capital (property, gold rings) has already acted within days to stimulate the economy. The greatly increased revenues to the state may be bad for the economy in the long run, but, in the short run it is much more than enough to pay for Erdoğan’s vain, enormous, lavish and enormously expensive presidential palace.

Is Erdoğan’s populist and Islamic program complemented by his foreign policy?

Egypt

Egypt

by

Howard Adelman

Israel’s main concern with regard to Egypt has been the border between Gaza and Egypt that has been used as a corridor for arms flowing into Gaza. Israel is also very sensitive to the security of its border with the Sinai, both for military reasons, given the use of Sinai by terrorist groups to attack both Israel and Egypt, as well as Sinai serving as the main transit route for refugees from Africa seeking a haven in Israel. Israel seems disinterested in the military overthrow of democratically elected President Mohammed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood government by the current President, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (Sisi), who was then head of the Egyptian armed forces, the subsequent repression of that Brotherhood, and, more generally, the widespread denial of human rights within Egypt.

Before we turn to the Egyptian border and terrorism issues, it is helpful if we sketch some examples of media repression within Egypt. Popular singer, Hamza Namira, who became famous three years ago because of his songs celebrating the hope and freedom of the 2011 Arab Spring, has been banned from radio and television because of his “critical” songs. Those songs cannot be broadcast by others. Khaled Abol Naga, a famous Egyptian actor, has been accused of treason because of his outspoken opinions; his job options have dried up. Within one week, two top TV talk hosts were dismissed from their positions –Wael Ibrashi from the TV Dream Channel after Ibrashi criticized some ministers in the Sisi government, in particular the Education Minister for the poor state of Egyptian schools (see later), and Mahmoud Saad of Al-Nahar TV simply because one of his guests referred of Egypt’s “defeat” in the 1967 war. These were two privately-owned stations. The government already tightly controls Egyptian-owned media.

More recently, the attacks on private media outlets have become more comprehensive. Owners of both private and public media were recently summoned to a “self-criticism” meeting. The seventeen heads were forced to sign a statement that the outlets they ran would not criticize the army, police or the judiciary lest ‘these governmental institutions be discredited in the eyes of the public’. In reality, the freedom to publish applied to any article or statement that may be deemed to be offering ‘support to terrorism’ and, therefore, ‘provocative’ in the eyes of the government. Khaled al-Balshi, a prominent left-wing Egyptian journalist, who had steadfastly opposed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood and who founded the Front to Defend Journalists and the Rights of Citizens, suggested that the actions of the Sisi government have been far more repressive that those of its predecessor. Under this regime, six journalists have been killed, and eleven remain in prison.
Internationally, the most notorious has been the arrest eleven months ago and subsequent conviction and jailing of three journalists reporting for English al-Jazeera. Unlike the latter’s English language media reports, the Egypt-focused channel of al-Jazeera, Mubashir Misr, is viewed by many Egyptians as well as the government as favouring the Muslim Brotherhood, though this was likely because the Egyptian bureau was pro-democracy. The Muslim Brotherhood has been blamed for inciting anti-government protests. Thousands of their members have been rounded up and imprisoned. The government concern with security has been used to prosecute both the Muslim Brotherhood as well as pro-democracy activists and even the three journalists who worked for English al-Jazeera. In reading their dispatches, they come across as neutral professional foreign correspondents.

Which is what they are. Egyptian-Canadian Cairo bureau chief Mohamed Fahmy, formerly a CNN and New York Times foreign correspondent, Australian Peter Greste, formerly a foreign correspondent of BBC and Reuters, and Egyptian producer, Baher Mohamed, the youngest of the three and only employed seven months before he was arrested, were accused of spreading false news (defamation) and supporting and collaborating with the Muslim Brotherhood. The two foreign Canadian and Australian journalists were sentenced to seven years each, though Sisi may be on the verge of pardoning them. Bader received an extra three year sentence for weapons possession and, as an Egyptian whose father was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood though the son apparently was not, seems unlikely to be pardoned in spite of the apparent trumped-up nature of the charges against all three.
His treatment poses the greatest chill on Egyptian journalism, though he might eventually be released if the Saudi Arabia’s effort in mediating the dispute between Qatar and Egypt develops favourably. The arrests of the three journalists from English al-Jazeera in Egypt seem to have had as much to do with Qatar’s ownership of al-Jazeera as with media repression. Though Qatar denies it, the country has been widely accused of funding terrorists. Though Qatar hosts the largest American military base in the Middle East, in addition to its financial support for Hamas in Gaza, Qatar is supposedly the largest private source of donations both to the Islamic State as well as other al-Qaeda affiliates. But on 27 September, Emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani of Qatar declared that, “What is happening in Iraq and Syria is extremism and such organizations are partly financed from abroad, but Qatar has never supported and will never support terrorist organizations”. This statement was made in spite of well-known Qatar financial support for al-Qaeda in Mali and Chechnya. The statement was also made in spite of Sheikh Yusuf Abdullah al-Qaradawi, a fiery antisemitic Muslim leading scholar in the Muslim Brotherhood with a pro-terrorist as well as fundamentalist Islamic message, given free reign in Doha.

Whatever its support for terrorism, Qatar openly supports the Muslim Brotherhood and publicly labeled the overthrow of the Morsi regime on 3 July 2013 a military coup. The Brotherhood leadership was given sanctuary in Qatar where it retains an outlet to the media. Egypt removed its ambassador from Doha. Qatar is a tiny state with only 278,000 citizens, though it is host to 1.5 million resident foreigners. However, Qatar is also very wealthy with an enormous sovereign wealth fund and holds the third largest natural gas reserves. Qatar is the sole remaining source of international support for the Brotherhood. A rapprochement between Qatar and Egypt would be a mortal blow to the Muslim Brotherhood. The arrest in Qatar of on 20 November of Brotherhood leader Mohammed Ali Beshr may be a first public indicator that a reconciliation between Qatar and Egypt is in process. A rapprochement between Egypt and Qatar facilitated through Saudi mediation could lead to limiting the ability of the Brotherhood to communicate to its supporters and, for Israel, cutting off a very important source of terrorist funding for Hamas. Qatar could then serve to mediate between the Sisi government and the latter’s efforts to tame the Brotherhood and Israel’s efforts to tame Hamas.

Egypt has also been reluctant to repay a $3 billion dollar loan owed to Qatar and this may also be a factor in the Egyptian-Qatar deteriorating relationship even more significant than the imprisonment of the three journalists. That debt is the remaining part of an $8 billion dollar aid loan made to Prime Minister Hisham Qandil’s government when Morsi was still president after the International Monetary Fund (IMF) rejected a $4.8 billion dollar loan when the government refused to form a broader-based government. The latter development would have released a further $12 billion in bilateral aid. In some sense, Qatar’s release of pressure on the Morsi regime because of its loan could be blamed for allowing President Morsi to form a narrow-based government. A broad-based government might have side-tracked the military coup. If so, the Sisi government should, ironically, be grateful to Qatar.

For internationals, the major concern has not been the anti-democracy agenda of the Sisi government, but the security of Egypt and how that security is being ensured by the government. Many countries, especially Turkey, have been very critical of Israel’s blockade of Gaza, but those same countries seem to have been indifferent to the Egyptian repression of human rights as well as its blockade on the thirteen mile border with Gaza. Recently, Egypt doubled the size of its corridor along the Gaza border from a 500 metre no-man’s land to one 1,000 metres wide once military officials discovered that some of the tunnels were almost 800 metres long. Immediately after the last Israeli-Gaza war, Egypt claimed it had discovered a myriad of tunnels. Like the ones from Gaza into Israel, these tunnels went into the Egyptian town of Rafah and were used to smuggle both civilian goods and armaments into Gaza, and, possibly more important to Egypt, to smuggle arms and terrorists back into Egypt. Unlike Israel which built its buffer on Gazan land, Egypt constructed its buffer on Egyptian land and confiscated over a thousand Egyptian houses in the urban areas along the Gaza border.

I suggested above that a main reason for Egypt destroying the tunnels was to prevent terrorists and munitions getting back into Egypt to practice guerilla war against the new military dictatorship. A week ago, jihadists released a video of their attack in Sinai that took place in the previous month in which jihadists killed 31soldiers in the terrorist attack against the Karam-al-Kawadis military base on 24 October. Two days before the release of the video of that terrorist attack – which showed a tank running from the battle and soldiers surrendering without firing a shot after a truck loaded with two tons of explosives penetrated the military perimeter of the base and blew up – jihadists killed another 5 soldiers and police after the terrorists set up roadblocks and scoured cars so they could drag out and execute soldiers and police officers. What chutzpa! Setting up roadblocks within a military zone! At the same time, eight seamen had been captured and killed when presumed jihadists in a flotilla of small boats attacked a naval vessel.

The Muslim Brotherhood and even Hamas were now child’s play compared to the audacity, boldness and discipline of Egypt’s most militant jihadists, Ansar Beit al-Maqdis. Hamas has been explicit in disassociating itself from both Islamic State and the Egyptian Ansar Beit al-Maqdis terrorist group lest its relationship with Egypt be destroyed altogether as if its affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood were not enough. Hamas openly condemned ISIS tactics and use of religion to support terrorism.

Three weeks ago, Ansar Beit al-Maqdis declared its allegiance and affiliation with Islamic State, presumably in an effort to further enhance its recruitment and fund raising as well as exclusivity for possession of the jihadist and terrorist brand. According to government spokesmen, the real reason was because the Egyptian military had effectively targeted its munitions supplies and had cut off the source of reinforcements. After all, the Egyptian military was ranked thirteenth in the world. Nevertheless, the militant jihadists already had a terrifying record of killing hundreds of soldiers and police officers from the Sinai to the Western desert, often using the same signature as Islamic State – beheading their captives. Like Islamic State, there was a high likelihood that they would now turn to targeting civilians in an effort to destroy Egypt’s lucrative tourist industry.

The competition against the Islamic State for the Islamist brand is being initiated by the Sufis who were incensed by the 14 October car-bombing of the Sufi Ahmad Al-Badawi mosque and shrine of Al-Sayyid Al-Badawi, founder of the Badawiyyah Sufi order. Would the politicization of the Sufi order, a powerful force within Egypt, provide short term support for Sisi but undermine that support in the long run?

The sense of desperation of ordinary Egyptians in the face of such fiery militants, on the one hand, and the determined repression of the new military regime, on the other hand, is indicated by the lack of any significant protest in creating the 1,000 metre wide border corridor with Gaza and the displacement of over a thousand families in Rafah. The military might boast from time to time that ten militants had been killed here, that a munitions warehouse had been discovered and blown up there, but in spite of the heavy censorship of the press, the threat of the militants grew by leaps and bounds compared to fears of the military authorities, especially when the military had boasted a year earlier that the jihadists were on the verge of extinction in the face of the military campaign against them. Empty boasts stood beside repeated audacious military actions to embarrass the military government of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi who was finally elected to office in May of this year.

If civilian fears grew along with the decline in faith in the military government for providing security, what happened in the American Congress that was responsible for allocating hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to the Egyptian regime? The January 2014 Consolidated Appropriations Law had set aside $1.3 billion for Egyptian military aid, but only 44% of that sum had been released pending certain benchmark achievements in the military regime’s move to “restore” democracy. With a new Republican majority in both houses, concerns over human rights and democratic progress were unlikely to stand in the way of such limitations on allocations if remarks last week by the Chair of the State and Operations Panel, Kay Granger, a Republican Congressional representative from Texas, are any indication. Since the administration failed to label the overthrow of the democratically-elected Morsi regime as a coup, the handwriting of the decline of those stalwarts in support of democracy in Egypt has been apparent.

American fears that Sisi was not up to the task of destroying the militants, as well as a fear that the military aid would fall into the hands of the jihadists, made even Republicans hesitate. Nevertheless, Americans, and the Israelis as well, seem to have no other option than supporting the Sisi regime since both had by and large sacrificed their commitment to democracy and human rights in Egypt for their security concerns. The question now was whether the Obama administration orders, which had held up delivery of Apache helicopters, F-6 fighter jets, M1A1 Abrams tanks and Harpoon missiles, would remain in place or would be surrendered in exchange for Congressional approval on an issue more central to the administration’s agenda.
Egypt, of course, has a myriad of other problems that undermine faith in a government even as determined and repressive as the Sisi regime, such as maintenance of its infrastructure even as its schools continue to deteriorate at risk to both teachers and students. Last month, Youssef Mohamed, a primary school student at Ammar ibn Yasir public school in rural El-Matareya region (markaz) in the northeastern Dakahlia Governorate on Lake Manzala, died when a window fell out of its frame and the broken pane of glass severed the student’s throat. The student might have survived if his teacher had been in the room at the time and if that teacher had taken prompt action – which he did not do even when he was disturbed from having a snack – or if several hospitals had not refused to admit the badly-injured student given his precarious state and their refusal to assume responsibility. A week later, almost exactly a month ago, seven-year-old Youssef Soltan Zaki died when the iron school gate fell off its rusty hinges onto him at the Zaghyrat public primary school in the Matrouh Governorate 500 kilometres from Cairo. At the end of October, a high school student, Peter Magdy, was skewered by a fence stake at Ahmed Bahgat Secondary School in Giza.

These sample incidents – which do not include the numerous students killed in bus accidents (18 students dead on 5 November on the Cairo-Alexandria agricultural road) – were not only tragic, but seemed symbolic in a country where the government had assumed all authority and there was a widespread fear of individuals standing out and assuming responsibility lest they be held accountable in a system that was not subject to the rule of law designed to protect the people. If individuals act and something untoward occurs, they are held responsible. If they fail to act, they are held responsible. And if they are in lower positions of authority, they are sacrificed to save the skin of the government that fails to supply to funds to maintain the schools. Thus, the principals at the affected schools were suspended and brought to police headquarters for questioning.

If the government continually appears incompetent to manage its infrastructure let alone handle militants who directly assault the military, the government’s ability even to protect government buildings seems to be in question. Sisi’s government felt compelled last month to enact a special law against civilians who “assault” government facilities and to refer all those charged to military rather than civilian courts for judgment. Though the instigation for such a law seemed not to be just about protests but actual physical violence against public property – a roadside bomb near the Foreign Ministry offices in Cairo, an explosion in downtown Cairo near a subway station and another at Cairo University – the real impetus to the militarization of the rule of law seems to have arisen not so much from a spate of such incidents as from the panic that set into the government when the 31 soldiers mentioned above were killed last month.

And what about developing new infrastructure? Development projects in the Sinai – primarily the twenty-five-year-old Al-Salam Canal project to irrigate and recover 620,000 acres in Sinai for the benefit of Sinai tribes and resettlement of three million Egyptians in a well-planned new city and a number of towns with both an industrial area and surrounding agricultural land properly serviced by roads, electricity, schools and hospitals – were based on the principle that economic development is the primary way to combat the jihadi militants rather than relying primarily of the military. This priority seems to have been postponed for the ostensible reason that the water for the reclamation of the land was polluted by the heavy amount of untreated sewage that has been flowing into the Suez Canal. Decades since the plan was originally conceived, progress has been further delayed and construction related to the development has been abandoned. Priority has evidently been given to building water treatment plants.

Priority has also been given to shifting the economy to one governed by the School of Chicago economic principles opposed to the myriad of government subsidies. However, the abandonment of those subsides may make the overall economy function better – it could hardly function much worse – but the result will inevitably be at the cost of those at the bottom of the Egyptian economy and for the benefit of those at the top. Further, key military figures are certain to become rich in this shift. Thus, corruption will replace subsidies in undermining the efficiency of the economy.

Egypt inadvertently and only implicitly has become Israel’s most important unacknowledged ally in the Middle East but, in the long run, may prove simply to be Israel’s most dangerous Achilles’ heel.

My Promised Land.X.GazaBeach

My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel

by

Ari Shavit

X         Gaza Beach 1991

 

In this chapter Ari focuses on Gaza in 1991, before the intifada broke out just a few years after I and my oldest son crossed from Egypt into Gaza en route to Israel with a first stop a visit to Jeremy’s old girlfriend when he lived on a kibbutz for a year. They had remained friends and she had married and had a child by this time. She now lived on a kibbutz on the border of Gaza. To our surprise – which perhaps showed our naiveté – not one person we met on that kibbutz had ever visited Gaza.

Our introduction to Gaza was very shocking. When we entered from Egypt we were shunted off to one line for foreigners while Palestinians went into another line. We were treated with what then passed for Israeli civility while we watched Palestinians not simply being questioned but questioned in the most demeaning and humiliating way. I could not tell whether this was because the officer was originally from South Africa but I could not keep my mouth shut and reprimanded the officer for his incivility, which helped the Palestinians not one whit. It is to the credit of the Israelis that I was simply told to mind my own business.

Ari describes the successful systematic and determined use of oppression to put down the intifada, but it is possible that the same oppression could have been a factor in the break out of the intifada. Ari was sent there as part of his miluim service (reserve duty) and decided to report on what he saw rather than refuse to participate. He served as a prison guard for the detainees who were mostly “not terrorists but demonstrators and rock throwers”. many of them teenagers. For Ari, the officers were generally decent men trying to do their job. Our observations had been different. There were many different kinds of officers, some very considerate, kind and fair and others just bullies. Ari actually saw the same – some indifferent, some wishing all Arabs were dead and others considerate and humane.

What made my spine tingle was his listening to the beatings of prisoners in the interrogation room. It reminded me of the screams I used to hear from the Police Station at the corner of Markham   St. one block north of Bloor at London St.. We lived one block away on Palmerston   Ave and we could hear the screams in the late forties when the cops beat up prisoners, a practice which seemed to be standard at the time and comes back every time I watch a film noire movie. Ari is correct. “A person who has heard the screams of another is a transformed person. Whether he does something about it or not, he is transformed.” And all the screams of the past re-echo whether watching just a replica or hearing the real thing when visiting philosopher friends in a Tito jail in former Yugoslavia in Slovenia in the late sixties or listening to Tamils being “questioned” in a military base in Elephant Pass in Sri Lanka in 1982 when I myself was under arrest there by the Sri Lankan army.  

As Ari writes, “The interrogation ward becomes part of routine service, as if this is the way of the world.” (my italics) (233) Ari asks, “Are we the soldiers of evil? Are we agents of cruelty? Are we the heartless gatekeepers of oppression?” (234) Ari seems to answer yes but adds that these soldiers doing their duty are victims too. So he asks how all these non-evil people manage together to produce a result that is evil? For, in Ari’s eyes, Israelis were evil in Gaza. Israelis were evil in denying Palestinians human rights and civil rights and national rights. In doing so, the process corroded the souls of the Israelis forced into that situation. .

The question is, forced by the Israeli government or forced by circumstances? Or by both? Ari gets to the heart of the matter when he writes that, “Only our willingness to use force is what keeps us alive here.” (335) This is the real way of the world. The Palestinians have forced Israelis to be evil by rising up against the Israeli oppression. And Ari ends with a variation of his tragic fix. “we hold them by the balls and they hold us by the throat.” (236) “The tragedy never ends.” (238)

It does. It always has. And it always will.

If some humans make the laws and agree to be governed by the laws they make and through lawful activity express themselves and their thought, there are others ruled by law not of their making. Those are not subject to the rule of law but the rule of force. Life is organized so that the lives of those who live through and under the law can be preserved. Thereby those individuals have freedom and independence. Those governed by the law who cannot live through it completely lack freedom and independence. But the spirit of a people is preserved and enhanced by its pursuit of the freedom and independence of each of its members. It is only when that spirit can be preserved for both peoples in contention and the independence and freedom of the individuals in each can be enhanced can that spirit be a universal and not just a particular spirit.

Until the movement of forces in contention can become universally acknowledged through a peace between the two peoples, only then will every individual in both societies have freedom. Only then will force not simply be externalized but will be recognized for the coercion that it is by both peoples.. Freedom and living under and through the law will become owned and embraced by the contending peoples and forces. Then the tragedy will become a comedy.

Until then we will experience and observe the way of the world.