Part Four – The Axis of Honour: Honour, Modernity, and al Qaeda

To read the previous posts in this series, click on the links below:

Part One: Introduction

Part Two: Honour, Communalism, and Islamist Suicide Terrorism

Part Three: Honour and Shame

Part Four: Honour, Modernity, and al Qaeda

The first three instalments of this series asked whether it was possible to find an ultimate cause for suicide terrorism, without falling back on old (and flawed) ideological arguments.

One of the biggest problems we face when looking for this ultimate cause – apart from being distracted by politics – is that we can confuse an ultimate cause with proximate causes.

So many scholars and commentators attribute suicide terrorism to such factors as poverty, foreign occupation, or religion, among many other things. While it is inarguable that these elements are important contributing factors to many incidents of radicalisation, none of them can explain every incident. This would indicate that the common thread that links all suicide terrorism lies at a deeper level.

Over the past two hundred years, there has been a global, though highly uneven, shift within the values systems of various societies.

Honour codes have retreated to make way for the philosophical framework of individual human rights.

This new framework is based on the idea that one’s humanity is the only relevant criterion for being granted full equality with other people, regardless of any accident of birth.

The past 50 years have seen an acceleration of this process. It did not emerge fully formed, but rather evolved from the honour code, often unevenly, within individual nation states.

One particularly profound transformation has been the relegation of one’s religion to the private sphere, as a matter of purely personal choice.

In communalist cultures, on the other hand, religion is still designated at birth, and remains in the public domain, and a matter for the collective until death.

So societies that have embraced modernity, have effectively “privatised” religion. Indeed capitalism has been the driving force behind secularism because it required the dismantling of the communalist society.

Kinship ties dissipated due largely to urbanisation and the removal of the family as the central means of survival (i.e. in the agricultural sphere).

Replacing the old communalism is heterogeneity and pluralism. These have eroded not only religious monopolies, but their centrality in various societies. The end result of this is a society’s secularisation.

This explains why, in a secular, individualist society, there are far fewer motivators to impel citizens to die for collective beliefs.

The nature of modernity, however, is that it is never static and an integral element of its current phase is globalisation. Globalisation, in which western technological and cultural products predominate, is often framed as a form of colonialism.

For example, as mentioned above, many Islamists see secularisation in Muslim countries as a pernicious example of western infiltration.

Ironically, the rise of transnational Islamist terrorism is also a product of globalisation. Such terrorism largely borne of – and fuelled by opposition to – western infiltration.

If globalisation – the latest manifestation of modernity – is complicit in the dismantling of certain communalist structures, the void that is left might logically be filled by a movement that does not require the trappings of the old nation-state apparatus.

As the power of the nation state diminishes, religious ideology’s mobility allows it to permeate shifting borders.

The current face of modernity is therefore ideally suited to –  and an ideal breeding ground for – the creation of suicide terrorist groups.

The anxiety caused by social and economic transformations, and the availability of new technologies have been fused to produce an intensified re-imagining of communalist morality that has, quite simply, gone viral.

This fusion generates a cycle: it produces a stark delineation between good and bad/right and wrong, and this absolute moral universe in turn creates “in groups” and “out groups.” In order to fortify the in group, moral strictures must become ever more rigorous, while condemnation of transgression must become ever more vociferous – and violent, thus intensifying the demarcation between “good” and “bad”.

For Islamist suicide terrorists, they are the representatives of what is righteous, and seek to destroy whatever is not. All terrorist groups, regardless of cause, religion, or tactical methods require this dichotomous cycle.

***

The late counter-terrorism expert, Ehud Sprinzak, contends that “terrorism implies a crisis of legitimacy.”

This is easily demonstrable in the cases of Egyptian JI (fighting what they perceive is economic and political inequality) and Hamas (fighting what they believe is the Jewish occupation of historical Palestine).

These groups, regardless of their struggles’ merit, or their tactics’ brutality, nevertheless agitate for concrete – if unachievable – goals, against a government or an “occupier” whose legitimacy neither group recognised.

But can we say that such a crisis of legitimacy applies to transnational terrorists such as al Qaeda?

Indeed, al Qaeda would assert that in the absence of Islamic rule, all other rule is illegitimate.

Indeed the only conclusion that can be drawn is that transnational Islamism broadly delegitimises and rejects anything perceived to pose a threat to certain crucial structures.

It may be arguable that groups such as al-Qaeda are reacting against the inability of their own communalist model to maintain the structures that preserve honour as it applies to them.

Indeed, scholar, Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi argues that “modernity is an attempt to destroy community and communalism…, all those forces which created identity and authority,” challenging not only perceptions of the old structures but the very primacy of honour itself.

Psychologist and academic, Evelin Gerda Lindner believes that such threats to communalism result in feelings of humiliation amongst those who do not benefit from the new order.

Gerda Lindner defines such humiliation as “the enforced lowering of a person or group, a process of subjugation that damages or strips away their pride, honor or dignity…. However, the role of the victim is not necessarily always unambiguous.”

Gerda Lindner believes that there are instances in which feelings of humiliation emerge without the actual perpetration of any specific act, often due to personal or cultural misunderstandings, or sometimes due to the construction of a scenario of humiliation as a tactic for painting an adversary as evil.

She writes that humiliation therefore “links the concepts of honor and human rights in an enlightening way, providing a framework both for ideologies and for the transition between them.”

Whereas the honour society provided every member with a clearly defined rank or status, the transition to individualism makes these positions fluid.

Moreover, the encroachment of a new order can render unacceptable what had traditionally been accepted – sometimes these are sacred practices – bringing modernity and human rights into direct confrontation with communalism.

Gerda Lindner, who originated the discipline of “humiliation studies” believes that humiliation is the foundation for both murder and suicide.

This framework illuminates the link between the progressive delegitimation of integral cultural practice (and consequent humiliation) and the appeal of militant Islamism (a movement that seeks to reclaim honour through the restoration of “traditional” Islamic rule).

Holy wars – as opposed to local uprisings – require, for their impetus, more than mere occupation or military defeat. They must access profound reservoirs of humiliation in order to mobilise the faithful.

Current radical Muslim humiliation stems from a variety of sources, such as cultural imperialism, tourism and globalisation, against all of which al Qaeda’s Ayman al-Zawahiri has raged.

Meanwhile, the invasion of Iraq, and the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison have also fuelled this fury.

Scott Atran identifies the primacy of honour throughout Arab societies, noting that the Arab perception of being humiliated by outsiders is a prime motivator for suicide attacks.

Significantly, many Arabs and Muslims might be located great distances away from the actual events of perceived humiliation; however, the reach of global media invites a sense of immediacy in bearing witness to tarnished Muslim honour.

There emerges from the collective sense of humiliation something of an obligation to demonstrate outrage and embark on actions – even if they have little chance of success – in order to avenge honour. Martyrdom is one such example.

According to criminologist, Andrew Silke, the desire for vengeance – the extreme manifestation of the natural and universal human tendency to seek justice – is the essential component inspiring membership in all terrorist groups.

Silke and Atran both believe that the nature of vengeance is that it inspires people to endure suffering and sacrifice in the pursuit of justice.

Silke is also firmly of the view that without humiliation, there is simply no impetus for vengeance. “Loss of face” is therefore an extremely dangerous occurrence that can inspire bestial acts.

To the person who feels bereft of honour, the rhetoric of al Qaeda and other Islamist groups provides what must seem like a remedy to humiliation and the path to vengeance.

It also offers solace to those whom modernity/globalisation has dislocated, be it in a cultural, psychological, or geographical sense.

This can be a great consolation for people whose prospects of individual rights, freedoms, and autonomy might seem a distant and amorphous phenomenon, or otherwise utterly irrelevant.

The reconstitution, de-culturalisation (globalisation), and homogenisation of Islam by radical Salafists (they are also inaccurately known as, “fundamentalists”) may not reflect any authentic Islamic tradition, but they do provide an illusion of authenticity, as well as empowerment.

This transnational, reconstituted Islam can therefore translate locally, binding individual communities with the greater Muslim world. Radical Islamism offers a promise of honour’s restoration through the re-centralisation of religion, family and the return to communalist-prescribed gender roles.

Beit-Hallahmi writes, that under such circumstances, “contemporary martyrdom can be viewed as an uprising against the end of history and the final triumph of liberal capitalism.”

In the next instalment of this series, I’ll investigate how the above phenomena were translated at a local level, using the cradle of modern Islamism, Egypt, and its deadliest suicide terror group, Egyptian JI, as examples.

Appropriately, for a Jewish blog, the final post in the series will be devoted to how these factors have influenced the Palestinian situation, as well as what conclusions we might draw from this series.

***

To read the previous posts in this series, click on the links below:

Part One: Introduction

Part Two: Honour, Communalism, and Islamist Suicide Terrorism

Part Three: Honour and Shame

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Related posts:

  1. Part Six – Axis of Honour Final: Palestinian Suicide Terrorism
  2. The Axis of Honour: Honour, Communalism, and Islamist Suicide Terrorism – Introduction
  3. Part Three – The Axis of Honour: Honour and Shame
  4. Part Two – The Axis of Honour: Honour, Communalism, and Islamist Suicide Terrorism
  5. Part Five – Axis of Honour: Dislocation, Family, and Terror

33 Responses to “Part Four – The Axis of Honour: Honour, Modernity, and al Qaeda”

  1. I’m afraid the Sensible Jew’s focus on honour, humiliation and the like is just as flawed as the other theories she canvassed and dismissed.

    Before I get to the big picture, it’s worth throwing in a few points. Christian Palestinians have been just as humiliated as Muslim Palestinians. Yet there have never been Christian Palestinian suicide bombers (although there have been Christian Palestinian terrorists). Thus, as unpalatable as it might be for the Sensitive, er, Sensible Jew, there is something within Islamic teaching or theology that makes it acceptable to blow oneself up amidst a room full of infidels or takfiris.

    Another point the Sensible Jew missed in one of her other posts was the idea of martyrdom. She mentioned that up until relatively recently, martyrdom was celebrated in the Christian culture as well. She’s right, but she’s wrong.

    Martyrdom is still celebrated. Go to any ANZAC Day memorial and you’ll hear the line about ‘greater love hath no man…’ The difference is, martyrdom in the Christian tradition (and here, I must point out, that I don’t know where the Jewish tradition fits in) is when one is martyred for the cause. That is, one is killed because one is Christian.

    Martyrdom in the Muslim tradition includes this (that one is killed because one is Muslim), but it also includes being martyred for Islam, or while fighting for Islam. That is, Christian martyrdom is solely passive. Islamic martyrdom is both active and passive.

    The ANZAC martyrdom mythology is not dying while killing the enemy, or even dying for one’s country, but dying to protect your mates. It’s still passive.

    Palestinian civilians and fighters killed by Israel are considered martyrs. But so are Palestinian suicide bombers, who obviously weren’t killed by Israelis, but who killed themselves for the cause. What cause? Instead of listening to academics wank on about the issue, imposing their Western standards on non-Western people, we should listen to the suicide bombers themselves. These are the people who are flicking their own switches. These are the people driven by their own motivations. And what are their motivations? Palestine and Allah. There is no polite way to get around it, Islamist suicide terrorists are motivated by the sweet words Allah whispers in their ears.

    But the bigger picture is more important. It feels as if the Sensible Jew is treating terrorism as an end. It is not an end. It is a means. People use terrorism because it works. There are very, very few cases of a sustained, well organised terrorist campaign that has not produced at least some of the desired changes.

    The whole honour issue she’s spent so much time on is simply one of the reasons for a terrorist to act. Bren Carlill was spot on when he wrote that terrorists act because of a mix of lots of motivations. There is no one reason for a terrorist to act. The Sensible Jew has tried to find an overarching “ultimate cause” for terrorism. Others have tried the same thing. She canvassed their opinions, and rightly dismissed them. But she didn’t learn her lesson and realise there is no “ultimate cause.” Instead, she simply put forward her own, flawed, theory.

    People become terrorists because they’re susceptible to influences by charismatic people, whether they be imams, rabbis or older brothers. They become terrorists because they’re pissed off their brother was killed, or that their mother was humiliated – yes, that’s honour, or the lack of it. But that in and of itself will not produce a suicide bomber. They’re brainwashed into thinking they’ll get their virgins, that Allah will look out for their family once they’re gone, that they’ll make a difference and so on. They’re brainwashed into thinking killing a bunch of yids will earn them points with the Big Fella. Don’t believe me? Watch a video of a suicide bomber’s ‘living will.’ It’s all there.

    Northern Irish terrorists were involved in a war to end British occupation of the island of Ireland. It wasn’t about honour, it was about practicalities. Make life difficult enough for them, and they’ll leave. When they realised it wouldn’t work, they sought peace. The British, at the same time, realised – because of terrorism – that the Croppies had grievances and made allowances as well. So the Good Friday Agreement saw both sides compromise and move towards a central position.

    Look at the statements by the various Islamist terrorists vis-a-vis Israel. They are going to make life hard for the Jews, and eventually the Jews will give up and go “home” to Europe or wherever. They have the same end goal as the IRA did. (Which is different from the RAF and other terrorist groups, but there you have it).

    My point in all of this is that there is no “ultimate cause” why terrorism exists (apart from the fact it works), why individuals will get involved in terrorism, or why some communities (such as Palestinian Muslims) will produce lots of suicide terrorists and why some communities (such as Palestinian Christians) will not. Oh, well, actually, there is an ultimate reason for the last one, but it’s not PC to say so.

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  2. I too agree with EoZ that there is no “root cause” or “unified theory” behind terrorism. I will make a few observations on recent comments:

    Many cultures celebrate martyrdom, and consider those who have died as martyrs to be heroes. But how many of them have people queueing up to be martyrs? How many teach their children to have ambitions to be martyrs? This is taking active martyrdom to entirely new level.

    Let’s take a step back from this perspective. Why are we so obsessed with finding the root cause of terrorism, and particularly the practice of suicide bombing? I suggest it’s because our culture values life so greatly (let’s stay out of the euthanasia debate for now) that we simply cannot fathom why anyone would want to kill themselves for a cause.

    SJ: You are missing an important element from the picture, which is illustrated nicely by the following story (lehavdil), related by the subject himself in his memoirs:

    The previous Lubavitcher Rebbe was mercilessly brutalized and tortured in the 1920s by the KGB for his “counter-revolutionary” activities — the creation of an underground network of Yeshivas, mikvahs and other banned Jewish institutions.

    During his incarceration, he was repeatedly interrogated in terrible conditions. On one such occasion, one of the Rebbe’s interrogators pointed a revolver at the Rebbe and smirked: “This toy has a way of making people cooperate.”

    Calmly the Rebbe replied: “That toy is persuasive to one who has many gods and only one world; I have One God and two worlds.”

    The reason people are so challenged by suicide terrorism is that they come from a perspective where life on this world is everything, so you must have a damn good reason to end it.

    Islam, on the other hand, twists its position regarding the afterlife to minimize the finality of suicide so that it becomes a viable instrument to fight the “war” against its “oppressors”.

    You say terrorism doesn’t work, and point to the fact that most campaigns that use terrorism failed in their main objective. However, that is a bit short sighted (Hamas were happy to offer a 100 year hudna, and then continue the campaign).

    It’s better to look at terrorism as a very effective tool of war, particularly asymmetric warfare. Think of it as the next step beyond guerilla warfare, that was so effective in the Vietnam war (and in that case, it did “work”).

    It is such an effective tool because it (a) evokes huge responses that need to use traditional methods of warfare, which in turn (b) allows its protagonists to position themselves as victims and maintain the moral high ground.

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  3. Morry says:

    A friend just mentioned your blog in a phone conversation, and I decided to look in. What a fascinating read. Thank you. They say “two Jews three opinions” so, of course, I have, not so much issues with some of it, as an understanding with differing nuances.

    Take the issue of “humiliation” for example. I think in terms of terrorists and rejectionists it goes largely to expectations, much like the champion boxer who will feel humiliated by a string of stinging defeats, largely because he expects to win. Certainly this “humiliation” and desire to restore the honour that was once Islam’s when it ruled much of the world is a powerful impetus in terrorist activity. With all due respect to Ehud Sprinzak, I think that you will find this at the base of all the Middle Eastern terrorist ideologies. Hamas isn’t simply “fighting what they believe is the Jewish occupation of historical Palestine”, their charter and speeches makes it clear that their goal is the overturn of the concept of nation states imposed by the League of Nations post WW1, and the restoration of a single unified Moslem entity, prepferably under a Caliph as in days of yore. Israel is an impediment, and more importantly a humiliating insult as Jews who don’t know their place because, in the terms of their charter, “peace is only possible when Jews live under the wing of Islam”. Jewish autonomy is a perceived abomination.

    I also think there has been little emphasis on Islam as a way of life, in these cultures, rather than the personal faith alcove of our lives. Where I’m going with this is the considerations of group think and group education as a form of brainwash in some societies that, coupled with the expectation of martyrdom, is a powerful conditioner. It is not poverty that induces one to turn to terrorism, but ideology. Most poor people are too busy dealing with where their next meal is coming from. Whether you look at 9/11 or many of the terrorists Israel has had to deal with, the most common denominator is their middle and wealthy class status.

    Mostly I believe that modern terrorism is opportunistic in nature, which may help in battling it. It’s origins lie in the fall of the Ottoman Empire, and the events that followed … but that may be little more than interesting tidbit, and has little to do with understanding its nature, or dealing with it. Certainly, what you call “transnational” in terms of terrorism is definitely a matter of opportunity, and we will undoubtedly be seeing groups moving out of home bases more and more. Hezbollah, though very much Lebanon based, has carried out attacks as far afield as Argentina.

    Islam is by its very nature, at its core dogma, global in nature, and we are seeing a violent reaction to the imposition of nation states. Finally (I have lots more but don’t want to overstay my welcome on this first visit), I think it a mistake for the purposes of these discussions to separate Salafism from Wahabism (the differences are historic nuance), or to consider either outside “any authentic Islamic tradition”. Though it came well before, it has served as the mainstream of Saudi Arabia for a very long time.

    Congratulations on a wonderful blog and I look forward to reading future discussions.

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  4. O Sensible One, you and I are going to be busy little vegemites if we keep responding in detail to each other’s musings. But be that as it may…

    On Muslim v Christian humiliation. I’ll agree that Muslims have had a greater fall from grace in the last two hundred years. But Christians have been pretty much humiliated and kept that way for hundreds of years in Islamic communities. Why do you think the first Arab nationalists were Christians, and so eager to push the Arab nature of their part of the world, and all but forget the Muslim nature? Christian Arabs have had a darn fine reason to be pissed off with their Muslim Arab brethren, but, again, we don’t see them strapping on explosive belts. As I wrote earlier, there have been Christian Arab terrorists. But there haven’t been Christian suicide bombings. There is something in Islamic doctrine that the suicide bombers and their teachers latch on to that isn’t in Christian teaching. To ignore this is to choose not to understand the issue.

    Yes, the Tamils were wonderful suicide bombers. I would pose a simple question. If Tamils are the proof that it doesn’t take a Muslim to be a suicide bomber, then why haven’t other national movements taken up the tactic? It’s far and away the scariest form of terrorism (well, while I’m no expert in ratio of fear to different tactics in terror, having lived in Jerusalem for a couple of years, and having had a suicide bomber introduce himself to his virgins across the street from me, I can tell you it’s pretty friggin’ scary living in an environment like that…).

    I would advance the idea that Tamil society probably has something in its culture and history that makes military suicide palatable and/or heroic. I know nothing about the Tamils so I can’t offer any suggestions. My point is, though, there is something specific within some Muslim circles and Tamil society that makes suicide bombing an option, whereas pretty much every other society on earth finds it reprehensible.

    I think I wrote about martyrdom badly. Christian and Jewish martyrdom is the willingness to withstand torture and/or death rather than renounce one’s faith. Islamic martyrdom includes this, but also includes seeking death while fighting Allah’s enemies.

    On saying that, we do celebrate heroic death on the battlefield. This, however, is celebrated as loyalty to one’s king, country and/or friends, rather than in a religious way.

    You wrote: Do we not venerate the suicides at Massada as the ultimate act of Jewish martyrdom?

    The Jews of Masada didn’t take out a bus full of Roman women and children as they became martyrs. I guess I feel the need to dither about ‘martyrdom’ because the same word in English is used to describe two different things. When Palestinians describe as a ‘martyr’ someone who opens fire at a bar mitzvah and is subsequently shot, or the bastard who blew himself up across the street from me, killing a mother and her daughter, I want to spew. If they want to describe as a martyr someone who died while shooting at Israeli soldiers, good luck to them. There is a fundamental moral difference, and I’m sticking to it. Maybe I just need to find a better way of describing the difference in pseudo-academic speak.

    You wrote, Elder, it’s ironic, but your view is shared by Robert Pape. He also belives in the “terrorism works” theory. But it’s manifestly untrue. Where is the Tamil homeland in Sri Lanka? Where indeed are the Tamil Tigers? Where is the state of Palestine? Let’s not forget the numerous reoccupations that have occurred after various Palestinian suicide campaigs. Where is Kurdistan? What exactly is the PKK up to now? Where is independent Chechnya? Where is independent/Pakistani Kashmir? Where is the Saidi dominated Islamist Egypt? Where is the GIA dominated government of Algeria, after an horrific, bloody decade? Where is the Islamist takeover of Indonesia? Where is the Islamist state around Moro? Where is MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front – funny name, not so funny tactics)?

    Here I completely disagree with you. Terrorism does work. I originally wrote, “There are very, very few cases of a sustained, well organised terrorist campaign that has not produced at least some of the desired changes.” Admittedly, the Tamils weren’t successful in their campaign, although it’s possible a while ago they were in peace talks with some form of limited autonomy. I actually don’t know, and can’t be bothered doing the research.

    Palestinian terrorism brought their movement to international attention, where before there had been none. Palestinian terrorism brought about peace talks with Israel, where Israel recognised the Palestinians’ right to a state, and granted them limited autonomy. Palestinian terrorism likewise gained a Taliban-like state like entity in the Gaza Strip. That the Palestinians didn’t realise they’d won and gave up terrorism in exchange for negotiations proves both their incompetence and Eban’s fantastical line that the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to shoot themselves in the foot.

    The Kurds have a viable autonomous region that no one enters without permission, or the Kurds will blow them away. Turkey has also loosened restrictions on non-Turkish identity in Turkey. Kashmir is admittedly still in the shit. Egypt is shit scared of its Islamists and treats them with kid gloves. No more mass arrests like in the ‘70s. And Egypt has the coldest of cold peaces with Israel, as a result of Islamist terrorism in Egypt. And so on. There are relatively few cases where terrorists have got everything they wanted. But there are less cases were, as a result of terrorism, the sovereign power hasn’t agreed or been forced to make some concessions to the national movement on behalf of whom the terrorists are operating. In short, terrorism works.

    Perhaps I could have and should have limited the ‘terrorism works’ line to Western societies were, unlike Russia, we place moral limits on ourselves not to flatten an entire city in exchange for killing a handful of Chechens.

    The smart terrorist movement, however, needs to know when to down weapons and take up negotiations. The Palestinians are not smart terrorists. Or, if you like, they are the smartest. They keep fighting, and Israel keeps offering them more and more.

    The smart sovereign power needs to know how much to offer the terrorists in exchange for peace, then quickly put in place mechanisms to prevent a rise of violent nationalist angst in the future. One must keep in mind, however, that some movements cannot be bought off this way. Israel is not and has never been a smart sovereign power. The UK is probably the smartest going.

    We can selectively cite example after example to prove each other’s case wrong. And you seem to have more time than me. So I might have to end up conceding, which sucks balls. So my last point on the matter is that I didn’t mean to say that terrorists always get everything they want. Rather, they (almost) always get part of what they want.

    Going back to the honour thing. If Islamists want to place all of their real and imagined grievances into the ‘honour’ bag, then you, O Sensible One, have your overarching reason for Islamist terrorism. But within the honour bag there is a legion of different reasons. It depends muchly on how one defines ‘honour.’ If Islamists think by blowing up kids they’ll regain their honour, then they’ve got major issues. The fact is, that all societies that honour honour, and put it before competence, end up being failures and always fall flat when faced with societies that reward competence over loyalty. It’s the way it is, it’s just a shame the honour societies are so darn violent in the period before they internalise this fact of life.

    You wrote, Again, these are all legitimate, proximate causes but they don’t provide a common thread. It’s also important not to take “living wills” at face value. They have an awful lot more to tell us beyond the bluster, rantings, and derangement that are immediately apparent.

    The common thread thing doesn’t work for me. It works for you. I’ll guess we’ll have to disagree.

    It’s the second sentence that really gets my goat, however. Why shouldn’t we take living wills at face value? Are we so arrogant in our Western ideals that we think we know better than the people actually becoming suicide bombers? If you want to know the motivations behind a suicide bomber, ask one! They’ve helpfully provided us with their testimony. Interestingly, they ALL cite their religion as the main reason, along with other reasons. It’s typically Western arrogance that decides we know more about the issues than they do. When looking for meta-narratives of blah and wank, we can feel free to pick and choose the evidence we want. But when we want to know why a 21 year old blows himself up, and when our meta-narrative wank doesn’t fit in with what the 21 year old says, what do we do? Ignore the 21 year old, or change our theories?

    You wrote, Northern Irish terrorists did not achieve their initial goals at all. They are not part of the Republic, nor are they independent from Britain. If anything, the IRA was worn down, and forced to accept power sharing and the decommissioning of their weapons.

    Again, example and counter example. The Northern Irish terrorists achieved lots for their respective communities. They didn’t get everything they wanted, but they got a hell of a lot.

    You wrote, The two situations are just not analogous. From tactics, to the nature of the protagonists, to the nature of the geo-political region, the differences between the two situations are too stark to draw meaningful proximate comparisons. If they were analogous, then the end result of the Israel/Palestine conflict would be a power sharing agreement under an overarching occupying government, and a decommissioning of all weapons. It just doesn’t work.

    I wasn’t trying to compare the two situations. I was attempting a pithy remark that clearly fell flat in front of the facts.

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  5. Well, we can’t all be of ‘like mind’ (I’ve been reading Michael Burd’s comments!) or this would be a love-in!

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  6. Morry says:

    Yes, it seems we are really shaking up the multi-viewed stereotype of Jews by agreeing on so much. You wrote:

    You know, that’s a fascinating point: that the nation state is an affront to the essence of Islam. The problem is, Islam from very early on understood that separating temporal from spiritual rule was an inevitablity, and made provision for that. This is why there is an edict that a Muslim must respect the secular law of the place in which he/she lives.

    You asked me to expand on the concept of “opportunism” and this appears to be the perfect place. Islam’s world view simply divides the world into two dwellings, there is the Dwelling of Islam, or the dwelling of peace (Da’ar el Islam), and the Dwelling of the Sword, or the dwelling of war (Da’ar el Harab). There is also a principle called “Hegirah” which loosely translates as “withdrawal”. The purpose of Islam is to have peace under Islam worldwide (this is relected in the Hamas charter with peace “under the wing of Islam”), but it is also recognised that this opportunity doesn’t always exist, so Moslems “withdraw”, respecting the laws of the land … till an opportunity arises.

    This brings me to the European research by Professor Rafi Israeli. If we accept his conclusions (politically correct bigotry accusations aside) that when a Moslem population grows to around 10% of the population violence begins to grow rapidly, this may well be an indicator of a growing sense of opportunity. I don’t for one second suggest that there is a conspiracy of the entire Moslem population just waiting for its chance, but certainly the hotheads and Islamists begin to lose their restraint. I do suggest that where an opportunity presents to Islamise, it will be taken, even violently, as is happening with the genocide of Southern Christians in Sudan, not to mention the efforts to dislodge the Jewish presence in the Middle East. I firmly believe that the rapid growth of Islamism is the response to perceived opportunity to to take on the West.

    Elsewhere you have spoken of “the clash of cultures”, and, at their core, Islam and Western democracy are diametric opposites. A system that is adament that Allah dictates every facet of your life, as opposed to what is literally seen as the spawn of the devil, a corrupt system in which people have the affront to make their own decisions. From where I sit, it doesn’t look good.

    Elder of Zion wrote:

    Palestinian terrorism likewise gained a Taliban-like state like entity in the Gaza Strip. That the Palestinians didn’t realise they’d won and gave up terrorism in exchange for negotiations proves both their incompetence and Eban’s fantastical line that the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to shoot themselves in the foot.

    Actually it was “The Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity”, clever, but horribly misunderstanding Palestinian aspirations. The presumption that all the Palestinians want is a state is a false one, and it is in light of that presumption that they look so stupid. But they are neither stupid nor do they particularly desire a state.

    This is where it gets complicated. People assume two homogenous parties to conflicts, the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. In the ltter case they are abyssmally wrong, as there are three parties … and I say that after years of travelling safely in the West Bank and Gaza. There are the Israelis and there are your average Arabs (they only acquired the label “Palestinians” in the late 1960s and it wasn’t by choice) who are hardworking highly productive farmers, buildres and producers, and there is another group, spawned from the efforts of Haj Amin el Husseini, Yasser Arafat his nephew et al. The PA (Palestinian Authority) is made up of 9 of these groups including Fatah, the PLO, Islamic Jihad, PFLP, DFLP, whose only aim is and has always been the removal of Israel. The idea of a Palestinian state first reared its head at the Rabat conference of 1974, and was part of a stages plan to annihilate Israel by acquiring adjacent territory that could be used as a base for hostilities against Israel. It’s why this group has been so intransigent. The victims are both Israelis and your average Palestinians caught in the middle, but also wanting the terrorists gone.

    In 1924 there was no conflict, and both Arabs and Jews (strangely ironic, the Jews at the time were referred to as “Palestinians” and the Jewish homeland in, say, the Wezman-Faisal agreement was referred to as “Palestine”) were agreed on the partition of the Mandate of Palestine (today’s Israel, WB, Gaza and Jordan), with everything East of the Jordan River considered the Arab homeland, and everything West the Jewish. Britain formented the conflict (too long to go into here) by installing the rabid antisemite Haj Amin el Husseini as Mufti of Jerusalem. Husseini (uncle of Yasser Arafat and mentor to both Arafat and Mahmud Abass) organised the 1920, 1921 massacres of Jews, followed by the 1929 massacre and expulsion of the Jews of Hebron, then the massacres of 1937 … and modern Arab terrorism was born.

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  7. Morry, the lack of quotation marks might have served notice that I was paraphrasing Abba Eban, not quoting him. I know well his actual quote; it is one of my favourites.

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  8. Morry says:

    Hi E of Z,

    I was actually discussing the point being made about Palestinian ineptitude, rather being a stickler for a correct quote. Abba Eban truly believed that if you give the Palestinians a state all problems are solved. It never occurred to him that they didn’t want one, that this was never the end game … hence his verbally clever quote.

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  9. O Sensible One,

    My original contention that terrorism works never suggested that terrorists will always (or even often) achieve all of their aims, stated or otherwise. Again, I originally wrote, “There are very, very few cases of a sustained, well organised terrorist campaign that has not produced at least some of the desired changes.” My contention that terrorism works, which I completely stand by, is that terrorism brings to the attention of the subject population, the occupying power (I use the term ‘occupying power’ as loosely as possible – the Basques think they’re occupied) and, sometimes, the international community.

    The EU would never have pressured Turkey to ease up on the Kurds unless the Kurds had have committed political violence, thus bringing to the Europeans’ attention that there is such a thing as a Kurd.

    You look for an overarching reason of terrorism, but you continue enforcing distinctions between terrorism and Islamist terrorism. The RAF weren’t humiliated by anyone – they simply wanted to bring about a revolution. Same thing goes for Charles Manson’s ‘Family.’ You asked for proof that Islamist Palestinian terrorism has worked – of all your challenges, this is the easiest to provide! Hamas has forced the Jews and the secular (or not-Islamist-enough) Fatah out of Gaza, creating for itself a mini-state. It hasn’t gained all of ‘Palestine’ (meaning Israel), but nor has it finished yet. The Jews are gagging to get rid of the West Bank (again, an achievement for terrorism), but just don’t have anyone competent enough to give it to. If and when Israel manages to find a solution for short-range rockets, you’ll see the Zionist Entity retreat to something approximate to the 1949 Armistice Lines, plus a few big settlements.

    The overarching reason for terrorism that you’re so eager to find is that violence works. It works for animals – to see who is the pride of the pride, so to speak, and it works for humans, to see who is king of the mountain. When humans don’t get their own way through talking, they resort to violence. Boys on playgrounds do it and men with AK-47s do it – just ask Bin Laden. In our soft Western society, the last hundred years or so has seen the role of violence diminish, but that doesn’t account for the 100 million and more souls that have died from violence in wars during that time.

    Oftentimes, when people see a positive result from their violence, they will stop their violence and start talking again. Sometimes, when they see positive results from violence, they will continue with violence hoping for more positive results – it depends on all sorts of situations and factors. Sometimes, people acting violently will actually go backward, as the party against which they were being violent is violent in return, and has a mixture of more competency and more willingness to impose violence than the first party.

    People know that violence for the sake of advancement is wrong. That is why religions and politics make up all sorts of excuses to justify violence. ‘Oh! We’re so humiliated! We have to kill them to make ourselves proud again!’ ‘Oh! God wants me to do it!’ ‘Oh! Humanity will be better when we bring about a socialist revolution, we just have to kill a few capitalists to get things started’ and so on. But strip back the excuses, and you’ll find humans, regardless of their religion, ethnicity or political ideology, using violence to advance their interests. That’s your overarching reason for terrorism. Terrorism is merely violence by people who don’t have the resources or charisma to raise an army.

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  10. Morry says:

    Your goodnatured intelligent commentary sets a very warm, indeed sensible, tone here, SJ … congratulations. I have seen too many blogs whose discussions have deteriorated into bickering then intense animosity.

    I don’t neeed to be agreed with, but it’s nice when it happens

    You wrote:
    Morry, the above elements as highly elastic in how they are interpreted. The moderate imam of a mosque in the west will use these distinctions quite differently from an Islamist charismatic leader. I’m interested in what makes one leader want to interpret for peace, and another for war.

    I’m not convinced that the gap is all that great. Some years ago I went to hear Sheik Imam address members of the Jewish community on the subject “Should we Fear Islam”. Let me emphasise that I went with the purpose of being reassured. Sheik Imam is a kindly old man, complete with white beard and an emaciated Santa look, and was introduced as “the most moderate Moslem cleric in Victoria”. So far so good. His talk, predictably focussed on the “Golden Age in Spain”, left me singularly unimpressed. We call it the “Golden Age” more for its spiritual product than that the Jewish physical existance was so marvelous … though far better than under the Christian regimes of the time (second class citizens, but alive and relatively unscathed).

    I was mostly waiting to see how he handled the questions that would be posed by a relatively well-informed audience. Questions about the status of Jews, the Dhimmi, in Moslem societies then and now, left him visibly angry, actually shouting. The questioner had made the mistake of asking about the Dhimmi status “in the Koran” when it is actually part of the Hadiths. With what I have discovered on the blogs to be a very common Moslem device of deflection, Sheik Imam shouted “There is no such thing in the Koran … show me where it is written”. The Dhimmi issue wasn’t addressed.

    It was the response to the next question that really shocked me. He was asked why the Moslem community doesn’t denounce terrorism, specifically that levelled at Israeli civilians (which was an issue at the time). His fury … I finally understood the word “apoplectic”, left him screaming “these people are being humiliated, they have a right to defend themselves”. The evening was cut short with a “thank you” speech. I cam away thinking that if this is “the most moderate cleric in Victoria, we are in trouble”. Needless to say, I was far from reassured, and remian uneasy to this day.

    I’m sorry this is so long, but I think it important to realise that we are dealing with another very different culture, with different mores, and rather than find politically correct parallels and applications of our own experience, we truly need to study and understand this culture if we are to live with it in some modicum of harmony.

    I don’t think there is anything like a unified strategy among Muslims to do anything, let alone launch a takeover of the West. Most radicalisation is very diffuse and ad-hoc.

    I said much the same when I wrote: “I don’t for one second suggest that there is a conspiracy of the entire Moslem population…”, but, if you are to believe the research and content of Oriana Fallacci’s last book before she died, such a uniform strategy does exist in some extreme circles, amongst the people she interviewed. Probably a relative handful, but I think that’s our problem. It always is that relative laughable handful that we so readily dismiss that changes the face of the world. This was true for Hitler, Rambuca, Lenin, Mao, Castro, Khomeini …. the list is huge. We need to learn to tread the halls of history very carefully. If 0.5% of our Moslem population were to be inbued with Salafism to the point where they turned to terrorism, we would be in serious dooh-dooh.

    Do you not cringe a bit when Kahanist settlers talk genocidal smack about Arabs?

    I don’t just cringe but get very angry, and that’s my point in relation to diffent cultural responses. Khahne’s party, Kach, was banned from Knesset and outlawed, and those expressions are roundly condemned throughout both Israel and the Jewish community at large. That is the response to the killing of innocent civilians (any civilians including Israeli) I’ve been waiting to see from the Moslem community, because there is nothing quite as powerful in creating change as peer pressure, especially peer disapproval. I continue to wait, and, much like with Sheik Imam, it continues to fail to materialise in any signifcant way.

    On the issue of a clash of cultures, there are ideologies that are mutually exclusive at their core, and, without lots of tolerance, their meeting is prone to eruptions, which do occurr periodically. Creationism vs evolution springs to mind as a perennial source of conflict because of the mutual exclusivity of the arguments. The same is true of democracy and Islam, as I mentioned before. At the core of co-existance lies tolerance … it is now, obviously in short supply on both sides, and we have the violent eruptions in the various societies. It is significant that the main perpetrators in the Moslem world are children of immigrant (not the immigrants themselves), and I believe that, for the immigrants, the dislocation they feel is superceded by an immense gratitude at being free of a previously oppressive environment … for their children, the dislocation continues without the gratitude, but rather with an expectation of fitting in. It’s no more than an explanatory idea that I could easily abandon if it proves false. But I do believe that we need to abadon politically correct platitudes, and either find a way to address the problem, or acknowledge that we can’t. As a footnote, I did meet Prof Israeli and it is clear to me that, fluent in Arabic, and something of an Arabophile, he is no bigot. He gathered statistics and presented his findings. His conclusions regarding a solution sound draconian, and for me the jury is still out.

    Sorry, this is getting long … I’m sure you have enough to do without wading through so much. My last point was simply the result of abandoning all narratives and creating my own from the primary documentation available, much of it in the UN archives. We have been talking about terrorism, and I thought that establishing where it began in this Arab-Israeli conflict, and where the conflict itself began, would go a long way towards understanding the issues. Its spread from there worldwide, through hijackings to blowing up planes and embassies is possibly an essential part of the terrorism story … or so I thought.

    Thanks for your input and the sharing of your knowledge and ideas … it’s certainly the way I learn, and one of my yardsticks for evaluating my own thoughts.

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  11. O Sensible One,

    We appear to be using the same words with different meanings – arguing at cross purposes. If you think a terrorist movement hasn’t succeeded until it has achieved all its goals, then I think you’d be hard pressed to find a single terrorist movement that actually has succeeded. And if terrorism thus doesn’t work, why is it so popular?

    There’s little point arguing further on this issue, because the two of us believe what we believe, and feel that the other simply doesn’t get it. Frustrating!

    The excuses bit is also a case of misunderstanding words. I don’t mean that terrorists don’t believe what they are doing is the right thing to do. They believe it so much they are willing to kill and die for it! Rather, strip back their excuses/reasons/justifications/etc and you’ll find humans committing violence to achieve their ends. Humans have being doing that since Cain.

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  12. SJ,

    You state A massively overpopulated rump state with crumbling infrastructure was hardly the goal of any Palestinian group.

    There is an important point here that ties in with an earlier comment I made. The strategy of the Palestinian movement has been to position themselves as the victims and the underdog, to elicit world favour for their cause. You make very little mention of the culture of blame that is very prevalent in the Arab world today.

    So a while a basket-case state is not a goal, it is an important tactical step in the long-term war. Because terrorism is an asymmetric war tactic, it elicits responses from conventional armies that can easily be called “disproportionate”, which again feeds the positioning of the terrorist as a victim.

    Rather than looking at terrorism and “radicalisation” (I really don’t like that word) as products of a culture, perhaps they are simply tactics in a well-planned campaign to achieve specific goals.

    The leadership of Hamas, the PA (maybe they have changed tack on this), and Hezbollah have all been very happy for civilians under their control to remain in an awful state of living because it suits their long term goals.

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  13. Morry says:

    Thanks for your responses, SJ. You wrote:

    I know a lot of Muslims. Almost none of them are religious. So even if every Sheikh were problematic – and it really is impossible to contend that – that doesn’t actually reflect what’s going on with many Muslims in Australia.

    Given that this discussion has been about the prompting of terrorist violence, for me what you say is a given. Secular Moslems may only turn to violence when they are both very young and when somebody succeeds in indoctrinating them, so by and large, they are a non-issue, which is why I haven’t included them in my discussion … but I am very aware of their existence. Some young Habonim members, sons of a dear friend, were recently excitiedly telling of the interfaith work they were doing with the Moslems. I said “I bet they’re all Turkish” and, somewhat crestfallen, they acknowledged that they were. Please don’t jump on that, I’m not suggsting that the only moderate Moslems are Turks … only that those secular Moslems have little relevance to our discussion as they are unlikely to start killing anyone. I do think where clerics stand, though, is an issue, because of their ability to influence so many.

    My major point that I stand by, is that we cannot afford to dismiss the extremists because they are numerically small, when history has shown over and over that it is those very small ridiculous discounted groups of idealogues who have changed the face of history (I used the examples of Hitler, Rambuca, Lenin, Mao, Castro, and Khomeini though there are so very many more). I’m sure that the London bombers didn’t “reflect what was going on with the Moslem population” in England, yet so many still finished up dead.

    My only problem with the Australian Moslem population, and their world population for that matter, is that they simply don’t denounce terrorist acts and even attempt to rationalise and excuse them, and, as they say, all it takes is for good people to stand idly by … I simply presented him as a quite stark example of what I’m saying, but Sheik Imam is hardly just another cleric, he is today a cleric of immense influence, positioned in the top echelons of Muslim Australia. The fact is that instead of condemnations we get spokespeople like Walid Aly and Keisar Trad justifying the violence. We have even had the obscenity of the rape of young Australian women being justified by Australia’s top cleric in his infamous “cat meat” analogy. I know that I need to understand why this is so, and feel extremely uncomfortable that, at least officially, there is no real negative response to terrorist acts. The Lockerbie bomber who had murdered hundreds of innocents was embraced by Khaddafi and given a hero’s welcome in Libya, as was Samir Kuntar in Lebanon. Putting it as mildly as I can, SJ, there is something in those cultures that treats violence and murder very differently to the way we do. I think, as I have said so often, we desparately need to understand that … not so much the attitudes of secular Moslems who have blended into Australian society.

    Actually, the differences between groups of Muslims is far greater than the so-called “civilisational” differences that someone like Huntington talks about.

    This is undoubtedly true, but I guess the point of the series is to explore, amongst other things, why it is we, rather than they, that are under attack. Sunnis and Shi’ites, violent enemies since the day Mohammed died, can work together against Israel and the West. Clearly those differences don’t define the levels of enmity in those societies, and, as you’ve so often said, we are looking at what prompts some to turn to violence (and I guess the choice of target is an issue there).

    I know that you constantly say that there is no plan or conspiracy, no blueprint except with the timiest handful of Islamists, and I agree, but looking around at what has been happening I also see that a definite pattern does emerge.

    Iran fell (was given by Jimmy Carter) to the Islamists, who promptly sent agents to vulnerable areas. Algeria, and Sudan have fallen to Islamists, once Christian Lebanon is teetering, its Christian population largely gone, Gaza is gone, and Islamist sights are firmly set on Egypt, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile some European nations have actually reconciled themselves to a Moslem majority, whilst others are experiencing extreme levels of violence. It’s not a blueprint like Hitler’s Mein Kampf, but certainly where opportunities present they are quickly snapped up.

    We appear to be at war …. not with secular Moslems, not even with devout Moslems, but certainly with a part of the Moslem world that doesn’t wish us well. We need to understand their rules of engagement if we are to survive … which I have always assumed was the purpose of your series, and a wonderfully well thought out well written intelligent one it is.

    A point that I keep forgetting to mention, but David reminded me, goes to why the issues of “humiliation” and “victimhood” keep reappearing in the Arab and Moslem narratives so often. These are both explicit justifications for Jihad. Trotting them out serves, not just as a justification for violence, but also as a call to arms. I’m not sure that we should take them so literally, though, undeniably, if we look for where people could see “humiliation” we will find it in spades. Israel’s very existence is undoubtedly a “humiliation” … I’m not entirely sure what we can do with that.

    David wrote: Rather than looking at terrorism and “radicalisation” (I really don’t like that word) as products of a culture, perhaps they are simply tactics in a well-planned campaign to achieve specific goals.

    After exploring Arab culture amongst friend and foe alike, whether Moslem or Christian Lebanese, I think this very wrong. I have certainly come away with the belief (and I freely acknowledge that it is gross generalisation, but it seems to fit the norm) that, whilst our culture is rationally based, where arguments need to be supported by facts, that world is consensus based, and proofs were constantly presented to me as being the number of people who know the most outrageous things to be true. Just as an example, I had it put to me by a Lebanese Christian supporter of Israel that “nothing goes on in the world without America wanting it, and nothing goes on in the Middle East without Israel wanting it”. I said “What about all the Israelis dying in terrorist attacks”. He winked and said “You don’t know yet why Israel wants that”. His proof was that everyone knew that to be true. Whether it’s meetings of OPEC or what the man in the street believes to be true, it is almost always a product of consensus (with the probable exception of people educated in the West). This may explain how people are influenced by their immediate environment to kill … if that’s the consensus in that environment.

    There are just so very many differences, some totally irrelevant to this discussion, some more so. I’m quite sure that the fact that few Arabs in Israel have gardens with flowers is probably irrlelvant … but then, who knows? (grin)

    My problem is one of essence … what we are discussing would easily justify a book, and here we are trying to bring it down to its essence so that it only fills a paragraph (sigh)

    I am enjoying the dicussion immensely, SJ, thanks.

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  14. Morry,

    You’re describing a paranoia across the Arab world that seems quite incredible. What evidence can you bring for this more than anecdotal discussions with the odd Lebanese Christian?

    And even if this is the case, why does this mean they are not able to rationally plan a long-term campaign?

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  15. The Sensible One wrote, “Why is it popular? Therein lies the question!”

    Answer – because it works! Hee hee

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  16. sensiblejew says:

    Welcome back Elder of Zion! It’s good to see you.

    You have written so many interesting points, and I’m just champing at the bit to discuss them. Unfortunately, I’m a bit pressed for time for the rest of the day. You bring up so many important issues, and I want to deal with each of them. I’ll answer you properly either later tonight or tomorrow. Apologies.

    Looking forward to the discussion!

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  17. sensiblejew says:

    Hi Elder of Zion.

    Once again, it’s great to read such a thoughtful comment, even if we disagree on certain basic tenets.

    You write:

    Before I get to the big picture, it’s worth throwing in a few points. Christian Palestinians have been just as humiliated as Muslim Palestinians. Yet there have never been Christian Palestinian suicide bombers (although there have been Christian Palestinian terrorists). Thus, as unpalatable as it might be for the Sensitive, er, Sensible Jew, there is something within Islamic teaching or theology that makes it acceptable to blow oneself up amidst a room full of infidels or takfiris.

    The humiliation suffered by Muslim Palestinians is incomparable with the experience of their Christian bretheren. The Christians had been a minority in Palestine for many hundreds of years. The Jews did not overturn a Christian dominance: they upended an Islamic structure. The “Judeification” of Palestine was a wresting of a Muslim domain, not a Palestinian one. Palestine, as a distinct national conception, was not at issue during Ottoman times. People’s identities were distinguished by confessional allegiance, rather than national character.

    So, whether there are elements of Islam that can be used to propogate the suicide terrorist agenda in no way diminishes the specific humiliation experienced by the Muslim Palestinian community.

    I’d like to point out, by the way, that I would never view any explanation of terrorist behaviour as justification. The intentional targeting of innocents is not justifiable under any circumstances. That does not mean, however, that we do not benefit from rigorous explorations of possible ultimate causes of such vile behaviour.

    Another point the Sensible Jew missed in one of her other posts was the idea of martyrdom. She mentioned that up until relatively recently, martyrdom was celebrated in the Christian culture as well. She’s right, but she’s wrong.

    “Martyrdom is still celebrated. Go to any ANZAC Day memorial and you’ll hear the line about ‘greater love hath no man…’ The difference is, martyrdom in the Christian tradition (and here, I must point out, that I don’t know where the Jewish tradition fits in) is when one is martyred for the cause. That is, one is killed because one is Christian.

    “Martyrdom in the Muslim tradition includes this (that one is killed because one is Muslim), but it also includes being martyred for Islam, or while fighting for Islam. That is, Christian martyrdom is solely passive. Islamic martyrdom is both active and passive.

    “The ANZAC martyrdom mythology is not dying while killing the enemy, or even dying for one’s country, but dying to protect your mates. It’s still passive.

    How is dying in the act of protection or defence passive? It’s dying while fighting: the very definition of active. That one form of martyrdom is repugnant to us and another is not, does not define whether they are active. Also, the Christian tradition of martyrdom is replete with those dying in action – or at least as a result of action.

    Palestinian civilians and fighters killed by Israel are considered martyrs. But so are Palestinian suicide bombers, who obviously weren’t killed by Israelis, but who killed themselves for the cause. What cause? Instead of listening to academics wank on about the issue, imposing their Western standards on non-Western people, we should listen to the suicide bombers themselves. These are the people who are flicking their own switches. These are the people driven by their own motivations. And what are their motivations? Palestine and Allah. There is no polite way to get around it, Islamist suicide terrorists are motivated by the sweet words Allah whispers in their ears.

    Elder, there is no framework that I’m aware of that demands an enemy pull the trigger before martyrdom is applicable. Do we not venerate the suicides at Massada as the ultimate act of Jewish martyrdom?

    But the bigger picture is more important. It feels as if the Sensible Jew is treating terrorism as an end. It is not an end. It is a means. People use terrorism because it works. There are very, very few cases of a sustained, well organised terrorist campaign that has not produced at least some of the desired changes.

    Elder, it’s ironic, but your view is shared by Robert Pape. He also belives in the “terrorism works” theory. But it’s manifestly untrue. Where is the Tamil homeland in Sri Lanka? Where indeed are the Tamil Tigers? Where is the state of Palestine? Let’s not forget the numerous reoccupations that have occurred after various Palestinian suicide campaigs. Where is Kurdistan? What exactly is the PKK up to now? Where is independent Chechnya? Where is independent/Pakistani Kashmir? Where is the Saidi dominated Islamist Egypt? Where is the GIA dominated government of Algeria, after an horrific, bloody decade? Where is the Islamist takeover of Indonesia? Where is the Islamist state around Moro? Where is MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front – funny name, not so funny tactics)?

    These are only a few possible examples. Terrorism most certainly does not “work,” if the stated aim of these groups is indeed their primary goal.

    The whole honour issue she’s spent so much time on is simply one of the reasons for a terrorist to act. Bren Carlill was spot on when he wrote that terrorists act because of a mix of lots of motivations. There is no one reason for a terrorist to act. The Sensible Jew has tried to find an overarching “ultimate cause” for terrorism. Others have tried the same thing. She canvassed their opinions, and rightly dismissed them. But she didn’t learn her lesson and realise there is no “ultimate cause.” Instead, she simply put forward her own, flawed, theory.

    Elder, there are many lessons I need to learn, but the importance of distinguishing between proximate and ultimate causes is not one of them. That my posited ultimate cause may be flawed is certainly possible, but that does not detract from my original argument that all other stated causes are simply proximate. For many of us, it is not enough just to say, “there are lots of reasons,” for terrorism. We want to know if there is an overarching framework that can begin to explain how these proximate causes can become so deadly.

    People become terrorists because they’re susceptible to influences by charismatic people, whether they be imams, rabbis or older brothers. They become terrorists because they’re pissed off their brother was killed, or that their mother was humiliated – yes, that’s honour, or the lack of it. But that in and of itself will not produce a suicide bomber. They’re brainwashed into thinking they’ll get their virgins, that Allah will look out for their family once they’re gone, that they’ll make a difference and so on. They’re brainwashed into thinking killing a bunch of yids will earn them points with the Big Fella. Don’t believe me? Watch a video of a suicide bomber’s ‘living will.’ It’s all there.

    Again, these are all legitimate, proximate causes but they don’t provide a common thread. It’s also important not to take “living wills” at face value. They have an awful lot more to tell us beyond the bluster, rantings, and derangement that are immediately apparent.

    Northern Irish terrorists were involved in a war to end British occupation of the island of Ireland. It wasn’t about honour, it was about practicalities. Make life difficult enough for them, and they’ll leave. When they realised it wouldn’t work, they sought peace. The British, at the same time, realised – because of terrorism – that the Croppies had grievances and made allowances as well. So the Good Friday Agreement saw both sides compromise and move towards a central position.

    Northern Irish terrorists did not achieve their initial goals at all. They are not part of the Republic, nor are they independent from Britain. If anything, the IRA was worn down, and forced to accept power sharing and the decommissioning of their weapons.

    Look at the statements by the various Islamist terrorists vis-a-vis Israel. They are going to make life hard for the Jews, and eventually the Jews will give up and go “home” to Europe or wherever. They have the same end goal as the IRA did. (Which is different from the RAF and other terrorist groups, but there you have it).

    The two situations are just not analogous. From tactics, to the nature of the protagonists, to the nature of the geo-political region, the differences between the two situations are too stark to draw meaningful proximate comparisons. If they were analogous, then the end result of the Israel/Palestine conflict would be a power sharing agreement under an overarching occupying government, and a decommissioning of all weapons. It just doesn’t work.

    My point in all of this is that there is no “ultimate cause” why terrorism exists (apart from the fact it works), why individuals will get involved in terrorism, or why some communities (such as Palestinian Muslims) will produce lots of suicide terrorists and why some communities (such as Palestinian Christians) will not. Oh, well, actually, there is an ultimate reason for the last one, but it’s not PC to say so.

    Elder, hopefully by now, you would have worked out that being PC is not top of my priorities. Be that as it may, I think I’ve adequately demonstrated the difference between the Muslim and Christian communities of Palestine, and also that terrorism doesn’t work. Demonstrating my theory of an ultimate cause still has two instalments to go. I really hope to hear from you on those as well.

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  18. sensiblejew says:

    David, thank you once again for another wonderful comment, although we clearly disagree on certain fundamental elements.

    I want to devote a refreshed brain to a proper response to you. As I approach middle age, 12:00am finds me sleepy, and without the clear thought the task requires.

    Hopefully, tomorrow, the brain will be in working order.

    A good week to you!

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  19. sensiblejew says:

    Hi David, and good morning. Refreshed, I will have a go at answering the very interesting points you present:

    I too agree with EoZ that there is no “root cause” or “unified theory” behind terrorism. I will make a few observations on recent comments:

    The series is not about unified theories as such, and the term, “root cause” is associated with a leftist perspective on terrorism that seeks to externalise moral responsibility for terrorism. Not only am I staunchly non-ideological (neither left nor right), but I reject any theory that removes agency/responsibility from the perpetrators of suicide attacks.

    The essence – which will become clearer in the final two posts in the series – of my argument, is that distinguishing ultimate casues from proximate causes is important. There should be universal elements to a specific type of political violence that applies to all perpetrators. These will be the ultimate causes. The proximate causes, however, will often be specific to particular groups or situations. I agree that there is no possibility or value in trying to “unify” the theory of all terrorist action; however, certain patterns do emerge that are important to identify.

    Many cultures celebrate martyrdom, and consider those who have died as martyrs to be heroes. But how many of them have people queueing up to be martyrs? How many teach their children to have ambitions to be martyrs? This is taking active martyrdom to entirely new level.

    This culture of martyrdom definitely exists in Islamist influenced groups and communities. No serious person would deny that. The question I ask is one of causation: Does Islam cause this culture, or is there a culture that uses and distorts Islam as a necessary propaganda tool. Most scholars would agree that the latter is the case. All religions contain martial elements, but only a few within any religion will focus on those elements to justify political violence. That is why the culture of martyrdom is a proximate, rather than ultimate cause: it is the result of a number of preceding factors that produced it as a necessary tool.

    Let’s take a step back from this perspective. Why are we so obsessed with finding the root cause of terrorism, and particularly the practice of suicide bombing? I suggest it’s because our culture values life so greatly (let’s stay out of the euthanasia debate for now) that we simply cannot fathom why anyone would want to kill themselves for a cause.

    You may be right. It is hard for us to fathom such fanaticism. But that is not why we must search for patterns of behaviour (let’s leave “root causes” out of it for the moment). If such patterns exist, and we can identify them, they provide an invaluable framework within which the proximate causes of terrorism may be far better understood. It is our duty to seek out such patterns and ultimate causes. Perhaps they don’t exist, but that does not absolve us from the obligation to search as widely and as deeply as possible for genuine understanding. Without this understanding, we have no hope of preventing radicalisation.

    SJ: You are missing an important element from the picture, which is illustrated nicely by the following story (lehavdil), related by the subject himself in his memoirs:

    The previous Lubavitcher Rebbe was mercilessly brutalized and tortured in the 1920s by the KGB for his “counter-revolutionary” activities — the creation of an underground network of Yeshivas, mikvahs and other banned Jewish institutions.

    During his incarceration, he was repeatedly interrogated in terrible conditions. On one such occasion, one of the Rebbe’s interrogators pointed a revolver at the Rebbe and smirked: “This toy has a way of making people cooperate.”

    Calmly the Rebbe replied: “That toy is persuasive to one who has many gods and only one world; I have One God and two worlds.”

    It’s not that I reject the significance of life-after-death beliefs surrounding political violence: it is that I do not believe they constitute an ultimate cause. Their value as a proximate factor is, however, quite clear.

    The reason people are so challenged by suicide terrorism is that they come from a perspective where life on this world is everything, so you must have a damn good reason to end it.

    Islam, on the other hand, twists its position regarding the afterlife to minimize the finality of suicide so that it becomes a viable instrument to fight the “war” against its “oppressors”.

    David, here you are mistaken. In Islam, suicide is a sin that may not be countenanced. The sort of theological gymnastics required to make suicide attacks fit into an Islamist framework rivalled any Olympian feat. Indeed, statistics demonstrate that suicide in the Muslim world is far less frequent than in the west, because culturally, it is anathema. Suicide attacks are relatively recent in political Islam, because they have no place in traditional Islamic discourse.

    “You say terrorism doesn’t work, and point to the fact that most campaigns that use terrorism failed in their main objective. However, that is a bit short sighted (Hamas were happy to offer a 100 year hudna, and then continue the campaign).”

    This is an interesting point. It’s actually an argument against Robert Pape’s theory that terrorism exists because it works. Pape defines “works” as a direct and tangible result, i.e. removal of an occupying force. While this leaves him wide open on the one hand, on the other, it is understandable that he would confine his definition like that. Without such a definition, the danger is that what “works”, becomes a meaningless category because it could encompass any result at all.

    It’s better to look at terrorism as a very effective tool of war, particularly asymmetric warfare. Think of it as the next step beyond guerilla warfare, that was so effective in the Vietnam war (and in that case, it did “work”).

    This is not a problematic view in itself. It is only problematic as an explanation for how radicalisation takes place at all. No one radicalises because they have made the complex geo-political calculations, and then rejected Pape’s narrow definition of what “works” means.

    It is such an effective tool because it (a) evokes huge responses that need to use traditional methods of warfare, which in turn (b) allows its protagonists to position themselves as victims and maintain the moral high ground.

    It’s only effective up to a point. It probably won’t remove an occupying power, or overturn a secular system of government. And often it will end up alienating the very people terrorist groups originally derived at least tacit support from. This is happening in Indonesia right now, it happenned in Algeria, and in Iraq, among many other places. In fact, terrorism’s costs to the perpetrators almost always far outweigh their benefits.

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  20. sensiblejew says:

    Morry, hello and welcome!

    Thank you for your kind words, and also for taking the time to write such a considered and thoughtful comment.

    Take the issue of “humiliation” for example. I think in terms of terrorists and rejectionists it goes largely to expectations, much like the champion boxer who will feel humiliated by a string of stinging defeats, largely because he expects to win. Certainly this “humiliation” and desire to restore the honour that was once Islam’s when it ruled much of the world is a powerful impetus in terrorist activity. With all due respect to Ehud Sprinzak, I think that you will find this at the base of all the Middle Eastern terrorist ideologies.

    I agree with this completely. I hope you get a chance to read the series in full, as I too focus on humilation as a key source of radicalisaton.

    Hamas isn’t simply “fighting what they believe is the Jewish occupation of historical Palestine”, their charter and speeches makes it clear that their goal is the overturn of the concept of nation states imposed by the League of Nations post WW1, and the restoration of a single unified Moslem entity, prepferably under a Caliph as in days of yore. Israel is an impediment, and more importantly a humiliating insult as Jews who don’t know their place because, in the terms of their charter, “peace is only possible when Jews live under the wing of Islam”. Jewish autonomy is a perceived abomination.

    You are spot on here. Israel is a giant blow to Arab, and particularly Islamist, honour.

    I also think there has been little emphasis on Islam as a way of life, in these cultures, rather than the personal faith alcove of our lives. Where I’m going with this is the considerations of group think and group education as a form of brainwash in some societies that, coupled with the expectation of martyrdom, is a powerful conditioner. It is not poverty that induces one to turn to terrorism, but ideology. Most poor people are too busy dealing with where their next meal is coming from. Whether you look at 9/11 or many of the terrorists Israel has had to deal with, the most common denominator is their middle and wealthy class status.

    Hmm… your “two Jews, three opinions” thesis is looking shaky! I agree with the above thoughts too. There is certainly a demographic that is best suited to radicalisation, and it cannot be the truly destitute – because taking time out from productive activity for political violence is simply a luxury they cannot afford. Poverty is only really a factor in the relative sense that, occasionally the visible, comparative wealth of others produces feelings of disaffection, humiliation and other emotions that contribute to the radicalisation process.

    Mostly I believe that modern terrorism is opportunistic in nature, which may help in battling it. It’s origins lie in the fall of the Ottoman Empire, and the events that followed … but that may be little more than interesting tidbit, and has little to do with understanding its nature, or dealing with it. Certainly, what you call “transnational” in terms of terrorism is definitely a matter of opportunity, and we will undoubtedly be seeing groups moving out of home bases more and more. Hezbollah, though very much Lebanon based, has carried out attacks as far afield as Argentina.

    It would be great if you could expand on this idea of opportunism. Do you mean that terrorist attacks suit particular political and historical environments?

    Islam is by its very nature, at its core dogma, global in nature, and we are seeing a violent reaction to the imposition of nation states. Finally (I have lots more but don’t want to overstay my welcome on this first visit), I think it a mistake for the purposes of these discussions to separate Salafism from Wahabism (the differences are historic nuance), or to consider either outside “any authentic Islamic tradition”. Though it came well before, it has served as the mainstream of Saudi Arabia for a very long time.

    You know, that’s a fascinating point: that the nation state is an affront to the essence of Islam. The problem is, Islam from very early on understood that separating temporal from spiritual rule was an inevitablity, and made provision for that. This is why there is an edict that a Muslim must respect the secular law of the place in which he/she lives.

    As for separating Salafism and Wahabism, I also don’t see it as a crucial distinction in this particular discussion. Really, the best word for the radical, political ideology that makes use of Islam as its justification is, “Islamism.”

    Morry, thank you for visiting and for writing such an interesting comment. I sincerely hope you’ll return and comment on various issues as they arise. There are two more installments of the Axis series yet to come.

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  21. sensiblejew says:

    Oh my God, Elder! You’re going to kill me!

    I hope it’s OK if I leave answering that megalith till a bit later.

    But seriously, I really appreciate the amount of thought you put into that comment. You’re an asset!

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  22. sensiblejew says:

    Elder, whoo boy… I’ll have a go at answering your monster-comment.

    On Muslim v Christian humiliation. I’ll agree that Muslims have had a greater fall from grace in the last two hundred years. But Christians have been pretty much humiliated and kept that way for hundreds of years in Islamic communities. Why do you think the first Arab nationalists were Christians, and so eager to push the Arab nature of their part of the world, and all but forget the Muslim nature? Christian Arabs have had a darn fine reason to be pissed off with their Muslim Arab brethren, but, again, we don’t see them strapping on explosive belts. As I wrote earlier, there have been Christian Arab terrorists. But there haven’t been Christian suicide bombings. There is something in Islamic doctrine that the suicide bombers and their teachers latch on to that isn’t in Christian teaching. To ignore this is to choose not to understand the issue.

    Elder, the positions of Christians was completely different from Muslims in terms of their relationships to power. You say that there is something in Islamic doctrine that promotes suicide terrorism. Can you point that out for me? There is also a culture of martyrdom in Christianity, but it hasn’t been exploited in the same way. How do you explain the Tamil suicide bombings or the Japanese Kamikaze, if Islamic doctrine is central to suicide attacks?

    Yes, the Tamils were wonderful suicide bombers. I would pose a simple question. If Tamils are the proof that it doesn’t take a Muslim to be a suicide bomber, then why haven’t other national movements taken up the tactic? It’s far and away the scariest form of terrorism (well, while I’m no expert in ratio of fear to different tactics in terror, having lived in Jerusalem for a couple of years, and having had a suicide bomber introduce himself to his virgins across the street from me, I can tell you it’s pretty friggin’ scary living in an environment like that…). I would advance the idea that Tamil society probably has something in its culture and history that makes military suicide palatable and/or heroic. I know nothing about the Tamils so I can’t offer any suggestions. My point is, though, there is something specific within some Muslim circles and Tamil society that makes suicide bombing an option, whereas pretty much every other society on earth finds it reprehensible.

    As I said before, Japan has a suicide attack tradition as well. There has been a history of Buddhist self-immolation as a pressure tactic as well. What are the common threads in these groups that might explain their behaviour? It isn’t Islam.

    I think I wrote about martyrdom badly. Christian and Jewish martyrdom is the willingness to withstand torture and/or death rather than renounce one’s faith. Islamic martyrdom includes this, but also includes seeking death while fighting Allah’s enemies. On saying that, we do celebrate heroic death on the battlefield. This, however, is celebrated as loyalty to one’s king, country and/or friends, rather than in a religious way.

    Elder, death in battle has always had a religious component, regardless of the fighters’ culture or religion. That there are secular elements as well, is also mirorred in many Islamist attacks.

    The Jews of Masada didn’t take out a bus full of Roman women and children as they became martyrs. I guess I feel the need to dither about ‘martyrdom’ because the same word in English is used to describe two different things. When Palestinians describe as a ‘martyr’ someone who opens fire at a bar mitzvah and is subsequently shot, or the bastard who blew himself up across the street from me, killing a mother and her daughter, I want to spew. If they want to describe as a martyr someone who died while shooting at Israeli soldiers, good luck to them. There is a fundamental moral difference, and I’m sticking to it. Maybe I just need to find a better way of describing the difference in pseudo-academic speak.

    Elder, there certainty is a sematic difficulty with the word, “martyr.” But the dichotomy between those who kill only themselves, and those who are intent on taking others with them is not particularly stark. Martial heroism in many cultures blurs that distinction.

    Here I completely disagree with you. Terrorism does work. I originally wrote, “There are very, very few cases of a sustained, well organised terrorist campaign that has not produced at least some of the desired changes.” Admittedly, the Tamils weren’t successful in their campaign, although it’s possible a while ago they were in peace talks with some form of limited autonomy. I actually don’t know, and can’t be bothered doing the research.

    Elder, in my last response to you, I gave you so many examples of failed terrorist campaigns. I’m not sure what it is you’re actually disputing.

    Palestinian terrorism brought their movement to international attention, where before there had been none. Palestinian terrorism brought about peace talks with Israel, where Israel recognised the Palestinians’ right to a state, and granted them limited autonomy. Palestinian terrorism likewise gained a Taliban-like state like entity in the Gaza Strip. That the Palestinians didn’t realise they’d won and gave up terrorism in exchange for negotiations proves both their incompetence and Eban’s fantastical line that the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to shoot themselves in the foot.

    Rather than make sweeping generalisations about Palestinians, I will remind you that the Islamists have not achieved anything even vaguely resembling their true goal: reclamation of Palestine. Media attention was only ever a tactic for them, certainly never an end in itself. Their terror campaigns bring only misery and further depredations to their own people.

    The Kurds have a viable autonomous region that no one enters without permission, or the Kurds will blow them away. Turkey has also loosened restrictions on non-Turkish identity in Turkey. Kashmir is admittedly still in the shit. Egypt is shit scared of its Islamists and treats them with kid gloves. No more mass arrests like in the ‘70s. And Egypt has the coldest of cold peaces with Israel, as a result of Islamist terrorism in Egypt. And so on. There are relatively few cases where terrorists have got everything they wanted. But there are less cases were, as a result of terrorism, the sovereign power hasn’t agreed or been forced to make some concessions to the national movement on behalf of whom the terrorists are operating. In short, terrorism works.

    I’m sorry, this is all quite incorrect. Kurdistan does not exist. The PKK was never successful in gaining rights for Kurds. It was the Turkish desire to enter the EU, and the EU’s demands on Turkey that it liberalise treatment of Kurds that brought any change whatsoever. And a few concessions on issues of culture and language are absolutely not the same at the PKK’s goal of an independent Kurdistan.

    Iraqi Kurdistan (which is what I think you’re referring to when you talk about an autonomous region no one enters) never won its autonomy through terrorism. It achieved it with US support.

    Egypt is not exactly “shit scared” of Egyptian JI (read part 5 of Axis). That’s the terrorist group that had the biggest impact in Egypt. And they have well and truly retreated since the 90s. The Muslim Brotherhood was never really into political violence. Their strength never came from terrorism, but from the social justice programmes they ran.

    You haven’t given me a single instance of terrorism achieving the goals set out by the terrorists.

    Perhaps I could have and should have limited the ‘terrorism works’ line to Western societies were, unlike Russia, we place moral limits on ourselves not to flatten an entire city in exchange for killing a handful of Chechens. The smart terrorist movement, however, needs to know when to down weapons and take up negotiations. The Palestinians are not smart terrorists. Or, if you like, they are the smartest. They keep fighting, and Israel keeps offering them more and more.

    Well, that’s a pretty big caveat. Of course liberal democracies are more vulnerable to terrorist pressure because their governments are accountable to public opinion. But most terrorism happens in places that are not liberal democratic. We pay much more attention to the attacks in places that are like our own, so we can be under an illusion that such attacks are more frequent than they really are.

    The smart sovereign power needs to know how much to offer the terrorists in exchange for peace, then quickly put in place mechanisms to prevent a rise of violent nationalist angst in the future. One must keep in mind, however, that some movements cannot be bought off this way. Israel is not and has never been a smart sovereign power. The UK is probably the smartest going.

    Hmm… I’m not entirely sure of the details of what you’re writing about here. The UK is the smartest going? Are you referring to Northern Ireland? Because the way they’ve dealt with their Islamists has been a joke. And Northern Ireland was a cakewalk to resolve inasmuch as both sides were desperate to deal (remember, that was also a case of symmetric terror in many instances, with Protestant as well as Catholic political violence).

    We can selectively cite example after example to prove each other’s case wrong. And you seem to have more time than me. So I might have to end up conceding, which sucks balls. So my last point on the matter is that I didn’t mean to say that terrorists always get everything they want. Rather, they (almost) always get part of what they want.

    That’s fine, Elder: but that is very different from the contention that terrorism works.

    Going back to the honour thing. If Islamists want to place all of their real and imagined grievances into the ‘honour’ bag, then you, O Sensible One, have your overarching reason for Islamist terrorism. But within the honour bag there is a legion of different reasons. It depends muchly on how one defines ‘honour.’ If Islamists think by blowing up kids they’ll regain their honour, then they’ve got major issues. The fact is, that all societies that honour honour, and put it before competence, end up being failures and always fall flat when faced with societies that reward competence over loyalty. It’s the way it is, it’s just a shame the honour societies are so darn violent in the period before they internalise this fact of life.

    Elder, here we agree. That is why I distinguish between proximate and ultimate causes. The ultimate cause is shared, the proximate causes are various.

    It’s the second sentence that really gets my goat, however. Why shouldn’t we take living wills at face value? Are we so arrogant in our Western ideals that we think we know better than the people actually becoming suicide bombers? If you want to know the motivations behind a suicide bomber, ask one! They’ve helpfully provided us with their testimony. Interestingly, they ALL cite their religion as the main reason, along with other reasons. It’s typically Western arrogance that decides we know more about the issues than they do. When looking for meta-narratives of blah and wank, we can feel free to pick and choose the evidence we want. But when we want to know why a 21 year old blows himself up, and when our meta-narrative wank doesn’t fit in with what the 21 year old says, what do we do? Ignore the 21 year old, or change our theories?

    Elder, you’re enetering into cultural relativist territory here. I couldn’t care less if my background is western, easter, or Martian. If the facts indicate the prevalence of a phenomenon, then I’m not going to dismiss it just because it’s inconvenient or unpleasant. No politician, political commentator, bureaucrat, businessman, employer… etc. takes what his competitor or opponent, or subject, or employee says at face value. That’s because humans are skilled in the arts of dissimulation. Why would we make an exception for suicide bombers?

    Again, example and counter example. The Northern Irish terrorists achieved lots for their respective communities. They didn’t get everything they wanted, but they got a hell of a lot.

    Again, Elder: the statement, “terrorism works” is a big statement and it requires big evidence to back it up. The evidence just isn’t there. Partial successes are not the same as achieving one’s goals.

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  23. sensiblejew says:

    Elder, I’ll be back to answer you this evening. Meanwhile, take a look at the latest Axis post (part 5). It may speak to some of your concerns.

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  24. sensiblejew says:

    Hi Morry. It’s good to see you again, even if we challenge a basic tenet of Jewish identity by agreeing on too many things.

    You asked me to expand on the concept of “opportunism” and this appears to be the perfect place. Islam’s world view simply divides the world into two dwellings, there is the Dwelling of Islam, or the dwelling of peace (Da’ar el Islam), and the Dwelling of the Sword, or the dwelling of war (Da’ar el Harab). There is also a principle called “Hegirah” which loosely translates as “withdrawal”. The purpose of Islam is to have peace under Islam worldwide (this is relected in the Hamas charter with peace “under the wing of Islam”), but it is also recognised that this opportunity doesn’t always exist, so Moslems “withdraw”, respecting the laws of the land … till an opportunity arises.

    Morry, the above elements as highly elastic in how they are interpreted. The moderate imam of a mosque in the west will use these distinctions quite differently from an Islamist charismatic leader. I’m interested in what makes one leader want to interpret for peace, and another for war.

    This brings me to the European research by Professor Rafi Israeli. If we accept his conclusions (politically correct bigotry accusations aside) that when a Moslem population grows to around 10% of the population violence begins to grow rapidly, this may well be an indicator of a growing sense of opportunity. I don’t for one second suggest that there is a conspiracy of the entire Moslem population just waiting for its chance, but certainly the hotheads and Islamists begin to lose their restraint. I do suggest that where an opportunity presents to Islamise, it will be taken, even violently, as is happening with the genocide of Southern Christians in Sudan, not to mention the efforts to dislodge the Jewish presence in the Middle East. I firmly believe that the rapid growth of Islamism is the response to perceived opportunity to to take on the West.

    Rafi Israeli! You really are into this subject! Unfortunately, this is where you and I disagree. I don’t think there is anything like a unified strategy among Muslims to do anything, let alone launch a takeover of the West. Most radicalisation is very diffuse and ad-hoc.

    Elsewhere you have spoken of “the clash of cultures”, and, at their core, Islam and Western democracy are diametric opposites. A system that is adament that Allah dictates every facet of your life, as opposed to what is literally seen as the spawn of the devil, a corrupt system in which people have the affront to make their own decisions. From where I sit, it doesn’t look good.

    Morry, again, it really is a case of whom you’re listening to. Do you not cringe a bit when Kahanist settlers talk genocidal smack about Arabs? Do they represent the entirety of settlers, let alone Jews? Of course not. But they too find religion a useful tool. Similarly if you’re only listening to the unpleasant elements of the Islamic world, then your impression is going to be that we’re all doomed. I challenge you to read/hear/see/meet the multitudes of moderate Muslims, and Muslims who are neither political nor religious, but have pretty much the same aspirations as any westerner. They exist. There are plenty of them, too.

    This is where it gets complicated. People assume two homogenous parties to conflicts, the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. In the ltter case they are abyssmally wrong, as there are three parties … and I say that after years of travelling safely in the West Bank and Gaza. There are the Israelis and there are your average Arabs (they only acquired the label “Palestinians” in the late 1960s and it wasn’t by choice) who are hardworking highly productive farmers, buildres and producers, and there is another group, spawned from the efforts of Haj Amin el Husseini, Yasser Arafat his nephew et al. The PA (Palestinian Authority) is made up of 9 of these groups including Fatah, the PLO, Islamic Jihad, PFLP, DFLP, whose only aim is and has always been the removal of Israel. The idea of a Palestinian state first reared its head at the Rabat conference of 1974, and was part of a stages plan to annihilate Israel by acquiring adjacent territory that could be used as a base for hostilities against Israel. It’s why this group has been so intransigent. The victims are both Israelis and your average Palestinians caught in the middle, but also wanting the terrorists gone.

    Morry, this is a fabulous point!

    In 1924 there was no conflict, and both Arabs and Jews (strangely ironic, the Jews at the time were referred to as “Palestinians” and the Jewish homeland in, say, the Wezman-Faisal agreement was referred to as “Palestine”) were agreed on the partition of the Mandate of Palestine (today’s Israel, WB, Gaza and Jordan), with everything East of the Jordan River considered the Arab homeland, and everything West the Jewish. Britain formented the conflict (too long to go into here) by installing the rabid antisemite Haj Amin el Husseini as Mufti of Jerusalem. Husseini (uncle of Yasser Arafat and mentor to both Arafat and Mahmud Abass) organised the 1920, 1921 massacres of Jews, followed by the 1929 massacre and expulsion of the Jews of Hebron, then the massacres of 1937 … and modern Arab terrorism was born.

    Morry, I’m not sure what the point is you’re trying to make here.

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  25. sensiblejew says:

    Hi, Elder.

    Thank you for yet another thought provoking comment. You bring up some really good points.

    As always, I want to devote my full attention to the answer (am right now composing a new post), so I’ll return to this thread a bit later.

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  26. sensiblejew says:

    Good morning, dear Elder.

    Let’s go:

    My original contention that terrorism works never suggested that terrorists will always (or even often) achieve all of their aims, stated or otherwise. Again, I originally wrote, “There are very, very few cases of a sustained, well organised terrorist campaign that has not produced at least some of the desired changes.” My contention that terrorism works, which I completely stand by, is that terrorism brings to the attention of the subject population, the occupying power (I use the term ‘occupying power’ as loosely as possible – the Basques think they’re occupied) and, sometimes, the international community.

    Elder, we seem to be arguing back and forth on this one. As far as I’m concerned, there are far too many terrorist campaigns that have not achieved their goals for the “terrorism works” thesis to be accurate. As I’ve stated previously, raising “awareness” is rarely – if ever – a goal, so much as it is a tactic. And we have to use the term, “occupier” so loosely to refer to all terrorist targets, that the word starts to lose meaning.

    The EU would never have pressured Turkey to ease up on the Kurds unless the Kurds had have committed political violence, thus bringing to the Europeans’ attention that there is such a thing as a Kurd.

    Elder, there is simply no evidence for this at all. There is, however, ample evidence of major EU players (such as France) which wanted to make Turkish membership to the EU as difficult as possible. Those Europeans focusing on the Turkish Kurds were not only human rights defenders, but also included people very happy that Turkey had the Kurdish black mark against it. The PKK played absolutely no role in any of this.

    You look for an overarching reason of terrorism, but you continue enforcing distinctions between terrorism and Islamist terrorism. The RAF weren’t humiliated by anyone – they simply wanted to bring about a revolution. Same thing goes for Charles Manson’s ‘Family.’ You asked for proof that Islamist Palestinian terrorism has worked – of all your challenges, this is the easiest to provide! Hamas has forced the Jews and the secular (or not-Islamist-enough) Fatah out of Gaza, creating for itself a mini-state. It hasn’t gained all of ‘Palestine’ (meaning Israel), but nor has it finished yet. The Jews are gagging to get rid of the West Bank (again, an achievement for terrorism), but just don’t have anyone competent enough to give it to. If and when Israel manages to find a solution for short-range rockets, you’ll see the Zionist Entity retreat to something approximate to the 1949 Armistice Lines, plus a few big settlements.

    Elder, I’m not sure I understand: I single out Islamist terrorism for analysis, sure; and in the proximate causes of its political violence, it will be distinct, but I don’t otherwise distinguish it (in an ultiimate sense) from any other terrorist trend. And I really don’t understand the RAF/Manson link. As for Palestinian terrorism “working,” I stand by my definition that to “work” terrorism must achieve the stated goals of the groups involved. Gaza is not pre-1948 Palestine. The refugees have not returned. A massively overpopulated rump state with crumbling infrastructure was hardly the goal of any Palestinian group. As for Jews’ being keen to evacuate the West Bank, we must be reading different papers.

    The overarching reason for terrorism that you’re so eager to find is that violence works. It works for animals – to see who is the pride of the pride, so to speak, and it works for humans, to see who is king of the mountain. When humans don’t get their own way through talking, they resort to violence. Boys on playgrounds do it and men with AK-47s do it – just ask Bin Laden. In our soft Western society, the last hundred years or so has seen the role of violence diminish, but that doesn’t account for the 100 million and more souls that have died from violence in wars during that time.

    Elder, you have not demonstrated that it works.

    Oftentimes, when people see a positive result from their violence, they will stop their violence and start talking again. Sometimes, when they see positive results from violence, they will continue with violence hoping for more positive results – it depends on all sorts of situations and factors. Sometimes, people acting violently will actually go backward, as the party against which they were being violent is violent in return, and has a mixture of more competency and more willingness to impose violence than the first party.

    Elder, could you please give evidence for this contention?

    People know that violence for the sake of advancement is wrong. That is why religions and politics make up all sorts of excuses to justify violence. ‘Oh! We’re so humiliated! We have to kill them to make ourselves proud again!’ ‘Oh! God wants me to do it!’ ‘Oh! Humanity will be better when we bring about a socialist revolution, we just have to kill a few capitalists to get things started’ and so on. But strip back the excuses, and you’ll find humans, regardless of their religion, ethnicity or political ideology, using violence to advance their interests. That’s your overarching reason for terrorism. Terrorism is merely violence by people who don’t have the resources or charisma to raise an army.

    Elder, this is just not true. Most actors in political violence believe what they are doing is right. The radicalisation process is largely about constructing a morality that is completely in keeping with killing people. The word, “excuses” is extremely misleading. There is propaganda – aimed both inward and outward – but there are also strongly held beliefs in the justice of the cause and the means used to fight for it. This doesn’t mean that they are right, or that we excuse the bestial acts they commit. But it is an important reality to acknowledge – especially if we are to be successful in countering terror – that most perpetrators of political violence are quite sincere in their beliefs.

    Also, charisma is the hallmark of the Islamist cell/group leader. Radicalisation requires immense charisma. And resources vary widely from group to group.

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  27. sensiblejew says:

    Morry, thank you so much for your kind words about the tone and atmosphere around here, and thank you for yet another thought-provoking comment.

    Please do not apologise for writing at length. As far as I’m concerned, there’s shouldn’t be a word limit on intelligent discourse.

    Unfortunately, today has been quite mad, and I now have a backlog of excellent comments to respond to. I have to rush out again now, but I hope to be writing responses by 11:00pm tonight.

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  28. sensiblejew says:

    Hi Morry.

    I’m not convinced that the gap is all that great. Some years ago I went to hear Sheik Imam address members of the Jewish community on the subject “Should we Fear Islam”. Let me emphasise that I went with the purpose of being reassured. Sheik Imam is a kindly old man, complete with white beard and an emaciated Santa look, and was introduced as “the most moderate Moslem cleric in Victoria”. So far so good. His talk, predictably focussed on the “Golden Age in Spain”, left me singularly unimpressed. We call it the “Golden Age” more for its spiritual product than that the Jewish physical existance was so marvelous … though far better than under the Christian regimes of the time (second class citizens, but alive and relatively unscathed).

    I was mostly waiting to see how he handled the questions that would be posed by a relatively well-informed audience. Questions about the status of Jews, the Dhimmi, in Moslem societies then and now, left him visibly angry, actually shouting. The questioner had made the mistake of asking about the Dhimmi status “in the Koran” when it is actually part of the Hadiths. With what I have discovered on the blogs to be a very common Moslem device of deflection, Sheik Imam shouted “There is no such thing in the Koran … show me where it is written”. The Dhimmi issue wasn’t addressed.

    It was the response to the next question that really shocked me. He was asked why the Moslem community doesn’t denounce terrorism, specifically that levelled at Israeli civilians (which was an issue at the time). His fury … I finally understood the word “apoplectic”, left him screaming “these people are being humiliated, they have a right to defend themselves”. The evening was cut short with a “thank you” speech. I cam away thinking that if this is “the most moderate cleric in Victoria, we are in trouble”. Needless to say, I was far from reassured, and remian uneasy to this day.

    OK – this is one Sheikh.

    Even if they call him the “most moderate,” that doesn’t mean it’s true.

    He is the highest profile “moderate” perhaps.

    I know a lot of Muslims. Almost none of them are religious. So even if every Sheikh were problematic – and it really is impossible to contend that – that doesn’t actually reflect what’s going on with many Muslims in Australia.

    One frothing representative cannot inform our opinion about an entire religion. Please remember the extremely poor performance of some of our leaders in the media. Do they represent the majority of Jews? Impossible to tell. But probably not.

    I’m sorry this is so long, but I think it important to realise that we are dealing with another very different culture, with different mores, and rather than find politically correct parallels and applications of our own experience, we truly need to study and understand this culture if we are to live with it in some modicum of harmony.

    Actually, the differences between groups of Muslims is far greater than the so-called “civilisational” differences that someone like Huntington talks about. You simply cannot lump a Sudanese Arab in with a Turk or a Persian. None of these have very much in common with a Malay, who in turn has zero in common with a Berber. I, as an educated secular Jew, have more in common with a secular, educated Muslim than I do with a Haredi.

    The differences within civilisations are too often forgotten, just as the similarities that exist across the boundaries are, as well.

    I don’t think there is anything like a unified strategy among Muslims to do anything, let alone launch a takeover of the West. Most radicalisation is very diffuse and ad-hoc.

    I said much the same when I wrote: “I don’t for one second suggest that there is a conspiracy of the entire Moslem population…”, but, if you are to believe the research and content of Oriana Fallacci’s last book before she died, such a uniform strategy does exist in some extreme circles, amongst the people she interviewed. Probably a relative handful, but I think that’s our problem. It always is that relative laughable handful that we so readily dismiss that changes the face of the world. This was true for Hitler, Rambuca, Lenin, Mao, Castro, Khomeini …. the list is huge. We need to learn to tread the halls of history very carefully. If 0.5% of our Moslem population were to be inbued with Salafism to the point where they turned to terrorism, we would be in serious dooh-dooh.

    Let’s just say that Fallacci is not… mainstream in her opinions. She has a cery clear agenda to begin with and all facts are chosen to support it.

    I don’t just cringe but get very angry, and that’s my point in relation to diffent cultural responses. Khahne’s party, Kach, was banned from Knesset and outlawed, and those expressions are roundly condemned throughout both Israel and the Jewish community at large. That is the response to the killing of innocent civilians (any civilians including Israeli) I’ve been waiting to see from the Moslem community, because there is nothing quite as powerful in creating change as peer pressure, especially peer disapproval. I continue to wait, and, much like with Sheik Imam, it continues to fail to materialise in any signifcant way.

    That’s the thing. Ordinary, moderate Jews just don’t have enough contact with their Muslim counterparts. There are so many of them.

    On the issue of a clash of cultures, there are ideologies that are mutually exclusive at their core, and, without lots of tolerance, their meeting is prone to eruptions, which do occurr periodically. Creationism vs evolution springs to mind as a perennial source of conflict because of the mutual exclusivity of the arguments. The same is true of democracy and Islam, as I mentioned before. At the core of co-existance lies tolerance … it is now, obviously in short supply on both sides, and we have the violent eruptions in the various societies. It is significant that the main perpetrators in the Moslem world are children of immigrant (not the immigrants themselves), and I believe that, for the immigrants, the dislocation they feel is superceded by an immense gratitude at being free of a previously oppressive environment … for their children, the dislocation continues without the gratitude, but rather with an expectation of fitting in. It’s no more than an explanatory idea that I could easily abandon if it proves false. But I do believe that we need to abadon politically correct platitudes, and either find a way to address the problem, or acknowledge that we can’t. As a footnote, I did meet Prof Israeli and it is clear to me that, fluent in Arabic, and something of an Arabophile, he is no bigot. He gathered statistics and presented his findings. His conclusions regarding a solution sound draconian, and for me the jury is still out.

    Morry, I think “Arabophile” is a step too far re Israeli.

    Sorry, this is getting long … I’m sure you have enough to do without wading through so much. My last point was simply the result of abandoning all narratives and creating my own from the primary documentation available, much of it in the UN archives. We have been talking about terrorism, and I thought that establishing where it began in this Arab-Israeli conflict, and where the conflict itself began, would go a long way towards understanding the issues. Its spread from there worldwide, through hijackings to blowing up planes and embassies is possibly an essential part of the terrorism story … or so I thought.

    Morry, please don’t apologise for the length. Your comments are always fascinating to read.

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  29. sensiblejew says:

    Gentlemen, many apologies. I just returned home and am very fatigued.

    Your comments are all excellent and complex, deserving a thoughtful response, so I will approach them with a fresh mind tomorrow.

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  30. sensiblejew says:

    Hi Elder.

    You’re right: we have been arguing at cross purposes, and you’re also right that I don’t think terrorism is a particularly effective strategy.

    Why is it popular? Therein lies the question! That’s what I’m trying to dig through in the series.

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  31. sensiblejew says:

    Hi David.

    I agree with you entirely that the Palestinian leadership is happy for its people to live in squalor and misery. This, however, doesn’t mean that they have succeeded in their initial goal: to “liberate” all of Palestine from the Jews.

    For what it’s worth, one of the things that really makes my blood boil is when we hear relentless leftist critiques of Israeli bestiality, but a deafening silence on the truly horrific leadership that the Palestinians have had to endure since Oslo. Whether it’s Fatah or Hamas, trifles like human rights or any basic freedom, really, are nothing but impediments to monopolising and consolidating power.

    The Left’s inability to acknowledge this is truly shameful.

    I also happen to agree with you about the culture of blame prevalent in the Islamic world. I even write about its central relationship with radicalisation (that’s the accepted terminology in too many spheres to warrant a quibble). Indeed, this culture is broadly responsible for so many of the depredations that exist throughout the Arab world.

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  32. sensiblejew says:

    Hi Morry.

    I’m so glad you’re enjoying this discussion!

    Given that this discussion has been about the prompting of terrorist violence, for me what you say is a given. Secular Moslems may only turn to violence when they are both very young and when somebody succeeds in indoctrinating them, so by and large, they are a non-issue, which is why I haven’t included them in my discussion … but I am very aware of their existence. Some young Habonim members, sons of a dear friend, were recently excitiedly telling of the interfaith work they were doing with the Moslems. I said “I bet they’re all Turkish” and, somewhat crestfallen, they acknowledged that they were. Please don’t jump on that, I’m not suggsting that the only moderate Moslems are Turks … only that those secular Moslems have little relevance to our discussion as they are unlikely to start killing anyone. I do think where clerics stand, though, is an issue, because of their ability to influence so many.

    Morry, I don’t agree entirely: I do know of a number of genuinely moderate religious Muslims (including clerics), though I will admit that my close friends are all secular. For what it’s worth, none of them are Turks. You don’t need to come from a secular society to mistrust religion completely. In fact, often, it’s the other way around.

    My major point that I stand by, is that we cannot afford to dismiss the extremists because they are numerically small, when history has shown over and over that it is those very small ridiculous discounted groups of idealogues who have changed the face of history (I used the examples of Hitler, Rambuca, Lenin, Mao, Castro, and Khomeini though there are so very many more). I’m sure that the London bombers didn’t “reflect what was going on with the Moslem population” in England, yet so many still finished up dead.

    I agree with this completely, Morry. I would never suggest we dismiss the dangerous minority. I was likely responding to a broad generalisation about Muslim support for terror.

    My only problem with the Australian Moslem population, and their world population for that matter, is that they simply don’t denounce terrorist acts and even attempt to rationalise and excuse them, and, as they say, all it takes is for good people to stand idly by … I simply presented him as a quite stark example of what I’m saying, but Sheik Imam is hardly just another cleric, he is today a cleric of immense influence, positioned in the top echelons of Muslim Australia. The fact is that instead of condemnations we get spokespeople like Walid Aly and Keisar Trad justifying the violence. We have even had the obscenity of the rape of young Australian women being justified by Australia’s top cleric in his infamous “cat meat” analogy. I know that I need to understand why this is so, and feel extremely uncomfortable that, at least officially, there is no real negative response to terrorist acts. The Lockerbie bomber who had murdered hundreds of innocents was embraced by Khaddafi and given a hero’s welcome in Libya, as was Samir Kuntar in Lebanon. Putting it as mildly as I can, SJ, there is something in those cultures that treats violence and murder very differently to the way we do. I think, as I have said so often, we desparately need to understand that … not so much the attitudes of secular Moslems who have blended into Australian society.

    Morry, this is where we disagree: Muslim leadership is undoubtedly problematic everywhere in the world. But we cannot indict all Muslims simply because of their leaders. Again, my experience is that every Muslim I know is sickened by Islamist political violence, and Islamism in general. In the same way that our Jewish leaders may be giving a false impression of what ordinary Australian Jews believe, how much more so is it likely to be the case among leaders from profoundly unfree political traditions?

    This is undoubtedly true, but I guess the point of the series is to explore, amongst other things, why it is we, rather than they, that are under attack. Sunnis and Shi’ites, violent enemies since the day Mohammed died, can work together against Israel and the West. Clearly those differences don’t define the levels of enmity in those societies, and, as you’ve so often said, we are looking at what prompts some to turn to violence (and I guess the choice of target is an issue there).

    This is a good point.

    I know that you constantly say that there is no plan or conspiracy, no blueprint except with the timiest handful of Islamists, and I agree, but looking around at what has been happening I also see that a definite pattern does emerge.

    Patterns are very different from plans. Patters certainly exist and must be identified. This does not mean there is a unified or centralised plan.

    Iran fell (was given by Jimmy Carter) to the Islamists, who promptly sent agents to vulnerable areas. Algeria, and Sudan have fallen to Islamists, once Christian Lebanon is teetering, its Christian population largely gone, Gaza is gone, and Islamist sights are firmly set on Egypt, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile some European nations have actually reconciled themselves to a Moslem majority, whilst others are experiencing extreme levels of violence. It’s not a blueprint like Hitler’s Mein Kampf, but certainly where opportunities present they are quickly snapped up.

    There has definitely been a surge in Islamist activity over the past few decades. This has a number of very interesting causes and will perhaps warrant a post.

    We appear to be at war …. not with secular Moslems, not even with devout Moslems, but certainly with a part of the Moslem world that doesn’t wish us well. We need to understand their rules of engagement if we are to survive … which I have always assumed was the purpose of your series, and a wonderfully well thought out well written intelligent one it is.

    I wouldn’t use the word, “war.” At the moment, it’s a skirmish. Even in Israel, no one would call the current situation war-like.

    A point that I keep forgetting to mention, but David reminded me, goes to why the issues of “humiliation” and “victimhood” keep reappearing in the Arab and Moslem narratives so often. These are both explicit justifications for Jihad. Trotting them out serves, not just as a justification for violence, but also as a call to arms. I’m not sure that we should take them so literally, though, undeniably, if we look for where people could see “humiliation” we will find it in spades. Israel’s very existence is undoubtedly a “humiliation” … I’m not entirely sure what we can do with that.

    Actually, you’re on to something here: Islamists don’t actually tryu to “justify” anything. They’re much more interested in calls to arms, and there is no greater call to arms in that part of the world than suggesting people have been humiliated.

    After exploring Arab culture amongst friend and foe alike, whether Moslem or Christian Lebanese, I think this very wrong. I have certainly come away with the belief (and I freely acknowledge that it is gross generalisation, but it seems to fit the norm) that, whilst our culture is rationally based, where arguments need to be supported by facts, that world is consensus based, and proofs were constantly presented to me as being the number of people who know the most outrageous things to be true. Just as an example, I had it put to me by a Lebanese Christian supporter of Israel that “nothing goes on in the world without America wanting it, and nothing goes on in the Middle East without Israel wanting it”. I said “What about all the Israelis dying in terrorist attacks”. He winked and said “You don’t know yet why Israel wants that”. His proof was that everyone knew that to be true. Whether it’s meetings of OPEC or what the man in the street believes to be true, it is almost always a product of consensus (with the probable exception of people educated in the West). This may explain how people are influenced by their immediate environment to kill … if that’s the consensus in that environment.

    Conspiracy theories are a nasty reality in the Muslim world. They are a nasty reality wherever information is restricted. This is a post in itself, too.

    There are just so very many differences, some totally irrelevant to this discussion, some more so. I’m quite sure that the fact that few Arabs in Israel have gardens with flowers is probably irrlelvant … but then, who knows? (grin)

    My problem is one of essence … what we are discussing would easily justify a book, and here we are trying to bring it down to its essence so that it only fills a paragraph (sigh)

    Well put!

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  33. sensiblejew says:

    David, the prevalence of conspiracy theories is very well documented throughout a number of academic disciplines, and has been reported on counteless times in the media. It’s a huge subject, and merits its own post.

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